Date: July 22, 2012
Title: Back to the Future
Preaching: Rev. Jeremy Smith
Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
In the Gospel, Jesus gives directions to his disciples. Strange directions that sound weird to them. I understand. Being new in Portland, I get some strange directions from you people.
- People tell me to go to the Will-Am-Mitt river and all I can find is signs for the Williamette river.
- People tell me to check out this shop on cooch street, and all I can find is couch street.
- People tell me to check out the Terwilliger Parkway, and there’s not a racecar in sight.
- And watching Winnie the Poo growing up makes me want to find Tiggard, but all the locals point me towards is TYE-GARD.
- And to top it off, did you know that one local pointed me towards North Portland by calling it the Fifth Quadrant. What?
That makes no sense. I’ve gotten some strange directions to some strange places in my past month here.
But none as strange as these directions that Jesus gave his disciples two millennia ago. Let’s go back to this original sending-out of the Disciples and see what wisdom we can glean from this story today.
The scene opens with Jesus being kicked out of his hometown of Nazareth. This first part of the story is surprising. This is Jesus’ hometown and he’s surely the most famous one and should be welcomed like a hero. There are hometown heroes that Portland has welcomed home before. Winning sports teams. Returning soldiers. But here we see the burden of one’s past that the people closest to you often can’t see each other clearly. They kick him out and reject him.
We know a bit about this, don’t we? Those of us who can solve other people’s problems cannot often solve our own. We can celebrate success in another family’s resolution of problems while our own family is a stubborn mystery to us. To his hometown, Jesus is Mary’s oldest son and Joseph is dead, so why isn’t Jesus taking care of his widowed mother like an eldest son should have done? His behavior of living out his mission from God must have been puzzling to his community, and it is often those closest to us who offer the most severe judgment and heaviest burden.
The scene moves onto its second act. The disciples are called, given directions, and then sent out in mission to the neighboring towns. We find out they DO succeed as they cast out demons and heal the sick. They must have followed Jesus’ three main directions and gotten to the location where they were supposed to go.
The first direction is actually pretty normal. Jesus tells them to go out in pairs, two by two. This is for safety reasons, for sure. But it’s also for legal reasons: the law required two witnesses to call for justice in a situation. If the disciples were to seek justice for someone in their assigned town, there would need to be two of them or else the charges would not stick and the situation would stay the status quo.
The second direction is pretty strange. Jesus tells the disciples to not bring anything with them. This really doesn’t work for me. My whole life I’ve liked being prepared. When I was very young I had an awesome fanny pack that I would put my quarters and snacks in…just in case. When I was a bit older, I had the huge wallet I put in my back pocket so that when I sat down I fell to the side. I was prepared! Nowadays I’ve got my bag full of everything to prepare me for anything that could happen. Those of you with purses know what I’m talking about. And I’m told that in a few months if I want to leave the house with a baby to expect a 20 minute load time for the car and 20 minutes to get out of the car. Some of the strollers I’ve seen seem to be able to store everything to survive an earthquake, a zombie attack, or an e.coli scare.
If you look into the trunks of our cars or our purses or European shoulder bags, we cannot handle going somewhere unprepared. We bring our burdens with us wherever we go, and are unlikely to shed them to find relief.
The directions that Jesus gives the Disciples are to leave some things behind. They are to take no bread, no money to buy bread, no bag to carry bread in. They cannot wear two shirts, the second would be a heavier one so they could sleep outside on the cold desert nights. With these restrictions, the disciples would have to stay with people in their assigned towns, depending on the mercy and hospitality of strangers. The disciples are to trust that God will provide for them through the hospitality of others. Maybe we as well need to stop going at it alone and be unburdened and find joy in allowing others to help us out.
Finally, the last direction is just odd. Jesus says if they go somewhere and they are not welcome, shake off the dust as a testimony. That’s not how it works in Portland. If we have a bad experience at a restaurant, people will know. We will tell our friends, we’ll write in letters to the editor, we’ll post a bad review online on Yelp, we’ll blog about it, we’ll take pictures with our phones of how much the food didn’t look like its picture in the menu, and we’ll tweet, text, and trumpet that picture so that everyone knows about how bad it is.
