Take Nothing. God Has Given All We Need.

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 14, Year B)
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Grace Lutheran Church, St Paul, MN
The Rev. Chris Duckworth
Sermon text: Mark 6:1-13 (Common English Bible)


Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

 

When my dear wife was doing her graduate study,

we belonged to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Princeton Junction, NJ.

We arrived at the same time their new pastor, The Rev. Paul Lutz, arrived there.

He had just completed a several-year call

at our denomination’s central offices in Chicago, IL,

where he directed our church’s approach to and training for adult education,

which was shaped largely by a dynamic understanding of and approach to “discipleship.”

One of the simpler, yet most memorable, things he did at Prince of Peace

immediately upon his arrival there

was to abandon language around being church “members.”

Instead, he talked of us being disciples.

He sent emails and letters addressed to “the disciples of Christ at Prince of Peace,”

and in his sermons he called us Christ’s disciples.

Members belong to clubs. Disciples follow their Lord.

So, we were disciples.

 

Now, let’s be honest.

New pastor arrives and starts calling you disciples. Kinda strange, huh?

Yes, we all understand, in some abstract sense, that we are disciples.

But we are not used to, we’re not comfortable with, using that language.

Because, after all, that puts us in the Biblical story.

That puts us up there with the, well, the disciples of Jesus!

And perhaps in good Lutheran – in good Minnesotan – modesty,

we don’t want to put ourselves on that pedestal,

as if we were in the same league with the disciples …

but I also think this modesty – be it Lutheran, Minnesotan, or something else –

I think this modesty also becomes a bit convenient,

because who really wants to be a disciple?

Being a disciple is hard. Being a members sounds easier.

 

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus goes to his hometown.

Oh, I can identify. I’m heading back to my childhood hometown later this month,

as my family and I make a crazy road trip that will include Philadelphia,

and perhaps a stop at my favorite youth hangout,

a great hamburger and milkshake joint called Nifty Fifty’s.

Now, I don’t expect to be rejected when I go into Nifty Fifty’s

and order a Butterfinger milkshake and a cheesesteak with fried onions.

But Jesus was rejected, and upon his homecoming he was immediately questioned

by the crowd in an accusing, suspicious tone.

Who does this guy think he is? Isn’t he the carpenter? So what’s he doing all these things for?

And isn’t he Mary’s son? Aren’t his siblings here?

And so, dear disciples, we see here our Lord returning home … and not having a great time of it.

Lesson number one: disciples of our Lord might not have a place to call “home.”

Who wants that?

Well, seeing that “home” was not all that it was cracked up to be,

Jesus and his disciples move on,

and rather than settle in one place and make a new home,

they decide instead to spread out and go into the homes of others.

Sending out his disciples two by two,

Jesus instructs them to take nothing – except for a walking stick, shirt, sandals …

and the authority that Jesus gives to them,

the authority to cast out unclean spirits.

But the other creature comforts –

extra clothes, money, food, etc.?

Knick knacks that could make a place feel like home?

Nope. Take none of it.

Lesson number two: disciples don’t have lots of stuff.

 

You’re not going to have a home.

Instead, you’re going to go into the homes of others.

Don’t depend on your own efforts to feed yourself, clothe yourself, care for yourself.

Depend on the hospitality of others.

And those others are strangers.

Lesson number three: disciples need compete strangers,

not just to hear their message, but to survive and, indeed, to do the work of the Gospel.

 

Then, Jesus tells them that they will be rejected, perhaps by many, of these strangers,

and that the disciples are simply to shake the dust off their feet when that happens,

a non-violent but strong rebuke of those who fail to offer the simple gift of hospitality.

Lesson number four: disciples face rejection.

 

So, let’s review:

Disciples don’t have a place to call home.

Disciples don’t have lots of stuff.

Disciples depend on complete strangers for just about everything.

Disciples face rejection.

Alright! Woo hoo! This sounds …. awful. Who wants to sign up?

No wonder it took some time for discipleship language

to settle in at my church back in New Jersey.

Discipleship just plain stinks. It is a hard, uncomfortable, disconcerting lifestyle.

We who strive for comfort, for stability, for familiarity would be quite unhappy

with this disciple lifestyle.

 

Well, let’s keep reading.

The Gospel reading ends today with a report of the disciples’ success –

they proclaimed Jesus’ message, cast out demons, and healed the sick.

Of course, this harkens back to something else that Jesus gave his disciples

authority over unclean spirits, which I only mentioned briefly earlier.

Jesus gives his disciples authority,

and it is by that authority, not by any other power,

that these disciples were able to do so much.

Lesson number five: God gives disciples authority.

 

God gives disciples authority over unclean spirits,

over all things which would deny people the full extent of what God has called them to be.

And it is by this authority that the disciples went out and did some amazing things.

Heal the sick.

Restore to health, and to the community,

those who were believed to be possessed by demons,

those who were shut out from the community’s life and livelihood.

Disciples have this authority.

Disciples have the authority to heal and to restore.

