I’ve often thought about this phrase; “shake off the dust from your feet” and for years believed that it meant you were never to return to a place because it turned out to be so unhealthy. After all what would be the purpose for returning once you’ve shaken off every remnant of dust? I think though that it’s not so much about the place, as it is about us shaking off a not so good experience and giving ourselves and opportunity to walk in “clean” as we enter in to a new environment. In this way we don’t bring our hurt or feelings of dissappointment to the new place. Whatever drama was happening in the place we left will simply have to work itself out without us and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t return. At times our journey can become discouraging, but if we can shake off the dust from that discouragement, the path ahead isn’t quite so heavy. I thank you God because the harvest is plentiful. You encourage us to “shake it off” and keep moving as we walk annointed in your grace and mercy.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two… Mark 6:1-13
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:9-17 Jesus is sitting at the table with tax collectors and sinners, those marginalized by society, treated as unworthy and shamed for having done something “sinful.” When pressed by the Pharisees to justify himself, Jesus challenges them with a statement straight out of Hosea (6:6), the prophet commanded to marry a prostitute! Part of their challenge is understanding where they fit in the story. By sitting with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus demonstrates that no physical sacrifice takes the place of God’s mercy and grace for his people. Jesus, like Hosea joins himself with the lost and the marginalized. His purpose is first to heal, redeem and reconcile them back to God. If the Pharisees see themselves as the righteous and their knowledge of the law as a gift, the challenge is clear; they too are charged to show mercy. What are our gifts? Where do we fit in the story? I’ve come to understand that the gifts God has given us is not about us. It’s about God using us through those gifts, in order that everyone has the opportunity to sit with Christ at the table of mercy, receive healing, and be redeemed back into His fold; tax collectors, sinners and Pharisees alike.
For your arrows have already pierced me, and your hand presses hard upon me. Psalm 38:2 Particularly, in transgressions, we open our mouths and become our own worst critic. We wonder how we could have done something so foolish, selfish, and mean. We belabor the act for days and try to justify our actions knowing full well there is no justification. We despise the fact that even if for a brief moment, we became something that in the past we judged we now stand in judgment. We project that everyone now looks upon us with disdain. We pull our selves back and everyone including God seems so far away. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t listen to the haters among us or the ones in our own mind, those who mock or scorn, who themselves are just as guilty for we all stand in judgment. Our first step is to open our mouths to confess, knowing that God will hear the sorrow that is true repentance and forgive us. We must open our mouths only to praise and bless God who continually shows us grace and mercy and accept His forgiveness and continue to follow the path you know to be right.
…mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:1-13 …for there is no one who does not sin 2 Chronicles 6:32-7:7 Of the things that please God, mercy is high on the list. Mercy has been defined as something we give to one who clearly does not deserve it. Yet God gives mercy everyday and we accept it, sometimes without graciousness and he in turn continues to be merciful. At times it seems the doses of mercy are quite small but when you think about it, it’s always just enough to bring us into the next day. The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4
The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting; grant me understanding, that I may live. Psalm 119: 144 Once I started a new job and for days I asked God for mercy that I may make it through; that my days would be light and without issue. Initially the mercy I asked for was granted. Then one day someone complained about my work and I asked God, “What happened to the mercy?” After a while, things neither got better or worse. Even though the work was hard and ultimately it wasn’t what I wanted to do, I had settled in to the job along with everyone else. I realized in this situation I wasn’t special. We were all deserving of mercy. The job was what it was; some days light and some days heavy. It changed from day to day. God had no more taken the mercy from me than he did from anyone else. I stopped asking for mercy and began to thank God for giving me strength and the strength of my co-workers.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Luke 18:9-14 We know the rest of the story, the Pharisee raises himself up before God, and the Tax collector humbles himself. While I was in South Africa I met a man who worked as a prison guard at Robben Island. He shared with us his unhappiness to be a part of an apartheid system but that job was how he fed his family. He tried to do what he could to be fair in his own treatment of the inmates but he knew it wasn’t enough. Now whenever I read this parable I wonder if that tax collector felt powerless and if he too had a family to feed. We’ve all felt powerless at some point and time yet even in our powerlessness God is evermore willing to receive us in the same way he received that tax collector. He will not withhold his mercy. He will not withhold his love.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God. Psalm 40
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 More than twenty plus years ago, I had a terrible “addiction” to potato chips. I didn’t realize how bad it was until one day I walked past a display of potato chip bags while in a Wawa store and my mouth started watering. I am not sure how long my body had been reacting this way, nor why on this particular day I somehow noticed it. But looking back on it, subconsciously I suppose it may have been because the season of Lent was approaching and I had been previously thinking that Lent had no real affect on me and was trying to decide whether I should have some participation in it that year. Up to that point the only thing I had ever done for Lent was to not eat meat on Fridays. I understand now that the reason this practice did not have any real affect on me was because it left fish in my diet and I loved eating fish, thus there was no sacrifice. To make maters worse, in spite of my Pavlovian response to the potato chip bags, I bought them anyway. A few days later after a scheduled doctor’s appointment, I had to come to grips with the fact that over one year I had gain 15 pounds and was heavier than I had ever been except for the time when I carried my children. It didn’t take me long to deduce that my eating habits were taking my body in a direction I knew I didn’t want to go. It was clear to me that salivating at the mouth was sign that I had been conditioned to the propensity for desiring potato chips. If I was going to achieve a healthier body, I needed to change my eating habits and potato chips were first on the list. Needless to say, Lent was tough for me that year – and yes I fell off the wagon, prayerfully only one time. But this is exactly what the season of Lent is about – consciously giving ourselves the opportunity to come face to face with our weaknesses and those things that have kept us from knowing more of God’s love for us – giving them over to God totally and completely – replacing our desire for the physical with our desire for the spiritual – forgiving ourselves when we fall – and returning with a repentant heart towards a forgiving God who is nothing less than gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love.
