Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018

Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018 (Ps 24, 1Samuel 6:1-5, Ephesians 3:1-14) Mark 6:1-13

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Jesus sends us out two-by-two taking nothing for the journey…

Taking me way back to youthful days when I hitchhiked almost everywhere. I didn’t know Jesus yet – but I came pretty close sometimes to taking Jesus literally. Hitch-hiking up to the motorcycle races in Laconia, New Hampshire… or down to the Outer Cape leaving from metro-Boston – taking no bag, no extra clothes, and very little money (a dollar at two at most, at times…) Thumbing a ride to wherever and back. Singing along with marvelous Marvin Gaye – (Going to St Louis, and my next stop might be LA)… Got no money in my pocket, so I’m gonna have to hitchhike all the way…

Those hitchhiking trips (though I had no idea of this at the time) were probably as close as I’ve come to traveling light according to Jesus literally. Meaning not very close – since – even back  in those youthful days – if I knew I was going to be gone more than two days – I’d pack a sleeping bag and extra clothes – and on my longest hitch-hiking trip, a few months out of high school, my friend John and I hitchhiked across country – California back to Massachusetts –  we were packing a duffel bag, suitcases, even a portable record player and a couple dozen record albums…In other words, my traveling light phase did not last very long… or go very deep…

Though while it lasted, even with all that extra baggage, I did begin to learn something Jesus teaches today (that is): we really can depend on others for our needs – once we learn how to ask. All the way across country, total strangers not only stopped and gave us rides (even with our huge loads of excess baggage) – they also bought us meals and offered to put us up overnight in their homes. We must have looked so needy and comical, toting all that gear, that people would slow down, look and laugh… end up stopping to help….

It’s been a long time since I’ve hitchhiked anywhere. Now our family drives most of the time and we take a plane when we go across country.

So it’s like entering a time warp to hear Jesus say – take nothing for the journey – no bag, no purse, no extra clothes, no change of shoes. I’m sure hygiene must still count – my wife assures me of this – though I can’t help pointing out to her that I don’t actually hear Jesus say to bring soap or even a toothbrush.  (And I don’t need Jesus to remind me – I don’t need a comb any more.) But getting the drift of what Jesus does say – I’m not going to even ask about bringing a fishing rod…

Though probably I should be asking Jesus often – who should I be walking with today? Since he does make a point of sending us out in pairs – two by two, together. Which often does make it easier to make the good news of Jesus come alive. As Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) says “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up the other…” And as experience teaches –

Two together often do better than two ones going solo. When we pray and ask Jesus to suggest or assign partners in ministry, good chemistry often happens. Which doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree – or always get along nicely. Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart had very different personalities and could drive each other crazy… But they were also great friends – and with one contributing words, the other melodies, great music happened… A parable for the church, as now I’m also remembering…

In my seminary days I interned for a year at the United Methodist Church of All Nations in downtown Boston. One duty assigned to interns was visiting home bound members (of whom we had many). My friend and fellow intern that year Olu Harding, had previously been his home country of Sierra Leone’s senior ambassador to the Soviet Union. A great guy, a skilled diplomat – who, turns out, much like me – was a little nervous about visiting people we didn’t know yet in their homes.

So we went visiting together… Driving my ancient Dodge Dart with Olu navigating the streets of Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan… We got lost a lot, but always got found eventually. We’d introduce ourselves, ask how are you doing? Often we’d hear fascinating life stories. We’d share some of what’s been going on in church. We’d close with prayers, each of us taking a turn. Those we visited would often pray for us too. Always we’d leave feeling blessed…

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Visiting people who are already part of the church may take a little practice if we’re not in the habit, but it’s really pretty simple. Hard to do it wrong…

The complicating factor today is that Jesus is sending us out to share the good news of the kingdom of God as a happening thing outside the boundaries of our church. Teaching us to share the good news in public. Something we, the church, have often been either too shy or too aggressive about… (Shy and aggressive may actually be two sides of the same underlying performance anxiety? Perhaps…)

And yes, taking the gospel on the road can be a little intimidating – at least if we’re thinking we need to be literally casting out demons and laying on hands and doing miraculous faith healing. Good news – we don’t need do this literally. (Unless we’re one of those with spiritual gifts in one of these areas). Making adjustments for time-and-place context, I’m hearing Jesus’ main message today as  announcing the universal need of repentance, as prelude and preface to the kingdom of God.

