Shaking the dust off
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows — was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
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. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, then don’t say anything.”
That was one of the lines said in my home on a regular basis.
Another saying my grandfather would come up with was: “you’re a gentleman and a scholar.”
There was a bit of an ethos in my home in Hampton New Brunswick, and I suppose I am grateful for it. I grew up mostly with love and learned respect for others. And for a pretty homogenous part of the world, I grew up with a relatively non-prejudiced outlook on the world. My mother and grandfather were relatively gentle, non-violent people. I grew up in a home without tobacco or alcohol.
Not only was my home Christian in the sense of the religion that adhered to and attended, but in the best sense of the word Christian. I could say of my grandfather that he was a true Christian, and by that I mean he was very Christlike, gentle and non-violent, generous to help others. He never talked about others in a bad way. Never disrespected another person, no matter who they were. Fair and honest and kind.
You know we all grow up in homes and communities and develop a sense of who we are from that home and that community.
For some people, or maybe a lot of people, that grounding and sense of origin, the values that we learned, and our outlook on life, were mostly positive.
But as we grew to be adults, and grew up, sometimes we learn that the values and ideas we held could hold us back, or we learned that we have values from our families, or our communities or our origins that are flawed or prejudiced, or unjust.
Part of the growing up process, is the sorting out of that past, and embracing that which was good and letting go and that which no longer fits.
In some way the same process happens in our faith lives. Children understand God and faith and bible stories in unique and interesting ways.
Maybe as child you believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Fairy tales and as you got older you learned that were not literally real.
Some kids learn the hard way. Fiona’s mom still believed in a literal Santa Claus when she was about 13 or 14 and was tormented endlessly about. But the myth was ingrained in her psyche because each year a friend of her parents would dress up as Santa Claus and wake her up in the middle of the night.
But then maybe as you get even older, you begin to believe in fairy tales and Santa Claus again, not so much in the literal sense, but in a metaphorical sense.
For all us who grew up in a church and believed or practiced faith in some way, we all went through a process of learning and understanding and believing and trusting and repenting and changing…
…so that the faith of our childhood is somewhat different today. Whether that is understanding of God, the things that move our Spirit, the reading and interpretation of scripture, the way we pray, our understanding of what the gospel or good news is…
And as adults we learn to embrace that which is good and true and helpful and let go of that which is not helpful in our faith.
Not an easy journey.
I am talking about these origins and roots in our hometown and in our families and in our faith, because I am struck by the story today when Jesus returned home and was met with disbelief, with hostility and with rejection.
I cannot say that was ever my experience. In my younger days, when my mother was much more healthy and sound in mind and body, I would go home to Hampton and my mother would spoil me, buy me things, fix my favourite meals and desserts.
Going home was a real treat. Fiona would say to me. “Don’t say you want anything, Harry. You know your mom. She’ll buy it for you.”
I was spoiled when I went home. And I called Hampton home for a long, long time. But after my grandparents died, my mom moved out of Hampton and sold the old house where I grew up. Now that I have lived in the Edmonton area for 15 years, this is home. I have lived here much longer than anywhere else including Hampton, Ne Brunswick.
So Jesus went home. Maybe his mom cooked him some of his favourite desserts and spoiled him. I don’t know. But he went into the synagogue and taught.
It didn’t say he preached. He taught. And there was a reaction.
It is hard to get the nuances in the written word. When they said. Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!
It is hard to know whether this is total sarcasm. Whether he actually demonstrated power and wisdom and it scared them.
Whether they were jealous.
But whatever it was they took offense.
I think the bottom line is they didn’t like the teaching. Well what is the teaching? It doesn’t say here in the Markan text. You actually have to read the gospels to get the teaching of Jesus.
Luke is rather more explicit in the teaching, because Jesus quotes Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me [i]to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are [j]oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Then Jesus tells them that this scripture is fulfilled. He identifies with the prophets and in Luke’s gospel they try to throw Jesus off a cliff.
The teaching is all about accepting and including those who are not worthy enough. Loving the unlovable, forgiving the sinners, reaching out to the unclean, the ones believed to be cursed by God. Touching the untouchables. Changing the hearts of those who had closed their hearts. Including the excluded.
And to tell you the truth it was not a popular message.
And they rejected Jesus. They excluded Jesus.
Jesus had let go of that part of his life, his culture and story of origin, and childhood Jewish faith, that wasn’t working any more…
to be true to himself, to God and to what he believed his mission was…
Not to take his old religion and change it a bit. Not even to make a new religion governed by new rules and laws, but for people to experience the intimate love of God, so much so that love began to rule their lives, and they would work on their relationships, and build community on love and grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and equality.
