I am not Daniel Mejia.

I am not Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.

In fact, Ginger began her first sermon at Foundry UMC in exactly the same way I just did and she did it far more effectively. So, right away there’s that difference.

Neither am I any of the long line of pastors who have served this storied and vital parish.

It is with a high degree of certainty that I can say that some of you will be pleased with your new pastoral leadership, and others will likely not be. This is the way of things. 

About This Sermon

Rev. Mark Schaefer
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
July 5, 2020
Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Matthew 11:16–19, 25–30

Now, admitting that doesn’t make this easier. Clergy are in one of those professions that require us to put ourselves out there. We stand up on what is essentially a stage and put on a performance. We are expected to share our experiences, our perspectives, the interpretation of our sacred traditions through the lens of our life story. To be vulnerable, accessible, honest, and authentic. To lead through serving. To guide in partnership and collaboration.

So, of course, we want you to like us! No one goes through all that hoping to be disliked.

And that’s the reason why so many clergy are conflict avoidant. It’s enough that you might not like our preaching, our sense of humor, our choice of hymns, the way we lead the communion, the translation of the Bible we prefer, our theological perspective, our politics, or any of the myriad ways in which we define and present ourselves. Do we have to add to that by picking fights with you over the font in the bulletin?

But there comes a dawning realization at some point if you have any hope of making any reasonable difference in the world that you won’t be able to please everyone. No matter how sound a decision you feel you’ve made, someone will think it ill-advised. No matter how thoughtful your reflection on a given topic might be, someone will find it trite. No matter how self-evident the truth of a certain proposition feels to you, someone is going to find it wrong-headed and misguided.

You just can’t please everyone. 

Even if the appointment process were as elaborate and drawn out as Isaac and Rebekah’s courtship–getting a perfect match free of conflict would be unlikely.

Pastors everywhere just have to accept this hard truth.


Fortunately, it turns out we’re in good company, as this morning’s Gospel lesson makes clear:

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:16–19

Jesus had been speaking about John the Baptist’s ministry, identifying John as the forerunner of the Messiah and as a prophet—one who like the prophets before him will suffer violence at the hands of the opponents of the Kingdom of Heaven.

To describe the response of the present generation, he compares them to children playing games—games that could be called the “wedding game” and the “funeral game.”[1] Each group complains that the other group won’t play along. The “wedding game” children call out, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.” The “funeral game children respond, “We wailed, and you did not mourn.”

If one group is happy, the other side won’t be.

With this parable he describes his predicament. John the Baptist came preaching the coming kingdom of God and the coming of one greater than he who would baptize with spirit and fire. He lived an ascetic life, dressed in camel’s hair, fasting and abstaining from drink. As Jesus notes, he was dismissed as having “a demon.” (Before you think that odd, just reflect on how you might think about friends of yours who are really into fad diets or physical fitness. “Possessed” is probably not far off the mark.)

So, John was not listened to or was dismissed because he was an ascetic, partaking neither in feasting nor drinking.

Jesus notes that he, unlike John, does join in on feasts and he does partake of wine. He wryly comments that they call him a “glutton and a drunkard” who hangs out with tax collectors and sinners.

Some folks aren’t pleased with the ascetic John, some folks aren’t pleased with the indulging Jesus. And some folks aren’t pleased with either one of them.

There’s just no pleasing everyone.

What is striking here is that Jesus acknowledges this tension and does nothing to resolve it. That is, he names the problem—some people will not approve of what he’s doing—but he is not limited by that problem. That is, Jesus doesn’t initiate a number of focus groups to see whether he should be more or less visible eating and drinking in public. He doesn’t say that John’s fault was that he wasn’t in charge of his image and came off as too puritanical. He doesn’t seek to defend his approach and criticize those who disapprove. He just keeps on going preaching the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I supposed that should come as more comfort to those of us in the clergy. This is a fact of life. It’s a fact of any public ministry. You’re simply not going to please all the people all the time. Just keep on doing what God has called you to do.

I’ll try to remember that.


But it strikes me that the value of this lesson and this passage go far beyond our lives as individuals, whether clergy or lay. Herein is a lesson for the church.

A.   Relevance

The church would love to be popular. We’ve never gotten over the old days of Christendom. Remember the good old days when the church had so much power and influence and everyone came to church? Sure, that was in feudal Europe, but once you look past the appalling human rights conditions, the lack of sanitation, the poverty, and being beholden to hereditary lords, it can’t have been all bad, right?

The church is often intoxicated with the idea of having that kind of cultural sway again—if ever we really did and weren’t just the pawns of all the folks in those castles and palaces. And so, we endeavor to have that kind of influence and dominion once again.

We do this usually in one of two ways, by cozying up to the powerful or by marketing ourselves to the masses. In both instances we find ourselves losing something crucial in our Christian identity. Something is lost in the power of our Christian witness when the message is adapted for the audience like that. Designed to demonstrate how non-threatening we are to the status quo and thus an ally of the powerful or to demonstrate how great and easy Christian faith is—and how much fun, too!

