“You are the equipment”
Message preached on
July 8, 2018
(we were not able to record the audio of this)
It was only in the last decade that I learned how to cook. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and when people need to eat, someone has to take up the task. That was me when my life significantly changed nine years ago. And I’ve got to say that I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it. Having the right tools for the chore is important, but more significant is the willingness to try, to risk making a mess or burning a dish. You learn from your flops. And a little detergent and water cleans just about anything. You just need to believe you can do this.
Now, I know that not everyone is cut out to cook. Nor would just anyone make a good carpenter. But you never know until you step up and try. It’s amazing how well Habitat for Humanity homes built by amateurs turn out, or disaster relief repairs by a bunch of young adults. Likewise, meals prepared by someone who didn’t grow up learning from mom how to cook, because boys in an earlier era were not meant for the kitchen. It’s surprising what you can do if you are willing to try.
Take those disciples of Jesus long ago. The story as we have received it says that Jesus sent them out in pairs to share good news, to show and tell other folks how “life can be radically different,” because God is alive and on-the-move here and now. “The kingdom of God has come near,” Matthew’s gospel remembers Jesus telling his disciples as he sent them out. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (10:7-8). I don’t know about you, but those tasks don’t seem to be in the same pay-grade as fishing from a boat on the sea, as a good many of his first followers were so employed before Jesus tapped them on the shoulder.
Mark simply recalls Jesus giving them “authority over unclean spirits” (6:7), to which Luke adds “power to heal diseases” (9:1). Still, that probably seemed an incredibly tall order to those first followers of Jesus as they set out two by two. Jesus actually said more about what they were not supposed to take with them as they stepped up to the task. No food. No luggage. No clothes beside what you’re wearing. No money. Just a walking stick. That’s it. Can you imagine setting out with so little to accomplish so much?
I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases this instruction of Jesus in The Message. He gets behind what leaving behind all these things is all about. “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.” Did you catch that? “You are the equipment.”
Of course, we are very good at second guessing ourselves. Most of us wonder how capable we are at any number of tasks. When I am asked to do something, especially if it’s something I consider important, my stomach does a twist. “Can I really do that?” I ask myself. I love writing songs, for instance. Currently, I serve on the team that organizes and pulls off our district’s yearly conference. Music is the task they assigned me to plan. I wanted to say I would write a song to fit with the theme. But I couldn’t seem to promise that I would, for sometimes composing music and writing lyrics is a bit like pulling teeth. What if I promised I would but I couldn’t?
I wonder if any of those disciples wondered the same thing as they sauntered off two by two. “What if I open my mouth to share about what God is doing and nothing came out? I’ve seen Jesus heal people, with but a word or a non-threatening touch. How on earth can I do that? I’m not Jesus.” I have a hunch this that is why Jesus didn’t send them out alone, but rather in pairs.
Many moons ago, when I was a college student working at Camp Swatara for a summer, my friend Paul Guyer and I were headed out the camp lane in his car. Where we were going, I don’t remember. All of a sudden, a huge black snake slithered across the road in front of us. “Wouldn’t that be great to show the kids in our nature center?” we thought. “At the end of the summer we could set it free.” So, Paul stopped the car and we both jumped out with our snake catching sticks. Mind you, I don’t recall where those sticks came from. I doubt we traveled everywhere with them. But that’s what my feeble brain remembers. We chased this monster black snake (which probably wasn’t as big as I imagine it was), until we managed to both put our forked end sticks behind its head. We then looked at each other and said, simultaneously: “you pick it up!”
I can imagine James and John, the sons of Zebedee, heading out as a twosome to spread the Gospel. They, no doubt, had been there on that stormy night crossing of the sea of Galilee, and witnessed what happened in the cemetery on the other side with that wild man in chains. They certainly would have been in the crowd when that woman with a lingering bleeding problem touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak and was healed, and witnessed the rising of Jairus’ daughter from death when Jesus called her to get up. All of this, by the way, immediately preceded this morning’s scripture lesson in Mark. I can see James and John, “the sons of thunder” as they were called, courageously going forth to show good news, and encountering someone in dire need of help, promising to heal them, then turning to each other and saying, simultaneously, “you do it!”
