Sermon for June 14, 2020

“Preparing for the Journey”

Matthew 9:35-10:11

Welcome to Spring!  Recently, Jane and I made a trip to bring back our travel trailer that was stored in a barn belonging to Jane’s Aunt.  Every year as the weather warms, I find myself spending a few hours maintaining, repairing, cleaning, and stocking my camper in hopes that I will get to use it.  Because of this pandemic I am not sure if it will travel to far this year, but usually trips requires a lot of planning and hard work. Even after the camper is ready then I must decide the where, how long, and how much.

Isn’t that life? And then comes Jesus odd instructions within our text today.

Jesus is sending his disciples out on a trip (a journey) to share his ministry with their fellow countrymen.  This is a great stride forward in the proclamation of God’s work.  He tells them to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near.  He tells them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons.  Then he tells them to do it all for free and to accumulate neither gold, silver, nor copper. Gather nothing for the trip in a bag -neither extra shoes, clothing nor walking staff. The implications were that they should not even have to worry about food, but rather they were to depend upon those they were going to be ministering to for their day to day needs.  In verse 9, where Jesus says, “Take no gold, silver, etc.”.  The Greek word translated as take, basically means to purchase, possess, or obtain. So, Jesus is basically saying do not acquire or accumulate anything for the trip or along the way.  This is what I call traveling light.  Instead of the usual long to do list, and stocking up for the journey, Jesus basically tells his followers to simply begin.  Travel with the clothes on your back, a good pair of sandals on your feet, and go!  Jesus seems to be intentionally sending them out with very little preparation. 

Do you think that the disciple felt ready for such a challenge?  They were but common people.  Not highly educated as the pharisees, or as skilled as the Greek debaters of their time.  Can we imagine what the disciples might have felt like after hearing Jesus instructions?  Master I do not think I am ready yet.  Are you sure about this?  Why don’t we postpone this whole project for about another year, and then when we are more prepared, we will go.  Let us just sit and think about it some more.  Still Jesus said go. 

Only as the disciples traveled did they encounter the blessings of God; therefore, they had to leave behind their worries, their fears, their uncertainties and questions.  They had to leave them behind and take the journey.

If you take a closer look at this scripture, it becomes evident that Jesus was transforming his disciples from worldly travelers into travelers for God’s kingdom.  He was calling them to move from self-sufficiency to discovering what God’s grace provides.  Now we need to give ample thought to this text, because this is what God wants to do for us as well.

How do we move faithfully into the unknowable future and ready to encounter the grace of God that lies ahead?  Perhaps it all starts with saying yes to the possibilities of ministry when they are given.

There is one fellow who once compiled what he terms, “The Seven Steps to Stagnation.”  He summed this up according to when we hear words like:

1. We’ve never done it that way before.

2. We’re not ready for that.

3. We are doing all right without trying that.

4. We tried it once before.

5. We don’t have money for that.

6. That is not our job.

7. Something like that can’t work.

Probably the fellow was preacher, because sooner or later we usually hear words like these.  A lot of times they cause churches to stall and stagnate.  It makes me wonder if as a church we are lacking because we have stopped learning, growing, trusting, and discovering just how much God wants to do for us.

What if instead we dear to dream a bid enough dream that it might change our world or at least the people around us.  What if we dared to really walk in the direction God is sending us?

You know in life there are a lot of journeys that we truly can’t prepare ourselves for, but we take anyway.  When people get married one of the few promises is that neither will really know what tomorrow will bring; expect they pledge to encounter the future together for as long as life allows.  

Today we meet after quite a long delay of not being together.  We have missed the joint celebration of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, Mother’s Day. Ascension Sunday, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday, and I don’t know how we can really make all that time back up.  I trust that each of you celebrated and remembered those days in your own way.   Where will tomorrow take us? 

Our world is full of unknowns right now, and I understand that.

I recently came across a very sad and troubling post on the internet.  It was from a young man who was mourning the death of his friend who died of Covid 19.  He said his friend called him up and told him that his lips and fingernails were turning blue.  He said his friend was afraid of hospitals and would not go.  The next day his friend passed away.  What he wanted to know in his post was if his friend had suffered.  Was his death painful?  Someone responded and listed the progression of the disease and what happens to the body and basically told him that his friend had been in the final stages of the illness where the body basically gives up and that his friend probably died in his sleep from lack of oxygen.  The original poster commented that his friend was only 22 years old.

That is a sad, disturbing, and troubling picture, and it is being lived out many times over in one way or another.  We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but  I want to insist that we do know who is in command of the future, and maybe it is not so much in what we can prepare for as it is in what God has prepared for us.

Maybe our task for this day is to continue walking forward, wisely considering the dangers, but faithfully expecting to encounter God’s Grace.  Was this not the disciple’s experience?  Despite having no money and making no money, yet they found food for the day. Despite not having an extra pair of shoes or an extra staff, they found ample resources for the trip. And best yet, they encountered the glory of God in the lives people who were healed and made whole as they prayed over the sick, the possessed, and even the dying.   In other scriptures there are comments of how they returned rejoicing and praising God for all that was done through them.

The strength that they found was not their own.  We too need to realize that we do not walk into the next unknowable day alone, but there is grace and mercy for the challenges we face.  Victory and success is not really in our hands, but in God’s hands.  We may find where our strength cannot take us when lay down our worries and self-concerns and remember above all that God is with us.

A Rabbi once wrote, “Atlas was condemned to carry the weight of the entire world on his shoulders.  That was as harsh a punishment as the ancient Greek mind could conjure up.  Today, it seems, we have volunteered to play the role of Atlas.  We have not offended God, we have dismissed him, told him we were grown up enough not to need his help anymore, and offered to carry the weight of the entire world on our shoulders.  The question is, when it gets too heavy for us, when there are questions too hard for human knowledge to answer and problems that take more time to solve than any of us have, will we be too proud to admit that we have made a mistake in wanting to carry this world alone?”

What will it take before we put down our own attempts to manage the unmanageable and simply wait upon the Lord –trust in God’s answers for our unknowable future?

Jesus simply said to his disciples and to us as well Go!  He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  They were sent and they were given authority.  Like the disciples I believe that God has also provided for us.    Therefore, drop the worries and uncertainties of life at the feet of Jesus, and look down the road to where God wants us to be, and to those God wants us to be in ministry to.  In many ways God has already made the way.  God has already side aside the provisions that we will need. Let us think toward the future as much as the present, and may our faith be greater than our doubts, and our feet faster than our fears.  We are participants in the ministry and power of Jesus Christ our Lord; therefore, fear not, but believe.    Amen

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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