June 18, 2023 — The Rev. Hillary Kimsey

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In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity — Amen.

Earlier this week, I wrote a long, emotional Facebook post. Without realizing that it would be the reading for today, I referenced this very Gospel passage. Here in the book of Matthew, Jesus is beginning his ministry and calling his disciples. Jesus declares that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” That’s a well-known line, but not the one I quoted. Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray that God would send out laborers into the harvest.

Also in this passage, Jesus chooses his twelve apostles and gives them some instructions. He tells them to go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and tell them the good news: the kingdom of heaven has come near! (That’s another great line, but also not the one I quoted.) Specifically, Jesus tells his disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and to do all of this without accepting payment. He also tells them to take nothing with them but to be dependent on the people they encounter on the way, trusting their hosts to provide food and clothes and lodging.

The part that I quoted in my long, emotional Facebook post came near the end, and includes a phrase that has become a fairly well-known idiom: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

My long post–some of you saw it–expressed my very personal grief about the Southern Baptist Convention’s vote to kick out several churches with female pastors. This is significant as the SBC is the single largest protestant denomination in the United States and is often a bellwether for evangelical Christians in America.

At this same convention, the SBC voted to pass an amendment to formally define the role of pastor as one that can only be filled by a man and to state that any church with a female in any pastoral rule could also be kicked out. This decision was not surprising–not to me or most people with any experience with that denomination. But it still hurt me deeply. I grew up in that denomination and spent over 20 years of my life deeply involved. It was in that setting where I first felt called to ministry as a little girl. But, it became very clear to me in my twenties that I could not stay. My theology and values no longer matched that of most Southern Baptists, and the SBC was never going to validate my calling anyway. So, “I shook the dust off my sandals” and moved on to find a new home in the Episcopal Church.

To “shake the dust off your feet” has become an English idiom that means “to move on, the end of a relationship, or renouncing responsibility, similar to “washing one’s hands” of something. Both idioms come from the Gospels. I used the phrase to mean that I moved on to a new denominational home that was a better fit for me and my beliefs. Jesus appears to use the phrase more literally, saying to wipe off one’s sandals and leave the dirt of an unwelcoming home or town behind. This command is partly to do out of necessity. Jesus was teaching his disciples to be transient, going from village to village, home to home, relying on the hospitality of others. If they are not welcomed, they must move on. The command also appears to be connected to ancient Jewish hospitality practices–to reject a guest in need of shelter and food (which the disciples would be, as Jesus taught them to travel light) would be considered a grave breaking of tradition. Shaking the dust from one’s feet also appears to have been a physical gesture people did back them to show disapproval or rejection, much like we do this to symbolize washing our hands of something.

Since this is PRIDE month, it occurs to me that many of our queer and trans siblings have shaken the dust of church from their feet and moved on. Many queer and trans people, with truly valid and understandable reasons, have felt rejected by Christian churches of all types. So rather than stay and be unwelcome, some have moved on. “If anyone will not welcome you, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that place.” Other LGBTQIA+ people may be still sitting in pews around the world, feeling completely missed, forgotten, rejected, or even reviled by the church or even the God they love. And I assure you that this breaks God’s heart.

The good news as I see it is this: Jesus urged his disciples to pray for God to send out laborers to do God’s work… and God is doing just that. God is indeed calling women, queer people, trans people, disabled people, poor people, people of every sex, shape, and shade to live as Christ taught us to live and to teach others to do the same. The good news is that God created and cherishes all people, including all of us in the LGBTQIA+ community. To be fully yourself is not a sin but a celebration of God’s creative work in you. The good news is that little Baptist girls from South Carolina can grow up to be Epicopal priests. The good news is that queer people who love each other can celebrate their weddings in this church and many others. The good news is that for every place and person who rejects you, whose dust you shake from your feet, there will be a different place or person willing and honored to welcome you in and wash your feet.

Dear people of St. Luke’s: may we be the latter. In name of the God of Jonathan and David, of eunuchs and drag queens, of Ruth and Naomi, the God of Sarah who laughed, the God of Mary, Martha, Junia, and Phoebe, Amen.

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