Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Shaking Off the Dust”
Rev. Art Ritter
June 14, 2020
Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
I am well aware of the frustration of social media. I don’t spend as much time as I used to posting on Facebook or reading the latest Tweets on Twitter. While social media is a good place to find some attention diverting humor and personal updates from old friends, these days it is also a setting for much anger and venom and false information. I have talked with many people who are weighing the need to block or unfriend others whose views not only disagree with their own but whose views they might even find offensive or even dangerous.
A couple of months ago, in the peak of the COVID 19 crisis in Southeast Michigan I read a Facebook post contributed by a former high school classmate. The basis of the post was that the coronavirus was a hoax and that no one other than a few older people were getting sick and that the governor’s stay-at-home orders were unnecessary and even a political stunt. While I normally ignore these kinds of posts, something moved me that day to respond- not in anger or in judgment, but in what I thought was a presentation of some measured facts. I told her about what I knew to be the conditions at the local hospitals here in SE Michigan and about the trials of the doctors and nurses here. I told her that I knew of people in my congregation with the virus. I told her that I thought COVID 19 needed to be taken more seriously. Within minutes my former classmate and two of her Facebook friends had responded to me. It wasn’t pretty. I was “accused” of being taken in by the reports of the mainstream media and too easily accepting the leftist conspiracy that was attempting to control all of us. I was taken aback, a bit stunned, and I have to admit, even hurt that the nature of my words were completely ignored by the certainty of their response.
At that moment I decided to take a break from posting on Facebook. I still use it for church communication. I still check it each day to read updates from friends and family. But I seldom, if ever make a post or comment on another’s post. I certainly avoid anything political. In these important times with so much happening around us, I feel a bit guilty for my silence. I want people to know where I stand but it just didn’t seem like Facebook was a place to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue. On that day, as far as Facebook is concerned, I shook the dust off my feet and moved on quietly.
I read an article this week written by Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota. The article, written about a year ago, described the first time that she was “trolled” on Facebook. She had always expected it to happen but when it did she felt quite stung by the hurtful comments. Lewis said that in her social media posts, she tries to be faithful to her own commitments, to her own truth, and to her own faith. If someone doesn’t agree with her, that is fine. That is the nature of discourse. But when the dialogue devolved into inflammatory remarks, she- like me, backed off from social media. Lewis offered a quote from journalist Charles Blow saying, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
In the 10th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus prepares to send his disciples to go out and spread the good news of the gospel. Jesus was a realist and he knew the truth about the human condition. He wasn’t as naïve as I was when making my Facebook comment. He wanted to make certain that his followers knew that this discipleship business wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. For one thing, the disciples weren’t yet qualified to be good gospel salesmen. They were rather clueless to the shape and manner of Jesus’ mission. Scott Hoezee writes that it was like sending high school students out to build a skyscraper. It was an impossible task to begin with.
Jesus also knew that he was going to be rejected and that consequently those who spoke for him would also be rejected. The task is urgent and the message is important, but it isn’t going to be as easy or as well received as you wish. “Cure the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leper. Cast our demons. But don’t get too comfortable in your tasks. Prepare for failure. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
I have shared with you before that during my senior year of high school I spent a few days campaigning for then Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. I still have one of his campaign signs in my Tiger Den at home. I was pretty naïve about it all, expecting to change the world, or at least expecting to change the hearts of voters in Grand Rapids, Michigan where a group of us knocked on doors one Saturday. I soon found out that duh, conservative Grand Rapids was not a George McGovern stronghold. Not everyone wanted to hear what I had to say. I don’t think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say! I had a few doors slammed in my face. I was called a few names. My excitement was quickly tempered by a strong yearning to call it quits and just go home. Jesus’ disciples must have experienced that same kind of reception. Rejection. An unappreciative crowd.
Likewise, not everyone wants to hear about the Kingdom of God. Karoline Lewis writes that perhaps our own world is not much different than the mission field into which Jesus’ disciples were sent over 2,000 years ago. As modern day disciples, trying to speak and live out the gospel message we must remember to do our work not with naïve innocence but with eyes wide open. There are many around us who are all too comfortable in their understanding of the world. There are many who refuse to see their sin. There are perhaps many more who fail to see the sins of society and our culture. There are many who only want to hear a gospel message that will save their own skin. They do not want to know that the Kingdom of God is near because if that is true they will have to change and be moved from their places of comfort. They will be challenged. And so it is easier to reject the message and messenger who brings it.
Dallas Willard writes that when he was a young boy, electricity was just coming in to his rural hometown. Yet even when the lines were up and the power was running to homes, many continued to use their old kerosene lanterns, scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters. A new and better idea waited for them but they just didn’t trust it. They thought it to be too much of a hassle, or they simply didn’t believe what they were being told. Certainly they were more comfortable sticking to the old ways.
Jesus knew the danger of opposition and the discouragement of rejection. He sent his disciples out in pairs hoping that they would come to understand the value of one another in preaching the gospel message. He told them to travel lightly, to not expect times and places of satisfying success and complete comfort. And he told them that if they were rejected, they should simply shake the dust off their sandals and move on. Not everyone will have the ears to hear what you are saying. Be prepared to fail and don’t be discouraged by your failure. Don’t take it to heart. Don’t allow the hurt of rejection to affect you. Do not be controlled by the opinions and malice of others. Don’t lose the joy of the gospel message. Don’t hide behind palatable platitudes. Don’t just go through the motions of discipleship. Keep moving. Get over the sting of rejection and seek out those who will receive our love and our message of the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps my decision to mute myself on social media wasn’t the correct one. Perhaps I need to understand that in shaking the dust off my feet, I move on but I don’t give up. It is God who can take the dust of any failure and create something fresh and new. It is God who can speak through any spirit of indifference and rejection with a fresh word of creation that can bring a desire to begin anew.