United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Relying on God”
 by Rev. Rebecca Migliore
 July 4, 2021


        It feels to me that the last few weeks all I’ve been musing about is what God expects us to do.  We are called to lead; called to accept our anointing; called to claim our healing; called to defeat giants; called to overcome obstacles.  But this doesn’t mean we should think it is all about us.  We can’t forget to rely on God.

        We start our lesson today with the insight that we don’t always know what we think we know.  The hometown people thought they knew Jesus.  They had seen him grow up.  They had watched him at synagogue.  They had lived around his mother and brothers and sisters.  He was “one of the guys,” so they thought. 

        So even though there were stories about his deeds of healing, even though when he spoke at the synagogue, he spoke with passion and wisdom as if he had been sitting at the rabbi’s feet for years, instead of working in the carpentry shop, in spite of all this—the people of his hometown thought they knew what they knew.  They even took offense.

        Did they think that he was putting them on, playing magic tricks?  Did they think that he was lording it over them, when they remembered him “way back when”?  We have just heard about him stopping a 12-year flow of blood with a touch of his garment.  We have just heard about him raising up a little girl who had been pronounced dead.  But here, in his hometown, he cannot do a deed of power (except that he laid hands on a few sick people and cured them.)  How many of us wish that we had that “except” in our lives!

        These people, who thought they knew Jesus best, didn’t know Jesus at all.  Maybe that is point number one today—don’t let yourself believe that you know what you think you know.  Be open to seeing the world the way God sees it. 

                Today is the 4th of July, Independence Day.  A day when we pride ourselves on breaking away from Britain, on wresting our nation from a wilderness (even though there were others living here in much more harmony with this beautiful land), pride in becoming a powerful nation.  We lift up the story of the American revolutionary, the American pioneer, the American cowboy, the American dream (rising from a humble start to “the skies the limit”).  It has become clear to me that the story we tell ourselves sometimes has that quality of the hometown folk.  We don’t want to know anything that we don’t already think we know.  And we are much poorer for it.

        I was surprised this year to read that of the American cowboys between the 1860s and the 1880s, 25% were African American.  The movies didn’t depict that, and so I had this image in my mind that wasn’t all of reality.  On this day when we express our love for this country and her high ideals, I will remember that we must always keep striving—to know all our history, and to live into all we can be.  And we must never forget that:

--A can do attitude, doesn’t mean can do it without God.

--Or pull yourself up by your bootstraps (ie, no helping hand is needed, not from others, not from God) is not a sentiment found in the Bible.  In fact, Jesus is fairly particular to make sure that the disciples know they are not to try to do it all themselves.

        Anyone who has ever traveled with me, knows I pack heavy.  I am always trying to be ready for every twist and turn.  I am always trying to convince myself that I will be prepared for any situation.  Often I don’t need half of what I bring.  But I guess it gives me the impression that I will be able to weather whatever comes, on my own.  Jesus would not be smiling.  Because, heavy packing, or thinking we know someone, does not necessarily leave room for relying on God.

        I was taken by words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and part of the confessing church in German (the part of the church that refused to swear allegiance to Herr Hitler), that Seasons of the Spirit suggested for this week.

        “Every New Morning” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Every new morning

is a new beginning of our life.

Every day

is a completed whole.

This day, today

is the limit of our

sorrows and efforts.

It is long enough

to find God

or to lose him,

to keep faith

or to fall into sin and shame.

Just as the good old sun

rises every morning anew,

so is God’s eternal mercy

new every morning. 

      From Meditation and Prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

     Copyright 2010 by Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota.

     Used with permission.


        Most of us try to “pack heavy” for life.  We make multiyear plans (both personal and professional).  We build up our bank accounts and our retirement savings (if we are so blessed).  We think we have it all under control.  But Bonhoeffer points to the truth of relying each day on God.  As the first Genesis creation story says, “there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”  Yes, we can plan for the future, but are we making sure we hang onto today?  Yes, we can prepare for what we think we might face, but are we making sure we have put reliance on God into the equation?  While we build up treasures here on earth, are we also building up treasures in heaven?  As the poem pointedly says, “Each day is long enough to find God or to lose [God], to keep faith or to fall into sin and shame.”

        So if lesson one is “Don’t get caught up in what you think you know,” –lesson two is “Don’t forget to ‘pack’ God,” “Don’t forget that at bottom, life is about relying on God.

        Jesus decides to have this lesson be an experiential one.  He decides to send out the disciples two by two.  Remember this is chapter 5—this is at the beginning of his ministry.  Imagine, you have just started a course on “how to follow Jesus”—and in the first week, you get “called.”  In the second week, you walk behind him, watching him do amazing things.  And by week three, you show up for class, and Jesus pairs you up with another classmate and then tells you, “you are going on fieldwork.”  But don’t bother to bring anything—other than your reliance on God.  Good luck!

        Now I’m glad that Jesus sent them out two by two, for leaning on God without backup can be a little scary.  Would you set out on an unknown journey without backup, no backup shoes, no backup food, no backup money?  That means relying on others for food, relying on others for a place to sleep, relying on others to be open to God’s word (and your ability to cast out demons), relying on others to be hospitable.  It means relying on God to be the safety net, the wind beneath our wings, the bedrock on which we stand.  Because this story isn’t just about THOSE disciples, it is about THESE disciples—you and me.

        Now maybe we shouldn’t try to extrapolate this story into our whole lives.  Maybe we should pack “light,” relying on God for each day.  Maybe one of the important lessons is that when we go out, to slay dragons, or to cast out demons, or to change the world, we shouldn’t be thinking we have to do it all on our own.  We should have partners.  We should have allies.  We should face joys and sorrows together.  Every new day. 

        And finally, in this world where we need to give up what we think we know (because God has so much else in store); in this world where we need to join hands and set off relying on God; in this world, it will require us to continue to pack light.  And that means along with leaving behind all those “extra” comforts at the beginning of our journey, we need to leave behind all the baggage that we might accumulate along the way.

        “Shake the dust off” is a command to move along.  “Shake the dust off” is the order to stop banging your head against the wall.  “Shake the dust off” is a way of not burdening ourselves—not carrying others with us—not if you have done all you can.  It is one more highlighting of the idea that it is not all up to us.  We can’t think we know everything.  We can’t think we can plan for everything.  We can’t think we can solve everything. 

        What we can do, is be open to seeing God’s reality—what is true this day.  What we can do, is rely on God, even if that means we (meant to be we, plural, together) are not always in control.  What we can do, is try our best, make our mark, and if the seeds don’t fall on fertile ground, shake the dust off, and move on. 

        We can take heart from this story of Jesus’ disciples.  Even though this is early in their story.  Even though I’m sure they didn’t feel ready.  Even though they went out bringing almost nothing but their faith in God, the disciples, we are told, “cast out many demons, and anointed many who were sick and cured them.”

        May we, together, be as faithful.  Alleluia, Amen.