As most of you know, I was on vacation recently. Franny and I took big road trip – 2 full days in the car traveling to Dayton, Ohio and then, after 5 days there, another full day wending our way up the state highways through the farmland of western Ohio and northeast Indiana and then up through Kalamazoo and Battle Creek to the shore of Lake Michigan. We’ve made this trip enough to know that one should be prepared to make the most of the hours along the way, It’s a lot of time in the car. So we stocked up.
Franny brought CD’s of music by Steam Powered Giraffe. I brought Elton John and Beatles CDs. Franny brought a pint of strawberries and two rolls of Mentos.
I brought a gift card for Starbucks someone game me as a thank you and a Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies Brian baked for the occasion.
Franny downloaded a podcast called Ear Biscuits, and I downloaded Fresh Air and Working Preacher.
Franny brought a pillow. I (being a Girl Scout troop leader) brought a first aid kit.
In the course of our time in the car, we used all of these items, and with well-timed stops at Bob Evans to revive our bodies and souls, we had a fine trip. But what really made the time worthwhile were none of these items we brought with us. What we’ll remember is not the media we consumed, or the food we consumed. We’ll remember the unscripted times when we could really talk to one another. We’ll remember the blessed moments when our minds were open to taking in something unexpected or beautiful and sharing it with one another.
That’s how it is most of the time in life. We pack our bags and prepare well, but it’s those moments of grace and connection and the sharing from the heart that constitutes our lives. Those moments when our armor is down, our headphones are off, we are able to engage, and we can take a risk or see past the expected signs on the highway to the crazy, off-road things we encounter along the way.
That’s where the joy is and that’s where God finds us and connects with us. And so it’s not surprising that in today’s gospel, Jesus directs his followers to pack lightly and be ready for real encounter. He takes away from them anything that would allow them to hide or be hidden, anything that would keep them from needing to talk to others. 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.
He does this after the people in his own hometown are unable to receive ministry from him, so stockpiled are they behind their assumptions and their prejudices and the way things are. “This guy can’t be for real; he’s the son of an unwed mother, (notice they refer to him as “Mary’s son”)– no way God would bless him!” It’s almost as though he’s learned from his experience and is now wiser about how best to send disciples out in a way that will be life-changing both for them and for those they will have to ask to host them.
Last week our Church elected a new Presiding Bishop – the person who will represent us to the world and other churches, the person who will lead the House of Bishops, and the person we will look to for wisdom and guidance as our church continues navigating a swiftly-shifting landscape. Our new Presiding Bishop is Michael Curry, who has served as Bishop of North Carolina for many years. Bishop Curry is deeply faithful, articulate, charismatic – one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church. He is also very clear that our church is called at this moment in history to go out just like those first disciples went out: traveling lightly, listening for where God would have us go, and offering healing and hope as we go. Michael Curry calls for a revival of the church as part of the Jesus Movement. We are not a thing planted and stable, but dynamic parts of a movement.
In a way that clearly connected to the hearts of his fellow bishops, he calls us to divest ourselves of what we feel most proud of, what we think are signs of our spiritual prowess, and to go out curious and listening for mission.
I want to do something now I’ve never done: share a video with you as part of my sermon. It’s five minutes, and it’s our new Presiding Bishop explaining this idea of being part of a Jesus Movement and relying not on our wisdom, or laurels or stained glass windows but on God alone.
We talk a lot about hospitality in the church – about setting a table for others. That’s a good thing, and radical welcome is essential. But when we welcome others here, we’re in control. When we move out, following Jesus, into the lives, labors, and loves of others, we are not in control. This is a time for the church to step out in vulnerability – to let others set a table for us, to trust that the people, communities, and places hosting us are genuine and to open ourselves to receiving from them.
How might we be challenged and blessed if we understand prayer not as a moment in which we allow God into our lives, but as a way of live in which we allow ourselves to be hosted by God?
How might we be blessed and transformed if we understand work against racism as being hosted by beloved children of God who have much to teach us who God is?
How might the life of our parish be enriched if we think of “church growth” not just as “number of people in church on Sunday” but as “number of courageous encounters and heart-to-heart conversations we have outside these walls with people whose experience is different from ours”?
Let us open ourselves to the encounters and experiences that God has waiting for us. Let us rely not on our own toolkits or CD collections or assumptions, but on the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, which will be with us always, to the end of the age.