Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
July 5, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
“Shake It Off”
He left that place and came to his hometown, 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, 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.
There was a custom among the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. Pious Jews would “shake the dust off their feet” when they left a Gentile (non-Jewish) town—to demonstrate their separation from Gentile practices. Here, Jesus turns the tradition on its head—just like he does in so many of his teachings—and tells his disciples to “shake the dust” of Jewish towns “off their feet” if the people there don’t accept their message.
Jesus told them this because he expected their message to be rejected. He knew it was radical, unwelcome, controversial. Jesus knew the message he was sending his disciples out to preach—a message of repentance, of authority over bondage and sickness, of restoration, of God’s kingdom being here, now—was prophetic, and he knew that (as he had said) “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” He knew that he may well be sending his disciples out as sheep among wolves, and he wanted to encourage them not to give up when they got chewed on a little.
The prophetic voice is not an easy one. The people in Jesus’ hometown didn’t trust this homeboy; they knew him too well. They knew his brothers and his sisters. They knew his rough carpenter father, and his mother who had conceived him before she was married. Hmmm… And now, they wondered, where did he get all this nonsense about being the son of God? He was just a local boy who at some point had picked up a really big ego.
The prophets of the Old Testament had it rough too. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah and Amos all suffered martyrdom. They were all rejected for preaching unpopular messages. Difficult messages. Messages that called people out of their complacency and into repentance, calling them to work for justice in the world. …
This church was founded by prophets. Pioneers who had a prophetic voice. It wasn’t a typical, traditional, fundamentalist Christian voice. It was radical in its day. This church’s founders sought to create a worship space where all could meet God; not just those who believed the way they believed. And that philosophy is reflected in this church’s guiding documents.
The earliest copy of this church’s Bylaws that I could find is from 1963—six years after the merger that formed the United Church of Christ. Had I had more time, I know Bev Turner could have helped me find some founding documents that go back much further than that. J But even here, in these 1963 Bylaws, under the heading of Doctrine, it demonstrates that openness to difference. It says, “Each member shall have the undisturbed right to follow the Word of God according to the dictates of his own conscience, under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. … We are united in striving to know the will of God as taught in the Holy Scriptures and to walk in the ways of the Lord, made known or to be made known to us. … [d]epending, as did our fathers, upon the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.”
Those are prophetic words! They say, in short, “We know that we don’t have all the answers, but we’re working together to spread Jesus’ good message of peace and justice in the world!” And do you know what? Most of those words are still in our Bylaws today! And those are still prophetic words!
No wonder we are persecuted. … In a cultural climate where Christians, for the most part, insist that they have it all figured out, there is little tolerance for a voice that says, “No, we don’t know it all. But we’re seeking God’s will, and we would love to walk the journey with you.”
That, my friends, is also the voice of our denomination. In the Bylaws of the United Church of Christ, it says, in part, “[The United Church of Christ] affirms the responsibility of the church in each generation to make the faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thoughts and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” “Each generation to make the faith its own”—I love that! In other words, “No, we don’t know it all. But we’re seeking God’s will, and we would love to walk the journey with you.” Those are prophetic words! No wonder the UCC comes under fire.
Our Pilgrim forebears had this same prophetic spirit. I quote often the Rev. John Robinson’s words to the Pilgrims as they departed for the New World from Holland in 1620: “The Lord has yet more truth and light to break forth from his holy word.” We don’t know it all yet! The journey will not be easy, but we would love to travel it with you.
Most of you have been here much longer than I have. You have been Black Forest Community Church much longer than I have. What can you tell me about your journey? In what ways has Black Forest Community Church raised a prophetic voice in this community? By hosting in your worship space nearly every other church until it could get on its feet and build its own facility? Yes. By not closing your doors to those other faith groups just because they didn’t believe exactly as you did? Yes. What a legacy of radical inclusiveness that is! It makes me proud to be a part of this!
But church, where is our prophetic voice now? Have we become complacent, fearful of criticism, weary of coming under fire? What is our particular prophetic message now—today—in 2015 and beyond? What do we bring to this community that the other churches do not? Church, may I ask: who are we?
We’ve taken some hits. I know. People have talked. People have criticized. People have accused us of not preaching the Bible. People have left, and taken their offerings with them. I know. That’s why we have such a big budget deficit right now. But this isn’t the first time this church has struggled. We will get through this. We will shake it off. We will shake the dust off our feet and move forward. We will preach the prophetic word that God is calling us to, and God will bless our work.
A couple of years ago, a drunk driver ran into the chain-link fence in our back alley. She took out several trees, and we wanted to replace them, so I (with permission) went over to my daughter’s in-laws’ house and dug up one of the many small sumac trees they have growing in the front yard. I planted it next to our alley, but every time the little tree sprouted a fresh batch of sweet velvety leaves, the deer would come by and chew them down to stubs. My little sumac tree didn’t seem to have a chance. But this year, something different is happening. That sumac tree is determined to survive! It has sent runners underground and has sent up new shoots in places the deer can’t reach—impervious to destructive jaws, if you catch my drift. Where the original tree struggles to survive, the new thing it’s doing is vibrant and beautiful. It had to find a new strategy, a new prophetic voice, a new corner to fill.
May I ask it again? … Church, who are we? The prophetic message is not an easy one to bear. It brings rejection. It brings criticism. It brings ridicule. They’ll say things about us. Things like, “Where did these people get all this? What is this so-called wisdom they claim? What are these so-called deeds of power they’re doing? Aren’t these just the same old people we’ve known all our lives—the people who live next-door to us, down the road from us—the people who have had so much trouble in their past?”
And, you know, maybe their words will have a negative impact. Maybe our reputation will continue to be tarnished. After all, that’s what happened to Jesus in his hometown. The scripture says, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” But think of it—wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? If we could lay loving hands on even a few sick people—a few wounded people, a few hurt people—and help them become whole? If we could help even just a few people in this way, wouldn’t that be worth it?
Let’s shake it off. Let’s shake the dust off our feet and move on, church. Let’s see what truth and light God will shine forth from his holy word and find the unique ministry to which God is calling us. Black Forest Community Church, let’s shake it off and move on!