Sunday, July 05, 2009

Pentecost 5 - Year B

“Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”

What do YOU pack when you go on a trip? Are you that person who drags a 6-piece Samsonite luggage set through the airport, carrying everything from a hair-dryer, to formal wear, to 3 sets of swim attire?

Or do you throw a few odds and ends into a backpack so you can glide smoothly from one destination to the other?

Or somewhere in between?

While I’m not a seasoned traveler, I’m told that the more you travel, the less you know to bring. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes a lot of sense.

Three years ago when our young adults went to Mexico for 10 days we decided that we were only going to bring whatever stores snugly into an overhead compartment or securely under the seat in front of us. We didn’t want to get bogged down waiting at the baggage carousel.

It was a wise decision. And when I travel, I usually do the same. I hate waiting at the airport. I like to just grab my stuff and go.

But Jesus says that we already bring too much with us if we can fill a small suitcase. If we are going to be traveling from place to place in Jesus’ name, then all we need to bring is that which hides our nakedness.

“Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”

To be honest, I don’t know what to do with this passage. I DO know that we DON'T take it seriously. I DO know that, while we pay lip service to the truth of what Jesus is saying, we don’t follow it. In fact, we don’t even try.

And those who do take Jesus words seriously are dismissed as saints - or insane. Because no normal person would behave so recklessly.

But then again, does Jesus ask us to be normal? Anyone can follow the crowd but Jesus asks us follow him. The question is, do we want to follow where Jesus leads? Or do we want to settle back into a cozy faith that offers peace and comfort, but not challenge?

That seems to be the subtext of what Jesus is saying to his disciples. To be his follower means to be uncomfortable at times.

Jesus didn’t want to make it easy for them. If this was a comfort challenge then maybe Jesus was trying to weed out the tourists. This was NOT an easy assignment. Despite what others may have told them.

Nor was it new. Back then and there, wandering philosophers moseyed through the countryside teaching anyone who would listen to them. And in return folks would give them food and a place to crash for the night.

It looks like Jesus was sending his followers out, just like these wandering philosophers, but with a different agenda, a different way of teaching people. In fact, the disciples weren’t supposed to teach anyone anything. They were to confront the power of evil, to bring God’s healing power to those who needed it, and to preach good news to those who only knew bad news.

The disciples’ travels weren’t about them and their wisdom and knowledge, it was about God’s power breaking loose in the world.

That’s why I think Jesus sent them out with NOTHING. The only thing they carried with them was God’s power. It turns out, that’s all they needed.

I think that’s the challenge for us today. We don't trust that God's power is all we need to advance Jesus' mission for us. When many churches are struggling, we tend to look for the quick fix, the easy turnaround. We think that contemporary music, or technology, or some shiny new program will help us gain what we once had - a thriving Christian church that plays a central role in the culture’s life.

I wish it were that easy. I wish there were some silver bullet that would make all our troubles go away. I wish there were some simple solution to our problem of dwindling numbers.

If only we could get a pre-packaged program that people will connect with. If only we could simply increase our advertising budget so that people could find us. If only we could have a more user friendly worship service that didn’t ask anything of anyone. THEN, we’d be on the track to renewal. THEN we would see the numerical success that we think God wants for us.

But it turns out that God doesn’t work that way. It turns out that all God has given us is the message of good news in a bad news world. It turns out that God doesn’t work by program or policy. God will not be contained in our church box. God will not be constrained in the little prison we’ve made for the divine.

It looks like God doesn’t want to make it easy for us. God wants to do things God’s way. Not our’s. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me sweat in my sleep. It’s too hard to trust something I can’t control. And I definitely CAN’T control God’s power. I wish I could. But I can’t.


The theme for last week’s National Convention was “In Mission for Others: Signs of Hope.” I have to admit, I rolled my eyes at the title. Maybe I’ve become too cynical in my old age, but I wondered out loud, what hope there is for our beloved and beleaguered Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Every year we hear about churches closing. People fighting with each other. Congregations leaving. We hear about financial troubles and smaller memberships. We hear about worship wars and missional failure. And we wonder if God has baled on us, leaving us to wallow in our losses.

It feels like our bishops, despite their best efforts, don't know where to take our church. They try program after program to renew a declining church, and all they get for their efforts are budget cuts and nasty emails. Please pray for our bishops as they take on what is an impossible job.

But oddly, against all signs to the contrary, I found signs of hope in our little church. Talking with friends from around the country, hearing what’s happening in Toronto, Thompson Manitoba, Kelowna, BC , and everywhere else, the common theme is that we do our best work when we throw our pre-packaged programs in the recycle bin. We do our best work when the work isn’t about US and OUR GROWTH.

We do our best work when we worry about and care for others, when we worry about and serve those who may not step foot in the church, but we care for them as Jesus’ followers’ did, with no other motive than to love our neighbours as ourselves

Confronting the evil of poverty in Vancouver. Sponsoring a refugee family in London. A struggling, little, congregation in Fredericton decided that, instead of closing their doors, they'd build an affordable housing development where their church once stood. These are signs of hope. God blesses these efforts. Whether we know it or not. Whether that was the intention or not.

Of course, this is NOT a formula - if WE do this then GOD will do that – unfortunately, that’s not how God works. God will not be be bound to our blueprints. God is too busy transforming the world with us - and despite us.

I don’t know if that sounds like good news to you. I don’t know if that sounds like good news to me. I’d rather have control over the divine. I'd rather God follow my plans than I follow God's plans.

But God is more interested in the world’s salvation than in my comfort. That’s the God we have. That’s the God who saves us.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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