A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on July 8, 2007.
Based on Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 (Proper 9, Year C).
At our house the central loading and unloading zone is the mudroom. On the way in, it’s the place where everything gets dumped. During the winter that means boots, snow pants, mittens, and jackets. During the summer that means flip flops, wet towels, and the pool bag. When it’s dry, it means dirt; when it’s raining it means mud – hence the name. I end up sweeping it on a daily basis because all sorts of muck winds up on the mudroom floor. Most houses have a similar space – whether it’s a formal mudroom (that may be an oxymoron) or just the spot where everything gets dropped when you come home. Dirt doesn’t get intentionally shaken off in the mudroom; it just works out that way. It’s a transitional space between the outside and the inside. And anyway you’d prefer the dirt to end up on the mudroom floor rather than ground into the living room rug.
I don’t know if they had mudrooms in ancient Palestine but the hot, dry climate meant that dust was everywhere. It got on people’s sandals and feet. Dirt and dust got lodged between their toes and caked onto their skin. It’s why foot washing was a common form of hospitality extended to guests and travelers. And it’s why shaking the dust off one’s feet was a traditional act of repudiation. It was a tangible way of saying, “We didn’t need your hospitality and we don’t even want your dust on our feet.”
When Jesus sends out the 70 disciples to help spread the good news of God’s kingdom, he tells them to do just this if they encounter rejection. Shake the dust off your feet and keep going. Jesus doesn’t deny that the disciples will face rejection. Rather he tells them what to do when they encounter it. Rejection is part of discipleship just as it is part of life. Jesus is telling the disciples not to take it personally but to persevere with the work God has given them to do. And Jesus certainly knows something about rejection. He’s already been rejected by the people of his own hometown – his former neighbors almost toss him off a cliff. And his entire ministry is met with hostility and rejection from the established religious authorities. And of course he will in time face the ultimate rejection at the hands of humanity by being hung on a cross.
Rejection hurts because it’s personal. When we get turned down for a job or rejected by a college or turned down for a date it’s painful. It is nearly impossible not to take such rejection personally. Now it would be odd if you walked into the admissions office at Harvard and clapped your shoes together, shaking the dust from Harvard Yard onto some administrator’s desk. Or went back into the bar and did the same in front of the woman who didn’t go for your cheesy pick-up line – that would certainly confirm her earlier decision.
But rejection is a part of discipleship. The moment we pick up our cross to follow Jesus we bring rejection upon us. Many reject the life of faith as either pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking or irrelevant or both. Atheism is suddenly all the rage as books like The God Delusion, The End of Faith, and God is Not Great have become bestsellers. Many of your neighbors think going to church is a waste of time – harmless but useless. Jesus counsels us to tell them “The kingdom of God has come near,” shake the proverbial dust off our feet, and continue in the risen life of Christ. In the end conversion is God’s realm, not ours. But those who have experienced the power of God’s grace and love know that it transcends rejection. It transcends apathy; it transcends hopelessness and despair and skepticism.
And perhaps if you’re not experiencing any rejection in your faith life, you may not be fully engaged in it. That doesn’t mean that peace and joy and love shouldn’t be the overriding experience. But rejection means you’re doing what Jesus asks you to do – sharing the faith with others. Not necessarily in a Jehovah’s Witness knock on doors kind of way but simply by sharing your faith by living your life as an example of Christian virtue. Making good choices; modeling behavior that marks you as the Christian that you already are; not buying into the culture of apathy and indifference but living into the fruitful life of Christian commitment. Even when it’s hard; even when it means rejection.
The mudroom at our house isn’t just the place where we drop everything – though I wish I could get the boys to at least hang up their coats. It’s also the place from which we embark upon the day’s activities. It’s where shoes get put on and where umbrellas are kept. It’s the jumping off point for everything else.
In a sense Jesus himself is our mudroom. It is he who sends us out at the start of the day and it is to him we return at the end of the day. It is where we drop our burdens and rejections and it is where we find the energy to move forward. We must pass through his presence each day to be equipped for the work of ministry and daily life. And we must return to his presence to be refreshed from the work of ministry and daily life. So the mudroom’s not a bad place to be. It’s a bit cramped sometimes – at least ours is when all four of us are trying to get out the door at the same time. But it can also serve as a reminder of Christ’s presence; that Jesus is with us at every step of the journey.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2004