What to Pack for the Journey

Preached on 3 July 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, WA
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year C

What would you pack for a journey?  Not just a weekend away, but a journey.  Would you “Be Prepared,” packing everything you can think of that just might come in handy?  Would you pack as light as possible, and plan to buy whatever you find you need once you get there.  After all, the people who live there seem to get along just fine with whatever they have available.  And you have a credit card in your wallet to get anything you need along the way.

Travel guru, Rick Steves, encourages us to pack light and enjoy the adventure of shopping in a foreign language and trying something new.

Perhaps you leave home with large, empty bags, filling them as you go with foreign treasures.  Or you may leave home with the smallest bag possible, carrying most of what you need in your heart and in your memory (and maybe your camera).

Jesus’ packing list is about as light as it can get:
The tunic you’re wearing.
No change of clothes.  Not even sandals.
No food, no money, no bag.  No way to provide for themselves or protect themselves.  In other words, they would be dependent on the hospitality of others.  They were sent into the world as guests.

And it wasn’t a mission without danger.  They risked the elements, hunger, rejection, injury, the dangers of the road.  Jesus told them they would be like sheep amongst wolves.

While the packing list was short, and the risks were significant, they took with them other treasures:
A partner.  They didn’t have to go alone; they could support and encourage each other, solve problems together, be companions.
Peace.  When they entered a house, they had their peace to offer.
Authority – to heal the sick and to overcome evil.
A Message.  The kingdom of God has come near.

Now before I go on, I’d like to offer a little context to the story.  Because of the wonders of the lectionary, we skip around a bit and even leave out some parts of the gospel.
Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus healing the man possessed by a demon and living in the tombs.  Last week, we heard about an inhospitable Samaritan village and about the hardships of being a disciple.

In between those two stories, Luke tells us stories about Jesus healing a woman with a hemorrhage and raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Jesus sends the twelve out much as he sends the 70 today, and he feeds of the five thousand. Peter proclaims Jesus as Christ and Jesus prophesies the passion.  Then there’s the Transfiguration and Jesus sets out for Jerusalem.  On the way, they go to the Samaritan village we heard about last week, where the people reject him because he has set his face for Jerusalem.

That brings us to today’s gospel.  Jesus sends 70 others.  It’s almost like a practice run, an internship.  They begin to find who they are in relation to God and to the world.  They discover the authority and power of God working through them.

Jesus sends them with a Mission and a Method.  The Mission is to heal the sick, to spread the Peace of God, and to proclaim the Message, the Kingdom of God has come near.  Notice that whether the people welcome them or reject them, they are to proclaim the kingdom.

The Method is to be a guest; to be vulnerable and dependent.  Hospitality is a relationship between host and guest.  Each has responsibilities and obligations.  We may prefer to be the host because we feel more in control and less vulnerable.  And when we’re a guest, we may expect simply to be served.  But the guest has obligations as well – to graciously receive what is offered (“eat what is placed before you”) and to graciously offer what they have.  In this case, Peace, Healing, the Message of the Kingdom.

We would do well to remember that really, we are always guests.  Sometimes we need to shift our perspective a little to see that, though, so here’s a little story from my own house.  We have an old kitty who pretty much lives on our bed.  She gets down from time to time during the day to eat or drink or use the litter box, but for the most part, she spends her whole life on the bed.  It’s her world.

And then, every night, we invade.  We take up most of the space and shove her over.  We act like we own the place!  Now I don’t think we are entirely unwelcome in her world; she does seem to enjoy the warmth of the extra bodies, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t see herself as the guest in our bed.

Whether we’re walking through the woods or along the beach or down the street downtown, we are walking through someone’s home.  What kind of guests are we?  How are we expressing hospitality to our hosts?  How are we living God’s message that the Kingdom of God, the Commonwealth of God has come near?

You are beginning a new journey together as a Community of Faith.  It is a time to explore and discover who you are as a community, and who you are becoming.  A time to try something new; to practice your mission.  It’s a time to notice what God is already doing in our midst and to discern where God is inviting us to go as a guest and what we are to graciously offer our hosts.

As we set out together, what are we willing to set aside to make room for God?  What do we want to take with us?  Here’s my suggested packing list:

  • Open hearts and minds; eyes to see and ears to listen
  • Tenderness, compassion, and patience, not just for others, but for yourself as well.
  • Curiosity and a sense of Wonder.
  • Willingness to depend on one another and to be dependable.
  • Helping hands.
  • Understanding.  Understanding that the journey is not easy or straight or short.  It may have strange turns and stumbling blocks, but the Holy Spirit is there to guide us, even if we take a wrong turn.
  • Expectation – not of specific outcomes, but expectation that God will indeed show up; that you will encounter God in unexpected people and experiences; that people are good and are acting in what they understand as the best interests of the community and of the Mission of God.
  • Joy and Delight. Remember that the seventy returned rejoicing in what they had done and seen!

And in all this, to be guided by prayer.  The Collect for today seems particularly appropriate for this journey. O God, You have taught us to love you and our neighbor:  Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord.