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Dust

Dust

Mark 11

I don’t know what things have been like around your house, but around the Nieporte’s’ household, we’ve been focusing on SPRING CLEANING.

 

Now throughout the year we do clean the house.  We mop floors, vacuum the carpet, and clean the tub and the sinks, that sort of thing.  But each spring the cleaning gets much more intense.  Each spring everything in the house gets the once over.  Furniture is moved around so we can reach those otherwise impossible to reach areas.  Closets and cabinets are cleaned out and rearranged.  Frames are removed from the walls and wiped clean.

 

The target of this crusade is the dust fragment.

 

Just the other day, my wife Jeana said:  “Where does all of this dust come from?”

 

That left me with a choice.  I could continue cleaning – or I could do some internet research to help answer this most perplexing question.

 

Where does dust come from?

 

One site said it came from the dust bunny.  Another said the Dirt Devil.  Still another said that dust falls out of our navels.  Now at that point I was having fun, but I knew better than bring these answers to my wife.  So I kept exploring.

 

Much of the dust in our homes comes from the outside.  Outside there are pollutants – dirt, pollen and dozens of other things – all which contribute to dust in the air. When the outside air comes into our homes, these dust particles comes with it.

 

But not all dust comes from the outside.  Sometimes dust is home-grown.  It can consist of animal dander and fibers from clothing, carpet, and virtually everything else in the home.  Still, these are not the primary sources of home-grown dust.  As it turns out, that grey dust that we battle each spring comes largely dead home skin cells that we have shed and which tend to gather on home surfaces.  It is estimated that humans lose 30,000 – 40,000 dead skin cells each and every minute. These tiny flakes of skin account for more than seventy percent of the dust in our home.

 

Maybe this is what the writers of the Burial Rites in the Book of Common Prayer had in mind.  You’ve seen it, haven’t you?  A Priest or a Minister stands near a casket, holding a fist full of dirt and dust in her hands, and as she drops it to the ground she recites these words:

 

… we commend to Almighty God our brother (or sister) and we commit the body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 

The more I thought about the dust that covered the nooks and corners of my home, the less I wanted to clean it.  This dust is the stuff of my life and that of my family.  It’s sacred material.  At least that’s what I tried to tell my wife.   It didn’t work.  “Clean up your dead skin!” she said.

 

Dust!

 

I heard some words from Rob Bell not too long ago that got me thinking about DUST and how it relates to the call of Jesus upon the lives of his followers.  Rob says that Jewish education in the time of Jesus was made up primarily of three sections.

 

Bet Safar – Usually from the ages five to ten, it is a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They memorized it all by the age of ten!

 

Bet Talmud – At age ten or so, young boys would begin plying the trade of their father, working in the family business. The best of the best, however, were invited to progress on pass Bet Safar into Bet Talmud. This would continue on from the age of ten to about fourteen.   During this time, the student would continue his memorization of the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). It wasn’t uncommon in that day for a good Jewish boy to have the Old Testament memorized by the age of fourteen.

 

Bet Midrash – At age 14 or so, student would have a choice. They could return home to the family business, or they could apply to become disciples of a Rabbi and enter into a process called Bet Midrash. Now, not everyone was accepted. This was for the best of the best of the best. This was training in the interpretation of the Torah, answering the question: “How does one live out the law of God in today’s world?” The Rabbi’s teaching or rules for interpretation were called the Rabbi’s “yoke.”

 

When a student made application to be a disciple of a Rabbi, he would be grilled by that Rabbi to see if the boy really had what was necessary to take the Rabbi’s yoke upon him and learn from him. If the Rabbi thought that an applicant was unqualified, he would send the student home to enter the family business. But if the Rabbi thought this young student had real potential – if the Rabbi that this young man was really the best of the best of the best, the Rabbi would accept him as a student.

 

Right away we see how this sheds some light on the ministry of Rabbi Jesus. Remember the words of Jesus when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

The yoke of Rabbi Jesus wasn’t one of endless rules, requirements, and regulations. His yoke was different than all of that. It was a yoke of grace – of mercy – of empowerment.

