Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
8 July, 2018
Today’s lectionary Gospel reading is perfectly suited for the occasion we’re going to be marking as a congregation today.
A couple thousand years ago, we learn from Mark Chapter 6, Jesus commissioned twelve of his closest followers to carry forward the reconciling, healing work God had launched through him. His was work that had inspired the disciples to follow Jesus; his life and ministry was so compelling that it drew them away from other jobs and preoccupations and allowed them to discover the rewards of a life dedicated to God’s agenda instead of their own. Jesus the Christ taught by example and word, and they learned from him. Then he began to send them out two by two, giving them instruction and authority to do the ministry he himself had done. He co-missioned them: he shared his mission with them.
These, then, became the first Christ-ians (the suffix –ian means “from”, “related to”, or “like”). They had learned from Jesus about a life that is truly alive—a life where love of God and love of neighbor are at the center, resulting in the deep joy and freedom our hearts long for. As those co-missioned with Christ, they were empowered to put their faith into practice and experience the wonder of its growth; they got to participate in the transformation that occurs when people become co-operators with God.
As Jesus sent them out in pairs, the impact of God’s work of reconciliation and healing in a divided and hurting world began to multiply exponentially. Had he not sent them out, and had they not responded with faithfulness and courage, we wouldn’t be here today. It’s because of faithful followers in every generation between then and now that today we will commission a group of 42 work campers—we will co-mission them with Jesus—as they depart to do Christ’s work in Wallingford, CT.
But as we do so, there are a few things that are worth noting about Jesus’ experience in today’s lesson that may help to strengthen our own.
First, Jesus was not always welcome. We won’t be, either.
Mark says Jesus wasn’t received well in his hometown—which may strike some of us as strange, because we like to celebrate the accomplishments of our locals, especially when they become famous . . . don’t we? That is, unless we know a few things that undercut the greatness the rest of the world sees. Like, if the family seems a bit dysfunctional or unusual. (Did you notice that those questioning who Jesus thought he was, pointedly didn’t name a father—only that he was “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon,” and some sisters that were with them?) Maybe we’re less likely to be enthralled with the famous person if we know what he was like as a child. How could someone so ordinary grow up to suddenly become so extraordinary? Or, if he’s consistently managed to overshadow our own kids, despite plenty of competitive efforts. It’s when people know us—or think they know us—that our ability to accomplish new or transformational things can be particularly challenging. As Beverly Zink-Sawyer observes, “We tend to see what we expect to see, and are slow to accept challenges to our preconceived assumptions.”
There are a fair number of people who’ve written off Christians as having anything meaningful to share with the world because of what they’ve observed of people who call themselves Christian. “He could do no deed of power there,” Mark tells us, “except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” People desperately in need of healing who had heard of his abilities were willing to venture confidence in Jesus’ power. But for people whose lives could have been equally transformed by the Gospel message, but felt no need to change, there was no desire to listen because they’d already determined that they “knew” who Jesus was, and he had nothing to offer them.
Christians are often rejected because there’s a preconceived notion about who we are and what we stand for. Often it’s for our hypocrisies. We preach love, but demonstrate the same fear, pettiness, exclusion, and self-importance as the rest of the world. Why listen to someone whose walk doesn’t align with their talk—or to the talk and example of the one whose name we claim?
The only way to gain trust and to transform wrong notions of who or what a Christian is, is to be trust-worthy, to remain humble, and to live with integrity. In other words, strive to be Christ-like: Christ-ian. Only then will those who harbor misgivings begin to welcome and embrace the life-enhancing truth of the Good News we have to share.
Next, Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. We are not meant to do this work alone. We need each other for encouragement, for perspective, for accountability, and for mutual strength. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to stay actively involved and connected to a church community. Don’t try to go it alone.
