Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose? [You’ll Be Rejected!]

January 31, 2016  Mark 6:1-29       New Context

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose is the rallying cry of the Panther football team in Dillon, Texas. It’s from one of my favorite shows of all time called Friday Night Lights. Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tammy are some of my favorite television characters ever. Football in Dillon, Texas is a religion. Friday night is the holy night and all the other days are in relationship to that night. I love this show not because of the football but because of the way Coach and Tammy Taylor navigate life together as a married couple and as they navigate the town’s love/hate relationship with whoever is coaching their beloved Panthers. I love that the show represents teenage life pretty well, at least from what I remember. And I love that the main characters are in church every Sunday.

But here is what I love the most: Coach Taylor is rejected again and again. By the townspeople, by his players, by his coaching staff, by the football boosters, by his daughter. And the rejection is almost always in response to his doing the right thing. His doing the hard thing. It is an incredible thing to watch the quiet moments when Coach Taylor is enduring the public humiliation, the questions, the surprise, the betrayal. His response to it is sometimes quiet; sometimes it results in a midnight practice in the rain; sometimes it is played out at home with his wife, Tammy, who is his best friend and most competent sparring partner. This constant rejection always leads to Coach Taylor simply keepin’ on and leading others along the way. The man does not give up on himself or his team or on the many complex relationships he juggles. Oh sure, he contemplates it, he has his moments, but he does not give up.

Today’s reading is all about rejection. We start out meeting Jesus as he as just returned home from a preaching/healing/raising the dead tour. And this is his hometown reception:

Well, just who does he think he is? Where’d he get all this healing/preaching wisdom? When did he get so fancy with all the healing. Isn’t he a carpenter? And isn’t that his mom over there, and aren’t those his brothers and sisters? Gettin’ too big for his britches, that one.

It’s sort of the opposite of Lindsay Whalen’s reception in Hutchinson, isn’t it? This sign is one of the most endearing things I’ve ever seen.

The people just can’t understand who Jesus thinks he is. They just can’t understand how his behavior is that of a faithful Jew or of the Jesus they thought they knew. Jesus is messing it up, muddying the lines, blurring their very notion of how religion and society worked. Jesus is re-writing, re-imagining what it means to be a faithful Jew, what it means to follow God in every day life. They are offended by Jesus. They cannot get past who they think he is to imagine who he actually is so limited are they by job title and who his mom is.

But just as Coach Taylor never gives up and is always in the fray of community life, so too is Jesus. He is rejected by his hometown people and instead of disappearing into a tiny village somewhere to build cabinets for the rest of his days, he initiates a new program, an evangelism 101 if you will.

Here is the content of the course:

Everybody get a buddy.

You will each have more power than the demons, the things that are opposed to God.

Now to prepare for where I will send you – put away your suitcase, Peter. Just grab a walking stick but don’t worry about food or clothes or money. Just put on your most road-worthy sandals and don’t put on layers as a way to get around the no suitcase rule.  You see, this is how it will work. You’ll go out and tell people about me and when you are not welcomed and they refuse to listen to you, shake the dust off your feet.

 That’s it. No review of the greatest hits of Jesus. No quiz on the meaning of the Lord’s prayer and the 10 commandments. No training on how to get into someone’s home effectively. No practicing one-on-one conversations. No trust building exercises. Jesus said go and they went. It’s like their training moto is: You will be rejected. Now go!

So they go and cast out demons and they heal people and they tell people to repent. I’m so curious! Mark doesn’t give us any stories of how they were thrown out of towns or had doors slammed in their faces. But you know it happened, don’t you? Of course they were rejected.

Perhaps Mark speaks to my curiosity with what follows directly on the heels of the disciples being sent, 2 by 2. King Herod has become aware of Jesus and his reputation. So now it’s not just the sick and unpopular and the poor who know about Jesus, but the King has heard tell and it’s like we’re part of a flashback – inside his head – as he hears about Jesus and remembers back to when he had John the Baptist beheaded, wondering if it’s John come back from the dead. I should have given you a spoiler alert warning, sorry about that.

John, the very John who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River at the beginning of the book of Mark, is dead. John lost his head to whim of a teenage girl’s birthday wish, coaxed on by her mother who held a grudge against John because he was critical of her marriage to Herod since she was already married to Herod’s brother. Herod himself was not appreciative of John pointing out that something might be wrong with this, but also could hear wisdom in what John said.  But put the King at a party in front of his friends, give him a little too much to drink and the threat of public embarrassment and that was it for John.  And now Herod is worried this man has come back to life, so familiar are the actions and teachings of Jesus.