We’ll throw mud every which way and spread mud everywhere we go…but Jesus tells us to not even let the dust from the unwelcome place stick to us. To kick it out of our sandals and leave without any a thought about it. We are to let it go, to carry the burden of frustration no longer.
Jesus’ instructions are: those places that (First) do not offer welcome (which I would call offering mercy to the traveling stranger) and (Second) do not allow for a legal hearing (which I would call seeking justice)…those are the places that the disciples are to let go.
The only way I can make sense of this is to turn it around. If there is a place where mercy is not offered and justice is not sought, then healing that community and casting out evil will be impossible. If there is a town or a community or a family that doesn’t offer mercy to each other and doesn’t seek to do what is right, then healing cannot be done to that community.
But hear the good news. All it takes is one body, one person, one family offering mercy, and one leader in the community to risk and seek justice, that’s all it takes for a community to receive the power of the holy spirit. And one by one, that community will change, slowly, in God’s time. All it takes is just one person. Maybe it is you today in the various circles in which we swim.
All the directions Jesus gives us are a way for us as a community to navigate a world that has lost its way. A world that burdens us with suffering about the present. Instead, Jesus calls his disciples to risk the uncertainty of the present for the certain hope of the future. By looking at our past, at the basic ideas for how to be a community that chooses which burdens it will carry, can we determine how to carry these burdens forward, and let the bad burdens slip off our shoulders.
In closing, there’s one direction that is missing from the scripture. It’s not apparent on the surface. This story of Jesus instructing the Disciples appears in three different Gospels and they all have different instructions. In Luke, they are instructed NOT to take a staff or sandals. In Matthew, not only are they to shake the dust off of their sandals, but they are to pray that God smites the city. Three different communities have Jesus telling them three different sets of instructions.
This tells me that the Gospels were written in different decades in different towns that each area required different directions. Each Gospel writer listened to the area they were in and adapted to best tell of the saving power of Jesus Christ. And this is a very important direction to our church today.
This past week, our United Methodist Church reaffirmed that though we are united we are not uniform in the way how we live out our mission. At two of the five regional conferences (jurisdictional conferences), resolutions were passed that affirmed God’s love for all persons including those persons with varieties of sexual orientations and gender identities. These are different than the global Methodist church’s prohibition that such persons are not allowed to serve openly as pastors or be married. Two days ago our Western Jurisdiction of which we are a part passed a statement that says we are to serve the United Methodist Church as if that prohibition does not exist.
Like the church of the past, we adapt to our context of the Western part of United Methodist Church in America. Like the church of the past, we hope to not be errant individuals but have chosen this way forward together in community, chosen by a dozen states. And just as the Gospels use different instructions, they paint the same picture of Jesus Christ.
So I ask you to pray for our United Methodist Church. Pray that our church with its different mission fields still paints the same picture of the Church as a place where grace reigns, where justice is lifted up, where hospitality is offered, where the children are nurtured, where the elderly are respected, where the family in all its forms is strengthened, where transformation in this room becomes transformation outside the church walls.
This is our future. And to achieve it, it’s remarkably simple: we must go back to the past to the original directions and each of us live them out. Each day this week, ask yourself if you’ve followed these directions.
Each day, ask yourself if you’ve met with a companion on your journey, in some way, and grow together. Each day ask yourself if you’ve carried too much, be it guilt, anger, bitterness, or the sins of the past. Each day ask yourself if you’ve spread more bad news about the world around you or more Good News about Christ’s love and forgiveness for all. Each day.
Hear the good news. The future is Christ’s. We have nothing to fear. Where there is grace and justice, any community will become the embodiment of Christ to the world, casting out evils and healing our wounded hearts…but the choice to be that community is yours.
Glory be to God. Amen.