Ordinary 14B; Proper 9
Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel remind me of a packing list for camp.
Campers should bring: flashlight, sunscreen, bug spray, toothbrush, rain poncho, flip flops, tennis shoes, swimsuit, enough shorts and T-shirts for a week, towels, toiletries. Be sure to pack a jacket or sweatshirt, as it may get cold in the evenings. What to leave at home: cell phone, electronics, pocket knives, money. Items to be sure to bring and those to be sure to leave indicate the nature of the activities and the kind of community that will define camp. Practicality wins the day, with comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing that allows the wearer to move freely without worrying about getting dirty. Cell phones, computers and the like are prohibited: too distracting. Campers must be able to focus on the tasks and people at hand. Money isn’t necessary, serving as a hindrance to keep track of rather than a means to acquire goods. Everything that the campers need will be provided. The first step to a positive camp experience, to learning and growing, to making friends and gaining skills, is packing correctly. No one wants to be caught in the deluge of an afternoon thunderstorm without a poncho or to end up deep in the woods minus bus spray.
Following the instructions on the packing list allows for full participation in the experience to come. True for summer campers. True for disciples of Christ. If those of us who follow Jesus are to engage totally in the work to which we’ve been called, we first need to get the packing list right and Jesus says: pack light.
Jesus says his burden is light, and yet we often load ourselves up with superfluous stuff. Jesus tells the 12 to take only a staff, no bread, no bag, no money. Wear sandals, put on two tunics. Go in pairs. Now, get moving. Notice that these items allow for mobility and flexibility. The disciples aren’t taking time every morning to re-pack the donkey. Nor are they dragging a roller bag behind them, stopping every few feet to adjust their shoulder bag or rebalance boxes or backpacks. The packing list indicates that they are expected to be on the move, never to get too comfortable in one place, and not to be on the look out for the nicest home, but content with whatever accommodations are offered.
The lack of baggage carried by Jesus’ followers extends to metaphorical baggage, too. “Shake the dust off your feet.” Keep moving, mentally, spiritually. Don’t obsess over those who won’t hear you or those who dismiss you or those who ridicule you. Did you pay attention to what happened to Jesus in his hometown? There are people who even with Jesus himself right in front of them, refuse to believe the Word or see the work of God. If folks don’t recognize and value Jesus, inevitably many will fail to welcome those who come in Jesus’ name. Let it go. Keep moving. Keep preaching, teaching, anointing, healing, confronting evil. Don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t carry grudges. Let go of any need for retribution. Don’t give into anger, fear, disillusion. As it turns out, not being weighed down by this kind of baggage can prove much harder than leaving even our cell phones behind.
On weeks (months, years) when every news report details violence, exclusion, a trampling of the weak, exploitation of the vulnerable, suffering upon suffering, shaking the dust off our feet seems almost impossible. Preaching, teaching, healing, anointing, confronting evil, casting out demons, what’s the use? Does our ministry make a difference? Does our witness matter? Not many people are opening their doors and inviting us in. We’re hitting wall after wall, real or proposed. Our sandals are worn, our tunics stained, our feet and bodies and minds and spirits, weary. Maybe it would be best to give it up and go back home. Feign illness so that the camp nurse calls our parents to come and fetch us. Bury ourselves in the distractions of cell phones, laptops, like-minded Twitter rants and feel-good cat videos on Facebook. Forget shaking off the dust. How about a nice, hot shower that washes it down the drain, and lets us be free of it forever?
Packing light may well be difficult, but letting go of the baggage of cynicism, contempt, anger, fear and just plain fatigue is harder. And yet that is what Jesus instructs us to do. Disciples are not greater than their masters. Jesus was rejected, questioned, judged and persecuted. He did what he could in his hometown and when he could do no more he went into other towns. He kept moving. Kept proclaiming. Kept healing, casting out demons, confronting evil, calling out oppressors and alleviating suffering. Others’ affirmation or acceptance was not a prerequisite for his ministry, and it cannot be for ours either. When tangible results are elusive, we trust that God gives the growth, sometimes underground and unseen to those of us throwing the seed.
Civil rights leader John Lewis, on a week when it would be all to easy to give into helplessness and hopelessness, tweeted the following: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble”
Shake off the dust and keep moving. Don’t get bogged down in the baggage of despair. We don’t follow Jesus for a day or a week, but for a lifetime. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who went all the way to the cross to redeem the world, including those who rejected him, tortured him and killed him on Good Friday.
Like to the first 12, Jesus gives us instructions, a packing list, and even more, a commandment: love one another. Keep moving, preaching, praying, healing, anointing, casting out demons, confronting evil, alleviating suffering, bringing good news to the poor. Go together. Rest in those places and with those people who welcome you. Notice the beauty and good trouble along the journey. Don’t forget that the grace of your baptism is sufficient for your calling, because it is God’s grace, so sufficient, in fact, that you don’t need to haul any baggage, literal or metaphorical. So, grab your staff, find a fellow disciple, and go out into the world to show the love of Jesus Christ. Let those with ears to hear, listen, and those who can’t well, shake off the dust and keep going.
- What baggage do you need to leave behind to go where Jesus sends you?
- What’s the significance of having the story of Jesus’ rejection by his hometown just before he sends out the 12 disciples? Note that the death of John the Baptist comes right after the sending of the 12. How does that inform you reading of this Sunday’s text?
- Is there a contemporary way to say, “Shake the dust off your feet”? What about the last part of that instruction, “as a testimony against them”? How is shaking off the dust a testimony?
- Jesus gave his disciples “authority over unclean spirits.” What does this mean? Do we have this authority? If so, what form does that authority take in our discipleship?
- How are we following Jesus’ instructions? If we are being sent out, where and to whom are we going?
- Have you ever felt as if your ministry, your life of faith, has not made a difference or had an impact? How did you “shake off the dust” and keep at it?
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