If that’s not a story of rejection, John losing his head, then I don’t know what is. You should know, followers of Jesus, that all the disciples ended up being rejected and killed for it in the end, so threatening was their message of love and healing and forgiveness in the name of Jesus.

This is quite a rallying cry, isn’t it? Don’t you just want to shout out our purpose statement: we go out to transform lives through Jesus Christ – at the very cost of our own! at the top of your lungs?

Well, I dare say, this is what it means to follow Jesus. It’s to be rejected and then to shake the dust off your shoes, the snow off your boots, and keep on keepin’ on. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right? We’re going to be rejected.

There is a distinction to be made between “can’t lose” and “rejection.”  If you were to watch Friday Night Lights you would see that this team does indeed lose games throughout the 5 seasons it was on television. They lost critical games. They lost players. There is even a losing of the coach. But the notion of loss to Coach Taylor was not simply equated with the score at the end of the game or being the winning-est coach. It was in some of their most heart breaking losses that so much was won.

Just as Jesus sends his disciples out into the fray with the expectation of rejection. Rejection doesn’t equal loss. It doesn’t mean the disciples or you and I will lose. On the contrary, it is the loss of power and might that gains Jesus the whole world. This is the Good News, folks, that simply cannot be stopped by rejection.

This news is so good – freedom and forgiveness through Jesus Christ – that the world rejects it. Power and those with it reject it. Even you might reject it. So far in the book of Mark, we’ve seen religious officials scoff at Jesus healing a man lowered down through a roof to be healed. We’ve seen a woman who hemorrhaged blood for 12 years and was rejected by society healed. We’ve heard a house full of people laugh at Jesus when he told them the girl was not dead but only sleeping and then he brought her back to life. God was rejected in all of these scenarios, yet God never stopped working.

So here we are in worship and we are sent out by Jesus not only every Sunday, but every day, to proclaim the Good News. To live our lives in a way that will bring on rejection. So it would seem necessary that worship would then be a time of encouragement, a time where your faith is deepened, a time when you get to practice words of promise and hope so you have a shot at saying them outside of this place and these people. So you have a shot at living that way. And my goal is that this central practice of worship is a place where you are reminded this Good News is for you.

Yet, it may be distressing for you each and every week when I invite you right out of your comfort zone, right out of your row, and I dare you to meet someone you don’t know. I encourage you to make yourself uncomfortable by extending your hand to someone you don’t know at all or very well in a rejection-free zone. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? It’s awful, isn’t it? But we do this the sake of the other, for the person who has not experienced God as loving or church as a place where they belong. It’s a time when you are to think of someone else more than your own self. It’s meant to show God’s love, it’s meant for you to recognize the presence of Jesus in another person. It’s meant as practice, here in this safe place, so you can do it in your actual life where you will be rejected.

Today, there is lunch after worship over at the Tillmann’s house. The Vision Table has been chewing on and praying over and talking about how we get better at welcoming people into this life of following Jesus. There is no silver bullet. There’s no program that answers all the questions. But the one thing that has emerged from our months of prayer and conversation is: this good news of Jesus Christ cannot be lived privately – it needs community. It needs connection with other human beings. It needs for us to give a damn about one another outside of today, during those few uncomfortable minutes of greeting. It needs to extend beyond the Sunday when you can make it to worship. So, we’re trying to get people connected and to facilitate ways to make that happen that aren’t restrictive or rule-oriented but that have the freedom of Christ at the center. It’s not about River of Hope getting bigger; it’s about River of Hope growing deeper, each and every one of us. It’s about taking our responsibility seriously to not be a place where you come to consume religion, but instead find that you are being given opportunities to grow in your life of faith. It’s not my job to believe for you, nor is it the job of the church. But it is our job to give you permission and tools to be a person of faith. Because so much of our lives are simply filled with ways to reject God.

When Jesus sends us out, it’s about the other person and it’s about the love of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus actually depends on us to be his hands and feet and to live our lives in such a way that they wonder what kind of drummer you’re following, anyway. We are sent out to be rejected and God’s Good News continues to be set loose in the world.

To be sent out by Jesus is to say and do things that may lead to your losing your head.

To be sent out by Jesus is to be rejected by the world’s standards, the world’s rules.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Go! You will be rejected!