“Jesus sent them out two by two, ordering them to take nothing with them but a staff…”
long-sleeve shirts for cooler nights
Umbrella or rain jacket
Purell – small, pocket-size
That is just part of the packing list for the youth trip to El Hogar that leaves next Saturday. The entire list is 2 pages long. We are a people who plan and who pack. When we go on vacation we might count the days we plan to be gone and then lay out our clothes to make sure we have enough outfits to last the entire week. Sometimes, I like to pick out several more shirts than I need because I don’t know what I’ll be in the mood to wear on a particular day. And it isn’t just clothes that we pack. We are inclined to bring along personal tokens of remembrance, books, and supplies to ensure our comfort in whatever situations we might encounter.
When Jesus sends the disciples into service with nothing but the clothes on their backs, He is sending them into the world with an expectation of hospitality. This is not how we usually go into the world. Even if we’re just taking a day trip we make sure to pack the food, water, and supplies we will need because we want to ensure that we will be self-sufficient. To be honest, even if I’m just going to the supermarket I am usually carrying my huge yellow purse full of goodness-knows-what. You never know when you might need an umbrella, Chap Stick, or goodness knows what else. We are not used to accepting or asking for help when we go into the world. We like to rely on ourselves.
So, am I about to preach a sermon that the youth group should go to Honduras with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Of course not. But I do think that we could all use a lesson in packing a bit lighter for the big trips in life and the small ones.
Each Sunday we are sent forth into the world, ideally, to spread God’s love far and wide. We were commissioned at our baptism as missionaries for Christ. But how many of us truly leave the worship here at Epiphany to go into our daily lives sharing the Good News with those whom we encounter?
I think it has something to do with the baggage that is weighing us down. Our extra baggage comes in many forms. For some of us it is a history with the Church that was oppressive and we have a desire to leave that pain behind. For others it might be fear of reactions from people who have negative associations with Christianity so we want to avoid being lumped in with those negative feelings. Maybe the baggage weighing us down is the busy trap: How can I share the Good News when I already have so many other things to do? And for still others it might be feeling like we don’t know where to start. There are many factors that go into determining how or if we live into our calling as missionaries and evangelists, and all too often the weight of our extra baggage prevents us from doing the work God has called us to do.
There is a book by Donald Miller called, Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It is one of my favorite books and I encourage you to read it if you have a chance: we even have a copy of it in the Epiphany library. The book is a collection of essays exploring Miller’s conversion from Southern Baptist upbringing, to agnostic-at-best college student, to broadly Christian adult. One chapter in the book discusses an experience Miller had while attending Reed College in Oregon. Miller claims that Reed is the “most atheist college in America.” He tells the reader about a campus festival where all of the student groups could have tables around the campus quad to inform others about their groups. The Christian group struggled with how to participate in the event since so many Reed students had negative impressions of the Christian faith. Miller, along with a group of Christian students, decided to have a “confessional booth” as their display.
They set up a tent on the quad and had two chairs in the tent. A sign on the outside announced that it was a confessional booth. The twist was that instead of inviting the students to confess their sins, the Christians used this as an opportunity to apologize for ways that other Christians may have hurt them in the past. As wary Reed students entered the tent, not sure what to expect, they were surprised, and many were profoundly moved, when the Christian students “confessed” their part in the ways that Christianity has been used to condemn and harm other people. The Christian students reported many heart felt conversations between themselves and their guests. Some of the students who entered with the intention to ridicule the Christian students ended up sharing intimate details that explained why they were so negative about religion. –All of this happened because they were invited to lay their baggage down. When we enter into relationship carrying nothing but our full selves, we enter with the ability to meet one another eye to eye.
Every week we are sent into the world from this place in the form of the dismissal. That dismissal is a re-commissioning of sorts. We are re-commissioned, with our spiritual cups refilled and ready, to go into the world. In that dismissal, Jesus is commanding all of us to leave behind our baggage, just as he told the disciples to take nothing with them apart from a staff. You are the only one who knows what it is that Jesus is instructing you to leave behind in order to live into God’s call for you. It might be physical wealth or possessions that are distracting us from our brothers and sisters in need. It might be emotional pain that we use as a shield to protect us from the world. It might be memories that cause us to stumble because we are perpetually looking behind us. Whatever it is for you, the invitation and directive we all receive as we come here each week it to leave those things behind. I’m not going to tell you it is easy, because it’s not. The disciples were sent forward into unknown places with no idea where their next meal would come from or where they would sleep at night. That was not an easy directive. But if we trust in God and in the goodness of our neighbors it is possible for us to go into service without the weight on our shoulders.
Next Saturday when we leave for Honduras, I will carry a large suitcase full of bug spray, work clothes, first aid kits, and numerous other items that will make the work we are called to do possible. But there are several things I will need the strength to leave behind in order to be fully present to the youth of Epiphany, the children and staff of El Hogar, and to God. God knows what those things are that we are carrying unnecessarily and that are inhibiting our service to the Gospel. Will you find the strength to leave them behind?