Jesus sends out the disciples two by two
I sometimes find it very easy to beat myself up over little mistakes. Or when things just don’t quite go my way. I don’t think I’m alone – I hope I’m not alone. It’s those times when for some reason we were set on things going differently. And it can sit in there, on your heart and just eat away. Like when you’ve been caught in a discussion and you come away thinking, ‘if only I’d pointed out X or Y.’ When in reality, even if you had made those points, the result of the debate would have been no different. Except perhaps you would feel like you had done your bit, you could shake off their perspective and move on.
Of course we are all prone to making mistakes, saying things we didn’t want to, not saying things we wish we had. It is our humanity that makes us who we are – our imperfections, our mistakes that shape us. When I was a child we had a model railroad. It was a set I inherited from my brother. His main concerns were around operating the trains, mine were related to having a convincing model, one that in a photo you couldn’t be sure if you were looking at a model or at a real train. It was a near impossible feat, and I used to pour over magazines about the methods for painting a rock, adding layers and intentionally missing bits off. Trying to add the imperfections that would challenge the eye to question if they were looking at a real rock. And it’s in those imperfections, somehow, that we find beauty.
In today’s Gospel we have Jesus unable to shake the impression people have of him because they believe they already know him. He’s the carpenter, son of Mary, what’s he going on about? It can always be difficult to shake off one’s childhood. When I’ve been back to visit the church I grew up in, I am still my mother’s son. They prayed for us when I started here, but it was, understandably, ‘Robin, Debbie’s Son, is being licensed…’ Even when Jesus was curing the sick they simply didn’t think much of it. So he shook off the dust and moved on, carrying on teaching places where they would listen. He sent the disciples out with the same advice. ‘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.’ It’s useful advice for us all, whether we are trying to share the gospel, or simply trying to live our life. American Singer-Songwriter Taylor Swift has spoken often about how she feels as a celebrity her life, her words, her body, everything about her is open to dissection and criticism. In 2014 she released the song Shake It Off, effectively as a personal reminder to herself to shake off the criticism she gets from other people over social media.
It’s a useful reminder to us as well. As we seek to live together as a community, as we rub up against each other, as we try to speak up for others or as we try to do what we think is right. We will undoubtedly get criticism from within our community, as Jesus did, and from outside it, as Jesus prepared the disciples for. We need to be prepared to accept those differences and that criticism and be willing to shake it off and move on.
There are those who feel we should be out evangelising by shouting people into submission, by bombarding them until they accept that we are telling them something they want to know. But Christ doesn’t tell us to do that. He talks about planting seeds and waiting for them to grow. If Jesus says accept failure and move on, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which we heard from today, goes a step further. Paul highlights that it is his failure, the thorn he has in his side, by many scholars thought perhaps to be a speech impediment, is in fact the channel by which God’s grace is shown. Not because God takes away that which is impeding him, but because he chooses to work through Paul anyways. And does great things working in Paul, far more that he could have imagined.
It would be easy to be paralysed by the risk of making a mistake, It would be simple to believe that we are each of us unworthy to do God’s work, unworthy to be an example of Christ to others. But it is in our very humanity, it is through our failings that God can work to transform and make new what was imperfect. Just like he sent out the disciples, Jesus sends each of us out to share God’s love in the things we do and say. We might feel ill-equipped, like we don’t have the skills or the knowledge, but by the power of the holy spirit, through God working in us we can help to build God’s Kingdom here on earth.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
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