Shaking Off the Dust
Jesus sends his disciples out in groups of two to go out into the towns and villages where Jesus will soon come. The disciples are to prepare the way for Jesus by preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. This group of 70 disciples sent out two by two is like a warm up act sent in to soften up the crowd before the headlining act comes on stage. Its a technique used for TV shows filmed in front of an audience, comedians and rock concerts do things the same way today. The disciples hit the road to stir up interest in Jesus, who would follow soon behind.
If you consider what this Gospel may have to do with you, you will see how this is an awkward reading for us. Its the Mormons and the Jehovahs Witnesses who send their disciples out two by two to prepare the way for the Gospel to reach out into new areas. The Mormons have been particularly effective at sending out missionaries into a new area and creating thriving new churches in their wake.
Why were there 70 disciples going out two by two anyway? Didnt Jesus have 12 disciples? The 12 were the inner circle, but there were always more people around following Jesus. A larger group of men and women followed Jesus and supported his ministry. We get glimpses of this larger group throughout the Gospels, including in this reading where 70 were sent out. The number 70 gives the impression that Jesus was sending them all out. Perhaps not everyone left on this apostolic mission, but 70 was a big advanced group to send out. There must have been many a person who thought they were on the edge of the crowd who found themselves in an evangelical twosome on a mission from Jesus. How many of us are called to spread the word that the Kingdom of God is near? Is it just me? Or are we all called to do what we can to spread the Kingdom with the gifts God has given us?
Perhaps that is taking this reading a little too uncomfortably literally. Maybe I shouldnt jump ahead so far, so fast. But, what would it be like if we acted out on this scripture?
One of the oddest events in Georgia history arose from the ministry of a man who took part of this Gospel for today to be quite literal. It is the well-documented story of Lorenzo Dow and the town of Jacksonborough.
Jacksonborough was founded in 1797 to be the county seat of the newly formed Screven County. The town took its name from the then Governor of Georgia James Jackson. Jackson was a hard-fighting man who fought 23 duels in his lifetime and the town lived up to Jacksons reputation. By 1820, the time of our story, Jacksonborough had a rough and rowdy reputation. The book Statistics of the State of Georgia, published in 1849, described Jacksonborough as a place known for its hard drinking and hard fighting residents. The book says, that in the morning after drunken frolics and fights you could see children picking up eyeballs with tea saucers.
Lorenzo Dow was an itinerant Methodist preacher of some renowned. The 43-year old was an odd character who nonetheless had preached to the Georgia General Assembly at their request. Elsewhere in the state, he gathered crowds as large as 5,000 people to hear him preach the Gospel. Or perhaps they just came to see Dow himself. The tall, slightly humpbacked preacher had long hair and a beard that caused him to stand out. He often referred to himself as Crazy Dow. His chosen method of evangelism was to go into a town, hand out handbills, gather a crowd and preach. Dow usually stayed no more than a night or two in a town before moving on.
When the famed Methodist preacher showed up in Jacksonborough, the rowdies in the town were pretty sure they didnt want his tea-totalin ways taking root in the town. The local Methodist Church offered Dow its pulpit for the night. While a crowd gathered at the church to hear Dow, a second crowd gathered at a whiskey store. Soon after Lorenzo Dow launched into his fire and brimstone sermon, a group stormed up to the church and broke up the meeting by pelting the preacher with rotten eggs. People left in fear of the fight that was sure to follow. The mob returned to the whiskey store to celebrate their victory. Though covered with the stink of rotten eggs, Dow was unbowed. The evangelist followed the angry mob back to the whiskey store where he took up a fireplace tool and broke open a barrel of whiskey, dumping its contents across the floor.
Anger flashed through the crowd, whose next item of business was to find an appropriate tree from which to hang Dow. Thats when Seaborn Goodall broke in through the crowd. The Methodist church goer was a fellow Mason with many of the men in the angry mob and he persuaded them to hand Dow over for the night. Goodall promised that he would see that Dow left in the morning, if the mob would leave him alone.
The rowdies stayed up drinking through the night. By morning the unappeased and well pickled mob gathered at the Goodall home with a supply of eggs and tomatoes. Dow walked out of town in a barrage of produce. When Lorenzo Dow got to the edge of town at the Beaver Dam Creek Bridge, he stopped. Taking the words of this mornings Gospel quite literally, the preacher took of his shoes and shook the dust of Jacksonborough from his feet. The mob listened as Crazy Dow cursed all of Jacksonborough save the Seaborn Goodall home where he had been offered peace. The men of the mob had a good hard laugh at the evangelist.
Jacksonborough was a thriving county seat town that wasnt going anywhere. However, it was Dow who got the last laugh. Within a generation, Jacksonborough was no more. The rough and rowdy town got such a bad reputation that the county seat was moved to Sylvania. Within 30 years of Dows visit, the only home left standing in Jacksonborough, Georgia was the Goodall home. Victoria, Griffin, and I have seen the house for ourselves. The white clapboard house sits alone on a dirt road. The ruined foundations of Jacksonborough dot the woods around Seaborn Goodalls house to this day.
What an amazing thought. Lorenzo Dow preached the Gospel with vigor and lived the story as if it were true. Dow shook off the dust of Jacksonborough and history was changed.
Dows story is amazing. Certainly, the story of the crazy evangelist has something to do with our Gospel reading this morning. After all, Dow followed Jesus advice on how to handle a place that does not accept the Gospel. But what do the Gospel reading and Lorenzo Dow have to do with us?
Crazy Dow lived as if the stories in the Bible were more than stories. Is the Bible just a book of stories to you? Or are you ready to live as if you know the Bible is real? It takes a step of faith to give God a try, a real try. Just like the disciples who didnt think they were ready to go out on their own as an advanced team for Jesus, you can be holding back. I think the Gospel reading for today and the story of Lorenzo Dow challenge us to take a step of faith and see if God is not as good as Gods word.
Dow was willing to stand on the edge of Jacksonborough and stake his reputation on shaking the dust of that town off his feet. Lorenzo Dow challenges us to shake the dust off our own complacency. We can hold back on our relationship with God with neat ideas about what God can and what God cannot do. But the living God is more than you can imagine. Take up Lorenzo Dows challenge to live as if the Gospel were true. Shake the dust off your ideas about who God is and what God could do, and let the peace of God settle in your life.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + 6230 Laurel Island Parkway + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526