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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
July 04, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When it comes to discipleship, the act of following Jesus, a lot of people tend to think it’s easy to do. You simply go to the places where Jesus would have gone and do the things that he did.
But going into the places that Jesus did and spending time with the people there isn’t always easy. A lot of times it pushes us and makes us uncomfortable. But it’s in those places of discomfort that we grow as Jesus’ disciples, because it’s in those places that our understanding and experience of who God is becomes greater than it was before.
We recognize that when we read and hear about Jesus’ teachings and how that shaped the people who directly experienced it from him. And the ways those experiences were received depended on who you were.
In the first story in today’s gospel reading, the people who – in theory – knew and loved Jesus best, didn’t like it so much. They had a fixed idea of who he was and, therefore, a fixed idea of who he could become. So, when he did more than they expected not only did it catch them off guard, they also talked bad about him and rejected him. It’s like they thought he wasn’t ever allowed to be more than a carpenter.
But instead of backing down, in effect Jesus shook the dust off his feet, turned to the disciples and said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to go.” And in Mark’s gospel, this is the beginning of the transformation of the relationship between Jesus and the twelve.
The disciples simply began as Jesus’ followers – literally. They went from place to place with him, observing the things he did and how others received his message – or didn’t receive it. And they asked a lot of questions.
But by the end of today’s reading, who they were as Jesus’ followers had deepened and they weren’t only observing anymore. They had taken on the role of the one they were following and had been given his authority. And regardless of who or what you follow, that’s what discipleship is at its core.
So as followers of Jesus, the disciples were sent out to bear witness to God’s love, grace, forgiveness, justice, and mercy to all people – just as he had done.
And when they went, Jesus told them to take only what was necessary – basically the clothes on their backs and a walking stick. No bread, no money, not even an extra tunic to help them keep warm at night.
They had to be utterly dependent on God, and if they’d had anything else with them, they wouldn’t have had that vulnerability and it would’ve gotten in the way of their mission. Because they weren’t sent out to do whatever they wanted apart from Jesus. Instead, their actions extended his ministry outward – like spokes on a wheel.
It was their responsibility to make God’s will known, and to do God’s work in the world. And as they did, their understanding of who God is deepened because they experienced God more fully than they had before through the people and situations they encountered.
And once they’d had those experiences, there was no going back to who they were before – no matter what anyone thought about who they should or shouldn’t be allowed to become.
Part of the reason for their transformation is that Jesus knew they were ready for it. The other part is that the disciples listened when Jesus said, “Go with the clothes you’re wearing and a walking stick.” Because they weren’t literally weighed down with the burden of things they’d typically carry for a journey of that type, they were freed up to receive hospitality from others.
And through that hospitality, they experienced God – Jesus – in ways they wouldn’t have been able to if they’d carried all their stuff with them. And, ultimately, that is what allowed them to continue Jesus’ teachings and ministry after his ascension – further deepening their relationship with God.
When we think about what it means to be Jesus’s disciples today, receiving hospitality from others isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. We always want to give, right? Because that’s what we’re taught to do. It’s the polite thing to do. But it’s also very one-sided.
So, receiving is equally as important, especially when it comes to hospitality. It makes us vulnerable, which can make us uncomfortable. But it’s in those places of discomfort that we grow as Jesus’ disciples, because it’s in those places that our understanding and experience of who God is becomes greater than it was before.
When I served in Costa Rica, I coordinated short-term mission trips for groups from ELCA congregations that wanted to come and serve alongside the communities of the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica. When they arrived, I always asked, “Why did you come? What are your hopes and expectations for this experience?”
And they almost always answered, “I want to give. I want to help.” Very typical answers, and very much in line with what we’re taught to do. While they were there, whatever their service project was, the groups worked together with the people in the community.
But part of their itinerary usually included a few hours spent in the homes of the people they were working alongside of.
The people in the Costa Rican church communities didn’t speak much English at all, and a lot of people in the ELCA groups didn’t speak Spanish. And this was back in the early 2000’s, so Google translate didn’t exist. So the non-Spanish speakers went into those home visits with basically their daypacks and that was it.
And they were nervous and unsure of what to expect – let alone unsure of how they were going to communicate. All they could do was receive the hospitality from their hosts.
When they came back from those visits, their perspective about God and God’s activity in that community was different. It had deepened. Their hearts were opened in ways they couldn’t have imagined – it was like blinders had been removed from their eyes.
It changed the way they approached the rest of their time in the communities. They didn’t just “show up to work” on their service project. They took time to seek out the people whose homes they’d been in and say, “Buenos días, ¿cómo está?” before starting work for the day.
Ultimately, the experience deepened their relationship with God. And that wouldn’t have happened if they’d stayed in a position of only giving to those communities.
As disciples, as people who follow Jesus, part of bearing witness to God’s love, grace, forgiveness, justice, and mercy to all people means receiving hospitality from others – as individuals and as a congregation.
Being in a position to receive hospitality opens our hearts to what God is doing in our lives in our congregation and in the world. And it does it in a way that can’t happen if we’re always the ones who are giving because that keeps the relationship one-sided.
When we spend time with people who’ve had life experiences that are different from ours, and we’re willing to enter into that time with only the clothes on our backs, it deepens our understanding of God and God’s activity in the world because we learn about it from a different perspective.
It isn’t always comfortable because it breaks us loose from the ways of thinking that we get locked into. But is also allows us to consider new possibilities for our own lives and even new ways of being church in the world.
Following Jesus, bearing witness to him, is more than just giving of his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It’s also making sure we receive those same things from others. Each time we do, it deepens our experience of God in our lives and in the world. And, ultimately, it deepens our relationship with God. Thanks be to God! Amen.