Leave It (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermons on YouTube…

Over the past few weeks, Phoenix and I have been going to Doggie Class each Saturday.  Phoenix has been doing great, and I’ve doing OK.  And actually, if you’ve done any training classes with your dog, you know that the classes are really about training you to be consistent with your expectations…

So together, Phoenix and I have been learning some of the basic commands that everyone is probably familiar with:  we’ve learned “sit”; “stay”; “come” and “down.”  All of those are important.

But having been through Doggie Class before, I realize that some commands are more important for my life with a dog than others.  There are some commands that I never ever used or really needed with Blake.  But I also remember that there were two or three commands that I used and insisted on all the time. They were absolutely essential.  And even before Phoenix and I started Doggie Class, I was already using those commands and getting Phoenix to understand what they mean.

One of those essential commands is: “Leave it.”  “Leave it” is a command that basically means “leave it alone”; “don’t go toward it”; “ignore it”.  And it can be a hard command for the dog to learn, because the “thing” the dog is supposed to leave alone can often be a thing that they CAN have at some point, but not right now… (which is why in class it’s taught with treats on the floor…)

But in the real world, “leave it” is important because if you see that squirrel in the back yard when you’re off leash, go chase it and have fun!  But not now when we’re on a walk. Leave it.  If you see that doggie buddy over there and want to go play, you can if I know the dog and the other owner is OK with it.  But if not, you leave it.  And when you see those french fries on the ground, even though you know you they’re legit food because you can eat them when I share some with you at a restaurant, right now you gotta leave it!

I find that I use “leave it” all the time.  It’s important because NOT leaving it:

  • Means that we’re going to be constantly distracted from where we’re going…; and if we’re crossing a street or in a crowd, that can also be hazardous…
  • Is exhausting – I want Phoenix to get exercise when we’re out, but if he’s constantly pulling and hyperventilating at squirrels and deer, he’ll be exhausted before we’re halfway done…
  • Can be physically bad, both for doggies and for daddies! Honestly, the first reason I teach “leave it” is because if I don’t the constant lunging after everything will put my arm out of joint…!

Leave it is important.  And maybe because I’m now teaching “leave it” again, I noticed this parenthetical remark in the Gospel reading today that I never really paid attention to before.  As Jesus is teaching about what does or does not “defile” a person, his disciples approach him and tell him that the Pharisees are offended by what he’s saying (literally, they’re “scandalized” in the Greek!)

How do the disciples know this?  Maybe the Pharisees are behaving like first century internet trolls and walking around telling people that Jesus and his disciples are about to set up pork barbque places all over Israel!  I don’t know, but whatever the Pharisees are doing or saying seems to get under the skin of the disciples, and so they implicitly ask Jesus what they should do about this.

Should they rebut the Pharisees point by point?  Should they get in their faces and shout them down?  Should they go and get in a fight with them?

And Jesus says, “leave it”.  “Let them alone.”  The verb Matthew uses to convey what Jesus says means “to leave it alone.”  And it’s the one and only time that verb is used in Matthew’s Gospel, which may be why it’s easy to miss.

And yet, at this point in time, Jesus says “leave it.”  Ignore it.  Don’t get baited by the trolls. 

And it’s not that Jesus doesn’t have a good rebuttal, or that the disciples at an appropriate point won’t need to clearly and concisely explain what Jesus is saying.  But right now, the disciples gotta leave it.  If they don’t, and if they can’t learn to “leave it” at appropriate moments, then they’re going to:

  • Be constantly distracted from the work Jesus is calling them to do and where Jesus is calling them to be; instead, they’ll be stuck barking at the other dogs…
  • Be exhausted by the agenda of everyone else, who frankly sometimes just want the entertainment of seeing the disciples get all hot and bothered by the debate… (I mean, that’s why a lot of internet trolls do what they do, and that was true before there was an internet…)
  • Physically wear themselves out engaging in pointless squabbles, and they won’t have the strength left to be agents of Jesus in the lives of the people Jesus sends them to help…

And while it may not be as profound as “love your neighbor as yourself”, sometimes Jesus’ call to “leave it” is really important for us, too.  Just as it was for the first disciples, we live in a world in which there are always people who say and do outrageous things that make us want to react.  And it’s especially hard not to react when those outrageous words and actions are directed against some of our core values and beliefs. 

And it’s not as though Jesus is telling us not to stand up for our values and beliefs, or to ignore things when they need to be dealt with.  But it is still the case that if we let ourselves be dragged into every controversial statement, and to be baited by every troll out there, we’ll always be distracted from everything else God is calling us to do and to be in the world around us.

And personally, it’s a lot easier for me to tell Phoenix to “leave it” than it is to listen for when Jesus is telling me to “leave it”!  But lately (and maybe because I’ve had to think about “leave it”), I’ve been more aware that Jesus’ call to “leave it” is sometimes most important when I’m tempted to get involved in some kind of battle or controversy that:

  • Distracts me from more essential things that I know I’m supposed to be focused on … (and really, the squirrel is often a lot more fun to chase than something more mundane that people are actually counting on me to do…!)
  • Exhausts me and leaves me emotionally drained … (and where I realize that my emotional exhaustion hasn’t changed things one iota…!)
  • Physically keeps me from away from people and activities where I could make a difference … (even when it’s as simple as late at night reading some news article about stuff that upsets me which I can’t change, but which keeps me awake so that I’m too tired the next day to work on stuff I could actually do something about…)

Sometimes, it’s important to leave it.   And sometimes, “leave it alone” are also the words Jesus directs towards us.  Those words don’t mean “stop caring” or “pretend the world is OK just the way it is.”  But they do mean that Jesus has important work for each one of us, and important things Jesus wants each of us to pay attention to.

So, listen for to those times when Jesus may be calling you to “leave it.”  It may be that whenever the wild stuff going on around you prevents you from listening for what God is saying to you, you need to “leave it”.  It may be that whenever the “trolls” out there insist you to focus on their agendas above all else, you need to “leave it”.  And it may be that whenever you feel yourself becoming so weighed down by the drama and the chaos around you that you’re too tired to engage in the promise of new life, the first step to recovery is that you need to “leave it”.