Take Nothing for the Journey
Texts: Mark 6: 1-13 2 Cor 12: 2-10
Take nothing for the journey! In a family like ours there’s something intuitively wrong about that command.
Any trampers here? How do you prepare for a journey on foot? In our family you take clothes for all weather and then some. You take a change of clothes. You put everything in your pack in plastic bags. You don’t rely on shops. You put butter and marmite and tea bags and sugar and all the spreads in little plastic containers. You do check lists. You take plenty of snacks. You fill water bottles. You take a camera… in a plastic bag. And a first aid kit… and on it goes. It’s quite a mission…
Jesus too is on mission… (in a different sense). Jesus is sending his friends on a mission. And he offers them very specific and very practical advice. It’s advice that relates directly to joining him in being ambassadors of God’s kingdom. It’s time for them to show the world that the kingdom is coming. I wonder why we don’t pay much attention to this story. Perhaps we think it’s not relevant to our lives now. But why?
One 19th century thinker famously commented. Jesus preached the kingdom and we ended up with the church… suggesting I think that this is a kind of anticlimax, a great disappointment. That the history of Christianity really has nothing to do with what Jesus was on about. But of course it’s not that simple… Jesus wasn’t just preaching a message, he was gathering a community around him. He was teaching and training them in a new lifestyle, he was their rabbi. He made a point of gathering 12 key disciples symbolically reminding everyone of the 12 tribes of Israel and the community that Israel was called to be. And here’s their first training run… their first exercise in communicating what Jesus has been teaching them. We should be paying attention I think…
The instructions are quite clear… Take only the clothes you are wearing… no spare tunic. One pair of sandals for your feet. Take a staff (to scare away wild animals I guess). Take no bag. Take no bread. Take no money.
We mustn’t get too carried away here. It is the Middle East (not the NZ bush) and they’re not going to die of hypothermia. He’s not telling them to be stupid. Nevertheless they are vulnerable. And there is a rationale here. Imagine going traveling without either money or food. Imagine being on holiday without your credit card and I think you are beginning to imagine the link.
These missionaries in training are deliberately casting themselves, not just on the mercy of God but on the mercy of the people around them… and that goes so much against the grain, we can hardly hear it, let alone work out what it might mean for us.
Here’s what I think it means… I think it means what it eventually meant for Jesus, giving up on power. Forget about empowerment! It means giving up on trying to control the direction of history by means of power… to go without money or food is to have nothing to negotiate with, to have no cards to hold close to your chest. In surrendering all their negotiating power they were casting themselves on the mercy of those they met… and ultimately on the mercy of God.
I don’t know if Jesus thought they would be well treated at that stage of his ministry (rather than crucified). Certainly any optimism he might have had was gone in the later part of his own ministry when he went to Jerusalem. But his commitment to resist all the ways of taking control of the world’s destiny remained unchanged…
Was Jesus political? In the sense of forming a community, which is a profoundly political act, yes he is political… but in the modern sense of making use of the machinery of the modern nation-state, the use of force to control things… no Jesus was establishing an alternative way of being political. He was demonstrating the possibility of non-violence (in the deepest theological sense of non-violence)
In this sense the cross is not just an unfortunate turn of events at the end of his life. It is his destiny. His whole life leading to that point was ‘cruciform’ because it ran counter to the very foundations of the society he lived in. He was a much greater threat than any violent revolutionary. He threatened the very roots of the social order – and in ordinary political terms, that is treason, pure evil.
And so his disciples went out with nothing to offer but a word from God. They stood outside the system… outside all the systems of exchange that rendered some people poor and untouchable and gave others power and prestige. They came to speak of a new world and to touch the untouchable and the weak…
And Jesus instructions to them effectively say “don’t buy credit in the old world”… take nothing for the journey. Just reach out to the poor and the sick and those whom the old world leaves outside the door.
Don’t market the new world. Don’t go for votes. Don’t curry favours. Whatever you do don’t be realistic! Look to the future and not the past. Discover in God’s strange new future the clue to all the past, the clue to what it means to be Israel. You are not here to fit in, you are here to interrupt… to interrupt from a place of vulnerability and from there alone.
This is the community Jesus is gathering for the sake of the kingdom… which means that this is what the church is meant to look like… may that was what made our 19th century author grin when he said, Jesus preached the kingdom and ended up with the church… It is profoundly challenging to all the ways we operate as church isn’t it.
In our confession of faith this morning we read one of the earliest passages to be written in the NT which goes back to the earliest church because it was a poem and a hymn even before Paul wrote it. And in this earliest piece of Christian literature we read the belief that this ‘cruciform’ life interrupting the world, was not just his strange fancy, not just his life alone even… but is a true expression of the very life of God from all eternity. Listen to it again
Because he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited
but emptied himself
taking the form of a slave
being born in human likeness
And being found in human form
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
That is the earliest piece of NT thinking about God in the light of Jesus…. Negotiation and exploiting his assets is not what God does. The very form of God’s inner life is this ‘letting yourself go’, pouring oneself out into the life of others in vulnerability.
It sounds like something your mother might say to you: ‘You’re letting yourself go’.
As Paul says in our other reading… it’s not about assets its about gift. Grace literally means ‘gift’. My grace, Paul hears from God, is sufficient for you….
That is a powerful word to think about in the challenges of our everyday life isn’t it. In the things that seem impossible by any realistic assessment. My grace is sufficient for you…
Those who receive their life as a gift, gain the courage to be a gift to others. And so Paul begins to understand the paradox of the life of Christ. Strength is found in weakness…real strength… Strength is made perfect, says Paul, in weakness.
Bruce Hamill 5.7.09 at Caversham