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Brushing Off the Dust

Mark 6:6-13

Jesus 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.

Now that we are fully into the summer season, many of us are in the midst of preparations for travel and vacation. As for Barrett and I, we will be headed to Chicago in a little over a week, and so we are currently doing all the things one does to get ready for a vacation— making arrangements for pet care, reserving rental cars and restaurant tables, and of course, figuring out what to pack. And packing is going to be tricky for this particular trip, because on the one hand, we are flying, so we need to be at least somewhat judicious about how much we bring with us. On the other hand, this trip includes everything from a day at the ball park to an evening at the theater, and we need to be prepared for all of it. And so, for the past week or so, I’ve been keeping a running list in my head of all the items I plan to put in my suitcase. Comfortable clothes for traveling and lounging. Casual clothes for the game— probably shorts and a t-shirt, but also plenty of layers in case of bad weather. Dress shoes and dress clothes for the occasional night out. Tennis shoes and workout clothes for the highly unlikely possibility that I’ll get the urge to go for a morning run around lake Michigan. Hey, I like to be prepared for any possible scenario.

Anyway, in the midst of all of our collective travel preparations— as we stuff our suitcases more and more to the brim, praying we won’t go over the airline’s weight limits, arguing with the flight attendant that this bag absolutely willfit into the overhead compartment— we are presented this morning with a simple question— WWJP? What Would Jesus Pack? And the answer— even for those of us who pride ourselves on our ability to pack light— is remarkably austere. One pair of sandals. One tunic. And a stick. That’s it, folks. No bag. No bread. No money. All I can say is, Jesus obviously wasn’t able to get tickets to Hamilton.

All joking aside, while we might not be inclined to take this morning’s passage as literal instruction for how to go about packing for our various summer vacations, I do think there’s some important wisdom here when it comes to how we prepare for our travels through life. And when it comes to that journey, I think it’s almost more instructive to spend some time noticing not what Jesus suggests we bring with us, but rather, what he asks us to leave behind.

So to begin with, Jesus asks us to leave behind all of our protective layers, and all of our defensive attitudes and postures— all of those strategies we employ to ensure that we never find ourselves in a position in which we might actually have to ask for help from another human being. I think it’s interesting that in contemporary Christianity, there’s been something of a resurgence of interest in the practices of Christian hospitality. A simple amazon search for books on ‘Christian hospitality’ produces hundreds of results, with new titles being added almost every week. I should know. I buy a lot of them. Church growth consultants talk about the importance of hospitality when it comes to attracting new members to church. Hospitality is the new buzzword for Christians— we are attracted to it like moths to a flame. And don’t get me wrong, I think offering hospitality to others, especially those who are hurting in some way, is one of the most important aspects of Christian discipleship. But this morning’s passage got me thinking that for all our focus on hospitality as a spiritual practice, for most of us, it is a remarkably one-sided affair. We love to be the ones to offer hospitality to others— it makes us feel good, it makes us feel generous, and it makes us feel like we are making a difference— which we most certainly are. What it doesn’t necessarily make us feel, however, is vulnerable. Maybe some of us think that’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, however, in this morning’s text, that’s exactly what Jesus is asking of us. Jesus instructs his disciples to carry nothing with them, forcing them to rely exclusively on the kindness of strangers. There will be no “just in case” packing on this trip. The disciples will have to ask for help every single step of the way. There will be no illusions of self-sufficiency or independence. Jesus asks us to leave all of that behind, and to allow ourselves to be the recipients of the hospitality of others for a change.

This is a hard thing. And the truth is, there are a lot of people in this world, maybe even a lot of people in this room, who will try to go their entire lives without ever having to ask for help, and it’s not too hard to understand why. The world can be a pretty cruel and scary place for people in the position of having to ask for help. It’s a daunting thing to make one’s self so vulnerable. And yet, as the very wise Brene Brown writes, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, trust, intimacy, courage, and just about everything that brings meaning to our lives.” If we walk through life with the armor of self-sufficiency on all the time, maybe we will never have to ask for help, but we also miss out on experiencing the generosity, grace, and kindness of others. We start to believe that the world can only be cruel because we never allow it the chance to be anything else. But God created this world and called it good. Maybe Jesus asks us to leave behind all our defensive strategies so that we might actually have a chance to see that goodness for ourselves.

So our defenses are the first thing Jesus asks us to leave behind. The second thing that Jesus asks his disciples to leave behind is all the baggage they may be carrying with them from any previous expeditions. In verse 11 Jesus tells them, ‘if any place will not welcome you as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.’ Shake off the dust that is on your feet. Finally, an instruction from Jesusthat doesn’t require a PhD in biblical studies to understand. Actually… there is a whole thing here about the ancient practice of literally shaking the dust from one’s sandals as a way of dissing someone who treated you badly, but we don’t really need to get into all that. We understand what this means for us well enough, don’t we?

In my explorations this week I came across one writer who I thought had a particularly eloquent turn of phrase on this matter. Reverend Moffett Churn is a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina and he writes this of Jesus’ dust-shaking instructions, “we walk around every day in a dustbowl of cynicism, fear, and despair, that if we pack in our emotional suitcases and take home with us, will be absolutely toxic to our spirits.” So yeah, the downside of opening ourselves up to others in the radical and vulnerable way that Jesus is asking us to, is that in addition to experiencing goodness, kindness and beauty, there is also plenty of toxic dust out there, and we need to take good care that we don’t end up bringing that toxic dust home with us. That toxic dust can take many forms— festering resentment that we store away to be used as evidence of someone else’s wrongdoing at some future point in time; shame or self-judgment that diminishes our ability to see ourselves as God sees us; disappointment or disillusionment that slowly eats away at our belief that a better world is possible, and indeed, promised. All of that dust, all of that baggage, Jesus asks us to leave behind. Travel light, he says to us. Remain open. And when you get hurt, or experience rejection, which you will, shake the dust from your feet and move on.

So here’s what I want to do this morning. In addition to all of the packing lists we’re making for various trips and vacations this summer, I thought we could also make a collective list— an anti-packing list— of all the things we aim to leave behind on our journey of Christian discipleship. For the next several minutes, I invite you all to take some time to think about some of things we can leave behind in order to become more open to all of the beauty and goodness this world has to offer, and in order to live more fully into the people that God is calling us to be.

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