 

We also notice that disciples did not make application to follow Rabbi Jesus. Rather, he sought out disciples. They did not come seeking Jesus, he came seeking them. Peter and Andrew were tending to their nets. James and John were business in their father Zebedee’s business. Matthew was collecting taxes for the Roman Empire. These were not the best of the best of the best. These were everyday kind of people. And those they were not counted among the twelve – Jesus also call women to follow him, to sit and his feat and learn of his yoke.

 

But we need to understand that this call of Jesus was not to an academic pursuit. The call to be a disciple of any Rabbi – including Rabbi Jesus – was to take the Rabbi’s lifestyle and make it your own. It was an invitation to know what the Rabbi knows, do what the Rabbi does, and live as the Rabbi lives. That’s what it meant to be a disciple.

 

Whenever a Rabbi would come to town, he would be surrounded by a pack of disciples who were devoted to being like their Rabbi in every way. Wherever the Rabbi went, they went. Whatever the Rabbi ate, they ate. Whatever the Rabbi stepped in would also be caked on their sandals at the end of the day. Rabbis were passionate and animated. As they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust and whatever the Rabbi kicked up during the day would be all over his disciples by the end of the day.

 

This prompted one of the Sages from the Mishna to offer this blessing to those who had taken on a life of discipleship:

 

“May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!”

 

When you read the Gospel with this thought in mind, it helps us understand a bit differently what’s happening with Jesus and his disciples.

 

Do you remember that story when Jesus was seen walking on the water?  What did Peter want to do?  He wanted to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.  He wanted to be like his Rabbi.  He wanted Jesus dust to be all over him.

 

Do you remember that day when James and John came to Jesus and asked to sit at his right and his left?   They wanted to be close to Jesus, to be like him in his future glory.  They wanted to have the dust of their Rabbi all over them.

 

“May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!”

 

That’s what they wanted.  The disciples wanted to be as close to Jesus as possible.  They wanted to have his dust all over them.

 

When Jesus fed the multitudes and baskets were left over after the meal, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When Jesus gave sight to the blind, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When Jesus cleansed the lepers, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When he gave mobility to the crippled, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When he healed the sick, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When he cast out demons, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

When he raised the dead, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them.

 

They wanted to be close to Rabbi Jesus.  They wanted to have the dust of Rabbi Jesus all over them…until they came to the day that we remember in this gathering.

 

On this particular Friday, none of the disciples wanted to be anywhere near their Rabbi.

 

One, as we know, betrayed him.  Most of the others ran away in fear as Jesus was taken into custody in the garden.  Only Peter tried to still follow Jesus, but even then he only did so from a distance.   Eventually, when challenged, he will curse and deny even knowing Jesus.  Then there is that unnamed disciple, referred to simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  He was there till the end, but still at a distance, providing comfort to Jesus’ mother.

 

The bottom line is that none of them wanted to be close on this day because his dust was mingled with sorrow and blood.  To follow Jesus on this day would mean suffering with him.  Doing what Rabbi Jesus did would mean dying.  None of them were willing to be covered with the dust of their Rabbi on this day.

 

I have a friend named Steve.  He’s a Baptist preacher.  When he was younger – in High School – he got in some disciplinary trouble and was kicked out of the public school system.  The only school that would take him – the school that assured they could should young Steve the needed discipline to get his life back on track – was the nearby Roman Catholic parochial school.

 

When the season of Lent began, the nun who was teaching in one particular class put all her students in a circle and had each speak about their Lenten sacrifice.  “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” was the question.

 

Some would be giving up pizza.  Others would be sacrificing soft drinks, chocolate, or ice-cream.  When they came around to my friend Steve, he sat up in his chair, smiled, and said:  “Were’ Baptist, ma’am.  We don’t give up nothin for nobody!”

 

We’re like that sometimes, aren’t we?  Not just we Baptists, mind you.  We Christians can be like that – Baptist, Disciples, Methodist, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and all the rest.  When push comes to shove, we don’t want to give “nothing up for nobody.”  We are weary of following when we see a cross to bear along the way.

In the text, we see  Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem with a fanfare fit for a king.  People were waving palms in the air while the disciples led Jesus on a parade through the city.  On that day they were proud to be covered with the dust that Jesus kicked up.  They led the crowd in chants.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,”  they would shout, while the crowd responded:  “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna.”

