If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.

Before I left on vacation, I’d planned to preach a series of sermons onphoto-102-e1381186898769.jpg King David. In case you missed it, we’ve been reading from the First and Second Books of Samuel from the first of June until now, and will continue to right up until mid August, a full eleven Sundays spending time with the prohet Samuel and King Saul and King David.

To refresh your memory, we began June 1st with the calling of the Samuel, and two Sundays later we met up with Samuel anointing David, just a boy, as the Lord’s chosen. The following Sunday, King Saul sent that same shepherd boy into battle against Goliath, as the story goes, a giant defeated by a child. We skipped over the Witch of Endor sending Saul into battle to face his deadly end but landed in his wake last Sunday to hear David mourning his death on his own way to the throne. And today we meet up with David in our first lesson: a thirty-year-old king, leaning into greater and greater, reigning from Jerusalem, now called the City of David.

In the words of Robert Alter, “The story of David is probably the greatest single narrative [from] antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. [It] provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power.” [1]

Human life warped by power is an old story.  No matter how strong or weak you are, the stories of Samuel and Saul and David ask you to examine what you’re up to in your own use of power. They are stories about what happens to us when we spend our lives pursuing power, making enemies, exploiting the helpless. While their temptations – the temptations of great men – may not be ours, we have our own way of making enemies and turning our backs on those who need us. All of this to say, while I planned to preach about David today, and will do in the coming weeks, today Jesus got in the way of my plans. And not for the first time. Somehow today’s gospel wove its way into the whole subject of power in an unexpected way.

You see, today Jesus empowers those who follow him for spiritual warfare, like anointing them as God’s chosen. He even gives them authority over unclean spirits. Demons. And having empowered his followers to hit the road two by two, he tells them to take nothing but a walking stick: no bread, no bag, no money; and to wear only sandals and not overdress.

It’s like he wants them to remember however mightily they may battle the unclean spirits of our world, they mustn’t wear the usual armor of power. Because that’s the temptation when you have power: the hope of sheilding yourself from the need and practice of mercy. To avoid that pitfall, the disciples of Jesus must find a way to hold on to their own humility before others. They must never forget what it is to go hungry or what it means to need, and ask for, help.

And commending all of that, Jesus asks one last thing of them. He tells them, as they go from town to town, to shake the dust from their feet whenever anyone refuses to receive them or listen to them. And to shake that dust “as testimony against them.” On the surface it sounds like Jesus is finally giving us permission to make enemies. Telling those who follow him to go ahead and kick up the dust of another man’s wrong, and say, Here’s what I think of you for not listening to me! Eat my dust!

A deeper reading, though, suggests he’s hoping to help them manage their own frustrations and disappointments without turning them into lifelong grudges. Think here of how you feel when people refuse to listen to you, refuse to give you their attention, refuse even the friendship you have to offer them. Think how you feel when you’re rejected for no reason at all. It’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re inferior. It’s hard not to feel defeated. Plus, when someone hurts you, you want to hurt them, too, and somehow rise up against them, and through anger find a way to shield yourself from further harm. And Jesus knows this about us: he knows humility isn’t easy to hold onto in the face of defeat, but he also knows it’s the only way to hold on to your humanity.

Shaking the dust off as testimony against those who reject you isn’t an eye-for-an-eye practice. No, it’s a way of saying, Your bad behavior is on you. Not me. It’s yours to carry. Not mine. So, here, let me leave it with you. And as I go, may God give me the grace in time to let go of the hard feelings I have toward you and do my best to keep on loving other people they way I want to be loved.

The Rev. Jamie Maury, a dear friend of this parish and a pastor to the homeless, recently sent me a link to a song called No Hard Feelings. It’s by the Avett Brothers. I wish I could sing it to you: it is so beautiful, like prayer. Instead I’ll share its questions with you:

When my body won’t hold me anymore, and it finally lets me free, Will I be ready? . . . Will my hands be steady when I lay down my fears, my hopes and my doubts, the rings on my fingers, and the keys to my house, with no hard feelings? When the sun hangs low in the west . . . and it’s just hallelujah  . . . and love in the songs they sing in the church and no hard feelings — Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone, kept me afraid and cold with so much to have and hold. When my body won’t hold me anymore and it finally lets me free, where will I go? Will the trade winds take me south through Georgia grain? . . . Will I join the ocean blue? Or run into a savior true? And shake hands laughing, and walk through the night, straight into the light, holding the love I’ve known in my life, and no hard feelings. Under the curving sky, I’m finally learning why it matters for me and you, to say it and mean it too, for life and its loveliness and all of its ugliness, good as it’s been to me, “I have no enemies, I have no enemies. I have no enemies.” [2]

In the gospel, and in that holy song, I hear Jesus asking us to follow him. Till we surrender the keys to the house, that’s the journey we’re on, you and I. It begins every day and it’s always forever arriving at our end: our end in him. And toward that end, how we live every day matters.

Hard feelings are destructive and yet strangely they often feel empowering, which makes it hard to give them up. They land you in hell and send you to hell, too. Jesus knew that. And he knew you’d need to make a daily practice of forsaking all hardness of heart in order to come clean with him. He called it shaking the dust from your feet. That dust is made of what others did or said to you to hurt you and of your own frustration, disappointment, and resentment, sometimes your own understandable desire to get even.

Shake it off. Shake it off today. And if you need help with what others have done to you, then ask for help. Spiritual guidance, compassionate friends, and skilled therapists can be a great help. And remember, every one of us can shake off the dust of injury by fostering a more just and loving world.

Resentment (even resentment born of injustice done to you) belongs to the world of unclean spirits. Never let it destroy your beautiful life or vanquish the holy potential God has given you. Instead, shake it off and give it back to those who made it: a testimony against the unclean spirits of our world, a testimony to your faith and freedom in Christ Jesus.

[1] Robert Alter, The David Story: a translation with commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., (New York,  NY: 1999), ix.

[2]  Timothy Seth Avett / Scott Yancey Avett / Robert William Crawford, No Hard Feelings lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC,  True Sadness, “No Hard Feelings, Republic Records, (New York, NY: 2016), https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=no+hard+feelings+avet&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8


4 thoughts on “shake off | Mark 6:1-13

  1. I found your “Funny Valentine” from February 2, 2014 — and was again swept up in awe of your gift, Lauren …. as we often discussed. And here you are, still publishing RedClayRubric as a light unto the gentiles. We sang a powerful Evensong last week at The National Cathedral, and I thought of your Simeon.

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