Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.
When I worked for three summers as a camp counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp in central Wisconsin, we were strongly recommended to pack for the summer what we could bear to carry in one trip. We would be moving from one cabin to another, living in a different cabin every week, and so hauling and setting up our stuff was a weekly chore. Some of us held to this recommendation … while others… not so much. And sometimes, it felt like our campers, who were only with us for 5 days, had packed more for that week than WE had for the entire summer.
Now, just two weeks ago, as I prepared for a synod event – which happened to be hosted by Cross Roads Camp in northwest Jersey –I realized that I had put three books in my bag. For an event that was for 24 hours. But did I take them OUT of my bag when I realized how silly this was? Nope, I left them in there! I felt like I needed to bring them… you know. JUST IN CASE.
|Yes, I used my actual purse|
It’s only fair that I pick on myself for a moment… Besides the usual car keys, church keys, wallet, and cell phone, I have tissues, hand sanitizer, some pens, lip balm, an extra collar insert, my tablet with my calendar and a Bible app, and usually at least on book that I’m reading, of course! This week I also have with me a VBS CD, since we just had ours this past week. So, for the most part, pretty standard stuff. But still. It’s a lot of stuff in there. Just in case… (During the first service when I took out my purse to show this stuff, my sermon flew off when I set it on the pulpit! Too much stuff in there!)
|Unless you have one of these.|
The kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is on a mission, and is getting people on board, though as we witnessed last week some would-be followers were more ready than others to get with the program. The upside is that this week, we hear that the harvest is at hand, the people are ready to hear the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, and there is so much work to do to get ready that Jesus needs help. Jesus has already called his core group of twelve disciples, but he needs all hands on deck for the harvest, people. This is getting so big so fast, that Jesus needs even MORE people to help him, seventy more to be exact.
Jesus chooses them, buddies them up two by two, gives then their marching orders, and then recommends a packing list for them too. Only… Jesus’ packing list is very, very short. Too short for our liking, in fact. We also have to remember that in Jesus’ time, there was no Motel 6 or Hilton to sleep at, McDonald’s, Panera, or Shoprite to get food along the way, or a local Target in case you forgot to pack your toothbrush.
So when Jesus told the seventy NOT to pack a bag, NOT to bring an extra change of clothes, or even a pair of shoes, NOT to bring extra snacks or food, and no changing houses if the owner snores. Jesus UN-equips them, to make then totally dependent on the hospitality of those who are hearing the good news and being healed. Which seems pretty foolish. Why would Jesus do that? Because he is sending them to be physical embodiments of what is means to be totally dependent on God.
And amazingly, it worked. The seventy came back reporting with great joy that even the forces of evil were responding and getting out of the way of the kingdom. The harvest is being received, the good news spread, and the kingdom is coming near. All this they accomplished WITHOUT being prepared to the gills with floss, hand sanitizer, or extra snacks. All this they accomplished while bringing absolutely nothing with them.
All this for Jesus to show us that it’s not WHAT we bring with us that matters. Instead, it’s WHO we bring that matters, isn’t it?
That’s why Jesus send out seventy people do to the work of the kingdom… and he sent them out TWO by TWO. No one was alone in this work. They had a huge support network of others to lean on, and someone else physically with them, so that they could care for each other when things got tough, like when they entered a town where they were not welcome. And they also had someone else along to share in the joys as well.
Because Jesus didn’t promise that the following him would make our lives stress-free and comfortable, or that doing his work would be easy. But Jesus does provide people along the way to help us through when (and not if) times get tough.
Too often though, we get caught up in thinking that we’ll be successful at making it through life depending on how prepared we are, if we have enough, and what we bring along with us. But what we own can often weight us down and hold us back. Even as the culture around us tells us the exact opposite – all the time we are told to had bigger purses, wallets, cars, houses, storage units, all in the name of “just in case.”
And there are also non-physical things that we carry with us that weigh us down, too – Fear, anxiety, worry, depression, despair, impatience, addiction, apathy, anger, hostility… all this things are HEAVY to carry around with us, aren’t they? Really, too heavy for us to bear all by ourselves on a daily basis.
At the end of his letter to the Galatians, we heard Paul encourage his divided congregation to bear one another’s burdens. I recently saw this illustrated perfectly in a movie I watched called “Inside Out.” This may be an animated movie, but it is not JUST for kids! Most of the movie happens inside the head of an eleven year old girl named Riley, where we meet her five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Sadness and Joy find themselves lost deep in Riley’s brain while on a mission to get back some of her formative memories. On their quest, they come across Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, who leads them to something called the Train of Thought which will get them back to where they’re supposed to be. Along the way to the train, the three watch in horror as Bing Bong’s beloved rocket wagon gets plunged into the Memory Dump, to be forgotten by Riley forever. Bing Bong, overwhelmed with grief that Riley might have outgrown him, sits down and is unable to go on. Joy is very impatient to get back, so she tries to distract him from his feelings, by tickling him and making funny faces. Which didn't work.
Sadness, however, stops. She sits down next to him. She says to him, “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. And it’s gone. Forever…” Then, she listened to him. Then, she held him as he cried his candy tears on her shoulder. Then, because Sadness was bearing his burdens with him, he had the strength to continue on their adventure together.
Sadness had remembered to bring with her something that Joy did not: kindness, empathy, and compassion, things that made their tough journey together a little easier to get through.
God is calling us on a journey to spread the news that God’s kingdom is here. When we refuse to pack some of the things that can weight us down: fear of the future, our belief in scarcity, and our longing for security – then we have so much more room for the things that ARE on Jesus’s packing list: things like vulnerability, trust, courage, compassion, kindness, empathy, and love.
This doesn’t necessarily mean for us to get rid of the all stuff in our purses, wallets, cars, or homes. But perhaps we should start asking ourselves if what we HAVE helps us or hinders us along the way.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians which we read through during the weeks of Lent this last year, Paul also wrote – "I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:12-13)
That’s the secret: The stuff we bring with us doesn’t give us strength. Jesus does. The seventy disciples could do all things set before them, and we can too, because we bring Jesus WITH us along the way. Amen.