Jesus has been at his ministry for awhile—maybe a couple of years, and he decides that there is just too much to do. He can’t possibly spread the word of God’s kingdom, as far as it needs to be spread, that is to every nation, which includes every city, every town, every village, every remote village, even a remote village surrounded by jungle or desert. So, in chapter nine of Luke, that is, the chapter before the one we read from today; in chapter nine, Jesus calls together the twelve. He tells the twelve disciples that they are going to have to help out. He asks them to travel into the nearby villages and towns healing the sick and telling people that the “Kingdom of God has come near to you.” That’s important. It’s not just one or the other, healing OR preaching, it’s healing AND preaching. As one commentator says about this combo, doing and spreading, “Preaching the kingdom without doing anything about it is just politics, and good works without good news is no more than a temporary reprieve (pause), but to proclaim the kingdom WHILE acting it out—THAT is powerful.”
Jesus adds a qualifier, though. He says that when they set out on their journeys, the twelve are to “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic….” Why is that? Those disciples must have wondered, as we also wonder. Why is that?
But the disciples do as Jesus asks. They go forth packing nothing but a tooth brush. It soon becomes obvious that not even they, plus Jesus of course, can do all the work that is required. The twelve become haggard, and depressed. Finally, the disciples and Jesus regroup. Jesus tells them not to fear. He’s got a NEW plan. In chapter ten we read about it. This time Jesus gathers seventy good souls, his groupies as it were. We read that Jesus appoints them. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe Jesus lays hands on them, blessing them. Which must have been something—what must it have felt like to have hands laid on by Jesus?
Jesus tells these seventy, the same thing he told the twelve: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…..” Again, why is that? But, they do as they are told, and apparently they do a fantastic job, because word spread, so far and wide, that here we are in a different time, on a different continent, and we are worshiping Christ!
I thought it might be worth exploring in our time here today, why it is that Jesus tells the twelve and then later the seventy not to take anything with them. If our scripture reading is about evangelism, and it is, is divesting oneself of all possessions part of what evangelism entails? On the face of it, it sounds reckless and probably even fool-hearty. If you were going on a trip-even a short trip, and particularly to a place where you didn’t know anyone, where you might even face hostility, you’d want to have a little bit of cash on you—enough to get you out of a jam—and of course, these days, you probably wouldn’t go far without a credit card and a cell phone. But Jesus says not to take anything with them.
So again, why? Glad you asked…
A favorite author of mine is Nora Gallagher. She has written a memoir —entitled Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. In that book she tells of her journey of faith, beginning as “a tourist and ending up a pilgrim,” at Christ Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California. During her year of coming to faith, Nora joins with others in the church and in the greater Santa Barbara community to establish a soup kitchen. After it is up and running she becomes a dedicated worker. She stands behind the soup kitchen counter dishing out food and dishing out food for the area’s homeless men. One day, as she is doing that, she notices a fellow soup kitchen worker, from the church of the Latter Day Saints. That woman is not serving but sitting at table eating and talking with some of the homeless men.
That sitting with and not just doing for strikes Nora as supremely Christ-like. Not to be out-Christianed—Nora decides to give it a try herself. She writes,
“One day, I arrived to work in the soup kitchen hungry, dirty and dressed in old sweats. I joined the line without checking in with the Kitchen manager and as I received my soup, I looked straight into the volunteer’s eyes. They shone with pity. I began to explain, then thought better of it. I sat down at a table with Greg and Alan (two homeless men). Greg said, “What did Robin Hood say to Maid Marian when she asked him if he wanted to live with her in the forest?”
“I don’t know,” I replied..
“Sure would,” he said, and I laughed.”
I’ve had my own experiences in soup kitchens. As an associate pastor with primary responsibility for youth, every year I organized a two day—that’s a 48 hour--confirmation class overnight trip to DC. Our home church was in Northern Virginia, so this wasn’t a long trip— mileage wise. It was long, though, hours wise—not much sleep was had on those overnights.
