Daniel P. Strandlund
St. John’s Episcopal Church
July 5, 2015
Proper 9B, Mark 6:1-13
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two¦.
Evidence of Where We’ve Been
Lucy and I have a dog named Zooby. Zooby is a big black dog, part lab, part pit-bull, part farm animal, and one of the many things I love about Zooby is that he is a terrible liar. When he is happy, his whole body wags with delight. When he’s scared of the vacuum cleaner, he tucks his tail between his legs and slinks quickly into the next room. Most of all, if he has been misbehaving while we were out of the house, it never occurs to him to destroy the evidence.
Zooby has dragged the recycling bag from the kitchen into the living room, leaving a little parade of empty food containers in its wake. The hummus container has been gnawed in half. The rim of a plastic mayonnaise jar is chewed off, and he has licked the inside of it so clean that you would never know that it had ever contained mayonnaise.
My favorite, though, was one time in seminary when Lucy and I had traveled back to Alabama for a few days and were staying with some friends of ours in Birmingham. They have a dog named Lance who’s about Zooby’s size, and so we figured that Zooby and Lance would play together in the backyard while we humans were out at work or eating dinner or whatever, and everybody would be happy.
At the end of our first day there, we all get home from wherever we’d been, and the back gate to the chain link fence is standing wide open. There are no dogs anywhere. Our friends’ house is in a pretty quiet and friendly neighborhood where stuff like this happens a lot, but I got a little worked up inside and started worrying about them, thinking they might get hit by a car or tear up somebody’s yard or eat somebody’s cat. So I’m good and stressed out as we start walking down the street whistling and calling for the dogs and all that. A few minutes later we hear some noises on the other side of somebody’s house, and sure enough Zooby and Lance come thundering around the side of the house like a couple of buffalo; they go straight through this person’s flowerbed, and they’re both just so happy to see us like this is the best day they’ve ever had.
We never figured out exactly what they had been doing, but they must have gotten into somebody’s trash or raided a birthday party or something because Zooby’s entire head is covered with bright orange powdered Dorito cheese. You know, that stuff Cheetos are made of. Zooby’s panting and his tongue is hanging out and he’s completely oblivious that anything is out of the ordinary about any of this. Lance is right there next to him, and he’s panting too, but then Lance notices that Zooby’s head is coated with Dorito flavor so he just starts licking that cheese stuff right off of Zooby’s face.
I start trying to wipe the cheese stuff off of Zooby’s noggin, but then I’ve got it on my fingers so both Zooby and Lance start trying to lick it off of my hands”and I think to myself, I hate both of these animals. The vivid orange evidence of their miscreant behavior is glowing all over Zooby’s face, and they could not be more excited about it.
There are a lot of potential problems whenever a preacher makes a metaphor about how the Christian life is like a dog’s because of x, y, or z. Dogs don’t think the way people do, they don’t bear God’s image in the same way people do, they just aren’t responsible for each other and for the planet the way people are, and I think God wants a more intimate and total relationship with us than any dog owner wants with their dog. But I think this much is true: whenever and however it is that I stand before my Lord, I think He’s going to see the evidence of my life smeared all over my face, my hands, and my feet. Every joy, every sorrow, every life I’ve touched or been touched by, every unremembered kindness and every grievance I’ve nursed will be out in the open, and I will be both unable and unwilling to hide any of it, just like Zooby and his face full of Dorito cheese.
In our Gospel today, Jesus sends out twelve disciples in pairs to cast out demons, to proclaim the repentance of sins, and to heal the sick (6:12-13), and when they return, they will bear witness to all that they saw, taught, and did (6:30). The story of their journey, the places they’ve been and the people they’ve seen, will be written on their faces.
When a pair of disciples finds a welcoming house, they are to stay there and use it as a base for their missionary activities until their work is completed in that area, and then move on. But if they are not welcomed in a place, they are to brush the dust off their feet as a testimony against that town as they leave (6:11). Notice what this means: if the disciples receive no welcome in a place, then they can cast out no demon there, they can proclaim no repentance or forgiveness of sins, and they can heal no sick people. Likewise, when they leave, they take none of the dust of that place with them. The relationship never takes root, and so the very dust of that town becomes a dry, lifeless testimony of inhospitality to Christ’s messengers.
But on the flipside, every place that welcomes and supports Jesus’ disciples unknowingly sends a little something with them. The very dust of that city’s streets goes with the disciples on their way. The dust of Galilee gets mingled in with the dust of Montgomery, Selma and Greensboro as the disciples travel and spend time with people. The disciples’ missionary journey gives us a subtle reminder that all the peoples of the earth are one in Christ Jesus, that we’re all made from dust, and that we as Christ’s disciples survive only by the grace of the communities in which we find ourselves.
