A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on July 18, 2010.
Let’s turn our attention toward traveling and how you prepare to go on a trip. What kind of packer are you? If you are like me, it depends upon where you are going. I can throw some things together fairly quickly if I am going to be gone for a short period of time. Longer trips take a little bit more planning.
I’ve never been able to reduce my luggage to the bare essentials like my son, Josh, when he was seven and we went on vacation. Jackie let all three children pack their own duffle bags. When we arrived at the beach, Josh opened his bag to reveal its contents—a bathing suit. That’s all. Nothing else was in there. Needless to say we had to make a trip to Wal Mart.
Josh would have been delighted with the instructions Jesus gave his followers when he sent them out to minister in his name. “Carry no purse, no bag and no sandals,” Jesus said to them. This would have been music to Josh’s ears.
There are few stories in scripture that intrigue me more than this one. In some ways, it makes no sense. Wouldn’t you expect Jesus to send his disciples into the neighboring villages and towns to minister in his name with everything they would need to survive? Surely, they needed to take clothes, food, medicine, money and gifts. After all, there would be no Wal Marts where they were going for them to stock up on the things they would need after they arrived.
Why did Jesus demand that they go empty handed? This has puzzled me for years.
Before I answer this question, let me share with you what I more readily understand about this passage. I see in this story that ministry is not to be limited to a few, but open to everyone.
As Jesus turned to Jerusalem and headed to the cross, he empowered his followers along the way to become ministers. It was time to broaden the call to ministry beyond the twelve disciples he called early in his ministry. Every believer was to be a minister, evidenced by sending out these seventy ordinary folk who were serious about putting their faith into action.
So strongly do we believe this at Smoke Rise that our church motto is, “Every Member a Minister.” We encourage every believer to become a disciple on mission for Christ. No one is exempt. The call to minister in Jesus’ name is inclusive.
Ministry is not to be limited to a place, as sacred as it might be. With the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, it appears that the religious leaders made this the focal point of all ministries.Jesus did not reinforce this, but led his followers to understand that ministry was to be done where they lived, in their villages and marketplaces.
While ministry can be done alone, there are times when it is best done with others. Jesus sent them out in pairs because he knew that helping others and proclaiming a counter-culture message could be demanding, risky and dangerous. There would be no shortage of predators ready to threaten and harm them. They did not need to travel alone.
Above all, they needed to take God with them. “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” Jesus told them. The Lord needed to accompany them on their journey, too, as they recruited others to join them.
Those engaged in ministry don’t need to get distracted or discouraged. “Greet no one on the road,” he told them, an admonition not to loiter and delay their arrival in the village where people needed them. There was no time to waste.
“Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ ”
This mission was not about them and their approval rating. It was about the people who needed what they had to offer and God’s desire to help them. Therefore, Jesus did not want rejection, which was inevitable, to paralyze them or discourage them to the point they would quit. Too much was at stake for them to have a pity party.
Neither did he want them moving from place to place in a village seeking better accommodations and creature comforts. All their attention was to be focused upon the recipients of their work, not themselves. As Tom Ehrich states, “They weren’t sent to occupy property, but to love, heal and proclaim God’s reign.” The attention to their needs needed to be minimal.
Yes, there are several things in this text I understand: the inclusive nature of the call to minister where you live and work, the sense of urgency, the need to partner with others, the importance of remaining focused on the work at hand and being faithful to the one who sends.
What about the instruction, though, “Carry no purse, no bag and no sandals?” What was this all about?
Up until three weeks ago, I’m not sure I could have answered this question with any degree of accuracy. Sitting in a break-out session at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Charlotte listening to Alan Roxburgh, however, made all the difference in my understanding of this part of the passage.
Roxburg is the author of The Missional Church and in his talk, he referred to our text. I perked up when he went straight to the toughest part of this story.
“The primary way we encounter God and understand His nature is in the stranger,” he said. “The primary way we engage God is in hospitality to the stranger,” he continued. “However, this won’t happen until you become the stranger!”
I don’t recall the last time anything hit me so hard. Since I have this obsession with learning and cannot sit silently when I experience an “aha” moment, I just sat back in my chair, laid my pen down and announced to everyone around me, “That is one of the most profound things I have ever heard! Did you hear what he said?”
I’ve always associated hospitality with giving. I talk a lot about being kind to strangers and treating them like family. “We are most like God when we give and share our resources with others. Be the Good Samaritan every chance you get.”
This is all well and good. We should be courteous and generous, especially to strangers. But, this is not the primary message in this text. This text demands that we become the stranger, dependent upon others’ hospitality. Why? In becoming the empty-handed stranger, we’ll do things we would otherwise avoid and learn things about God, others, ourselves and life that we could discover no other way.
We’ll learn to rely upon God more and ourselves less to meet our deepest needs for meaning, purpose, courage, strength, peace and security.
We’ll discover that we need far less than we think to live in this world as we become aware of the fact that much of what we have we don’t need and many things we want we can do without.
We’ll overcome our addiction to things and our obsession with hoarding them.
We’ll become more grateful and generous as others respond to our needs out of the goodness of their hearts.
Like Jesus, we’ll concentrate more on people and less on things.
We’ll come to understand as never before the importance of community and the value of relationships.
We’ll quit trying to control the world and impose our expectations on others.
We’ll become better listeners.
When you are the host, you are less likely to hear others’ stories. You are consumed and distracted with all the things you need to do to be a good host. Like Martha in Luke 10:38-42, who was too busy preparing dinner to notice Jesus’ heavy heart, we, too, will overlook what is in the hearts of others.
When we are the stranger, however, we’ll not be overcome with our responsibilities, but sit, listen, observe and discover people’s struggles. Then, with God’s help, we’ll respond out of a grateful heart for the difference others have made in our lives.
We’ll discover where God is at work in the world and partner with Him. You see, God is wherever people are struggling. When we find them, we’ll find God.
Do you recall what Jesus did as evening approached on the day of his resurrection? He joined two men, unaware of the resurrection, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He listened to their story, filled with pain and disappointment, and accepted their hospitality when they invited him into their home. When the opportunity arose, he spoke words that completely changed their lives and set them on a different course.
Once again, Jesus modeled for us what it means to be the empty-handed stranger and a part of what God is doing in this world.
“Carry no purse, no bag and no sandals,” Jesus said. Just take with you a desire to develop relationships, build community, listen to stories, heal wounds and offer an alternative voice about what is really important in life.
Let’s be honest. Not a person here today is going to do this. We are not going to set out on foot with nothing in hand and live with strangers for an extended period of time. What can we do, though, to live out the spirit of this text?
Take more risks. Live with less. Be a good neighbor. Listen to people’s stories. Be kind to strangers. Let go of control. Trust God.
Give it a try.