The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God. Amen.
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”
The Gospel challenges us this morning because of its urgency. The urgency is punctuated by Jesus ordering his disciples to take only a staff on their missionary journey—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt. Only a staff. The staff indicates that a serious journey is to be taken. One would not take a staff when visiting a neighbor in the same village. But one would take a staff if one were going from one village to another village. The roads in the hill country of first century Palestine were narrow and dusty. Hence, the staff gave protection for safe walking.
The disciples are instructed not to take any extra provisions, but to depend on the hospitality of those people who would receive them. In other words the disciples were to be dependent upon the people they were visiting—something quite difficult for us living in the affluence of the United States to understand. Nor were the disciples to look for comfortable lodging, but to stay where they were first received. If the disciples were not well received, the disciples were simply to “shake off the dust” from the place where they had been rejected and then move on. New Testament scholar, Kenneth Bailey, calls this an exit strategy, the “sacrament of failure”, for what do we do when we fail in our mission?
The Gospel challenges us with the question, what does it mean to be a disciple? When you go from town to town, take no bread, no bag, no money. The instruction is clear: to risk. To be a disciple means a willingness to risk, risk without bread, risk without a bag, risk without any money. Certainly this is difficult for us to understand in the 2006 world of McDonalds, mammoth suitcases and credit cards.
Right after my ordination to the diaconate my wife, Kirsten, and I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. At the ordination service a good friend said to me, “John, be a Disciple. Christians must be disciples today, not collecting wealth and possessions.” Two days later the moving company came to our Evanston home to pack all of our possessions for our move to Kalamazoo. That night in the parking lot of the moving company, the van holding all of our possessions, burned. Everything we owned was lost in the fire. And my friend’s words kept coming to mind. “John, be a Disciple.” The disciples went out two by two only with a staff.
The Gospel contains a number of guidelines for what it means to be a disciple.
- There is a call for prayer that God will take care of the disciples.
- The disciples will be totally dependent upon God for their protection and sustenance.
- The mission is urgent and must not be delayed.
- Proclamation of the kingdom is to be done by word and deed.
- The disciple must be prepared to face rejection.
The Gospel helps us to understand what it means to live in the radical discipleship of Christ. As we reflect on the Gospel today, one quickly realizes how foreign the Gospel is to our ears. We know only plenty and abundance, but Kenneth Bailey has pointed out a very interesting insight into culture in first century Palestine. Jesus sent his disciples out with a staff which meant they were poor—they were walking. They did not have a donkey or horse to ride.
But just a minute. Is not the Gospel telling us what is involved when one is a disciple. We live in a culture and a society where being a Christian is not only the norm, but if one is not a Christian, then the non-Christian is in the cultural minority. Does not the Gospel apply to us where Christianity is the “norm” as well as the countries where Christians are being persecuted and rejected?
Take no money. What does it mean, take no money? No one leaves home today without enough money in our pocket to make sure that we have plenty for our needs. Money has become our security. Money has become the means by which we determine our own importance. It takes trust to take no money, not to be concerned about our own personal economic situation.
Take no money … be willing to be dependent upon others.
Take no money … be willing to accept the hospitality of others.
Take no money … be willing to accept our insecurities.
Take no money … to become a disciple.
Take no bag. Do not concern yourself about personal property. When I returned this last week to the Miami airport after a short visit to Jamaica, I realized how difficult it is to travel by taking no bags. The luggage belt in Miami was full of mammoth suitcases and sometimes it took two people to lift one suitcase off of the belt.
Take no bag … for possessions are false security.
Take no bag … for possessions take too long to collect.
Take no bag … for possessions take our mind off of the needs of others.
Take no bag … to become a disciple.
Take no bread. Of all the instructions Jesus gives to his disciples, for me this is the most difficult. Who would ever start a trip without any provisions, particularly along the narrow dusty roads in first century Palestine? But Jesus tells his disciples to depend on the hospitality of their hosts and to trust that God will provide.
Take no bread … for my bread takes away my ability to accept bread from others.
Take no bread … for bread can take our attention away from those who have nothing.
Take no bread … for bread can distract us from those who live in poverty.
