July 8 2012 Mark 6: 6b-13 Take Nothing (and receive it all)
I think it’s safe to say we’re officially in ‘vacation season’.
It seems like once we get into July, everyone starts trying to squeeze in a vacation before the fall comes around.
Whether you prefer the mountains or the beach, or just a quiet cabin by a lake somewhere…this is the time of year to go. It does the soul good to pack your bags and set off for a week or two of independence. It does a body good to get away and enjoy a time with a little less responsibility than normal.
But taking a trip is a different experience for adults than it is for children, isn’t it?
I barely remember a family vacation one year when my primary concern was that my favorite stuffed animal could come along.
I didn’t know, or need to know, where we were going, or why, or who we’d be visiting.
I didn’t need to know how to drive, or read a map, or plan for the overnight stays.
All I needed to do was make sure I didn’t leave behind my stuffed raccoon; who at that point was one of my closest friends. 🙂
…Obviously, times have changed.
Today, when we go on a trip, I think about a lot more than stuffed animals. In fact, I probably don’t even think about stuffed animals at all.
It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but I’m at the point in life where I know that nobody but me is going to make sure that I have what I need when I take a trip (well, Christine probably will…but only if she’s going with me).
When we go on a trip, nobody else is going to pack the suitcase, put gas in the car, or make sure we stop for lunch.
We have a variety of needs when we travel.
Some needs we can plan for by packing the right things, like socks and underwear.
But other needs we don’t know about until they happen…like a flat tire, or an accident, or an illness on the way.
Those things aren’t real common…but they do happen. So you have to be ready for the unexpected.
So it pays to be prepared…that’s a lesson I’ve been learning since I was old enough to drive on my own.
…In the passage we’re looking at from the gospel of Mark, Jesus sends his followers into the world with nothing but their means of travel.
They’re prepared for the journey, but not the destination.
He sends them out with no money, no food, and no connections. All they’ve got is the shoes on their feet and the staff in their hands.
One is to see the disciples as obedient children…that is, they’re simply going along for the ride while God takes care of everything like the responsible adult that He must be.
I’ve read this story like that for many years.
In fact, we can draw some good and helpful conclusions about the faith of the disciples.
For example, we might note their child-like faith. The kind where you just set off on the journey and trust that everything you need will be taken care of. There’s an innocence and a kind of purity to what they’re doing. Or we might be amazed at just how much they left behind, and what they gained as a result of that. Or we can marvel at the power they exercised on the journey; casting out demons and healing people.
Reading this story with the eyes of a child, we can take some good lessons about obedience, or trust, or God’s provision when provisions are scarce.
It’s not a bad way of reading this story.
We can’t remain children forever.
I’d like to suggest this morning that this story is more than a simple illustration about how God takes care of his disciples, or how we can safely leave the cooler at home because He cares about us so much that he can feed us without it.
There’s a way of reading this story that puts God in the center instead of us.
See, what gets lost in the child’s view of this story is the sheer genius behind Jesus sending the disciples out empty-handed. It’s a lot more strategic than we might think at first glance.
See, all empty hands can do is receive.
I’ve shared before how Christine and I have run out of gas a number of times in our relationship.
I’m not talking figuratively, either. There have been at least a couple of times when we’ve been cruising down the highway, thinking we had enough to at least get to the next exit…only to be proven wrong.
Thankfully both times we were on busy roads, and thankfully both times we got to meet some interesting people who helped us out…people we otherwise wouldn’t have paid much attention to.
See, those are the times when you’re least picky about who you interact with.
When you’re stuck on the side of the road in a strange place, you’re not going to turn away an offer of help unless it’s obvious your physical safety is threatened, right?
Tattoos, piercings, language and belief system…none of that fundamentally matters when you’re on the side of the road with no gas, right?
Unless you want the walk, you’ll accept the ride.
You’re open to the relationship…because you need the help and everybody there knows it.
Jesus sends his disciples out, and as I read this story with the eyes of an adult, I start to see it as far more meaningful than I ever imagined as a child.
If you’ve ever helped a stranger in need, or if you’ve ever received help from a stranger when you were in need…you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s that moment of hesitation on either side of the exchange. But when you push through it, you’re both richer for it. Both the giver and the recipient-both the ‘host’ and the ‘guest’.
Empty hands are quite possibly the single most important and effective weapon at the disposal of we who follow Christ.
I use the word ‘weapon’ intentionally, not just for the shock value.
A weapon is designed to serve a purpose…it’s designed to inflict damage, usually in combat where the two sides are engaged in a battle. Different weapons are designed for different purposes…for example, a gun functions differently than a bomb.
In that vein of thought, empty hands are indeed crafted to inflict damage…not the physical damage we’re used to associating with war (for our battle is not against flesh and blood)…but rather, empty hands are given to the disciples in a very real and strategic move to dismantle the world and build it up again!
This story is like the first wave of an invasion…Jesus has been doing lots of amazing things up to this point in Mark’s gospel. He’s been healing people and teaching the crowds and gaining a following…he’s starting to look like a revolutionary, right?
He’s got plenty of support and it’s obvious he’s gaining a reputation as a miracle-worker.
And this story is the point where his movement mobilizes.
Every movement; every revolution has to move beyond the primary personality behind it…otherwise it becomes more like a cult than a movement.
So for Mark, that point comes here in chapter 6.
Jesus didn’t send his disciples out with empty hands just to prove how they could depend on God to provide for what they lacked, or to teach us 2,000 years later to simply ‘trust and obey’.
Jesus sent them out with empty hands because that’s how God’s people do battle.
He sends them out with empty hands…because that’s how his gospel is spread!
That’s how the good news is most effectively shared!
In Corinthians, there’s a passage that’s (I think) at the top of your bulletin, where God declares to Paul that his power is made perfect in weakness.
When people who “have” open themselves up to the people who “have not”…when people with “power” are willing to share it with people who don’t…when people who are strong are willing to bring in and host the people who are weak…
That’s good news!
Jesus sends the twelve with empty hands.
It’s like he’s staging an invasion…an invasion of love, forged in the fires of hospitality.
And the kind of hospitality this passage illustrates is an enormously dangerous thing…because it’s unpredictable.
It’s the kind of hospitality you find when you’ve run out of gas and you don’t know who might stop to help.
It’s the kind where you’re at the mercy of anyone with a heart big enough to open up and welcome you in.
It’s a strategic move, because it’s those people who are willing to listen to you.
See, you can’t force hospitality to happen.
You can force somebody to let you in…you can force someone to carry your pack, like the Roman soldiers would have done.
But you can’t force them to host you, as we traditionally think of hosting.
There’s no more efficient way to find a receptive audience than to go out with empty hands.
And the truth of the matter is, that’s how God comes.
I read a book recently where the authors describe “shalom” as the “fulfillment of lack”…or you could say, ‘shalom’ is the state of being where there is no lack.
There is sufficiency. There is enough.
So in a very literal way, Jesus is sending out these disciples in pursuit of Peace…in pursuit of wholeness…they’re chasing down “shalom”. Just like the rest of us.
We’re all on a similar quest.
The key is, that it’s easiest to find, when you go with empty hands. You do have to be open to receiving what you lack; and that’s no small feat for us independent North American middle-class Christians, who more than anything else just want to be left alone.
But God doesn’t leave people alone.
It can feel like it. Even Jesus felt forsaken.
But wholeness is found in the give and the take.
Healing happens, and demons go, in the give and take of hospitality.
What’s in your hands this morning?
Our needs may not be as immediate as food and shelter; but I have to think we can still find the power of God to be just as effective now as always, to chase off our demons and restore us to health.