Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Shaking off failure

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Pentecost 6B, July 5, 2015

Mark 6:1-13 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On 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! 3Is 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. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
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Apparently, mothers have been doing this for a while
When I was a kid, one of the phrases I hated to hear coming from my mom’s mouth was: “You weren’t listening.” She would say it if I didn’t follow her directions or if I had disobeyed or if I had disappointed her. They were words of accusation, of having fallen short.  Whatever had happened, her conclusion about my behavior was that I just hadn’t listened well enough, and if I had just paid attention more, I wouldn’t be in trouble. In truth, sometimes it was that I hadn’t listened. But sometimes I hadn’t wanted to hear, and other times I hadn’t been able to live up to her expectations or mine.  Facing my mom’s disappointment was often the most difficult part of having failed, and as I grew up, I tried very hard not to fail.

It turns out, though, that failing is part of life. It’s a human experience, universal to us all. And failure is at the heart of all of our texts today. 
The first text, from Ezekiel, deals with the failure of a nation as they turned away from God and rebelled against God’s ways of righteousness and justice. In the second text from 2nd Corinthians, Paul talks about his own weaknesses as an apostle. And in the gospel, we hear from Jesus on the subject.

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A super creepy alternative to the God-human relationship
If you’ve grown up hearing about Jesus, you’ve probably heard about how perfect Jesus was- he was without sin, or as some would say, perfect. So it might be a little surprising to realize that he’s not perfect in this story. It turns out that Jesus can do all sorts of things, but one miracle he can’t perform is making people accept him or believe in him. That was true then in his hometown, and it remains true today. If he could, I suppose that would nullify faith- because instead of coming to love and be in relationship with God because we responded to God’s goodness, we would just be puppets. So the freedom to choose- this is a part of what God gives human beings. But that gift also means that people can turn away from God, as the Israelites did, and it means that Jesus’ hometown friends and relatives can reject him, and thus miss out on the blessings offered by God.

Image result for rejection aheadIf the Israelites rejected God’s ways, and friends and relatives rejected Jesus, it’s not a great surprise that people would reject the disciples that Jesus sent out two by two. What a gift that Jesus anticipates that very scenario and gives the disciples instructions on how they are to continue in the face of that rejection!

Rejection can be very hard to deal with. I once met a group of people who literally turned their backs on me, giving me the proverbial cold shoulder. Even though I knew it could have nothing to do with me, after all, I had just met them, I still felt like I had failed, like I had fallen short or done something wrong. And it put me emotionally right back into what I felt like when my mom was disappointed in me. I felt stuck, frozen. Shame and failure have the tendency to do that to many of us. But there are lots of other ways to react: to take the rejection quietly, argue, leave, or confront the behavior.

What is it that Jesus tells the disciples to do? “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.” Let it go and keep going. Keep walking. Jesus sends them out to walk, to be on the move, and if anyone doesn’t listen, doesn’t receive the good news, they are to keep on keeping on.

Think of your own life. Where are the failures, the places you’ve fallen short, the people who have turned away from you? There is no need to shy away from the pain, the sorrow, the ways you’ve fallen short, for God’s grace is sufficient for you, and God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God accepts all of you, shortcomings and all.

God knows all of you and accepts you, and not only that, but God calls you, any way, warts and all, and entrusts to you the task of partnering with God to bring healing to this world, to share the good news of God’s love and mercy and grace through Jesus.

Image result for person hiking with walking stickSo whatever the past holds, whatever pain or sorrow or rejection you’ve known, shake that dust off your feet, and let’s walk with one another, opening our hearts to whatever God may bring us to next. For God has given us a mission, and we are sent out, not to be stuck in fear or shame but that we may share our various gifts so that all may know God’s unconditional love. Amen.

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