When the disciples return to Jesus, he sees the dirt and debris of their journey on their faces, hands, and feet. He can see the evidence of the places they’ve been, the places where they lingered long in the warm hospitality of others curing people by the hundreds, and he can see the evidence of the places where they stayed for days and worked hard with little to show for their labors. He sees their sunburns and the dirt under their fingernails. It’s like the disciples all start turning in receipts for their work-related expenses. Two receipts for lunch at Derk’s, and another from Durbin Farms, and a tank of gas in Lownesboro. All of this testifies on their behalf and on behalf of the towns where they’ve been, but those towns which did not receive them have no testimony before the Lord.
I imagine Jesus saying something like, Nobody’s said anything about Prattville, to which one of the disciples says, Yeah, we hit a snag with the van. But we’ll get there eventually.
Or maybe one of the disciples just decided not to come back. Jesus starts counting heads and only comes up with 11. Wait a minute, where’s Phil? And one of the others says, He met a girl in Tuscaloosa. Decided he liked the place.
The longer we live and work in a place, the more of its rhythms we acquire. We learn its habits and its quirks of language. For example, Derk’s is not actually the name of a restaurant in Montgomery. There’s a sign for a place called Filet and Vine, but you have to talk to somebody here in order to learn what Derk’s is. Or for another example, until a few days ago, I thought that the restaurant over on Mulberry Street was called Sharky’s. It turns out, it’s Shashy’s, and I’m apparently just not very good at reading the cursive writing on the sign. This is the kind of dust that stays on our feet when we are welcomed into a place, the kind of dust that becomes evidence of the life we are living. The longer we stay in a place, the more of its dust we gather, both good and bad, and this is the testimony we present to Christ when this missionary life of ours is completed.
So we’ve seen a little of how Christ sends out the disciples to the surrounding countryside, and when they return they bring their testimony of all that they have seen and done, which places a kind of judgment on the cities and towns of Galilee: if the town welcomed the disciples, then the disciples will have brought some token of their time there back with them.
But what if we expand this pattern of mission? We see Christ sending out his disciples, and how they return to him and bear witness of all that they did and taught. But we know also that God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has sent God the Son into the world, and that God the Son, returns and bears witness, too. Just as the judgment of the cities and towns the disciples visit is revealed in their dusty feet as they relate their journeys to their Lord, so too, is the judgment of the world revealed in Christ’s hands and feet as he returns to the right hand of God the Father in heaven at the end of his earthly mission.
After Jesus’s death on Good Friday, I imagine God the Father looking at the marks of his crucifixion and saying to him, You look like hell. What happened out there? To which Jesus says, Yeah, we hit a snag. Bless their hearts, they screwed it up pretty bad, didn’t they? But don’t worry, we’ll get there eventually. I’m headed back on Sunday. Things will get better from there.
And God the Father says, Sounds like a plan. By the way, is that seer-sucker you’re wearing? And Jesus replies, Yeah, they rub off on you, don’t they?
My point is this: God has been working on the salvation of the world for so long, that he finally started eating, living and breathing as one of us; he took on our earthly dust. He learned to be a carpenter, and he wore sandals and a robe because that’s just what people wore in those days. But make no mistake, God is still working on healing the world, and he’s trying to do it through Christ’s body, the Church. That means that as we speak, Christ is wearing the clothes of your body as he goes about this city trying to do the same work he’s always done, which is reconciling all people to God and to each other. That has to guide our behavior as we discern the work Christ is calling us to: we have to ask, Is this Christ’s work being done through me and my family and my community?
This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. We live in our country as citizens with a great deal of financial, intellectual and bodily liberty. This is a gift which comes with great responsibility. If it is true that we are the clothes Christ is wearing in this world, then we must each think long and hard about what it is we’re doing with all this freedom. Are we disciples of Jesus Christ venturing outside our own homes and towns as living testaments to the love of God, or are we more like Zooby and Lance, just dogs let loose from the backyard, coming home with faces full of Dorito cheese?
God sees all the evidence all the time, things done and left undone. My hope for us as individuals and as St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, AL, is that when we come before our Lord and Savior, he will see evidence of strange dust on our feet, that we have walked long and hard in neighborhoods unfamiliar to us, that we’ve gone out of our way to welcome strangers into our midst, and that we’ve broken bread with them on their own soil, just as Christ continues to break bread with us on ours.
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On 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! Is 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 offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ˜Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ˜Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 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.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.