Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sermon For Pentecost 2: "Traveling Light"

            Maybe it’s because the Vacation Bible School children will be going to Peru this week (at least virtually), but lately I’ve been thinking back to my own mission adventure in Japan long ago. 
            Specifically, I’m remembering the preparation – I remember getting a huge packet of information in the mail one day. 
            It was a large book of instructions, written by all of the current short-term missionaries, with helpful hints about what to bring or leave at home. 
            Some people recommended bringing clogs, because I would be taking off my shoes whenever I went inside. 
            Others mentioned favorite foods I might miss, like Peanut Butter, or boxed Macaroni and Cheese. 
            Some advised bringing a good one volume Bible commentary for help in preparing English language Bible studies for the students. 
            I remember that besides my two suitcases, I purchased a large trunk to fill with necessities.  And I did fill it.

            I can’t help noticing the contrast between the booklet I received, and Jesus’ instructions to the twelve in this passage of Scripture.  
            No advice about what to bring along, no helpful tips about how to change money, no what style of shoe to bring. 
            Instead, Jesus begins by telling them their message, “the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.’ 
            And then he tells them what actions go along with this message:  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. 
            That’s it. 
            Tell the people the good news, and do good among the people where you go.  
            That’s the simple job of missionaries, and it has ever been:  tell the good news, and do good. 

            And then, instead of a list of what to bring, Jesus has a list of what NOT to bring, which is sort of odd.  
            Instead of giving them a list of what to pack, he gives them a list of what NOT to pack, a list of what to let go of, a list of things that might even – for some reason or another – weigh them down.

            I loved being a missionary, and I love mission trips.
             I hope to take more of them with some of you – whether as far away as Peru, or as close as downtown Conroe.
             And I have my bag all packed, but after reading Jesus’ instructions, I’m beginning to think that I may be taking along some things that I don’t really need.
             Maybe I should check it out. 

            Hmmm.  I see that the first thing I have here is my little box of coins from all over the world. 
            I probably don’t need that, since Jesus says, “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts.” 
            In fact, it seems like Jesus is saying that I don’t even need my billfold with my cash and credit cards. 
            I will admit, this makes me kind of nervous. 
            I wonder why he told his apostles this.
             I suspect that he wants them to go not as people who have everything, including all of the answers. 
            He wants them to get to know the people in the communities where they are going, and to receive hospitality from them. 
            That means I probably don’t need these canned goods I brought along, because I thought I would miss my favorite foods. 
            Jesus wants his disciples to find the people who are “worthy” in the community where they go, and stay with them, and eat with them, because it’s only when we sit down to eat with people that we can truly get to know them and share the good news in a way they will hear.              
            Make no mistake – the disciples went out to give – to give healing and hope and help – but they also went out to receive. 

            I see I brought an extra sweater – sort of the modern-day equivalent of a tunic, but Jesus says don’t bring any extra clothes along.         No fashion statements for me. 
            If I need extra clothes I will have to trust that I will receive them along the way. 
            And I see that Jesus also says that I am not supposed to bring these extra shoes either.
             I wonder what that is about. 
            It seems like he must want me to go not as someone who is comfortable, but at least sometimes, uncomfortable, and maybe a little needy. 
            But he says don’t take them, so I guess I will put them back. 
            And my bag IS getting somewhat lighter. 
            So that’s not a bad thing.

            Jesus also tells me that the message is really simple:  the good news, the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.  In fact, it’s so close, that it’s in these simple but awesome acts of healing and goodness. 
            That’s it.  So maybe I don’t have to bring these heavy theological books I packed, the ones that make me think I have all the answers
            to the questions people might ask me.
             At least not on this missionary journey that we are taking together. 

            You know, my bag is much lighter now, but there is still something here, and maybe it is something I can take along with me. 
            Oh!  It’s my baptismal certificate! It tells me that I am God’s child.  Maybe that’s all I need, to know who I am, and who I belong to.  
            Maybe this is the most important thing of all.

            When I think about the gift of baptism, usually I think of it as this comforting identity, this promise that life with God, now and forever.              And it is.     
            But baptism is both a gift – and a call.
             It’s the time when we are given the promise that we belong to God, but also the calling to go out and be missionaries!  “let your light so shine before others….” 
            And the only thing we HAVE to take along is our identity… and in fact it’s better that way… because God wants us to travel light.
            We take – ourselves – with all of our gifts and all of our faults – all of our hopes and all of our fears –
            And God uses us – who we are – somehow – to proclaim his mercy and grace.

            The Kingdom of God has drawn near – whether we believe it or not – whether we recognize it or not –
            And when we go to share this good news
            When we travel light
            We don’t go as people who have all the answers
            We go as people who also depend on mercy
            We go as people who are also hungry
            We go as people who are also imperfect
            We go as people who are also needy.

            So put down all the things you think you need today.
            Put down all the things that weigh you down, what you think you know or you need to know.
            Put down your answers, and pick up your questions, your curiosity, and your love,
            Pick up the one thing you need –
            The love which has been poured into your heart,
            The name in which you were baptized.
            The one who will never let you go.


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