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Sunday 7 July 2024 Trinity 6, Fourteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 9

Dust gathers

Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

By Hannah Barraclough

Anglican Priest in Gloucester Diocese

Context: a Eucharist at a Cathedral church, a middle-class congregation with an older average age

Aim: to challenge hearers to trust God with the dust left behind

Dust gathers. In the corners of our homes, in the crevices we strain to reach, under the sofa we cannot bear to move. Dust gathers. And try as we might, we cannot remove it completely.

A while ago I found my partner hoovering. A helpful gesture around our shared home, and yet I wrongly chastised. See, they were hoovering with the wrong hoover. We have a useless hoover that refuses to pick up much and one that is near miraculous in its collection of grime. So much so that when each of us has finished our turn of a room, we show each other its greyish gatherings with fascination and exclaim ‘So much dust!’

Dust gathers.

I wonder whether the dust has gathered for you in this endless stretch of Ordinary time. Has the daubing of dust on Ash Wednesday dwindled into insignificance? Has the blast of fire on Pentecost left us with just ashes? Has the dust begun to gather in the corners of our spiritual lives?

MORTALITY, WEAKNESS AND DUST

Our readings speak of seemingly dusty, insubstantial things.

In the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, God calls him to stand, empowered by a spirit and equips him for a missionary task. A mission to rebels and renegades that calls him beyond his own mortality — his own dustiness.

Similarly, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul recalls a vision that reminds him of his frailty. He conveys strength found in Christ made perfect in his weakness — his own dustiness.

And in Mark’s Gospel, after his rejection in the synagogue of his childhood, Jesus assigns his twelve followers their own missionary charge. Their scarce material resources revealing their humanity — their own dustiness.

Dust gathers.

THE MISSION

Jesus commissions his rag-tag bunch of men to move, to teach, to pray, to enter and to leave. To take on cross-shaped lives and to seek welcome and hospitality. And where it cannot be found, the dust from that place must be shaken from their feet.

This takes after those pious Jews who, after travelling through Gentile territory, shook the dust of profane places from their feet (Acts 13:51). The dust gathering around the disciples’ sandal-shod ankles must be shaken too as ‘a testimony against them’ — against those who wouldn’t receive and accept them and their Gospel message.

Jesus tells them to leave wherever welcome has failed them, wherever their message was not heard as truth, and to resist rejection. Yet in the missionary efforts of those men, even as they kicked off the dust, they left something of themselves and their teacher behind. Something of Jesus was shaken off and left to linger in the hope that one day they might recognise him for who he was.

DUST GATHERS

See, God does things with dust.

In the very beginning, God created humanity from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7); and in the story of the blind man in Bethsaida, Jesus mixed dust with saliva to heal his sight (John 9:6-7). When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery, He wrote in the dust of the earth, turning the scribes and Pharisees away one by one (John 8:1-11).

God does things with dust. Transformative things. Miraculous things.

I am not sure this Gospel message calls followers of Jesus to kick the dust from our sandal-shod feet feeling vilified and rejected, calling calamity from the heavens on those who will not accept us and our message — whether preached with eloquence, gentleness, and cultural sensitivity or not. Rather, I wonder whether God is calling us to leave something of ourselves in the dusty places to God’s outworking. Whether God has done and will do incredible, extraordinary things with the dust we leave; with the dust we shake off.

When dust is kicked, it circles and swarms like galaxies of stars. It lingers and floats in the delicate dance of the air. It leaves something of us behind, even if just an imprint. We take some of it with us, and the particles permeate our pessimism, whether we choose it or not.

The dust is not swept under the rug, or hoovered meticulously from the corners of our homes, but the dust becomes something new. The dust is the means of transformation, rebuilt and restored at God’s hand and in God’s good timing.

The dust shaken off gathers too, into blessing and abundance, healing and hope.

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