With this authority,

the authority to set things right in the world,

and with the assurance that we don’t need much else –

we don’t need to worry about money or shelter,

nor do we need to invest in a home since disciples don’t have a true sense of home –

all we need is each other – remember, the disciples went out in pairs,

and later returned to each other –

and with the promise of God guiding us and providing for us …

with all of this being given to the disciples, to us disciples, what is stopping us?

 

God has given us authority.

God has promised that we will have what we need for the mission.

God has given us each other …

and the strangers yet unknown to us who God calls as partners in this mission.

Yes, God has given us so much, so that we can do what we’re called to do ….

to be workers and proclaimers of God’s transformation in the world.

For God is ushering in his Kingdom here and now.

God is doing this in and through us,

and through other disciples in our community and in our world.

God has given us all we need.

And most importantly, God is with us.

With all that God has given us,

may we go forth, together, to heal, to restore, to proclaim God’s love and grace.

Amen.

It’s a Matter of Equality

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2012
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (Common English Bible)

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.

Saint Paul writes:

“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties,

but it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit.”

It’s not that we want you to have financial difficulties, BUT …

There’s always a but.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul asks the Christians in Corinth

to continue their commitment to financially support the church in Jerusalem,

which is poor and struggling.

The Church at Corinth, located in a bustling city that was a commercial and cultural crossroads,

was better off than their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem,

and so Paul asks those with more to support those with less.

“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties …”

Yes, you can hear it in his voice.

Paul knows that what he is asking could put some pressure on the church and its people,

that the Christians in Corinth have had some of their own problems to deal with,

including a congregation that itself was careless in its divisions between rich and poor

(Just read 1 Corinthians to see how Paul blasts the church there

for having some come to the Thanksgiving Meal and eat and drink

until they are full and drunk, while others leave hungry).

Nonetheless, Paul doesn’t let the challenges that the Corinthians face

get in the way of his asking for and expecting

their continued generosity toward those less fortunate.

Paul knows the Corinthians can do more.

And he knows that the Christians in Jerusalem are in such a dire situation.

After all, Paul says,

“it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit.”

A matter of equality between one’s surplus, one’s abundance,

and another’s deficit, another’s need. Equality.

In our country we have a commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom,

to self-reliance and independence,

a libertarian streak that runs strongly through our American blood,

and which fuels, I believe, so much of the innovation that our country is known for.

Yet, frankly, what Saint Paul writes in today’s reading stands somewhat in contrast

to that independent, self-reliant streak we’re so known for in our country.

For Paul writes not of a self-reliant Jerusalem church that can pull itself up by its bootstraps,

or of a self-reliant Corinthian church that keeps what it has to itself,

but instead he writes of the interconnected relationship between the two.

In other words, Paul writes, “You need each other.”

All who are in Christ are of one body, he writes elsewhere,

and if one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers.

Any of you who have ever had a bad ankle, or a bad back, know this.

A hurt in one part of the body makes the rest feel pretty miserable.

And so, Paul here is drawing attention to the fact that

there is a part of the body, over in Jerusalem, that is suffering right now.

The present surplus of the Corinthians, he writes, can alleviate the present deficit of others.

The other day I was talking with a homeless woman,

and she asked why God let all this happen to her – losing her job,

losing her house, medical problems, and so forth.

I responded simply that God is not doing this to her,

but like Christ on the cross, God is suffering alongside of her,

and that it is human sin that has created a situation in which she finds herself.

Because, let’s be honest friends, there is plenty of abundance in this world right now,

here, there, and down the street,

there’s abundance that can alleviate the needs of others.

If the people of Saint Paul, the people of Ramsey County, of Minnesota, of this country,

if we all wanted more homeless shelter beds,

or if we wanted more affordable housing, we could do it.

We found half a billion dollars for a 65,000 seat football stadium,

but we can’t find money for additional homeless shelter beds?

It’s because we don’t want to.

In 2005, former Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern wrote a book together called,

Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith.

In this book these two former Senators – a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat –

said that we don’t have a food shortage in the world.

We don’t have a food problem at all. Instead, what we have is a distribution problem.

Yet the truth is, we don’t have a distribution problem, either.

You can purchase a Coca-Cola in nearly every corner of the world.

We’ve got distribution down just fine.

So what we really have is a problem of the will. We just don’t want to do it.

Because making sure that food was available for all people in the world

might make certain costs rise, might cut into the profits of some merchants

or into the tariff-protected markets of some industry groups,

and might make things more difficult for those of us who live in relative abundance.

“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties,” Paul writes,

“but … but it’s a matter of equality..”

We have the resources in the wealthiest darn country in the world.

We have the abundance. We have the surplus.

But do we have the will to seek, to create, some sort of greater equality?

Paul the Apostle calls us, in faith, to find the will to seek such an equality.

 

Shifting from Paul the Apostle to Paul the Pastor, for a moment,

let me say this: few people in my life have I known

who are as committed to the needs of others,

who are as committed to this sense of quality, as is Pastor Paul Hesterberg.

