A sermon preached for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost on Mark 6:1-13, Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 on July 8, 2018 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
It’s a little disconcerting to hear Jesus’s words today when we might be unpacking from our summer vacation or getting ready to pack for a trip yet to come. I just returned from the Youth Gathering and will be packing for vacation to New Mexico in a couple of weeks. My standard packing list is a page long with every conceivable contingency considered. I print it out for each trip and cross off what I don’t need—like mittens and a scarf for summer vacation.
Jesus gave the disciples a packing list when he sent them out to share forgiveness, healing and freedom from all that breaks and possesses us: staff. They got one thing--a walking stick that could double as protection against wild dogs.
When we come up with a list of what’s required to do effective ministry and share God’s grace with new people, our list is pretty long. A standard church inventory is 2-3 pages long (page one is pictured)—and we could add a lot more to it, like curriculums, coffee, donuts, a parking lot, and paid staff. Jesus also had a list of what was required for effective ministry: 2 disciples + Jesus’ authority (the Holy Spirit). I hope you’re feeling as uncomfortable as I am with the difference between our lists and Jesus’s lists.
We’re only six chapters into the Gospel of Mark and Jesus sent out the disciples for mission that required a radical dependence on the generosity and hospitality of others. Hospitality to the stranger was a cultural expectation in ancient Israel promoted frequently by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus asked his disciples to embrace a radical vulnerability when he sent them out two by two with nothing but a walking stick and the power of his authority and Spirit. Most itinerate preachers of the day would at least carry an extra shirt and beggar’s bag, but Jesus didn’t even allow that. Jesus promised that some would accept them, feed them, and rejoice in God’s love and healing power. Others, perhaps even their own hometown and family, would reject them, deride them, and refuse to listen—as happened both to Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading and to Jesus in our passage from Mark.
The only place I have experienced this kind of immediate, radical hospitality of a stranger was while traveling in Zimbabwe in Southern Africa during in seminary. When we got out of Harare, the capital city and into the rural areas, I learned that taking in travelers was a historical necessity for survival in the bush, so you would not be eaten at night by wild animals. A student at the university took a friend and I to his home in the eastern part of Zimbabwe. On the way, we got out and walked through some of the rolling hills, called the Eastern Highlands. Unexpectedly, we came upon a hut, and after the customary greetings, the old woman who lived there asked us if we would be staying for dinner. Radical hospitality toward the stranger.
Another weekend, a friend and I traveled to an indigenous Christian church that lived cooperatively on a rural farm, grew their own food, and worshipped under a tree. When arrived, they simply took us in. They included us in their meals, gave us lodging with one of their members, invited us to their evening prayer service, and we worked with them in the field during the day. At break time, we received a cup of tea and serving of vegetables like everyone else. It was so humbling to be received without question, and to realize that without their hospitality, we would not survive a night outside in the rural area alone. We were vulnerable; this kind of dependence opened us up to relationships, human connection, and Christian fellowship that we never would have experienced if we could have a booked a night at a Holiday Inn (which didn’t exist of course). We brought small gifts, but what we could bring was nothing in comparison to the hospitality and the sheer survival they offered us. Radical hospitality toward the stranger.
This experience gave me a window into understanding why Jesus sent out his disciples this way, with such vulnerability where they could go hungry, have nowhere to stay, or flunk miserably. In our reading from 2nd Corinthians, the Apostle Paul called this ministering out of our weakness so that the grace and power of God can be made manifest through us. When we get ourselves, our ego, our strength, and even our resources out of the way, we become a vehicle, an open vessel for Jesus’s power to come through us. Such a mission requires a radical dependence on God.
Jesus called the disciples and calls us to approach ministry out of our poverty, out of our need for God, out of our weakness, not out of our riches, for that is when relationships and human connections are made—person to person, vulnerability to vulnerability, stranger to stranger. Jesus calls us to minister without hiding behind our communal accomplishments and accoutrements, for when we are weak, then we are strong! God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
The great news is that the disciples succeeded! They cast out many demons and anointed the sick and cured them—not because they had a 3-page list of assets and a 6-point strategic plan, but because of Jesus’ Spirit and authority working through them! There was no way the disciples could take the credit for their success—they went out with nothing—so God got the glory. That’s what Jesus calls all of us to do—to do ministry that we cannot do on our own, ministry that can only succeed through the power of Jesus, so that God gets the glory for success and not us.