That said, do take time to be alone—with God. A bit further along in Mark Chapter 6, when the disciples are checking back in after they’ve been out doing their co-missioned ministries, Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) If you read through the gospels, you’ll notice that Jesus regularly takes time away from others to pray and rest. That is an important part of his ministry: reconnecting fully with his Power Source. Unless we take quiet time to listen for what God is saying to us as we read Scripture, and just listen to the words that come to our hearts when we focus on praying (both speaking and listening to God) then we will eventually feel unmoored and adrift, vaguely disconnected from God in spite of the fact that we’re striving to do God’s work.
Third, travel light. This may be advice offered a bit too late for some of the work campers—I saw the piles that needed to be packed in, and heard the concerns about how everything was going to fit into the U-Haul trailer. It’s worth noting that Jesus advised his disciples to take nothing more than a staff as they set off on their way. No bread, no money in their belts—do wear sandals, he said, but only one tunic. This is particularly challenging advice. As someone who lives in a beautiful home, and has more material “stuff” than probably 90%+ of the rest of the world, I do wonder at times what Jesus might say to me if he came to dinner and I asked him what he thought about how I’m living out my faith and mission here. I’m sure I’m not alone on this—it’s a challenge that most of us who take our faith seriously wrestle with in an affluent society.
I don’t believe that Jesus wants us all to become paupers—because he needs people with money and material goods to help address the challenges of poverty. He even acknowledged that the poor will always be with us—therefore we will always have work to do as people of faith, hope, and love. But I do believe that Jesus would say the aim is for us to hold our possessions loosely—with hands and hearts that do not grab or grasp, but rather are open to share easily and to receive the spiritual blessings that come from eager generosity.
Next, he said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” (Mark 6:10-11) In other words, gratefully and humbly accept the hospitality of others, and enter their spaces with the understanding that they have something to give to you, too.
Sometimes, people with charitable instincts will feel compassion for those whom they have the opportunity to serve—especially when we have significantly more in the way of creature comforts. And compassion is a Christ-like response. But sometimes, when it begins to see the other as an object or a “cause” instead of as the beloved child of God they are, that compassion can morph into something as unhelpful as it is unhealthy.
Occasionally, we may pass judgment on the choices others have made, or the ways they live—and these judgments usually reveal how little we understand about the countless factors playing into the realities that make our lives so different, separating us from one another, including the complexities of family- and other social systems, communities, and the power of traditions and habits. In a variety of ways, we can diminish the dignity of those whose lives we think bear little resemblance to our own, especially when we presume our own lives somehow superior—or treat them as though they are somehow inferior. This, I believe, grieves the heart of God who has fashioned each of us and loves and abides with us equally, unconditionally, regardless of our social or personal circumstances.
Finally, remembering the first lesson—that you will not always be welcomed—don’t be discouraged when you’re not welcomed. This isn’t about you: it’s about God’s agenda, not yours or anyone else’s. Stay focused on the greater mission, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them if you need to (meaning, you take no part of them with you), but keep on walking and don’t lose heart. Remember that you are co-missioned with Jesus, committed to bringing healing, reconciliation and the divine message of God’s extravagant welcome, perseverant love, and amazing grace to everyone you meet.
Oh, and one more thing for all of us to remember: although we’re commissioning 42 individuals today, our collective co-missioning as disciples of Jesus isn’t just an annual work camp experience. It’s our daily calling. As baptized believers, we are all called and sent—wherever we find ourselves, whether that’s in Wallingford, CT, or Hollis, NH, or Belgium, or South America, Eastern Asia, India or the Middle East, western Africa, or anywhere else in this world God so loves, we are co-missioned to be ministers of the Gospel every day of our lives, to our neighbors near and far.
Will you pray with me?
God of Love and life, your church is composed of people like us. We help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if we are. Its pews will be filled, if we help fill them. It will do great work, if we work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if we are generous givers. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if we invite and bring them. It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if we are open to such growth and service. Therefore, with your help Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want your church to be. Amen.
 Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 215, “Homiletical Perspective”
 From David Lose at http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1620, who attributed it to Pastor Meredith Musaus of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Menomonee Falls, WI.