In my first year here at Grace, I have seen him work tirelessly with and for those who have so little.

From making sure that we have food and gas cards to distribute,

to driving people to doctor’s appointments and court hearings,

to sharing articles with me and with others about matters of concern

for the poor and hungry, to helping folks out in many different ways,

Pastor Paul is committed to this equality about which Saint Paul writes,

to sharing some of his own abundance with those in need.

Pastor Paul has been a role model for us, a caregiver,

a living commitment to those things to which our Lord himself is committed –

feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising up the lowly, caring for the lonely.

His commitment is one that leaves a legacy among us,

a legacy that we will do well to carry on through existing efforts of care –

such as the food collection for Merrick Food Shelf

that the Social Ministry Committee is coordinating –

and even the creation of new ministries of care and love and outreach

that will help us live into Saint Paul’s calling for us to work for a greater equality

between our abundance and our neighbor’s need.

 

Dear friends, as we celebrate Independence Day this week,

let us not revel in our own individual liberty,

for soldiers didn’t die at Lexington and Concord,

at Brandywine or Germantown, or in the cold winter at Valley Forge,

they didn’t die for individual liberty …

but they died for a nation, for a people to live in freedom, together.

They died to create “a more perfect union.”

Freedom is not just personal or political,

but rightfully – and faithfully – understood,

freedom includes not just freedom from overseas royal tyrants,

but freedom from want, freedom from suffering, freedom from abject poverty,

and freedom for the chance to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Together we live into this freedom. Together we share in the abundance of this land and,

as Christians, together we live into the freedom we have in Christ Jesus,

free to give of ourselves as Christ himself gave,

free to give out of what we have, to provide for the needs of our sisters and brothers,

so that there might be greater equality, and greater freedom, for all.

Amen.

Love. Freedom. Kingdom. (Christ the King, Year B)

Christ the King Sunday (Lectionary 34)
Revelation 1:4b-8
November 22, 2009

Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come.  Amen.

Love.  Freedom.  Kingdom.
If I were to read those words with a dramatic voice,
    they almost sound like the tag-line for a summer blockbuster movie
    about a fictional kingdom in the late medieval era.
You know, one of those gazillion dollar epic dramas,
    with amazing scenery and elaborate costumes,
    extremely dramatic music and actors who all have British accents, and, of course,
        several drawn-out, bloody, and gory battle scenes.

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Invitation and Abundance (Lectionary 32, Year B)

Lectionary 32 (23rd Sunday after Pentecost)
1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:23-44
November 8, 2009 Pledge Sunday

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I don't watch television much,
    except perhaps for a late night comedy show
    or the occasional World Series featuring my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.
But as I was watching baseball over the past few weeks,
    I was surprised to see – already – advertisements pushing the gift-giving season of Christmas.
Driving back from a conference in western Pennsylvania this week,
    I was shocked to see a large Christmas wreath on a Wal-Mart sign.
What's the message?  That it's time to buy, buy, buy, so you can give, give, give.

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We Fail, God Succeeds (Lectionary 28, Year B)

Lectionary 28 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)
Mark 10:17-31
October 11, 2009

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every now and then I'll catch a few minutes of one of those talent-contest reality television shows,
    such as American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, or Dancing with the Stars.
These shows do a great job at building up the drama of the tryout.
They give viewers personal background on the contestant,
    perhaps even showing pictures of her 3rd grade ballet recital or middle school choir solo.
We see footage of the contestants hard at work,
    and hear testimonials from parents and friends
    about how dedicated the contestant is to her art.
By the end of the season, viewers are pulling for their favorite contestant,
    convinced that she has done everything right,
    and deserves to win the prize.

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God’s Widening Circle (Lectionary 26, Year B)

Lectionary 26 (17th Sunday after Pentecost)
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Mark 9:38-50
September 27, 2009

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As we stand here at the beginning of our church's program year –
    today marks our first day of Sunday School classes
    and our new Closing Devotion in the Parish Hall –
    I can't help but think about the nature of the church.
In the past days and weeks, as I looked forward to our Sunday School classes
    and the faithful teachers and helpers who make this ministry possible,
    I've been increasingly humbled by how and through whom the spirit of God moves
        in calling our church into being,
        in carrying out our church's ministry of the Gospel.
Today's readings have something to say about church,
    about the ways that God acts through his people to achieve his will.

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The Perspective of the Cross (Lectionary 24, Year B)

Lectionary 24 (15th Sunday after Pentecost)
Mark 8:27-38
September 13, 2009

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Amen.

I remember when my oldest daughter, Talitha, was learning about perspective.
She understood that our current position determines how we see something.
So, when we played “hide and seek” in our neighborhood playground,
    she cleverly hid behind a pole or tree or piece of playground equipment . . .
    but she wouldn't stay still, as she had just a year or so earlier when we would play.
Rather, as we would approach her hiding place,
    she'd move, always keeping the tree between us and her,
    always keeping herself hidden,
    knowing that where we’re standing affects what we see,
        and what we don’t see.

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