 

When the dust is accompanied by glory, people want to be covered with that dust.  We’ll sing “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday.  We’ll sing the great hymns of the Sunday that is yet to come.  But when the dust is mingled with blood and dripping from a cross of suffering, so many of us find ourselves slipping out the back door, if not physically, than perhaps mentally.

 

We’re just not sure what to do with all that suffering.  That’s where the text put us – in the presence of suffering.  Not just any suffering.  Not our suffering.  The text today puts us in the presence of his suffering.

 

Jesus was arrested, bound, and taken before the High Priest Caiaphas where he was beaten and then humiliated with trumped up charges.

 

Next he was taken before Pilate, Caesar’s hand-picked regional Governor, where he was questions, flogged, and abused.  They fashioned a crown of thorns and beat it into his head.  They dressed him in a purple robe and mocked him as they punched him repeatedly in the face.  His accusers prevailed upon Pilate and convinced him that Jesus should be further tortured and put to death, nailed to a cross.  For hours Jesus hung there until his body could no longer take the suffering and abuse.  Then he said, “It is finished,” and Jesus breathed his last breath.

 

Through all of this, Jesus was alone.  Nobody was there jockeying to be positioned on his left or right hand.  Nobody was pushing to have the most advantageous position as one of his disciples.  On this Friday nobody wanted to be close enough to Jesus to get his dust all over them.

 

Here’s the problem.  We are uncomfortable with the thought of suffering – especially the idea the God might suffer.  We gravitate toward the pomp and circumstance, towards the glitz glamour, toward the grandeur and glory.  We’re not big fans of the cross.  Oh, sure, we wear them around our necks; they adorn our sanctuaries and sit atop our steeples; but do not really picture the reality of the cross that we see in the Passion stories in our four Gospels.  When we see that cross – when we really see the harsh reality of the thing – we feel the need to explain it, to justify it, to theologize it, to interpret it.   But we don’t want to live with it.  We don’t want to reside in the presence of the cross and the picture of a suffering God that it reveals.

 

 

My first real experience with this season we call lent was during my freshman year in college.  It was there that my roommate and I became friends with a fellow student named Gary whose family and Christian tradition observed the season of Lent in strict fashion.  As Lent approached, Gary spoke of his Lenten sacrifice. My roommate and I did not understand the whole concept making a Lenten sacrifice, so we asked Gary to explain it to us.

 

“The purpose of the sacrifice,” Gary said, “is to give up something that we might better be able to identity with the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus.”

 

“So, what are you going to give up?” my roommate asked.

 

“I’m going to give up eating green beans!”

 

Well, my roommate and I didn’t like green beans, so we joined Gary in his Lenten fast.

 

You see what we sometimes do is take all that suffering of Jesus and absorb it into ourselves and make it about our suffering.  We stop eating green beans to identify with Jesus.  Or we suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and declare that it is simply the cross that we must bear.

 

We make it all about ourselves and not about Jesus.

 

I know a member of the clergy who makes every pain with which he suffers a jumping off point into his own suffering.  Every ache and pain of his parishioners reminds him of his own aches and pains.  Once lady from his church, when hospitalized for an extended period of time, actually pretended to be asleep if she heard him coming because his visits we so depressing.

 

John Milton once tried to write a poem about the suffering of Jesus on the cross.  He wrote about 7-8 stanzas and then he quit.  He said later that he never actually dealt with the suffering of Jesus in those stanzas, but rather with how he felt about the suffering of Jesus.  He took it and made it about himself, but not about Christ.  It’s hard to be in the presence of God’s suffering on the cross and not let it become a trigger to think about myself.

 

There’s another thing that we do with stories like this one.  I heard Fred Craddock once say that we take a story like this one and we chop it up into like bites.  We turn it into dozens of doctrines, teachings, and creeds.  The danger is that once we get the list, we usually lose the story.  Craddock likens it to looking at a beautiful large forest of trees and chopping the whole thing down for kindling.

 

We have those lists, don’t we?  They can be found on bookmarks, or booklets, or even in the back of the Gideon Bible.  Do you know what I am talking about?

 

When you are anxious, read this verse.

When you feel like you are along, turn to this chapter.

