Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pack Light

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Welcome to summer! Summer means trips – to the shore, the Poconos, to camps and vacations and visiting the grandkids. And for all these fun trips, we first need to get through the not-so-much fun part of packing.

Now, when I pack to go somewhere, this is how I usually do it…This is pretty fresh for me too, since I was in Namibia about a month ago. So this is how packing usually goes…

…. (here I simulated packing my carry on back with too much stuff)

Does this seem familiar at all? Or is this just me? I’m pretty sure I’m not the ONLY ONE who does this – at least I hope not!

Jesus was sending his disciples out on a trip too, but they were NOT going to the Poconos or to the shore. They were being sent by Jesus out into the world, not as tourists and visitors, but to go on behalf of Jesus to reach people for the kingdom of God.
Last week, we found ourselves reading from the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, with a mandate and a promise from Jesus. Jesus left us with a command – GO and make disciples – and with a promise – I will be with you. Today we rewind back toward the beginning of Jesus ministry.

After Jesus announces this trip, he then tells them what NOT to pack. No bringing extra credit cards just in case one of theirs gets stolen, no extra shirts or shoes, no walking stick, not even a bag! You get to have a belt, but that’s about it. Come on Jesus, what gives? Is Jesus setting them – and us – up to fail? That doesn’t seem like a very messiah-like thing to do.
Jesus’s part of the world at the time was steeped in a strong hospitality culture. If someone knocks on your door – friend, family, complete stranger - you welcome them, cook them dinner, and make up the guest bed.

But even back when this was common, welcome was not guaranteed. When Matthew was writing this, a strong division had erupted between the Jewish leaders and the Jewish Christians. Many – though not all – Jewish groups were hostile to those who followed Jesus. Members of the same family found themselves estranged. Perhaps it is no wonder that Jesus began his ministry with his own people, before moving on to the Gentiles, people like us.
And after all, it’s not like CHRISTIANS are the poster children of unity, either. Our track record has not very good.

In any case, the culture of hospitality no longer exists. We are no longer welcoming the stranger in our midst, but instead we are told at every turn to fear them. Locks, security systems, guns for “protection.” Anything can go wrong, after all. We need to be ready for anything.

And on the flip side, we also want to capture all the GOOD things that happen in life too. We script and plan every moment of ourselves and our children, terrified of a moment of boredom or the Fear of Missing Out. So we pack our lives like we pack our carry-on luggage. Too full and a big pain to lug around.
But perhaps the heaviest things we carry around with us are not seen, are not physical. We carry plenty of other things that weighs us down, things like:

-         FEAR and suspicion of our neighbors, especially if they seem different from us. (Here I put signs with each word in bold in the bag one by one)
-         SHAME and our feelings of inadequacy, feeling that we are not doing enough or being enough, just as we are.

-         WORRY about the future of ourselves, or the future of the church, or of this country, even.

-         ANGER and frustration about the way “things used to be” and how the world is changing faster than we can keep up.

-         DESPAIR over the violence that has seemed to be flooding the news lately, and the lack of compassion that is growing more and more common.  

These things are heavy, too! And yet, we persist in carrying them with us all the time, for one reason or another. But Jesus tells us to kick these things to the curb.

We are called to turn our backs on all that draws us from God – the devil, all that defies God, and from the ways of sin. Fun fact: The part in the baptism liturgy we call “The profession of Faith,” – the renouncing part -  comes from an ancient rite of exorcism. That’s right. This morning we were casting out the demons like sin, evil, and selfishness that steer us away from God and infiltrate our luggage.

Jesus tells us to leave these things home. We won’t be needing them where he is calling us to go. And you know what? We can just leave them right here – right at the foot of the cross… and walk away.

Instead, God will fill our hands with the hands of others, in partnership, healing, and reconciliation. God will fill our hands with body of Christ given to us in the sacrament of holy communion. And God will also fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit’s fire for justice, to right all the wrongs in the world perpetrated against God’s beloved children.

Jesus goes with us on this journey, and is better than anything we could bring along of our own devising. And we are going to need lots of Jesus’ help on this road. Because we are being called straight into the mouth of the wolves, called to be doves of peace into a world where fear and hate and racism and sexism and all kinds of phobias reign supreme – or at least they think they do. We are marching straight into a world of brother betraying sister, heterosexual betraying members of the LGBTQ community, white betraying black, cis gender betraying those who are trans gender, rich betraying poor.

Tomorrow is a little-known holiday called Juneteenth. In about a hundred and fifty years ago, on June 19th, slaves in the south were informed they had been set free by the Emancipation proclamation… which had become official TWO AND A HALF YEARS before. White people had delayed the news, so that the freed African Americans would bear the weight of oppression for an extra two and a half years. Brother betrays brother.

Two years ago, yesterday, a white gunman entered a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina and killed 9 people who had welcomed him. The pastor had received his Master of Divinity at a Lutheran Seminary. The shooter Dylan Roof grew up in an ELCA Church. Brother betrays brother.

Almost a year ago, a black man was fatally shot in his car with his wife and 4-year-old child watching him bleed out and die. The police officer who shot him was just cleared of all charges. Brother betrays brother.

Also just over a year ago, a gunman opened fire at the Pulse night club in Orlando, and almost 50 people died in the largest attack on the LGBTQ community. Brother betrays brother. This is the world we are living in. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

So much violence. We certainly have a long way to go. And the way seems overwhelming at times. A pastor colleague is completely right when she wrote, “The world is a violent, unjust place, and Jesus tells us to go out and proclaim the good news to it anyway.” And I would add that we we are carrying with us exactly what we need to face the wolves.
WE CARRY the mark of the cross of Christ on our foreheads, just like Anna, the newest member of Family of God, of THE WHOLE family of God.

WE CARRY the body and blood of our Lord Jesus to sustain us from week to week.
WE CARRY OPEN HANDS, so that we can reach out to our neighbors in welcome: our black neighbor, our white neighbor, our police neighbor and our military neighbor, or Jewish and our Muslim neighbor. Our brothers and our sisters, transgender, straight, gay, rich, poor, citizen, and immigrant neighbor.

WE CARRY one another, so that we never have to carry our burdens alone. And through it all, GOD CARRIES US. Always. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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