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Can't Shake the Dust

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Jul 05

Text: Mark 6:1-13 I’m ready. I have my sandals and my walking stick. I also brought a few more things I thought I might need. (Unpacking duffle bag…) I’ve got my my passport. My laptop and charger. A lighting cable. My phone and charger. Ear buds. An adapter for Europe. An adapter for Asia. Global Positioning System (in the phone). Nalgene bottle. Sunglasses. Sun screen. First aid kit. Band Aids. Moleskin for blisters. Advil. Inflatable pillow. Packing list—obviously. “Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” (Mark 6:6b-10) Church leaders sometimes talk about equipping people for discipleship. We want our people to experience what it’s like to be held in community—and comforted. To hear the cry for justice—and be challenged. To serve our neighbors—and understand that we are all connected. We hope our people will have eyes to see God at work in the world all around us, and hearts open to loving deeply and passionately all of God’s good creation. We pray that you will know God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. We even (dare to) hope that you will have the courage and the words to speak about the places in your lives where you have known God’s power to heal and resurrect. This is a tall order! But this is Cambridge, where we expect so much of ourselves. Do we make the idea of discipleship even more daunting? Must we be well-educated before we dare to speak? Articulate before we dare to pray? Knowledgeable before we venture into scripture study? Trained in pastoral care before we offer a kind word or a listening ear? Nope. A robe, some sandals, a staff. That should do it. Jesus insists that is all the preparation the disciples need as they set out, charged with carrying his mission into the world. If this sounds terrifying to you, maybe it should! Forget the packing list, the change of clothes, the credentials—all those accumulations we believe will prepare us for success. I’m not knocking professional excellence or advanced degrees! Just pointing out that they’re not required for the life of faith. In fact, maybe the life of faith requires letting go of reliance on these assurances! Letting go of self-reliance. And here’s the thing. I’m not sure that Jesus is preparing us for success. Maybe he is preparing us for faithfulness. Maybe he is preparing us to meet the world and its needs with open hearts. Maybe Jesus is preparing us to see ourselves as children of God—empty-handed and completely reliant on God’s grace. Not on any doing of our own. Maybe that’s what it means to be equipped. To stand open-hearted and sometimes even empty-handed before God. And from that place of terrifying vulnerability and freedom, to know God’s grace. There’s a popular party game and conversation-starter called “Would You Rather?” Maybe you’ve played it? Players are asked to choose between two things. Would your rather be able to turn invisible or be able to fly? Would you rather see into the future or change the past? You get the idea. The actual board game tends toward some choices you wouldn’t mention in church. Here’s Mark’s version of “Would You Rather?” Would you rather: be totally safe and protected or open and challenged to grow? Would you rather: rely on your own resources or rely on God’s grace? Would you rather: be prepared for success or prepared for faithfulness? Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, things have been going pretty well for Jesus. He is drawing large crowds, calling disciples, teaching in parables. Power is flowing through him. Jesus stills a storm, casts out a demon, heals a woman with a hemorrhage, raises a little girl from death. Jesus has been encountering a few challenges along the way. Leaders who see his power as a threat to their own. Authorities who challenge him about healing on the Sabbath. People who are so bewildered by his power that they become suspicious. But here, in chapter 6, Mark’s gospel takes a decided turn. The account is filled with foreboding. Jesus returns to Nazareth and is rejected in his home town. In Luke’s parallel version of this same story, the villagers drive Jesus out of town, to the brow of a hill, seeking to throw him off a cliff! (Luke 4) Definitely a hostile reception at home! Clearly, Jesus is sending the twelve into a hostile world. I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping for a little more of a pep talk here. If I’m going to leave behind my map and my wallet and Nalgene bottle and change of clothes, I’m going to want a little bit of encouragement! I sort of want Jesus to be like my personal trainer. “You got this, Karin. Keep going. I know you can do it. Come on—just five more!” I want some words of encouragement along with the hard core challenge. But apparently that’s not Jesus’ style. What he says to the disciples—as he’s sending them out into the world with the gospel—is more like a Nike ad. “Just do it!” Go. This is no pep talk. Jesus does not counsel the disciples to persevere against all odds. Quite the opposite. He counsels them to expect disappointment and hostility. To expect failure. And to know when to walk away. Not every town is going to welcome you. Not every person will want to hear your message. Know when it’s time to move on and—when it’s time to go—shake the dust from your feet. So I take issue with this business of shaking off the dust. Jesus—it’s time to have a conversation with you. Because the dust just clings so closely to my feet. I want to say: Brother Jesus, how do you know when it’s time to quit? How do you discern that? Because that’s something I struggle with. What do you do when you’re in a place and you can see there’s work do be done, but it feels like it’s going nowhere? How can you tell if—maybe—invisible seeds are being sewn that my take years, or even generations, to grow to fruition? Like those mustard seeds you talked about. Brother Jesus, we can’t seem to shake the dust off our feet. We work for peace and justice in the Middle East, but sometimes we don’t agree on strategies. Our hearts are ready, but it the work is hard. And we can’t shake off the dust of that painful history. Our church is working to divest and reinvest for global sustainability. We are retrofitting our sanctuary and our building for energy efficiency. But we can’t shake the dust off our feet. Millions of gallons of crude oil are on the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon disaster five years ago. That oil clings to our skin. Can’t wash our hands of it. Carbon molecules in the atmosphere, suffocating our planet, temperatures rising. We can’t shake the dust. Brother Jesus, 8 Black churches have burned in the last ten days. Three of them are believed to be from arson. We have to keep working for racial justice. But we can’t shake the dust of our painful history. Help us, Jesus. Help us to cling to your grace and hope. Strengthen us and guide us. Help us know when to work, and how to persevere, and how share your good news. Because we come with empty hands and open hearts and you’re all we’ve got.

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