Good news again – proclaiming repentance gets easier, the more we know we’re included. Repentance is a lot less difficult – both to do and to teach – when we know it’s not about us being better or worse than someone else. It’s about all of us needing God’s grace… together.

There is built-in tension in the gospel – about not making concepts harder than they need to be – and not over-simplifying at the same time. Repentance is not all there is to salvation, but repentance is a necessary part of salvation. Jesus forgives long before we repent. But we need to keep repenting all the way to heaven… continuing to ask and invite Jesus to transform our lives… because turning to God is not just a one-time thing.

We need to be able to talk about the bad news of sin, and the world being under the power of sin, serving false gods and idols. We need to know repentance means literally turning – turning and returning to God – God who loves us passionately – God, who, scripture tells us, is love. Love embodied in God the Father. Love embodied in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, sent to show what God’s love looks like in human flesh and blood. Repentance means turning to love – turning to the love of God and neighbor. So –

Above all we need to talk about repentance as good news – the antidote for the bad news – turning to life with God that brings salvation and healing – freely given. There’s nothing we can ever do to earn it. Good news!

And yet more good news – Jesus isn’t expecting us to be wildly successful. Even Jesus himself can’t convince most of his home town, including most of his family… Jesus isn’t going to fail us in Faith 101 if we don’t succeed in making converts. Which is not to say we shouldn’t try to reach everyone possible by all means possible. Just to say we’re never saved by our brilliant rhetoric, nor by our extraordinary spiritual gifts, nor by anything we do. We’re saved by God’s grace alone. Whatever we do for God is never to earn salvation – what we do for God is just the best way we know of saying thank you to God for all the love.

And the more I read the bible (especially this week Ephesians, with it’s many extraordinary promises and blessings) – the more I hear even what Jesus says about shaking the dust off our feet when people won’t listen – as good news. One of Jesus’ ways of telling us how to shake off disappointments and move on to the next stop without agonizing overly about what hasn’t worked… Shake it off, move on, Jesus says.  And keep praying for those who won’t listen…

Because most people come to faith through relationships with people of faith – as our Thought for the Week says “God has made relationships his chosen delivery system for the gospel of hope.”

And faith and good relationships take time. Healthy spiritual relationships develop and grow through sustained discipleship practices – especially prayer, worship, mutual loving service, and going deeper with the bible… The more we live into discipleship, the more we’re able to share Jesus in our ever-changing contexts… Remembering – our situation is different from the first century.

For our first three centuries we Christians were a tiny religious minority. Since then we’ve often been the majority religion… Once upon a time, after becoming a majority religion, we waged wars with people of other religions.  Over the centuries we the church have also waged hot and cold civil and uncivil wars with other Christians – Christians against Christians. So often now it’s no longer considered sufficient to call ourselves (in the words of CS Lewis)  “mere Christians.” So often many now feel a need to specify precisely what kind of Christian – which brand of Christian we’re part of…. And not saying we ought to be all alike, all one-flavor. Jesus isn’t asking us to obliterate our personalities – or give up everything we enjoy or prefer… Except – when our likes and preferences get in the way of seeing Jesus – for us – or for others…

Which makes what Jesus says about traveling light all the more true for us today… Though now I’m hearing the main thing as not as much about leaving behind physical baggage (though that’s still a great idea) – nearly so much as leaving behind all our other baggage – meaning everything – that can make it harder to see the love of Jesus…

So that if anyone notices anything at all about us – what they notice and remember most – is always the love of Jesus…alive and at work in us…

Lord hear our prayers!

Thanks be to God. Amen.