This latter idea was lampooned brilliantly in the movie Dogma in which George Carlin plays Cardinal Glick, the creator of a more pleasant and appealing Catholicism called “Catholicism Wow!” Instead of the “wholly depressing” image of Christ on the cross, Catholicism Wow! presents a new Jesus: the “Buddy Christ”—a statue of a winking Jesus pointing at the viewer with his other hand making a “thumbs up” sign.

The Buddy Christ

These kinds of strides are often made as ways for the church to maintain its “relevance”—the way by which we can capture and maintain people’s attention. This usually amounts to trying to copy the popular culture and most often copying it badly.

And of course, we do this because who doesn’t want to be liked? Who wouldn’t like the favorable attention of the powerful or the adulation of throngs of people? Who wouldn’t want to be name-checked in speeches by powerful leaders and celebrities? Who wouldn’t want to see the parking lots filled to capacity with lines of people down the block waiting to get in? 

But we can’t please everyone. And trying to only takes us away from what we’re called to do.

B.    Authenticity

The power of Jesus, and thus, the power of the church as the Body of Christ, is when we live into our witness to the gospel authentically. That is, when we are truly who we are in the world. 

Jesus found a relevance by meeting people’s needs. By listening to their experiences. By being present with them in the midst of their lives. He found a way not to market to tax collectors and sinners, but to be present with them.

The amazing thing about Jesus was that he did not blanch at rejection—he expected it. When his life was literally in the hands of the powerful and the crowds, he did not try to make them like him. He did not try to win their favor. In fact, by most accounts, he said nothing at all.

But when he needed to, he spoke his truth. When questioned by the high priest as to whether he was indeed the messiah, the Son of God, Jesus responds:

“You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Note that when faced with a disapproving authority, he does not try to make them happy. He doesn’t say, “Well, aren’t we all the children of God? That’s all I meant by this ‘Son of God’ business.” He simply states his truth.

Jesus is nothing if not authentically who he is.


This is an important lesson for us as the church. We have a gospel to proclaim in Jesus’ name: a gospel of love, of grace, of hope, of justice, and of peace. 

We will be called to proclaim God’s love of those whom others would marginalize or stigmatize. We’ll be called upon to speak up and to amplify the voices of those who are scorned. That won’t please everyone.

We will be called to proclaim God’s grace and abundant love for all in the midst of a world driven by defining success as that which we have accomplished. We’ll be called upon to speak up for the love of God and the dignity of all people as unmerited favor, not something that needs to be earned. That won’t please everyone.

We will be called upon to proclaim hope in times of cynicism and anger. Not fanciful Pollyannaish optimism, but genuine hard hope—the hope that acknowledges all the brokenness of the world but that steps boldly forward with a great “nevertheless…” That won’t please everyone.

We will be called to proclaim justice in times of injustice. We’ll be called upon to amplify the voices of the oppressed, of those who have suffered at the hands of systemic discrimination and racism. We’ll be called upon to proclaim “Black Lives Matter” when the safer thing to do would be to demur or reaffirm that “all lives matter.” That won’t please everyone.

We will be called to proclaim peace when the drums beat for war, reconciliation when the calls go out for divisiveness and hate. We’ll be called upon to testify to the power of God’s kingdom, not to any of the kingdoms of the world. That won’t please everyone.

It’s not an easy place to be in. We as social animals don’t willingly put ourselves in places seeking to lose the affection and approval of our fellow human beings. But it’s into those places of tension and discomfort that the Gospel calls us. And it’s in those places of tension and discomfort that we find Christ.

V.   END

Jesus understood that his ministry would not please everyone. He understood that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God would put him at odds with the very people that so many of us long to have in our corner. He knew that his faithful witness would ultimately cost him everything. But he did so anyway.

The proclamation of God’s love, grace, hope, justice, and peace does not yield to the opinions and desires of the political, economic, social, and cultural forces that dominate our world. Even if it were to align with one of them here or there, it’d still make someone else unhappy, or the same people unhappy later on when it didn’t agree on some other point. 

But that proclamation was what Jesus came to do. And what he called his disciples to follow him and do. And what the church, gathered in his name and forming his Body on earth, was consecrated to do.

For the world will still say to us, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” But it is then that we turn back to the task before us: proclaiming the gospel of love, grace, hope, justice, and peace and doing the work of witnessing to that gospel and building community formed in that gospel in the midst of a broken and hurting world, as we follow  the Christ who goes before us.

This is not easy work and the pain of rejection, the sense of alienation can sting. Sometimes the work of the gospel can feel like a burden. But we are led in this work by one who goes before us, who himself bore the sting of rejection, and who says to us:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Texts

Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67 • So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ 

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men.

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Matthew 11:16–19, 25–30 • “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


[1] Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina. Accordance electronic ed. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 157.

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