ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 8, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
2 Corinthians 2: 2 – 10; Mark 6: 7 – 12
A photon walks into a hotel. The bellhop says, “May I carry your bags?” The photon replies, “That’s okay, I’m travelling light.” Speaking of “travelling light” I have a girlfriend who can go away for two weeks with only a bathing suit, an extra T shirt, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, wallet, passport and the clothes on her back. She carries so little she and her husband can travel by motorcycle. I, on the other hand, travel heavily. This is me going on vacation: I like to be prepared. I bring several pairs of shoes, dressy and casual clothes, toiletries and cosmetics, a couple bathing suits, jewelry and enough of everything so I don’t need to do laundry. Snacks are a must. Water, a small kettle and tea bags, a cooler with a cutting board, cutlery, plates, and a cork screw are all useful. Then one needs a neck rest, blanket and pillow, a computer, an I-pad, art material and a belly dance belt. And of course, I need a passport, money, Visa card and debit card. If I’m visiting someone, presents are a must. Don’t get me started on what you need if you’re going camping.
Given my “prepared for anything” approach to travel, I find Jesus’ “trip tips” to his disciples distressing. Mark records, “He 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” (Mark 6:9). 1 staff, sandals and 1 tunic. No food, no bag for extras, no money. Are you kidding me?! Would it be so bad to bring along a few luxuries?
In Jesus’ time, a disciple’s main task was to memorize the teachings of his Rabbi. Often, disciples would pair up with a study partner. When the Rabbi thought his students were ready, he would send them out to share his teachings with others. This is what we see happening in this text. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, to share his teachings. In Israel, as in many countries of the time, hospitality was a code which people honoured. If a stranger entered one’s village, it was customary for you to invite them into your home, give them a bed and feed them. Self-sufficiency was not valued as it is today. So, the disciples went out open to receiving the hospitality of strangers in the hopes that the strangers would receive God’s hospitality through them. When it comes to evangelism, Jesus knew something we’ve forgotten: it’s all about relationships. We need to be open to the other person, to their story, their struggles and the gifts they have to offer. We’re not there to “fix” people. We come in humility, as people with needs. The disciples needed clothes, food, money and the comforts of life. Living Faith states, “As beggars who have found where food is, we point others to life in Christ.” The disciples didn’t come as know-it-alls, or people who had it all together. They came as people. People with needs and weaknesses. They came as beggars open to what others could give. Everyone we encounter has something to offer us. By receiving their gifts, we are blessed, and we create a path for them to be receptive to our gift. The disciples were told to go with the intention of staying a while. They were to get to know their hosts by creating friendships. Friendship blossomed while sharing life with them. We are to approach people not as inferiors who need us to repair them but as equals we respect. People with whom we’re on equal ground.
I received an article this week written by a man named Gene Monin. He writes: “In an era where God has no part in many lives, morality cannot be forced on people. People are not listening to those who appear arrogant and moralize, yet don’t practice what they teach.” Monin suggests, “Instead of thinking we know what’s best for people, ask them what they want and need; tell them about what God wants, offer them hope. People are attracted to a God who cares about people’s problems and fears and is truly a friend in need, not a fearsome, revengeful God. As people, we’re born with a need to know that someone cares about our daily struggles, our thirst for spiritual comfort. Millions of lonely people are desperate for someone to listen and bring hope and understanding, not advice. They need a friend. We need company in our need. It’s better to be lost in the bush with someone, than alone. Humans crave fellowship and social interaction, which electronics and the world cannot satisfy for long. People are looking for a non-judgmental friend, a support in our problems, who will gently show us the way and not criticize us. Jesus always made time and opportunity for personal contacts starting conversations at their point of need, not from his agenda.”
