July 5, 2015 – Sent out

Pentecost 6 July 5, 2015   Mark 6:1-13   Sent Out

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In just about every small town I’ve ever been a pastor in, someone always offers this counsel: “Be careful what you say about anyone in this town. We’re all related.” (“Or used to be… or going to be…”)

Perhaps meaning, just a bit between the lines – we all need to try to make nice, not upset each other. This is a small place, we have to live together here. We’ve all got assigned roles to play. (Some of us have had roles assigned even before we were born.) So let’s not be rocking any boats.

Probably this kind of hometown thinking was old before Methuselah was born. And today even Jesus gets the Hometown Blues. Even Jesus can’t do much in the village he grew up in, where everyone knows him – or thinks they do. People are saying, “Isn’t this Mary’s son? Brother of James and Joses, Judas and Simon? Don’t we know his sisters? (Can’t remember all their last names, now that they’re married, but…)Who the hey does this guy think he is? Isn’t he the carpenter we’ve all known since he was a toddler?”

And usually people are amazed by Jesus – and all he says and does – all the powerful works of healing and preaching and teaching with authority.

But now it’s Jesus’s turn to be amazed – at the astounding lack of faith in his hometown… He can heal only a few sick people in the face of such overwhelming doubt. So – What to do?

What else – but – take it on the road…

Jesus sends his crew of twelve disciples out on the road in pairs, to preach and teach the gospel. Which at first seems like a rather strange thing to do on Jesus’ part – considering – these are the same guys we’ve just seen frozen-in-fear-not-long-ago, when a storm at sea threatens to swamp their boat.

But look at these disciples now – Preaching repentance – casting out many demons. Anointing and healing many who are sick. Going where they don’t know, doing what they didn’t know they could do. Taking nothing for the journey but a staff. No bread, no bag, no money, no extra clothes. Depending entirely on the hospitality of strangers and the grace of God and the power given by Jesus. Suddenly – wow! They’re doing what Jesus does.

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Meanwhile, back in Nazareth… Some of us might be able to identify sometimes, just a little bit, with Jesus – getting no respect. Some of us also may get a little tired, now and then, of trying to talk about God and church and Jesus with family and friends and neighbors – who most often do their best to ignore us…

Maybe we too, like disciples of old, need to think about hitting the road more often. Get a change of venue. Step outside our regular routines. Get into telling the good news of Jesus boldly – even the part about repentance – which really just means changing our hearts until we’re full of God’s love, like Jesus is…That’s the good news made simple. We could take that on the road. Couldn’t we?…

But… then I start to remember…hearing how, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, some of you went door to door, telling people about our church. (I think that happened in both Cataumet and Bourne.) And nobody new came to church, even after many a doorbell was rung. So, maybe it would be hard to do that again. I think I actually remember saying as much myself, at a Church Council meeting a few months ago, when someone suggested going door to door. I said “We tried that. It didn’t work.” And besides that, well, people might think we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses or even Moonies… (That would be embarrassing…)

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But then again, Jesus did send the disciples out, two-by-two, more than once. In Luke we hear first the twelve, then a band of 72 are sent out by Jesus, two by two. So I’ve been praying and thinking about how we might do something along these lines, even if we’re not going to try to do it all literally.

I was thinking about this all again yesterday, as a few of us went walking in the 4th of July Parade. There were only three of us at first, but as Ann Marie, Judy Battles and I were getting ready to hoist our United Methodist Church banner, a friendly guy in a polar bear suit came by and asked if we needed any help, and Ann Marie invited him to walk with us, and he did. And we were walking two-by-two, with Judy and I holding the banner, and Ann Marie and our polar bear friend waving and greeting people. (Though after awhile we lost Matt, our friendly polar bear man, because so many people wanted to take a selfie – pictures with him.) But for nearly an hour we stuck pretty close to the Jesus script – walking together with no bags, no bread, no extra clothes – I even wore sandals for the occasion. Our banner hung from a stick that could pass for a staff… We were following Jesus’ instructions almost to the letter – at least if you count holding our sign as bearing witness to the gospel… But…

I wasn’t feeling great about this mission trip at first, as we were standing close behind a jeep, breathing it’s exhaust fumes and a lot of cigarette smoke from it’s driver, who also had an annoying habit of constantly honking the horn for no apparent reason.