When you are sick, read this passage.

When you are dealing with temptation, look up this text.

 

We force-fit the stories of the Bible into predetermined categories.   We open the Bible to get its teachings.  We forget that this is only the secondary use of the Bible.  The primary use of the Bible is to get its stories into us.  The primary use of the Bible is that we let its stories flow over us, inhabiting our memories and emotions to the point that we actually experience the presence of Christ in its pages.

 

The primary use of the Bible is that we read it in such a way that the dust of our Rabbi gets all over us.

 

That’s the simple invitation for today.  Let’s not read the Bible just to get its teachings.  Let’s read the Bible so we can live into its stories.  And as we read, let’s not allow ourselves to gravitate toward the narrative of glory and grandeur.  Not today.  Oh no, not today.  On this day may we also read and abide for a time with the stories of the cross.  And as we do….

 

“May we be covered in the dust of our Rabbi!”

 

The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock by: Fred B. Craddock publisher: Westminster John Knox Press, published: 2011-04-04 ASIN: 0664238580 EAN: 9780664238582 sales rank: 7564 price: $23.97 (new), $22.46 (used) This collection of more than fifty of Fred Craddock’s sermons provides a glimpse of a master preacher at work. Amazingly, only one of the sermons was preached from a manuscript written in advance, as Craddock considered a sermon to be an event in the world of sound. As a result, the selections here wonderfully reflect and preserve Craddock’s “voice” and engage readers with all the immediacy of the spoken word.

Craddock Stories by: Dr. Fred Craddock publisher: Chalice Press, published: 2001-06-01 ASIN: 0827204833 EAN: 9780827204836 sales rank: 12799 price: $11.90 (new), $8.95 (used) One of the things that makes Fred Craddock’s sermons so compelling is his masterful use of storytelling, but, until now, few of his stories have ever been published. This collection offers for the first time hundreds of Craddock stories told in his own words and a glimpse of his life.

As One Without Authority: Fourth Edition Revised and with New Sermons by: Dr. Fred Craddock publisher: Chalice Press, published: 2001-09-01 ASIN: 0827200269 EAN: 9780827200265 sales rank: 11048 price: $12.82 (new), $13.46 (used) This update of Craddock’s original work on inductive preaching remains one of the most important contributions to homiletic scholarship. Revised with three new sermons, inclusive language, and NRSV texts, it is still as fresh and provocative as ever.

Preaching by: Fred B Craddock publisher: Abingdon Press, published: 1985 ASIN: 0687336368 EAN: 9780687336364 sales rank: 261523 price: $34.99 (new), $1.99 (used) A standard textbook on the art and craft of preaching. Craddock weaves history, theology, and hermeneutics into an exhaustive text on sermon preparation and preaching. Painstakingly prepared for seminary students and clergy, this book answers the fundamental question: How does one prepare and deliver a sermon? Craddock’s approach is practical, but also allows for concentrated study of any particular dimension of the process. “Filled with practical wisdom. . . . A liberating book.”–Richard Lischer, Duke University.

Overhearing the Gospel: Revised and Expanded Edition by: Dr. Fred Craddock publisher: Chalice Press, published: 2002-10-01 ASIN: 0827227175 EAN: 9780827227170 sales rank: 27644 price: $13.70 (new), $13.86 (used) Revised and Expanded Edition! When originally published in 1978, Overhearing the Gospel introduced “narrative preaching” and forever changed the shape of contemporary preaching. Now a new generation of preachers can learn from the master himself in this revised and expanded edition of Craddock’s groundbreaking method.

Craddock on the Craft of Preaching by: Dr. Fred Craddock publisher: Chalice Press, published: 2013-12-02 ASIN: 0827205376 EAN: 9780827205376 sales rank: 30074 price: $13.86 (new), $13.94 (used) No one has had more impact and influence on the craft of preaching in the last several decades than Fred Craddock. After his retirement from a distinguished teaching career, he became free to share his wisdom with a wider audience without the burdens of academic responsibilities. The lectures and workshops show an ever-expanding scholarship beyond that of his published books. This book has gathered the “best of the best” of these lectures/workshops and offers them to preachers and students of preaching for critical reflection and increased effectiveness.

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