“Journeying 101” Colchester Federated Church, July 8, 2018, (Mark 6:1-13) Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
When landing in Sydney, Australia in 19 days it will be the 19th country that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. Now I don’t share this to seem cool, especially since I have friends (also in their 30s) who’ve been to 50+ countries and even live abroad! Though traveling is a passion and seeing the world is something that makes me happy. In the immortal words of Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” So whenever travel opportunities come along my philosophy is to say yes and when are we leaving?
Once one has traveled enough, one does get good at making preparations. For international travel, people have to research—do you need a tourist visa to get into the country? Do you secure that tourist visa in the country upon landing, or do you need to apply before you leave the United States? Do you need to get vaccinated or have a prescription for malaria medicine, for instance? What kind of currency does that country use and what’s the exchange rate compared to the dollar? Have you called your credit card company to share your travel dates so that they don’t cut off access to your credit card fearing fraud? (That totally happened to me in Spain.) And do you have what you need to charge all your electronic devices (especially to communicate with loved ones and take pictures) knowing that other countries don’t have the same outlets or even the same voltage as the United States? And on and on and on with necessary planning.
Because of some significant fails while traveling, I usually don’t get phased anymore. I’ve had flights canceled and luggage lost. I forgot my raincoat during monsoon season in India. I got lost at night by myself in Paris and the French police swept the Eiffel Tower looking for me and the FBI even got called. It’s an epic story that’s finally funny now, and you may hear it one day. The point is that when traveling it helps to be prepared and to go with the flow because not everything will be perfect no matter how much you’ve prepared. And we have to keep in mind that we are guests in other peoples’ countries when traveling and local customs and culture must be respected.
Now why think about traveling today? Well, the first part of our lectionary Gospel text centers on Jesus not being accepted as a prophet in Nazareth. As a result, he’s gotta hit the road! Jesus is in his hometown and among his own people and they can’t really hear what he’s saying. Instead their response is, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
Jesus responds by saying that prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns. Those who knew Jesus in his early years before he was called to his ministry cannot respond to his message in faith and trust the way that others can. This phenomenon seems to be human nature because it can be difficult for some folks to accept someone they knew as a little child in an authority role whether that’s in the church or the school system or local government, etc. That was certainly Jesus’ experience in Nazareth and explains why he did no deeds of power there. People couldn’t see him as Emmanuel, God-with-us, and not just as Mary’s son and James’s brother and contemplating what he was like growing up. So Jesus laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. Though ultimately Jesus moves on and goes among other villages in the region teaching and healing.
This process of moving on beyond his hometown caused Jesus to contemplate what is actually required for the quest. Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, and he even told them what to pack and what to leave behind for their travels. Jesus calls the twelve disciples and begins to send them out two by two. So they are not traveling alone; they have a swimming buddy. But he orders them to take nothing for their journey except a staff and wear your sandals and wear one tunic. Jesus tells them to not bring bread, no bag, no money in your belts, and no extra tunic.
Talk about traveling light. And talk about not being super prepared for what could go wrong. What if it rains and the only tunic that they have (that they are wearing) gets soaked? They can’t go into their travel bag and switch it out? Nope, because they aren’t allowed to bring a bag or a second tunic. What if they step on a rock and accidentally break their sandal? Too bad because they only have one pair to wear for the journey. What if it’s the middle of the night and they get hungry, or the travels for that day took them longer than expected and they don’t want to go knocking on someone’s door in the middle of the night asking for some food or a place to stay? Oh well, no bread or money to buy bread or a bag to put the money in to be able to buy the bread. We’re getting the point, right.
Jesus allows the disciples a staff, which is basically a walking stick and possibly protection from thieves (not that there’s anything to steal.) The shoes on their feet. And the clothes on their back. That’s it. Happy trails.
A footnote in the CEB Study Bible for our scripture passage relates that Jesus’ requirements are stricter than those of the ancient Roman Cynics, who were wandering philosophers who rejected material possessions. Yet, the Cynics carried the kinds of belongings that Jesus tells his disciples to leave behind. Crazy items like an extra set of clothes, bread, some money, and a bag. The Cynics carried those items on their travels, but Jesus tells the disciples not to do so.
Though unlike the Roman Cynics, Jesus gives his disciples authority over unclean spirits. That authority and that healing ministry wouldn’t have necessarily been on the radar of other groups wandering around the region at this time. So like Jesus, the disciples will be able to heal people in need. In effect, Jesus is commissioning the twelve disciples to expand his mission of teaching and creating the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus is enlarging his mission of proclamation and healings and exorcisms by trusting the disciples with these sacred duties near the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. We’re only in Chapter 6 here. This isn’t happening in Nazareth because Nazareth wasn’t exactly open to the message—they are taking Jesus’ message out on the road.
Jesus sends them out two by two to stay in nearby villages among the people, building up his movement of reform and renewal. In order to do all of this, Jesus had to get out of his hometown of Nazareth and expand his horizons and the horizons of his twelve disciples. Traveling has a way of doing that because it gets us outside of our little corners of security and comfort in the world. To do that doesn’t always require extravagant trips either. Our country is so large that sometimes when we are in another region of the country we may find ourselves with expanding horizons, and that’s good!
This particular journey outlined in Mark does represent a significant moment of Jesus trusting his followers. In turn, he’s asking them to trust one another, trust that they will receive hospitality when ministering in his name beyond their homes, and trust that God will be with them. By packing so light, they will have to put their trust in others and rely on receiving hospitality.
To be fair, Jesus gives them a heads up that not everyone will receive them with open arms. Hospitality will be welcomed and not always given. He tells the disciples, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Speaking of respecting local customs, that would have been offensive and Jesus knew that. It was either a decontamination rite or a ritual meant to be dismissive. Think about it as the opposite of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples which was something that servants did when entering a home to promote hospitality and decent hygiene. Before that tender ritual that will come later in their years together, Jesus helps his disciples think about dealing with rejection by moving on down the road to the next house that will hopefully receive them.
At the end of the day, this Gospel text helps us think about our own faith journeys. Yes, this is a story about the disciples literally traveling from village to village in the region of Galilee. However, this was a huge moment for them in the Jesus movement. Jesus entrusted them to go two by two to heal and spread his message. Jesus commanded his disciples to pack light. Take only your walking stick, the clothes on your back, and the shoes on your feet. Leave behind all that stuff that you don’t need to walk forward in faith and trust. And we can ask ourselves what these instructions mean for us.
Maybe we can leave behind jealousy, anger, revenge, pride, fear, pessimism—all that stuff that only serves to weigh us down and not enable us to respond to God calling us onward. We can travel light through this world. We can travel with one another, moving forward, not being weighed down in a negative way by the past. We take the essentials and we hit the road my friends. Just like the disciples were asked to do—trusting in one another, trusting that we will receive hospitality, and trusting that God goes with us wherever we go. For there is nowhere we can go away from God. And if we live our lives in faith and trust—sometimes we’ll end up in places we never even planned to go. Thanks be to God. Amen.