Just seeing it on the shelf at the library unleashed a flood of memories. The Next Whole Earth Catalog. It threw me 44 years into the past, when I bought The Last Whole Earth Catalog on a whim from the bookstore that was just across from the ice cream parlor where I worked. It was a game changer for me. If you don’t know about the Whole Earth Catalog, it was a Sears and Roebucks for the counter culture of the Sixties and Seventies. A lot of the stuff in it had generic appeal, but it was also where you could learn about home births, radical comics, native American lore, hitch-hiking across the USA, and my favorite, all you needed to live off the land, without having to be dependent on the society around you.
I think that appealed to the fifteen-year old in my because I wanted to be independent. I was living in my parents’ house, under the roof and under their rules. And the Whole Earth Catalog was my dream maker. Just as when I was a kid thumbing through the Sears catalog at Christmas hoping for really great gifts from Santa, I would turn page after page, dreaming of a life where I was the one in charge.
Not long after that my parents had one of those “Now-that-you-are-turning-sixteen-what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life?” talks. I may have told you this story before, but it is one of those pivotal stories on my life. I told exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to move to the mountains and live off the land. I wanted to find a commune and join others in living off the land. I was going to keep rabbits for fertilizers, goats for milk, grow my own food, make my own furniture, generally be free of society. Except for the people in the commune, and I knew that we would all be so cool, we just would not need anyone else in our lives. Sigh. The mind of a fifteen-year old. Never mind the fact that I hated gardening, wasn’t that good with tools, didn’t like cow’s milk or vegetables all that much.
My parents wisely overlooked the gross inconsistencies of my dream. My father just said, “Well, if you want to, I can send you to one of my uncles. They own farms, and you can spend the summer working for them.” I had seen those farms and they were the last place I wanted to spend a summer. My mother simply said, “Who is that going to help?” As I remember it, that is all she said. “Who is that going to help?”
What I got from that was that I was not here just to please myself. I was put here for others as well. I was fortunate to have all the advantages of a good life. But the point of my life was not just to enjoy the good fortune I had. It was also to help others who were not as fortunate. None of us are here solely for our own amusement. We were all here to help others.
Later I would read, in The Whole Earth Catalog, a quote from Buckminster Fuller, one of their leading visionaries: You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all you experience to highest advantage to others.
Two weeks I ago I said we were the calm place in the storm. Because of our faith in Christ, we know that he is more powerful than the storm, and depending on him, we do not have to fear the winds and rains of life. Last week I said we are the healing place, the place where people can come and experience the healing touch of Jesus. All of that takes place in the context of these walls, and within the context of our community here.
I did not preach on those topics because I felt we were steeped in turmoil, or an unhealthy congregation. I preached them to name what we are: calm in the storm, and a healing place. I preached them to encourage to continue on the path we are on, and to do an even better job of both. But both of the last two sermons focused on us—our life here, our spiritual community.
But this week’s text takes us to a different place. Or I should say, it sends us to a different place.
Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. Jesus did not come to start a commune. He did not call his disciples, and then buy some land, put up fences, and all groove together in harmony. Jesus never knew a wall in his life. Yes, he did form a community—the church—which should be able to exhibit to the world what it means to love your neighbor, but the church was never meant to have a wall around it. Nor were its members meant to stay within the community. The community was where they recharged their emotional and spiritual batteries. But they were sent out into the world.
And it says that Jesus gave them “authority over unclean spirits.” Now we can take that to mean that they could cast out demons, but if we look at it in a less literal way, Jesus is giving them the authority to attack, in the words of people who might have been heavily influenced by the Whole Earth Catalog, all the bad karma out there, all the negative waves.
When I was in college a group of us decided to play a joke on a friend of ours. Everyone who saw Barbara the next day would say something to her like, “Are you feeling ok? You look a bit peaked.” Most of us saw her the next day, and when I went to see her that night to tell her about the joke, she was sick in bed. I never realized how much we could affect people with our words. Now if that can happen, so can the opposite. Instead of gloom and doom, we can bring the hope of Jesus Christ to the lives of the people we see every day. Instead of strife and opposition we can bring reconciliation and peace. Instead of the steady stream of dehumanizing stabs we suffer on a daily basis, we can open our arms and hearts to people, treating them like children of God, whether they know they are or not. Those are the evil spirits of the day that we battle.