But as we walked out into Main Street Buzzards Bay, and got a little space between us and the jeep… People were sitting in lawn chairs and perching on curbsides almost every inch of the way… And most of them seemed to be waving at us… (We recognized a bunch of you and a few others who we expect waves from…) But there were also a thousand or two others we didn’t know, smiling and waving, some of them even saying, “God bless you!”

Pretty soon I was feeling a lot better… And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced – this mission trip Jesus sends us out on is for the benefit of us missionaries…At least as much as those we’re sent to.

Of course this kind of trip is meant to bring the good news of Jesus and his kingdom to people everywhere. The commission to bring the gospel to all the ends of the earth is given to all of us who follow Jesus.

But when I think about these peculiar limits Jesus puts on his followers – no bread, no backpack, no extra clothes, no money – (that’s got to include no credit cards, cell phones, or ipads, surely)… But even if we can allow ourselves a few contextual liberties, like toothbrushes and floss – surely this list of things not to bring is designed by Jesus very deliberately to teach us something… and…

What better way to learn how much we depend on God than to go out with nothing but the clothes on our backs and sandals on our feet – depending entirely on God and the hospitality of those who receive us?

And what better way to bear witness to our faith than to practice acting like Jesus. Keeping it all very simple. Nothing unnecessary to get in the way. (I noticed, maybe for the first time yesterday, a sign over the door of the St Vincent de Paul store in Buzzards Bay saying, “Live simply, that others may simply live.”)

Now days Christians are seldom known for looking a lot like Jesus. But when we do live and act like him, people notice. (Pope Francis driving around in a tiny old Renault car with 180,000 miles on it… makes a very good impression.)

And mission is always a two-way street. Those sent out learn the gospel of our complete dependence on God as we go… We also learn what radical hospitality looks like, when we’re taken in and provided for by strangers. Or – when we take in gospel messengers into our homes, and provide for their needs. Either way, the gospel is taught and learned by example.

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(And…) Looking at the crowds lining the streets of Buzzards Bay yesterday… I’m not sure we even have to leave Bourne to be in the mission field.

Right here in Cataumet, Pocasset, Monument Beach, Grey Gables, Bourne Village, Buzzards Bay, Bournedale, Sagamore – all our villages and neighborhoods – fifty years ago probably almost everyone knew almost everyone else. Preaching the gospel in our home neighborhood was perhaps a bit like Jesus preaching in Nazareth. Response to the gospel was probably often underwhelming.

Today all our neighborhoods have changed and are still changing. We don’t know all our neighbors anymore. Maybe we could learn a lot by walking every street in our town, two by two… (I walk nearly every day, and I always see more walking than driving. Even on the quickest walks I usually learn something about wherever I’m walking…)

There’s a fisherman’s saying, “if you want to catch fish, it helps to keep your line in the water.” If you want to reach people we don’t know, it helps to get out and meet them.

And if we want to attract people to Jesus, it helps to be more like Jesus. Which isn’t always as hard as it sounds. At our New England Annual Conference in Manchester New Hampshire a few weeks ago a lot of us were walking around the streets of Manchester, off in two’s or two-by-twos…We were all wearing name tags hanging from cords that made it easy to notice we were a group… One day I took a walk between sessions. A woman stopped me on the sidewalk and asked “Who are you guys? I notice your name tags; you look different.” I told her we were New England Methodists having our annual conference. She said, “Well that explains it. Most people who come here for conventions look uptight and irritable… But you’re all smiling and giving-off good vibrations.”

I said “God bless you. You’re way too kind. We’re no angels. We argue with each other like everyone else. (You should hear some of our debates inside.) We’re just your average Christians, trying to look more like Jesus.” But she insisted – we were different. She kept saying that just seeing us smiling and acting nice with each other made her almost ready to try church again… after a long, long time away.

So – maybe we do need to practice getting out on the streets and pathways… Two by two… Maybe even singing a Jesus song…as we walk along.

Anyone ready to come with me?

(Let’s sing… Walk With Me)