And then he sent his followers out with this new teaching, with this new mission.
Jesus sent them out without food or money or extra clothes. I think Jesus wanted them to identify with the poor and needy, with those who begged for a living.
And Jesus was very explicit that this new message, this teaching of love and inclusion for all….this teaching of equality and justice and non-violence was going to be resisted.
And he told them, when that happened to shake the dust off their feet and move on.
I wonder how many times.
I didn’t shake the dust off my feet and I inhibited people from growing and becoming.
Where did I constrict people and hold them back? When did I try to make people conform to my stories, my origins, my culture, my belief system?
Where was I too scared of the unfamiliar and the new, that I boxed myself and others into the ticky-tacky boxes of small–town new Brunswick, or small-minded Harry?
Do we allow others to become, to learn, to grow, to change, to be themselves?
Do we allow ourselves to become, to learn, to grow, to change, to be ourselves?
Can we untangle ourselves from the childhood and cultural and faith stories that weaken and diminish us and others, and embrace the story that Jesus has of inclusion and love and forgiveness and grace?
Can we embrace the prophets who are speaking words of love, freedom, compassion and hospitality?
It seems to me that there is a disease running rampant in this world and it is xenophobia.
Jesus might have called it an evil spirit and tried to cast it out of us.
Xenophobia is the fear of that which is strange or foreign or different and in particular is the fear of foreigners.
And there are mild to severe cases of it all over the world and in every culture and society.
And all of us at times can feel threatened by that which is different, that which is foreign, that which might challenge our ideas, our faith, our understanding, the origin stories we built our lives on.
We hear political leaders, among others, who play on this fear, sometimes even making up stories about the level of violence in the foreigners, or their crime rate, or that they are rapists, or don’t believe the right religion, that they are going to come and destroy the fabric of our society and steal our jobs and make us poor.
And yet how many times is it written in the scriptures about not oppressing the stranger. The Hebrew word “Ger” translated, stranger or foreigner or immigrant or alien is used 92 times in the Old Testament. And there are other similar Hebrew words that translate to stranger or outsider or foreigner.
(Exodus 22.21). …do not oppress the stranger, the people who are outside your group but inside your borders. Why? Because you know what it’s like to be oppressed as a stranger in a strange land
There are at least seven major stories in the Scriptures that are significant stories about inclusion of the outsiders.
Esau, Tamar, Rahab, Naaman, Jonah, Ruth and the Samaritan Woman.
Jesus’ message and mission was precisely that of reminding us that we are all God’s children, and Paul the apostle wrote of that we were aliens or foreigners or strangers and brought into one family by Christ.
Paul himself went to the home of a foreigner and thus brought Gentiles into the church saying:
“God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34–35).
What dust do we need to shake off, so that we can fully and lovingly welcome all people?
But Jesus’ message of inclusion will meet opposition. And he reminds us that we may or even we will be hurt or rejected by some if we teach love for all people.
In other words if we want to follow Jesus, we may have to take up a cross.
We may have to suffer rejection or false words, or other actions that hurt us.
And to that Jesus says:
Shake the dust off your feet and let it go.
Recently a yoga friend posted on Facebook a little video of a minister named Nadia Bolz-Weber. Nadia is a Lutheran minister, a theologian and an author of several books. She was the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver Colorado, a church that specializes in reaching street people, addicts, the poor and the marginalized. She is covered in tattoos, was an addict herself at one time. She is noted for swearing and profane language, believing that it is more important that to be real and honest and yourself, than to worry about what others think, and she speaks in a way that people off the street can understand and relate to.
I have heard her speak, She if funny and profound and I think she has real grasp of Jesus’ message, not only to include people, but also of our deep need to repent and be forgiven.
This is what was put on Facebook from Nadia.
It was called “Forgiving Assholes” and I think it speaks to another way we need to shake the dust off our feet.
I really believe that when someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a chain. Because forgiveness is nothing less than an act of fidelity to an evil-combating campaign. So it’s not an act of niceness. It’s not being a doormat. It really to me is more badass than that. Maybe retaliation, or holding on to anger, about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it.
Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and on some level, even start to become them. So what if forgiveness, rather than being like a pansy way of saying, it’s OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that links us? Like it is saying, what you did was so not OK that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.
Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter, and free people are dangerous people. Free people aren’t controlled by the past. Free people laugh more than others. Free people see beauty where others do not. Free people are not easily offended. Free people are unafraid to speak truth to stupid. Free people are not chained to resentments.
That’s worth fighting for. There really is a light that shines in the darkness, and that the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.
And to that I say “Amen.”
Shake the dust of your feet and be free.