However I need to warn you that this passage starts with a warning. Jesus goes back to his home town, and he does not exactly come home as the favorite son of the community. In fact they basically said, “Look at Joe’s boy! It seems he has gotten a bit too big for his britches. Listen to him talking all high and mighty like that. He can’t tell us anything. We knew him when he was just a pup. He ain’t nothing.”
And then Mark tells us, “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” And a few sentences later, Jesus is sending the disciples and he tells them, “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.”
The lack of faith in the people can limit what Jesus and his disciples are able do. May that never be said of us. Never.
Nor let it be said that anyone’s disbelief ever affected our efforts. Not everyone will want what we got. Not everyone will be able to accept it. That’s OK. Jesus says, “Don’t let that get to you. Shake it off and move on. If this village is not open to the love of God, there are plenty out there that are open, and that need it. But don’t carry their rejection around as if it were YOUR failure. You don’t even have to get angry at them. Just shake the dust off your feet and move on.”
I preached the last two sermons, more to hold a mirror up for you, so we could see who we are in the eyes of God. I hope that as I was talking about being the calm in the storm, or being a healing place, you could see how we are those things, and how we are growing more into being better at those things.
The same is true of this sermon. I hope that as I was talking about Jesus sending us, you were seeing Wednesday Night Live, or the Food Bank, or Graceworks, or the sack lunch program. I hope you were thinking about all the people we help here, about how we are open to all people, not just people who look like us. I hope you were seeing in your mind’s eye, that we are a community that is sent out into the world.
Jesus sends us to serve others, just as he has served us. There are a hundred different ways we could spend our time and energy serving others. Every day we encounter different needs, different opportunities for service, different ways we can love our neighbors. I remember when some Russian priests visited Fairbanks. For most of them it was their first time in America. One of the priests wanted some cold cereal (which, coincidently, is the food of the month), so I took him to Fred Meyers to get some. He stood in the cereal aisle for about ten minutes, paralyzed by the choices he had.
I feel that way when I walk the streets of Medford. We could do this! We could do that! A shelter! A soup kitchen! Support Groups! Addiction issues! Health care! Outreach to millennials! Stop Gun violence! Refugees! Global Warming! We could focus on a different social issue every week of the year, and have plenty to go for next year. So how do we choose?
I have only one answer. We do what Jesus sends us to do. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
Now what Jesus sends us to do will be qualified by more than a couple of things. First and foremost, whatever we do must stem from the teachings of Jesus. You cannot be doing the work of Jesus if you are acting out of hate or fear. The work of Jesus is all about faith and love.
Second, it is what Jesus sends us to do, not what Jesus our neighbors to do. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ calling, even if it is cooler than yours.
Third, we must react to what burns in our hearts. What keeps you up at nights? When you see the news and hear yourself saying, “Someone ought to do something about that!” you may have just stumbled onto what God is calling you to do.
Fourth, you go through the doors that God opens for you. God will not call you to do something and then let you beat your head against a locked door. I’m not saying it will always be easy, but nor will it be impossible.
Finally, there will be other brothers and sisters in the faith who will support you. Odds are you will not find yourself all alone if you are doing what Jesus is calling you to do. That is not always the case. There are times when you stand for Jesus and you standing only with Jesus. But for the most part if God is calling you to something you will find other people who are called to the same thing.
Faith is the only treasure that increases as you give it away. Jesus sends us out so that we can experience the treasure we have in serving him. The disciples, after they were sent, came back rejoicing. They had authority over evil spirits and they could heal. If you think of the evil spirits that Mark is talking about as the storms of life, then they did exactly what we have been talking about for the last two weeks—providing calm in the storm, and a healing place.
That we are this kind of place is commendable—but only to the extent that we share it. Jesus said we were the Light of the World, and that you don’t light a light and then cover it with a sack. You let that light shine. To have a healing and calming community and keep it to yourself is not what Jesus would have us to do. After all, it’s not our community, although we are all part of it. It is his community. So let us share the good gifts that God has given us.
1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “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! 3Is 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?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.