Feeling a bit dry and dusty?

Collect for Wednesday 23rd September, 2015

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ezra 9.5-9 At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.

Luke 9.1-6 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Why is it okay for Jesus to say 'Wipe the dust off your feet as a testimony against them'? 

On Sunday I was speaking about how it is interesting always to see that Jesus' teaching was something he followed through on; he wasn't frightened of challenge and conflict but he sought to bring everything out onto the light and to face it head-on. He challenges the Pharisees, he calls the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, he turns tables in a temple.

It seems to me that just as we can not define God by a definition of love that is outside of God and to which he must conform, we can neither create our own definition of 'mission' and ask Jesus to conform to it either. Neither the Father not the Son will capitulate to definitions outside of themselves, which are, if we really admit it, created by man. When we define love, it must look like God. God is love, God authors love and Christ is 'mission,' mission in the flesh, Mission incarnated, born for us. The purpose of mission is so that God's reign and rule come to earth. God in Godself is love and mission. What do love and mission look like? They look like God. What does God look like – like Jesus : the exact image of the invisible God and what does Jesus look like: the Bible tells us so. And so... the Bible defines love and the Bible defines mission. God is mission. The Triune godhead is all about sending: the sending of the Son, the sending of the Spirit and then our being sent ( the actual meaning of apostle ) 'sent one.' 

And so it seems, therefore, that Jesus can advocate that sometimes we are to wipe the dust off our feet ! We can move on. Our own dogged determination is perhaps sometimes just that: too dogged and too stubborn.... when perhaps God is saying to us – "Hey – I do the saving – not you, move on, it isn't their time yet, or they can't see me or hear me through you, but you are not to worry, I have just the person, who will reach them, all lined up!"

In my life, God used a teacher, a gentle woman, even of similar height to me. Through her, I first heard God in a real way, in a heart way, in an experiential way. Even on shaking her hand for the very first time, I knew! I was supposed to meet this curate of a former church, she had amazing things to tell me about God. She did.

This is then why Christ can say 'Wipe the dust from your feet,' - there is a right perspective gained when we get our eyes on God, when we know that it's his Kingdom that we are invited to build with him, that in the end it isn't up to us who chooses faith and following and who does not. There is a master builder and we are just his staff-team, there is a greater power and we are just the percussion, there is a greater plan and we play a tiny part.

St Paul wipes the dust from his feet time and time again, speaking out to all God's people, knowing some would prefer him dead. He escapes stoning, shipwreck, persecutions, personal injury, abuse, misunderstandings and it finally cost him his life but he pushes on with purpose and in the greatest of humility with an unshakable confidence in Christ.

Unshakable confidence and all other confidences are shaken down and then this finally helps us understand Jesus' command to shake the dust off our feet, to not let the dustiness cling to us from those rejecting the message of Christ.

Dust is very significant in the bible – the serpent, the Satan, the deceiver is punished by becoming cursed in his creatureliness to a life of crawling in the dust: “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:14)”. Adam whose name means ground creature, (Adamah in the Hebrew) the first human came from dust and to dust he will return at the end of his life. "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return."

Dust is an indication of our rejection of the Kingdom of God. And life in the Spirit and eternal life indicative of the life we know instead in Christ. We bear the image of the first Adam, we have this dustiness but we bear the image of the second Adam too – the life we know in Christ and so dustiness reduces as Spirit meets our flesh.

Shaking off the dust then is as symbolic as it is practical. Yes, the disciples would have dirtied their feet as they travelled preaching and bringing news of God's reign and rule but they would also have needed to move on to bring the message to those who could receive it; to not continue with the dust but to find those who were receptive and spend their efforts there, on those open to the Spirit.

And what to do about those who we might need to leave in their own dust for a while? Keep loving them anyway, love those who test you, pray for them and wish them well, but know your limits and remind God they are HIS business and give him time to do his job and as he completes his work in them.

We are that amazing combination, all of us, of Spirit and dust. 

Remind yourself every now and then. When water and dust mix we get the malleability of clay – we are lumps of stuff becoming … in the potter's hand – keep praying for the Spirit when you sense you're getting dry, let God rebuild you and remake you. Keep praying for the living streams when you walk through clouds of dust. It's okay to shake a little dust from your toes every now and then – you remind God and yourself that he's in charge... not you!


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