This advice is brought to life by a former PCC Moderator, Peter Bush, who shared this personal story, “I don’t usually talk to people on airplanes so a couple of years ago, I was working on a sermon while flying back to Winnipeg. The woman next to me started a conversation – I was busy, I had things to do – so I politely made clear I was not interested in a conversation. Fifteen minutes later she said to me, “Are you a minister? I notice you’re reading a Bible.” My cover was blown. Suddenly, I realized the Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention. The Holy Spirit was inviting me to respond to this woman’s hospitality. We’ll call her Natalie. I gave up trying to work and engaged in a conversation with Natalie. It turned out Natalie is Ba’hai. So, while she and I disagreed about who Jesus was, we shared a belief in a divine being who is active in the world, and Jesus’ words could be referenced. As the conversation went deeper she asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m preparing to preach about how the Holy Spirit strengthens us in difficult moment in our lives, giving us courage and hope.” At which point she said that she and her husband had recently separated – she was living in Regina and he moved to Winnipeg; she was stopping in Winnipeg for a couple of hours to have a meal with him and to see if there was any chance for reconciliation. I listened, what else was I to do? As the pilot was announcing our final approach into Winnipeg, Natalie asked, “Will you pray for me? Pray the Holy Spirit will give me courage. Pray for me right now out loud.” So, I did.”
Not only does this story give us a wonderful example of relational evangelism, it raises another reason to travel light. When it comes to timing and what we’ll do or say, we’re to rely on the urgings and power of the Holy Spirit. Often, we back away from the calling of Christ to go into the world because we think we will be doing it on our own and we doubt our own abilities. This is very wise. Spiritual self-reliance is simply a different type of baggage. If we think we can do it all by ourselves, we don’t need anything from anyone else. Not even God. When Jesus sent the disciples to share his teachings, he expected them to travel light – both physically and spiritually but he didn’t send them empty handed. “He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition” (Mark 6:7) With this authority and power, “They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits” (vs. 12 & 13). They didn’t do these things on their own, they did them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ didn’t send the Holy Spirit to his Church so we could be self-sufficient. He sent the Spirit, so we could be Spirit-filled and Spirit-reliant. As God said to Paul, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (1 Corinthians 12: 9). Often, we feel we need to be strong before God can use us. We need to have the right words, all the answers, a special ability, a perfect life, a heart of gold. What we need most of all is the grace of the Holy Spirit.
How many times have you wanted to produce results for God by your own efforts? How many times have you failed? How many times have you allowed your human limitations to keep you from stepping out in faith? How much fruit do you have to show for that? Before we can do anything for Christ, we need to realize our virtual inability to do anything for him. And then, instead of closing the doors, deciding it’s impossible and doing nothing, we need to go forward with the Spirit who works in us, despite our meager abilities and weaknesses. God desires our total dependence. When our weaknesses bring us to our knees in humility and prayer, they’re a gift. We can spend our energy lashing out at the road blocks we encounter and our own limitations, or we can lash ourselves to God. It’s the latter that brings results. Those results aren’t ours to boast about because the work belongs to the Spirit, so the outcome and the glory belongs to the Spirit as well. If that seems insensible or frightening, imagine attempting to fulfill Christ’s call without the Spirit. I’d rather travel with only the clothes on my back and rely on the kindness of strangers. Mercifully, in both situations, God provides for us.
That doesn’t mean everything will be rosy and perfect. You may suffer as Paul did. You may face days of discomfort or hunger. Not everyone you meet will turn their life around and follow Christ. In fact, like Peter Bush experienced, you will probably never know what impact you’ve had. And yes, you’ll be met with varying degrees of hostility. There will be lots of days when you shrug your shoulders and move on; times when all you can do is shake it off and focus on the future. God’s grace will be enough.
The call of Christ “to go”, is also an invitation. What an honour it is to be invited to join the Holy Spirit in an open-ended adventure! Christ’s call is an invitation to share in a profound and exciting experience. Whether we are sharing the hope of new life in Christ, listening to someone’s sorrow, making dinner for the poor, visiting a lonely person or exploring the possibilities of what we might build on our land, going in Christ’s name is filled with possibilities. Yet we tend to respond to Christ’s invitation the way Grandpa responded to his first airplane ride. Grandpa got into the plane filled with apprehension. When the plane landed, his family were eager to hear how it went. “Well,” said Grandpa, “it wasn’t so bad, but I’ll tell you: I never did put all my weight down!” It takes faith to go into the world with few provisions and it takes faith to trust that what God gives us spiritually will be all we need. Jesus asks us to show that faith by putting all our weight down, travelling light and trusting his Spirit will come through for us. He promises to supply what we will need and sends us out with authority and power. His grace is enough. So, what are you bringing on your journey?