Shaking Off the Dust

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I was intrigued recently by an article that aired some dirty laundry. No, it wasn’t a celebrity gossip magazine, or The Presbyterian Layman, for those of you who know PCUSA scandal sheets (They love to publish what they view as theological dirty laundry). It was a science journal, and the aforementioned dirty laundry is the problem that Apollo Moon Missions had with moon dust.

One of the major problems that all the missions shared were not explosions, or mysterious black obelisks, or aliens leaping out of astronauts stomachs (a la the movies “Space 2001” and “Alien”) “The major issue the Apollo astronauts pointed out was dust, dust, dust,” says Professor Larry Taylor, Director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee. This is not your minor annoyance kind of dust. It is not like the harmless dust bunnies that hide under your bed. It is “fine as flour and rough as sandpaper.” The dust was so abrasive that it actually wore through three layers of Kevlar-like material on [astronaut’s] boot[s],” Taylor says. To make matters worse, it was electromagnetically charged, so that the more astronauts tried to brush it away, the more it worked its way into the space suits’ fabric. It would gum up the joints of space suits so that it would eventually be difficult to move. It was everywhere and couldn’t be escaped.1

Clingy, omnipresent, abrasive, damaging, dangerous. This moon dust is like much of our lives. It is like the brokenness of life that clings to us like nothing else. Our uncertain circumstances, our past failures and wounds, our overwhelming challenges and limited resources, these things stick to us like moon dust. Despair, fear, alienation, wear through our Kevlar layers and work their way into our joints until we can hardly move.

My friends, it is time to shake off the dust.

The apostle Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthian church, wanted the Corinthians to shake of their dust. Paul had a long and deep relationship with them as their founding pastor. He went through many ups and downs with them. He loved them, got angry with them, and wept over them. There were times when he had to forgive and times when he had to be forgiven. There were times when the moon dust of life had worked into their joints so that they could hardly move. When they became dusty like that, they became stuck living in ways of selfishness, pride, and injustice, and idolatry.

1 “NASA’s Dirty Secret: Moon Dust,” Science Daily (Sep. 29, 2008): http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/

2008/09/080924191552.htm

But in our text this morning, Paul offers them an opportunity to shake off that dust and participate in God’s blessing. The specific invitation has to do with an offering that Paul was gathering for needy Christians in Jerusalem. The material offering was important, but in our text, Paul teaches the Corinthians that the meaning of the offering was even more profound than providing a meal or a place to sleep for someone who needed it. The offering was a chance to participate in a harvest of righteousness. It was an invitation to be a partner in God’s blessing. It was an opportunity to shake off the dust, to move and to breathe the fresh, clear air of a faith that makes a difference. Not only would it bless the believers in Jerusalem, it would bless the Corinthians themselves.

I hope that you felt it this past week. Our nation has reached a milestone in electing its first African-American as President. As many have observed, even if you didn’t vote for Obama, you can sense that something historic has happened. Last Tuesday night, as we saw the weeping faces in that huge crowd gathered in that park for Obama’s speech, we had hope served to us.

Now, I do have my cynical side. I wonder how the hope of this moment will be spent. Part of me wonders how much change will really come. We face huge challenges of bringing peace and dealing with the current economic crisis. The powerful, almost irresistible temptation in these times is to look out for ones self, to hoard, to act out of fear and mistrust, to blame others and absolve ourselves. This temptation clings to us and paralyzes us.

And yet, though self-centeredness & fear are almost irresistible, we hear the good news in this house of faith that this day is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to shake off the dust.

The reality is that President-elect Obama can’t do it alone. Things will only get better; change will only come if we all pitch in and participate. If Democrats and Republicans and others seize the opportunity, if we open up our minds and hearts, if we for a few moments not let fear and self-interest rule the day, we can work together for the good, for the good of everyone in this nation, and yes, the world.

Now these words can be idealistic claptrap…or, if we are open to it, this time can herald a shaking off of the dust that paralyzes us.

This morning we are invited to offer the first fruits of our time, talent, and treasure to God, and, like the Corinthians were long ago, we are invited to shake off the dust of life and embrace a living, life shaping faith, to shake off the dust and participate as partners with God in bringing hope, and making peace, and working for justice, all while joyously praising and thanking God, and enjoying each other. This is what stewardship is: it is shaking off the dust, and moving forward.

Look at this building project. We had a little dust to shake off not too long ago. It had gone through some fits and starts, plans had to be redrawn, lots of different things went on.

But look now. Much of the dust has been shaken off and we are moving forward. Much work remains, but it is God’s work, and there is no better partner to have. When the building is done, we will be better able to shake off even more profound dust in this community as we grow in ministry.

You who are members and friends of this community of faith are invited to shake off a little dust with your financial commitments for 2009. It is tough, I know, in this day. But ultimately we belong to a faith that is not down in the dumps about this day. With our worship, with our fellowship, with our mission outreach, and with our financial priorities shaped by the commandments to love God and neighbor, we celebrate and respond to the invitation to shake off the dust.

I was amused by the British 19-year-old who has officially changed his name to “Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined.”

The Glastonbury, England, teenager — originally named George Garratt — said his new name, which is thought to be the world’s longest, has so outraged his grandmother that she is no longer speaking to him.

The teen said he used an online service to officially change his name for a $20 fee.

“I wanted to be unique,” Captain Fantastic said of his name choice. “I decided upon a theme of superheroes.”2

Well, my friends, we are unique, so shall we choose an apt name for ourselves? How about “Presbyterian Captains Fantastic, Dust Repelling, Joy Celebrating, Justice Seeking, Love Making, Peace Planting, Hope Proclaiming Cache Valley-ites.” Ok maybe not that.3 Maybe we can shorten our name to this: disciples. Besides being a little easier to say (and remember), simply being a disciple, with God’s grace, is enough to shake off the dust.

2 “Teen’s ‘Fantastic’ new name ‘Super’ long” Published: Nov. 3, 2008: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/

2008/11/03/Teens_Fantastic_new_name_Super_long/UPI-90361225751268/

3 Maybe I should reconsider. When I said this name in worship, some really liked it!

November 9, 2008

Rev. Paul Heins

First Presbyterian Church

Logan, Utah

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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