Take no bread … to become a disciple.
What does it mean for us to be a disciple today?
Let me share with you a letter I received a few years ago from Bishop Daniel when the Sudan was suffering from a terrible draught. The letter was nine pages long, written out in long hand. To be absolutely honest, it sat on my desk a couple of days before I read the letter because it was so long and because it was handwritten. As I started to read the letter the Bishop was telling me about the horrid drought in the Sudan and how the drought was ravaging his country.
I continued to read his letter, but on page eight, I gasped. The Bishop wrote about his son John who had died in February. He died as a refugee in a refugee camp. He died of either malaria or because of some other disease not known. The Bishop did not know why his son had died. The Bishop asked that we pray for his son, for John’s wife and for his two small daughters. Then he asked for our prayers for Mama Grace, his wife. John’s death had been terrible on her. The Bishop asked for no money. He only asked for prayers for his people and for his family. Ravaged. Devastated. The people of Sudan, like the people in Darfur, the Assyrian Christians of Iraq, the North Koreans and the Palestinians all know what it means to suffer. Members of our family are suffering.
- When the people of Sudan suffer, the people of the United States suffer.
- When the people of Darfur face annihilation, the people of the United States suffer.
- When the people of Iraq, and in particular the Assyrian Christian minority, are not a part of the reconstruction of Iraq, the people of the United States suffer.
- When the people of North Korea do not have enough food to eat, the people of the United States suffer.
- When the people of Palestine lose their human rights, the people of the United States suffer.
- When the people of the United States suffer, the people of South Africa suffer.
- When any person suffers, God suffers.
Shortly after the Rwandan genocide ten years ago, I was with Archbishop George Carey in Rwanda. One of the images from Rwanda that will always haunt me is an impoverished pygmy community living alongside a Rwandan hill. I was with Alison from Christian Aid when we stopped to see this community. The pygmy community had fled at the time of the genocide and their impoverished homes were looted and ransacked. When they returned home everything was gone, including the makeshift walls of their homes. They had nothing left. No housing. No food. No nothing.
A mother, perhaps 15 years old, was feeding her child. All of a sudden the little boy slapped his mother’s breast and grabbed the other breast. Then the child started to scream. There was no milk in his mother’s breasts. When Alison asked the mother what she needed, her only request was for some milk for her child. The mother did not ask for a car. The mother did not ask for a bicycle. The mother did not ask for a television or VCR. The mother only wanted some milk for her child. The mother had no food and she was malnourished, her breasts had gone dry. And every pygmy mother who we saw that day was dry. We are Rwanda when our voice of outrage does not join that child’s scream.
We are all interrelated. We are all part of a whole that is greater than the part. We are a part of the Body of Christ, that Body that is called upon to take no bread, no bag, no money. We are called upon to reach out to our brothers and sisters, but at the same time, the Gospel today calls upon us to be served. It is hard for us to be served. It is not easy for a superpower to be served. It is so much easier to serve.
Let us not be indifferent to the claims that we as Christians make. To be a Christian means that we live the pain of a Bishop Daniel. To be a Christian means that we stand with that Rwandan pygmy mother. To be a Christian means that we stand for the dignity of each person. To be Christian means that we live in the radical image of God, a God who instructs us to take no bread, no bag, no money on our journey.
We come together as disciples when Jesus sends us out in this 2006 world. All of us have been created in the image of God. The refugee from the Sudan. The victims of tribal warfare. The persons who have their basic human rights denied them. The mothers who have no milk left in their breasts. Each person has been created in God’s image.
Our mission is urgent. It cannot be delayed. Our mission is to a hungry world—a world whose values often stand in opposition to the Gospel. We all carry too much bread. We all carry too big a bag. We all carry too much money. God turns our values upside down. Jesus tells us to kick the dust off of our sandals—all that which enslaves us. Jesus tells us to kick off the dust of our sandals so that we can be more fully human, so we can live more fully in the perfect image of God. We are called to be disciples. We are called to go out into the world with our staff. What are we going to do with our bread? What are we going to do with our bag? What are we going to do with our money?
In the Name of God. Amen.