Cruz de Ferro top at Saint James Way Leon, Spain

Facing rejection in the purple season

Rev. John Zehring

February 26, 2020

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

Psalm 118:22

I grew up in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, so I have an affinity for Psalm 118’s reference to the chief cornerstone. A keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. While it may not be the biggest stone, it is the most important. Can you imagine ancient builders sorting through their pile of cast-off rocks, searching for one of their rejects to use “up there” to hold it all together?

Originally the Psalmist crafted this as a picture of the nation of Israel. Israel was the nation which was despised and rejected. The stone which the builders rejected, in the Hebrew Scriptures, was the nation of Israel. Then, in the Christian Scriptures, the rejected stone came to refer to Jesus. He is the stone the builders rejected. Yet this rejected man became the chief cornerstone, the head of the Church. This passage from Psalm 118 fascinated the early Christian writers. It is referred to in Acts, 1 Peter, Ephesians, Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

The passage’s theme is rejection, which is interwoven throughout the purple season of Lent.  Purple or violet is the liturgical color for the six weeks of Lent and was named as the color of the cloak with which they clothed Jesus as they twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him. (Mark 15:17-20). The color is not so far off from feeling blue when you experience rejection.

Jesus spoke about the rejected stone in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which makes us wonder: did Jesus feel rejected? Not appreciated? Not valued? Did Jesus have an ego? If the Word which became Flesh came to dwell among us and to feel what we feel and hurt like we hurt, would not Jesus too have some bad days when it felt like he was not valued, not appreciated, not wanted, and not understood? 

Perhaps there are times when you feel like you are the stone which was rejected. When you have been rejected, perhaps it felt like a punch in the stomach or a slap in the face. It stings. So, when you are feeling the pangs of rejection, consider some possibilities for managing rejection:

SERVE. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the sting of rejection and the need to feel important.  He preached, “If you want to be important – wonderful. If you want to be recognized – wonderful. If you want to be great – wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness… By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve… You can be that servant.” When you feel rejected, reframe how you view yourself: Embrace yourself as a servant, and do something to help another.

SHARE WITH ANOTHER. Being rejected can feel embarrassing. It is natural to keep it bottled up inside where the feelings fester upon themselves. When you share your feelings with another, he or she can help you gain some perspective on the rejection. This is essentially what Paul wrote: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Consider the arithmetic of that: A difficulty shared is a difficulty halved. A joy shared is a joy doubled. Share your feelings with another who cares about you and allow them to cut the difficulty in half. 

REGARD OTHERS AS BETTER THAN YOURSELF. When you do not feel valued, turn to Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This feels counter-intuitive, like when your drivers-ed teacher taught you to turn into the direction of a skid. Is it not a natural inclination to regard yourself as better than others? How many times have you said, “Well, at least I’m better off than so and so?” Here is a biblical attitude which is counter-intuitive to human nature: Regard others as better than yourself.  Recognize that God values you so much that you are able to possess the ego strength to consider others as better than yourself. That recognition reminds you of being valued by God and frees you to shine the spotlight on others rather than upon yourself.

MAKE OTHERS FEEL VALUED. One of the greatest insights from common sense is this:  People will not remember what you said, did, or accomplished but they will remember how you made them feel. Make people feel good about themselves, and valued, and they will remember and value you. 

TRUST GOD TO USE THE REJECTED STONE AS A CORNERSTONE. Could it be that rejection is what shapes you, propels you, strengthens you, motivates you, and even makes you great? Could it be that rejection is the critical secret ingredient to your ultimate success? Could God use the stones in your life which were rejected… to become the cornerstone for something else? God did not cause the rejection. God does not cause bad things to happen to people. But could God use it? In Psalm 118, following the verse about the rejected stone, consider the next verse: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Your rejection can be used by God.  Perhaps later, as you look back upon it, you may see the rejection as a part of what recreated you into the fine person you have become.

Psalm 118, which speaks of the rejected stone, goes on to place rejection into Divine perspective when it says (verse 24) “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  This day is God’s day. Because it is God’s, there is always something worthy to rejoice and be glad about, even on blue days when rejection leaves purple bruises on the soul.

During Lent, consider how Jesus was rejected. Many have felt the pain of rejection. Even if the feelings never go away, you can learn to manage your feelings. There are attitudes you can adopt and actions you can take. Perhaps the greatest is to trust that God can use everything that happens in your life to make you a better person and to adopt the commitment, changing only the pronoun, that “This is the day that the LORD has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

The Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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