This was the drill. Around twenty youth, their chaperones and I arrived in vans at our host church in the District. After unloading our sleeping bags, a change of clothes, limited toiletries. NO cell phones no lap tops, no ipods no ipads, we divided up and went our separate ways—visiting homeless shelters, touring a jail, you get the idea. At lunch time, some of us usually stopped in at a soup kitchen, Loaves and Fishes. Our job at the soup kitchen was to get our trays of food and then fan out among the homeless men and women, eating there, while trying to strike up a conversation. Again, to be with.
What do you talk about with a homeless person? Truly, I am asking. Can’t talk about houses, cars, yard work, movies, the college you want to go to, summer vacations, or what you got last Christmas. My job as leader was to move in and out among the tables jumpstarting dialogue, if I needed to. I remember listening in on a conversation one homeless couple had with two youth sitting across from them. The couple actually started the conversation –thank you, Jesus--asking the youth if they owned any pets. They told the couple about their family dogs. The couple shared that they owned a lot of birds, and they began reeling off the names of those birds. I found out later, from a Loaves and Fishes staff member, that the couple slept in a park. The couple’s “pets” were the pigeons they fed with scraps they collected at the kitchen.
Note, we didn’t try to evangelize anyone at the soup kitchen, but hey, we were only there an hour. Eventually maybe, that couple and those two youth would would have gotten around to talking about other things that mattered--loves and losses, parents, faith, and God and Jesus. In our time at the soup kitchen, though, we did make an important first step. Nora Gallagher wore sweats, the youth and I wore jeans and T shirts—without fancy clothes, and without stuff, Nora Gallagher and the youth and I were vulnerable, just like the twelve, just like the seventy, just like Jesus.
We come into the world vulnerable. Then we spend a lot of time and effort, trying to rid ourselves of our vulnerability. We accumulate stuff. We rack up degrees and titles, (Rev. Dr.). In an effort to protect ourselves some of us even get tough, maliciously assertive, aggressive.
I found this quote about vulnerability this week: “Babies are soft. Anyone looking at them can see the tender, fragile skin and know it for the rose-leaf softness that invites a finger's touch.”
That vulnerability doesn’t last though. That same writer continues….“The bones of the face emerge at six, and the soul within is fixed at seven. The process of encapsulation goes on, to reach its peak in the glossy shell of adolescence, when all softness then [become] hidden under layers of the multiple new personalities that teenagers try on to guard themselves.
In the next years, the hardening spreads from the center, as one finds and fixes the facets of the soul, until "I am" is set, delicate and detailed as an insect in amber.”
In amber—Hard. Rigid.
There are a lot of downers to getting older. Frankly, I don’t know why we have to get old at all. I’ve asked God, but God’s not telling me. I’ll let you know if God ever lets me in on the secret.
One good thing maybe, maybe not, about old age, though—if we live long enough, we will return to a state of vulnerability. We go back to the place we first began. It’s not exactly like the vulnerability of babies. It’s vulnerability on the other side of wisdom. Becoming vulnerable, hopefully, but not always, we become more approachable. Relationships are easier, based not on what we have, not on what we have accomplished, not with a goal of impressing or competing with. Instead of human doings, we finally become, human beings in the fullest sense of the term.
So, Jesus sends the twelve and later the seventy out, into the towns and villages AND he instructs them not to take anything with them, because he wants them to be vulnerable—he wants them to be with, which is an important first step in evangelism.
There is something else, though, something that maybe Nora Gallagher learned, something that I hope the youth I worked with got a glimmer of, something I myself have only begun to understand and accept. Jesus wanted the twelve, the seventy, and he wants us to learn that we don’t need stuff when we interact with people, because alone and without our cloaks, our staffs, our houses, our cars, and our titles, we are enough. That’s huge, isn’t it? In fact, it’s worth repeating to yourself in the mirror three times a day. I am enough. I am enough, I am enough.
Do that, learn to be with, and you, we, are on our way to becoming evangelists, too. Amen