And Jesus sent them out two by two… There’s a bit of comfort in that. “I’m not alone in this.” There’s also a bit of accountability. Someone needs to do it, to speak up and tell about the kingdom of God being very near. Someone needs to do it, to reach out and touch in a non-threatening way and thus be a healing presence. I wonder if that isn’t why Jesus arranged for them to partner up, 6 teams of 2, heading out in different directions. We might would be a little more courageous, and maybe a bit more compassionate if we operated in teams of two.
Courage and compassion are needed in this world, which threatens to take away our Shalom, our peace, and undermine our caring for others. You did catch the first part of this morning’s Gospel lesson, didn’t you? It took place in the very location you think would provide support for Jesus: his hometown – Nazareth. You would think that here would be the strongest support for this traveling rabbi, who was known by the name of this place where he grew up. He was Jesus … of Nazareth. But a home town can be a mixed blessing.
Those of you who grew up in this congregation, do you find it hard at times to move beyond the child or youth that older folks remember? You are not that person any more, but you can be treated as if you never grew up. Or your family connections are remembered too tightly. That is why, by the way, many young people do not return after they have gone away to college. They want a fresh start. While it might comfort us to be among people who remember us as children, these memories can lock us into a cage. Look at Jesus, for heaven’s sake. He returned a wise rabbi, becoming famous for his parables and teaching, as well his healing nature. Even so, in Nazareth he was locked into being the son of Mary, from a family of carpenters. Perhaps there was lingering judgement over how he was born – Mary being unmarried, with talk of some claim to an immaculate conception.
Please note the clear reference here to Jesus having siblings: “James and Joses and Judas and Simon,” along with some “sisters.” Likewise, note the lack of any mention of his earthly father, Joseph. Was Dad dead by this point? We don’t know. We do know that while the childhood neighbors of Jesus were astounded by his wisdom, they were also suspicious. “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” … Truth! In Mark’s Gospel, matters didn’t escalate to the point where folks were ready to stone Jesus to death. That’s how Luke remembers it. Still, it says that Jesus was unable to do much of anything there. Sometimes, nothing happens – even for Jesus.
It’s interesting that after this our Lord sent out his disciples on an apostolic internship. Travel light, he said. Put away all your notes, if you’d been taking any along the way. Leave your backpack here. Don’t take any of your tools. Remember, “you are the equipment.” That’s good advice for us. We are the equipment God uses as we reach out to others two by two. The task may seem overwhelming, but that’s okay. We’re not in this alone. We travel together. And God somehow makes use of us along the way. We’re not in charge of what happens. We may not “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” That’s God’s department. Besides, we may not see what really is taking place in the lives of others. No one really knows what difference an act of kindness or mercy, a simple prayer makes.
And if you’re not received, well, just wipe it off – as if it were dust on your sandals. Don’t do so in anger. Jesus did not leave his hometown upset, holding onto an ancient grudge, perturbed by something a neighbor or relative growing up said. He left that baggage behind. It wasn’t his to carry. We could benefit by doing the same. We don’t know, after all, what is going on in someone else’s life behind the scene, even when we’ve been acquainted for a long time. Just never lose track of the fact that “you are God’s equipment.” That doesn’t make you better than anyone else. But it sure helps to know it, especially when you feel a bit worthless.
This bit about being sent out two by two does not seem to connect with my current state of health. If I’m headed anywhere, it will probably be to the hospital sometime in the near future for the second time in a year to get my physical equipment worked on. This scripture about being sent? I’m not feeling it. But maybe someone else will be God’s equipment for me – someone in the healing profession, or someone with a good word to offer right at the moment I need it. We never know, after all, the difference we make in the life of another, even in small acts of love, courageous simplicity. I pray something I have said just now has sparked you to remember that you are God equipment, wherever you go.
Oh, and about that district conference song I hoped to write ... I did. And long ago, when someone needed to pick up the snake … I didn’t.