Pentecost 6 (Proper 9), July 5, 2015
Text: Mark 6:1–12
When I was a kid, there was a show on TV called Mission Impossible where an agent named Jim Phelps would find a tape recorder in the oddest places, and the tape would offer him a mission, if he chose to accept it. Then the tape would self destruct in five seconds. For you younger folks, the Tom Cruise movies came about as a reboot of that TV show.
So how would you feel if you got in your car after church and the radio came on and you heard:
“Good morning, Christian. Your mission is to represent Jesus Christ. You will be sent to places you’ve never been before. You will meet people who reject the Savior. As the heavenly Father sent Jesus to bring you back to God, so you will be sent by Jesus to bring people to his love. Should you choose to accept this mission, Pastor Erler will brief you with further details. Your car will self destruct in five seconds.”
That’s not exactly how it happened for the twelve apostles. But Mark reports in our Gospel that Jesus sent them on a mission to spread the news about Him in Galilee. How would you respond to that message? After all, Jesus also sends us out as His representatives. That means we can think of our Christian life being like a trip. So it’s natural to ask: What’s it like to travel for Jesus?
We start to answer that question by asking another: If you were going on a trip for Jesus, what would you take? What would you pack for this spiritual trip? A Bible? A catechism?
If we were following Jesus’ instructions for the apostles’ trip two thousand years ago, we know we wouldn’t use a big suitcase. We wouldn’t need an overnighter. We wouldn’t even need a good size gym bag. We’d just take the clothes on our backs, and a big stick. In vv 8–9, we read “He charged 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 put on two tunics.” When We’re “On the Road” for Jesus, We Take Just What We Need. We travel light.
We don’t need a lot of luggage for this spiritual journey. That might stand in contrast to us today. My folks, when they were still with us, would go from Florida to Wisconsin every summer for a couple of weeks to see their friends and such. Now as I said, the trip was usually two weeks, but my mom would pack enough stuff in their car to last two months. When they would stop here on their way, I would help unload the car and ask her every year, “What are doing with all this stuff?” My mom would always say, “I might need it.” Now as it turns out, I am my mother’s son and when I travel, I have a hard time packing light.
Jesus told the apostles to pack light. Really light. Jesus tells them to depend on God to provide a place to sleep each night. That’s what the part about not taking a “second tunic” means. People of Jesus’ day would add another piece of clothing in case they ended up sleeping outside. Jesus expected His apostles to be guests of the people they visited. In effect, He says, “Don’t take food. Don’t take money to buy food. Don’t worry about shelter. Trust God to provide for you.”
Trusting God to provide is tough as we journey for Jesus. We want to be in control, not Him. Now do not get me wrong, Jesus wants us to use our brains and experience when we live as His representatives. We fill the tank before we start the car trip, right? What Jesus doesn’t want us to do is to put together a backup plan in case He doesn’t come through the way He has promised. We don’t plan on Jesus, on God, not keeping His promises. When we travel through life with faith, we are turning control over to God. We serve to the best of our ability, but the Holy Spirit is making all the real travel arrangements. We travel light because we travel in faith.
But wait! Is that the kind of spiritual trip you want to take right now? It’s the middle of summer. You might be thinking you are ready for vacation. A pastor once told how people from cities on the East Coast would retire near his church in upstate New York . . . and frustrate him. These were talented Lutherans who had been active in their old congregations. But since they had retired from their jobs, they wanted also to retire from being active in church, which meant even their new church. They were ready to journey for Jesus—so long as it was a vacation and not a business trip!
I understand that. Sometimes veteran members need a break if they have spent years serving in the church. But I don’t think, from God’s viewpoint, this means we go on vacation as Christians. If we need a break from working for Jesus, that probably means we need to go back to the basics: being in worship and Bible study. No matter where we are in life, no matter how busy, no matter how much we have already done in the church, we are to do the work of Jesus, represent Him, in here and out there.
Even if we’re tired, we still can serve in ways that take less time or energy or work. Even if our work seems simple—like praying for others—we are working for Jesus. We are still sharing His love, the love that sent Jesus to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to love as we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us. We get to share that love until the day we enter heaven. To love does not require a lot of baggage, training, equipment. We just need God’s love in here (heart). We just need God’s Word in here (head). So we travel light, and focus on the job that we have to do.
In v 11, Jesus changes the subject a little and warns His disciples about rejection. These days we may assume that people won’t welcome us sharing our faith. You might be figuring that people out there don’t want to hear anything about Jesus. You might believe there are a lot of folks out there that do not want to admit they’re sinners who need a Savior.
For many people, other parts of life are more important than God or Jesus or Religion: family, work, money, sports, the boat, the cabin at the lake, or traveling. Of course, all these are blessings from God. But people who make these blessings more important in their lives than God will not welcome messengers like us who say that God needs to be number one.
Because Jesus talks about the disciples experiencing failure, we know we won’t always succeed. People will not always be interested in hearing about Jesus. But we are to try anyway. We can be like Thomas Alva Edison, who is remembered for many inventions. Probably most of all, for the first commercially successful incandescent light bulb. Edison failed thousands of times before his laboratory got it right. He said that if he found thousands of ways that didn’t work, each failure still was a step forward to the solution.
Ken Klass had a timely quote I want to share with you in last night’s devotion. He said, “Right now the world is filled with cynics and skeptics. If you encounter them, I give you this question to ask:
I understand you have no use for the Savior. If you wish to take Him away from me, what will you give me (instead)? Don’t be surprised if they look stunned, and don’t be shocked if they become belligerent. Since they have no answer, they’ve got to respond in some way, and those are the things they usually do. If that happens, and it probably will, then be at peace: you have the Savior of Scripture, the Savior of your soul.”
To start to wrap this up, our text reminds us that we sin when we don’t obey Jesus’ command to share His Good News, whatever the reason. But Jesus trades our imperfection for His holiness on the cross. We receive His forgiveness and promise of never-ending life as a free gift. Jesus died and rose for us. He loves us that much.
More than that: this love of God—which makes our life worth living—is a gift we can share with others so they can know their lives also are worth living. That’s why we are sent. Even though it’s not Christmas, like the angels at Bethlehem, we have “good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10), and like the angels, we are here to share it..
As we travel through life, sent by Jesus, it’s not what we carry in our hands that’s important. What matters most is what we carry in our hearts and share through our lives: the love, forgiveness, and peace of Jesus. Like I said, all we need is His Love and His Word. This week in my research I ran across Matthew’s version of our text, in a translation of the Bible that tries to put the ancient texts in modern English. This Bible is called The Message. This is Jesus talking to the apostles, but it is also for us. Here is how it is put there:
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. . . .Touch the untouchable. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.”