Psalm 100, Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23) and Acceptance by Robert Frost
Happy Sunday beautiful people! Welcome to the second Sunday after Pentecost and the fourteenth worship service streaming live and sharing our message and our love all over the world. I want to remind you to keep breathing, to give thanks for this life and this day, for this miraculous way that we are still connecting.
And we begin this time by turning our hearts and minds toward the message meant for each of us today whatever that might be, as we pray this prayer from Psalm 19:14. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship God with gladness; come before the Divine with joyful songs. What does this most beloved Psalm mean to us now, in a moment when joy can feel missing or disjointed and gladness can seem to come in spurts?
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
It made me think of the hymn, My Life Flows On in Endless Song... above earth’s lamentation… Because now is a moment where we don’t just have to sing high above earth’s lamentation, but we are singing and praising while we are apart and on mute! We are singing and praying amid an uprising. We are singing and laughing in a recession. So we should know that joy will come and whenever it comes, however it arrives, we shall shout for joy anyway!
Not because all is well, not because we know how it will turn out, but because for those who are and continue to be open, the Universe extended us a most incredible invitation. Not everyone RSVP’d yes to this invitation because it came packaged in tension and discomfort and stay-at-home orders. This invitation asked us to see what we missed, when the busyness stopped and most all of shared life was stripped away. This invitation asked us to bake bread and cook from scratch and waste less. It summoned us to see and to be heartbroken by the reality of Black people in this country. This invitation asked us to see the plight of workers- to see the disparity in education and in healthcare. This invitation showed us what might be revealed, if we stopped. And because we had to, we did. And I have heard from many of you that over these months, you have found yourself more reflective and contemplative, more observant of the incredible detailed beauty outside, more introspective and curious about your inner life. The great slow down has made it possible to change old patterns and replace them with ones that bring truth, gladness and maybe even joy. And because of all of this, I have heard a new mantra among us, one sent from the Divine and it might have been in tiny print at the bottom of the invitation or spoken really fast at the beginning of all of this: we can’t go back. There’s no going back.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
But we are now tired, weary, some of us angry, some of us distressed mentally, physically and economically, and still we have to keep going. We have to remind one another that we can’t go back- that there’s no going back, that we will carry one another across the line to the new way because we are going to insist, build, create, shape, shout a new normal into being. Even though the path ahead is unknown. Even though the path ahead is frightening. Now that we have lost all illusions of security and certainty, let us put in their place interdependence and beloved community on this precious planet earth.
But while we are exhausted and down low, this is also the moment when we must be on guard- the moment we have to be on alert, to keep wide awake, even when it is foggy. Because the powers and principalities, the fear and anger of some who feel their grip on domination slipping, are unapologetically, silencing dissent, suppressing votes and taking advantage of the pain.
Jesus said that there are times in life when we are in the world, like sheep in the midst of wolves and that we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And still we are called to see what is and to put ourselves proximate to what is hurting and who is lost, to who feels like they don’t belong. We are called to proclaim what is good, to remind ourselves and our community that we must hang on, 'The kin-dom of heaven has come near,' we can almost taste it, there’s no going back.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
So Jesus says, keep focused on what you are to do: ensuring the sick are cured and those who feel dead are brought back to life and those who need a fresh start can have one. And he tells us of the cost- of broken relationships, of challenged relationships, even in family households. The words he uses are harsh. And he says, even when you encounter turmoil for believing what you do- do it without payment, take nothing in exchange, no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts. Take no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for workers should have food. “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.”
This command, to “shake the dust off your feet” appears four times in the Christian Scriptures.
As Morris Inch writes in, Signature of the Spirit: According to Luke/Acts, “In each case the command is spoken by Jesus to His disciples when He sent them out.” It was what was said right before the hard work was to begin. Some argue that this ancient Jewish custom to "shake off" any dust or dirt was about removing the dirt from outside lands when returning to Israel, or even off any imported fruit and food as a sign of disapproval as a way to show a separation from the practices of Gentiles.
But Herb Montgomery writes that “Shaking dust off of one’s feet was not an act of rejection, but an act of warning. It was a warning to those one genuinely cared about, was invested in, and saw as one’s own people. It was a sign of deep concern with the direction one’s own community was headed in.”
Shake it off and keep your direction. Shake it off or you could be weighed down and stuck with someone else’s dirt.
Maybe this is a poetic way of saying what Taylor Swift sang,
“ the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off…"
Shake it off, keep your direction, just keep going. Sometimes the laborers will be few, but what is needed is you.
But in order to keep going, in order to keep reminding one another that we can’t go back- that there’s no going back, we have to be on alert for wolves and we have to shake off the dust from all that distracts us from our direction, from where we know we can go. We have to shake it off and keep traveling onward because yet not everyone will want to come along.
As one writer contended, “With these words, Yeshua warned His disciples that not every place would receive their message. He told them not to waste time arguing or trying to persuade people.” https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/shaking-the-dust-from-their-fe.html
Not everyone wants to wake up. Not everyone yet sees what is possible. Not everyone will speak kindly of our aims. And yet, shake it off and keep going. People often degrade and mock what is challenging, unlived or misunderstood. It is part of our story to carry on anyway. We all need to shake it off to us where we are going. And maybe what this means is this: when our Black and Brown colleagues and friends tell us we don’t understand, instead of getting defensive, we will listen instead of wanting to show fiercely what we see is good- a good country, good officers, good people. Instead, we will stop talking and learn and hear what it’s like and what we can do. In church life, when we are doing work worth doing, the going is sure to get rough and instead of withdrawing or being angry, we will turn to wonder and seek to understand and what’s underneath. And we will talk directly and with love. In our politics instead of claiming “those people” are idiots, we will love them and shake it off and keep our direction, so we aren’t weighed down by someone else’s dirt.
We will keep going forward, not back, and we will put our energy to love and to those who want to come along! We will keep shouting for joy when we can. And it will take tension and discomfort and we will create a community among us and beyond us, where all belong, and this will bring healing, sustainability, hope, contemplation, compassion, action, wholeness, equity- Let go of fear, the kin-dom of heaven has come near,“when the winds of war, can’t blow anymore, better times will come!” Shake it off and shout for joy! Onward we go! May it be so.