For those of you who have been members at St. Luke’s for a long time, it’s hard not wish for the days of old with two services, triple the households, more staff, and more resources. And yes, church was fun and felt more successful when it was larger. But the truth of the Gospel is that St. Luke’s already has everything it needs for God’s mission in this time and place! This was true before I got here, it’s been true since the beginning of the church, it will be true tomorrow, and next year, and the next decade regardless of what the budget says, or the repairs needed to the building. (I’m not saying that buildings and budgets are unimportant; they are tools for mission, they are not the mission itself!)
Here’s the list of what Jesus needs for mission in Richardson: 2 disciples with a walking stick, + the Holy Spirit. We like to make it more complicated than that, but it really isn’t.
The only thing Jesus needs to grow the church and its mission is you and your faith in Jesus, walking beside you and your faith in Jesus. You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t send those first disciples into the synagogues where people were already praying, he sent the disciples into towns, villages and homes—out in the world to the stranger and the outcast who have not yet heard of Jesus’s love!
Church commentators say that the 21st century is more like the first century in its mission than ever before. People aren’t coming in here to experience God’s love, Jesus is sending us out there to save souls by sharing God’s unmerited grace and forgiveness. The mission of the church is to make sure every person we meet hears that God loves them no matter what. There are so many who have felt shamed and judged by Christians; it’s our mission to say that there’s nothing so awful in their past or in their present or in their heart that will prevent God from loving and forgiving them.
Now, we don’t have a culture like the first century or parts of very rural Africa that expects hospitality to be extended to strangers and travelers in the way I have described. But we do have an opportunity to talk with a new person every time we leave our house or apartment bringing with us a radical hospitality to the stranger. When you go to the doctor, the grocery store, a restaurant, or to Walmart, you encounter a stranger who checks you in or checks you out, takes your order, waits on you, or stands in line next to you. Many of these people would love to have you pray for them.
It’s as simple as saying, “Thanks for your help! Do you have any needs I can include in my prayers today?” When we’re in a restaurant, Dan and I try to ask the server, “we’re going to say a prayer before we eat and wonder if you have anything you’d like us to pray for?” We’ve had some people say, “No thanks, I’m doing pretty good.” And others say, “oh yes, thank you!” We’ve been asked to pray for kids’ starting kindergarten, sick grandma’s, upcoming surgery, and more. Many people are touched that we really see them as a person and care enough to ask! Not everyone will say yes. Shake off the rejection, don’t take it personally, and ask the next person, who just might be waiting and hoping that someone will care enough to ask what they need, and be reminded God loves them.
We need to start practice this simple conversation with strangers this week! Carol has been working tirelessly with Jerry and the Council to open Great Achievers Preschool in our education wing this August! We have a wonderful opportunity to enter relationships with new people who need to know that God loves them through our care, our prayers, and our radical hospitality toward the stranger. We all want to be comfortable talking with new people! We want disciples like you and you and you, who will be ready to serve coffee to parents dropping off kids at Preschool and asking how you can pray for them. We need grandparents ready to read stories, help celebrate birthdays or to “adopt-a-family” so that when some of those families visit worship, they will see a familiar face who will help them find the nursery, the bathroom, their way around a Lutheran hymnal, and the coffee and the donuts (the 3rd Lutheran Sacrament!).
It’s time to practice being a disciple who radically trusts his presence with us. The youth passed out cards, and I challenge every one of you to ask one person this week how you can pray for them. Write down where you did this and bring it next week as part of your offering, and put it in the offering plate. Maybe it will be so fun and freeing that you will ask two or three or ten more!
Jesus made it clear that as his followers, we are not just passive recipients and beneficiaries of his love and grace. Jesus gives us a mandate to witness and to pray, to heal and to love. When I go on vacation, I’ll probably use my packing list because I’ll need a change of clothes, but Jesus has already given all we need to step boldly into mission today, and that’s you, in vulnerability and weakness + Jesus to offer prayer and radical hospitality toward the stranger. When we succeed, God gets the glory!
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