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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, July 9, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to Kevin Butler on his baptismal day and the nine new adult members on their day of reaffirmation of baptismal vows and always to the glory of God!
Shake Off The Dust
Ezekiel 2:1-5; Mark 6:1-13

It's summertime and many of us are planning trips or returning from them. Based on attendance and emails recently, many of our fellowship are on the trips as I speak. Our packing lists are a bit long—but we need to be appropriately prepared for all circumstances and environments we may encounter. We'll need blankets and jackets for the cool nights to the north, T-shirts and shorts for the hot days to the south. The list is longer than we care to share.

Some of us will go to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico and some to head to Great or not-so-great Lakes—for we are in search of larger bodies of water. Being from Central Ohio, many of us feel the effects of "dehydration." That is, we are deprived of large bodies of water. We seek water because, let's face it, the Olentangy and the Scioto Rivers just don't provide enough hydration for our souls. From the plains of central Ohio we wander in all directions in search of water. And unlike the seekers in Nebraska, we don't have to travel too far to find massive bodies of H2O. Lake Erie is close enough to meet most of our re-hydration needs.
Between picking our destinations and packing to get there, many of us are definitely in "travel mode." Therefore, it is difficult for us as hopeful disciples of Christ to wrap our heads around today's packing list from Jesus. No suit case. No hair dryer. No ATM card. No Traveler's Checks. No cell phone. No reservations. No road maps. No briefcases, laptops, or carry-ons with make-up or perfume. No extra-equipment.

Jesus sends the disciples out two-by-two with these instructions: "Take nothing with you (except a staff). No bread, no bag, no money. Wear sandals, but not two tunics. Don't stay in luxury hotels. Get a modest place and stay there until you leave. If folks don't welcome you, don't stick around. Shake the dust off your feet, shrug your shoulders and head for the exits."
Even with a trimmed down packing list, the 12 go out in six directions for the trip of a lifetime. Demons dance their last gig before them. The lame walk. The blind see. And as in Ezekiel 2:1-5, the work of Jesus' disciples and prophets of God is to deliver the message, is not about sticking around, waiting and watching for all the fruits of God's Word borne in the community. These two-by-two disciples successfully cast out demons, anoint the sick with oil, and bring healing and hope to all they encounter in Christ's name. By all accounts—Luke, Matthew and Mark—they do this and they do it well!

Somewhere between the packing list and the discipleship "to do" list, most of us get lost. While we are pretty good at packing for vacation destinations, we aren't really cut out for discipleship destinations. Comforts we know. Simplicity is not our expertise. But, think about the advantages of traveling light. You are free from bearing unnecessary burdens. You are not tempted to turn the journey into an escape into your "things." Rather than worry about what you are carrying or prepared for, you are taking in what you are seeing and experiencing. Rather than looking down to see where your stuff is, you are looking up and looking out to see the stuff and the people of the journey itself.

The church would do well to learn from the lesson of the sending out of the disciples. Traveling light and going two-by-two, we could really see who and what we are encountering. Maybe the Mormons have it right. White shirt and tie, a bike, a helmet, a partner on the journey. Simple. Clear. No buildings for which to care. No heat, AC and light bills to worry about. How would we look different as disciples of Christ going forth with little to weigh us down as opposed to coming together on this common ground? I think we would find ourselves open and available to be the healers and helpers.

Traveling light is also a way of being vulnerable on the journey. With vulnerability comes the reality of rejection. When Jesus told the disciples to shake off the dust as they encountered rejection, he was reminding them of a gesture used by pious Jews of that time when they would return to Israel from Gentile land. Shaking off the dust was a way of symbolizing separation from any clinging remnant of ritual defilement. It was a formal disavowal of fellowship which also served to show the unreceptive villagers the danger they incurred by rejecting these messengers of God (See Mark Williamson's Commentary on Mark, Interpretation Series, John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1983, p. 120).

While all of us can readily acknowledge that rejection comes with the territory of a door-to-door discipleship, it can still bother us. No matter what line of work we have been in, each one of us knows that changing hearts and minds is not easy business. Even when we can show, without a doubt, that people will be healthier, happier, and more prosperous if they choose a different path (and in this case a different Savior!), we still encounter resistence and rejection. No matter what the issue, people can't self-observe sometimes. And some people can't self-observe most of the time.

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at a national Conference at the National City Church, Disciples of Christ at the invitation of Jim Wallis and Sojourners fellowship. While putting my shoes on after going through the metal detector at Columbus International Airport, I overheard a conversation between two women and one of the Homeland Security officers. One woman asked, "What is the strangest thing you've seen in this job?" The man laughed and told of a man who had come through several weeks earlier with a bowling pin in his carry-on luggage. The officer said he needed to take the bowling pin from the man. They argued for several minutes as the want-to-be passenger could not see any danger in a bowling pin and refused to let them put it in storage for the flight. The man was completely unable to see that a weighed object which fit perfectly into his hand could in any way be used as a weapon. The security officer told the women, "This dude was arguing with the United States of America and Homeland Security about a bowling pin—which we were willing to return to him. He seemed unaware that we could haul him off to jail! And I am sure he would have ended up in a prison without a bowling alley!"

As a preacher, I am well aware that all of you will not heed my advice, encouragement or the wisdom of the sages and prophets of old. I am also aware that, not only is my preaching, our teaching, and the "Congregational Way" unacceptable for some who come here, but that if a person needs to turn me off, and reject this pathway of faith for themselves, there is nothing I can do but shake off the dust and move on.

This is good advice. While it is important to be in covenant with others in our faith community and while it important to work through differences, there may come a time, when shaking off the dust—for a debate, for disagreements, and from family or community disagreements—is the only way to leave something alone. I saw a New Yorker cartoon recently in which a young man is talking with his dad and he asks, "Dad, back in the 60's what word did you use when you wanted to say, `Whatever'?" While I don't think the expression was "Shake off the dust and move on," it might have been something like that. Find a way in your life through the seemingly unresolvable issues you face. Try to travel light and not carry such a burden of guilt or shame. It will not serve you well. But, you go forward, be self-observant and open to the words and the way of Jesus.

If you are on your way to water, get your packing list together. Actually, why don't you leave the packing list to Jesus. He knows what's needed for this journey. Be prepared to carry the following items: the Grace and peace of God, a willing and open heart to listen and learn, a forgiven and forgiving heart... just a few items you might have left off your list. And don't forget to shake off the dust of your prayer life and your life of discipleship. Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church