A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
This is an interesting passage, and at first glance seems all over the place.
Jesus getting no respect in his home church. Then the disciples being sent out on missions. And then the flashback to the murder of John the Baptist.
Let’s start with the middle passage.
Jesus sends the 12 disciples out in pairs, like animals off the ark, to heal, to cast out demons, to call people to repent.
And we tend to give the 12 a hard time. I may, possibly, in previous sermons, referred to them as “keystone cops”. They often seem to bungle around and miss the point, and give Jesus gray hair before his time.
But here! Wow!
They are THE 12! Superhero disciples who follow Jesus’ instructions, and go out and cast out many demons, and cured many who were sick, and did what needed to be done.
And let’s not gloss over Jesus’ instructions here. Sometimes Jesus’ instructions to the disciples seem straightforward, or perhaps easier to me than these are. Like when he tells Peter to just walk on water.
But this—“take nothing for your journey except a staff. No bread. No bag. No money in your belt. Just sandals and one tunic.”
I just got home from my study leave trip last night. Let me just say I took more for a week of study leave. If Jesus had sent me to cast out demons on my study leave, I would have checked a bag.
But it kept coming back to me, as I thought about this text, that the one time things work out well for the disciples is also the time they follow Jesus’ instructions and trust him.
“I know you said ‘take nothing’ but surely what you meant was ‘just carry a small bag, not a big bag that wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment on the plane. Right, Jesus? Because I need to prepare for a few things and bring along some things that will help me do what you want me to do. Oh, and I need another week. Because I need to read up on demon casting outing and go over my advanced life saving class materials one more time to make sure I’m ready for the healing and exorcism part of it all.”
And Jesus says, “no Marci. I meant what I said. This job I’m sending you on is not about your particular preparations and plans or control issues. Ahem. This is you going out and doing what I need you to do in the world”.
Isn’t it annoying when scripture does that?
I want to make it about my preparation, and my storing up, and my controlling the variables. So it can be about my success. And what a great disciple I am.
And Jesus says “no. Just take your staff. And stop making this about you. And trust that you will find hospitality along the way. And trust that I will give you what you need. And trust that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”
Or, in the words of the prophets 38 Special,
So hold on loosely
But don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
You’re gonna lose control
The success of the disciples world tour of healing leads to people taking note. I’m sure the disciples took note as well—hey look—we did what Jesus told us to, exactly as he said, and surprisingly, it all worked! Who knew?
And people started talking, and not always in a good way. Not only was Jesus healing people, but now even his followers were doing so.
Herod freaked out a little bit. He’d already killed John the Baptist for horrible reasons, as was clear in that little flashback about dancing stepdaughters and heads on platters.
And Herod’s advisors start speculating—it must be Elijah, back from the dead!
No, I hear it is another prophet.
No, I think John has risen from his tomb and is coming to get me.
Okay, Herod. Calm down a little. Not everything is about you.
What is that about, anyway?
Clearly Herod’s guilty conscience is taking over. But even his advisors find it easier to believe that dead men have risen from their graves than it is to believe that God could be doing a new thing. They found it easier to believe in the return of dead prophets than believe that Jesus’ disciples could heal people in Jesus’ name.
Why do we do that?
We may not be looking for zombie John the Baptists, or the prophet Elijah back from the dead, but I think there are times when we don’t believe God will do something new with us, and so we try to resurrect those prophets of old—the days when everyone was in church, and belonging to a church meant something to the culture around us, and Sunday schools were full to bursting.
Zombie Sunday School will not save us.
Yet God is doing a new thing.
And God is calling us to be a part of it.
Jesus tried to talk about it in his hometown.
But they couldn’t get past the kid he used to be. They couldn’t believe that kid—the one who always disrupted the Time with the Children and the one who took too many cookies at coffee hour—could have grown up to be the Messiah. Even though they could, with their very eyeballs, see him healing people, and casting out demons.
May those with eyes to see, see.
Herod heard the stories about the healing and the demon casting outing, but rather than believe that God was doing a new thing, he started looking for ghosts.
May those with ears to hear, hear.
In this passage, it is the disciples who get it. And because they trust God is doing a new thing in the person of Jesus, they become a part of his healing mission and make a real difference in the world.
Do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? Do we take Jesus at his word, that all we have to do is go forward as he calls, and we can join in his work?
One of the contrasts I see in this passage is between the disciples’ experience when Jesus takes them to worship with him back in his hometown, and their experience when they go beyond the walls of the building and meet people in the community.
And that’s something we’ve been discovering about today’s 21st century church culture too. It used to be that you built buildings to bring people in, to bring them to you so they would join your church. Evangelism used to be primarily about church growth.
Our more recent experiences of mission, though, have taught us that the magic happens when we leave the building. Whether we’re volunteering at the school next door, or meeting people at the PRIDE Festival, or joining house churches and going out in to the community in service—that’s where much of the healing happens.
Evangelism looks different today. We are still sharing the stories of our faith and telling people about Jesus, but we aren’t doing it so they will join the church, necessarily. Sometimes it works that way.
We share the good news because faith, and being in a faith community, has transformed our lives and because we want other people to know about God’s love too. It’s a hard world out there for many people. Do we know what is breaking God’s heart in the community just beyond these walls?
One of the problems in Jesus’ home town is that they thought they knew who Jesus was based on their experience of him in the past. They didn’t bother to pay attention to who he was today. We can’t just assume we know the needs of the community because we’ve been parked here for 60 years.
Do we know what is breaking God’s heart in the community just beyond these walls? If we don’t, it means we need to get out there in pairs, taking just ourselves, and trusting that Jesus knows what he’s talking about as he sends us on this crazy journey.
And so the church becomes the place we gather to be fed and nourished in worship, fellowship, and education and then the place we leave to go see the new things God needs us to be a part of in the community.
As we prepare to build some new facilities, let’s be clear how they play into this. We aren’t building so more people will join our church. We aren’t even just building so we aren’t so crowded in the fellowship hall at potlucks. We are building because God wants to equip us to go out and do new things and those new things need different space. We are building because the community needs places to gather that aren’t only on Sunday mornings between 9 and noon.
We already provide space to numerous community groups, who are grateful for the shelter of these walls as they meet. But we often get calls from other groups who are seeking new kind of space—like a commercial kitchen to do job training for homeless people, or a large open space, easily accessible, where they can gather in bigger numbers.
There are people who use our parking lot every morning to drop off their kids for school and then to pick them up after school. What if we were here, our in the parking lot, during those times and got to know those people, maybe offering them hot coffee and donuts one morning? What if the patio on the new facility becomes a place where they can get shelter?
I’m really, really excited for the what ifs right now.
We can’t really know, at this moment, what God is dreaming up for us. Like the disciples, all we can do is go out in faith, together, and see what happens. There’s no group of people I’d rather be with as we discover where God is leading. Thanks for being you, and for your willingness to venture out boldly into this unknown future.