Something as delightful as a bag of potato chips had become an obstacle albeit a small one, but nonetheless and obstacle to my health. It’s easy to do in this world. But weaning ourselves off of physical things we have conditioned ourselves to become servants to is necessary if we intend to be servants of Christ. Like Paul we sometimes must commend (accept) ourselves in humility – in order that we may obtain the ultimate reward; as Paul says – having nothing and yet possessing everything.
May He who came into the world to save sinners – strengthen each of us through this season and beyond to complete the fast with humility, share in the feast of his grace and mercy upon us – and in the end, raise us up into his glory. AMEN
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to be his teacher or counselor? Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good or what is best? No, for all the nations of the world are nothing in comparison with him…. Have you never heard or understood? Are you deaf to the words of God — the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. The people below must seem to him like grasshoppers! He is the one who spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them. He judges the great people of the world and brings them all to nothing. Isaiah 4:12-23
I had some very interesting experiences this weekend and as I begin this week of my journey in Christ, this message from the Prophet Isaiah stood out for me as part of todays lectionary readings. When we find ourselves with those who think they are the smartest persons in the room this passage speaks loud and clear – remembering that we all are but dust and unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain (Psalm 127). From company meetings to general conventions, I suppose sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. However, for the believer, through Christ reconciliation is always at hand we must remember that it begins within us and makes its ascent upwards and then the process of grace, mercy, healing and growth begins to re-shape.
John 9:1-2 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus assures the disciples that no one is at fault in this case. Of course the blindness that the disciples speak of is a physical one but I believe our reality is that we are all born spiritually blind but only in that the soul within us, which yearns to be awakened, has yet to be shaken up by an experience of grace (something we receive that we did not earn) and mercy (something we deserve but did not receive). Don’t be deceived, no physical birth is ever at fault. So let’s begin to work and pray for one another that God’s grace and mercy will manifest through each of us and for each of us. Then one day we will all see perfectly. Amen.
How many storms must we go through before our faith breaks through and we are not concerned about what other people say about our weaknesses? If the truth be known, we are weak in various ways that all too often we are afraid to admit, because we fear that we will be scorned, rejected, or taken advantage of somehow. But that’s not what needs to happen, and normally it doesn’t. Rather, if we allow our faith in God to break through, God’s power will come to us and help us in the way that we need help. Most of the time that help comes in the way of changing our way of thinking, from a physical point of view to a spiritual one. Pauls’ letter to the Romans (12:2) encourages us that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God…” Recently I had a dream about a previous event that caused great pain in my life. When I awoke for a moment I thought I was still in the dream. I looked around and realized that I was safe, but I also realized that the event would forever be like a thorn in my side, except without the fear, without the frustration, without the power it seem to have in my life. My weakness remains, as Paul’s thorn remained, but with God’s power inhabiting that weakness, he has turned it into his strength to do what I was meant to do and in fact need to do, that I may inherit the joy, the love, and indeed the very life, that God wants to bestow upon me. The dream served to remind me to depend on and have faith in God’s mercy and his grace. Understanding that this is very different from depending on one another, which as we all know can be risky, particularly since we are all imperfect in some way; the good news is that because of our relationship with Christ, God takes on that risk if we just allow him by our faith to be in control of our lives and we learn to forgive one another as God has forgiven us.