Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

Take Nothin’ for the Journey

Sunday, July 9, 2006

 

 

Mark 6: 1-13

 



 

 

Let’s begin our ministry together with a confession:  I’ll go first.  I am the difficult middle child some of you may have heard of or been warned about. I’m sure there are others like me out there among you all. I spent the better part of my growing up years striving for my own identity, my own place in this world that didn’t link me with anyone else – not Dave or Donna’s daughter, not Doug’s little sister or Deborah’s older sister.  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to be connected to any of them - I just wanted to be known for me and who I was and what I could do. This is often the lament of some kids with sibs or well-known parents.  Sometimes people feel disempowered or demeaned when they are reminded they are only someone’s daughter, son, sister or brother.

           

It is somewhat comforting to know that Jesus experienced similar familial dynamics and the dilemma of being known by one’s own works.  When Jesus returned to his hometown, he too was subjected to some chiding by the townies there. Perhaps they thought he had become too big for his Nazarian britches (after all, he had just come from a nearby community where he did receive some serious accolades for all the healing he’d provided). It started simply enough – he ran into a very disturbed man by the sea in Gerasenes. At first folks thought the healing was amazing, but then they chased Jesus out of town.  Sensational press is not always good press. The man who was healed was directed by Jesus to go home and tell them his story.

 

So Jesus left and crossed the sea, there meeting a man whose daughter was ill and requested Jesus’ presence to help make his daughter well.  On the way to help the little girl, he was surrounded by folks who wanted to catch a glimpse of the man whose deeds had preceded him.  During his encounter with the crowd, Jesus felt his energy being drawn from him.  As it turned out, a woman of great faith reached for his robe – an act which would prove to involve Jesus in yet another healing phenomenon. He finally arrived at the home of the sick child, who appeared to have died while her father was out seeking Jesus.  Jesus took her by the hand and she rose from her illness. 

 

So when Jesus arrived in his hometown, news of his conduct had reached those who knew him when he was “just Joe and Mary’s son.”  He spoke in the synagogue, initially making a good impression. But he will still “just Joe and Mary’s son” – just the son of a laborer and his much younger wife.  Folks in his hometown weren’t at all awed by the tales of his works – they knew him when.

 

Most of us are not comfortable being remembered by our childhood antics or attitudes.  I remember being required to make an argument for the death penalty as part of a class project when I was in the 5th grade.  Our group received an A.  We’d done a good job promoting the societal benefits and rewards of capital punishment.  I don’t remember feeling particularly passionate about the issue itself, but I do remember being very proud of my team’s achievements. Recently the state of Vermont experienced great strife and conflict over the issue of the death penalty when a federal murder case was tried in Burlington.  Currently Vermont doesn’t impose capital punishment, but since the case was being tried in a federal court, the death penalty was an option for sentencing.  I stood together with many folks on the day of the sentencing, offering my presence, my passion, and witness in opposition to a sentence of death for Donald Fell. In spite of the huge resistance and desires for a more peaceful and just outcome, Vermont was thrust into the national debate as a location where capital punishment now has been imposed.  No one would ever think of holding the success of my 5th grade project against me as I acted for justice.  No, I wouldn’t want to be compared to the stories and remembrances from my childhood.  BTW - You all are fortunate in that my mom is here today, and she might be willing to tell the really good stories.

 

What I think these folks from Jesus’ hometown may have forgotten was that he was a product of his environment.  He came from there, he learned the law there, he learned to love there, and he learned how to live there.  Jesus didn’t just exist and wait to become the Messiah growing up; he began to grow into his place and vocation during his time there.  The community that helped raise him gave him skills that he would need in his life work. So when they rejected him, they rejected what he had taken with him when he left.

 

After he was turned away in his own hometown, the scriptures tell us that “he could do no deed of power there…” except that his compassion would not allow him to stop healing people.  Those acts of power could not be limited.  Perhaps the deed Mark referred to was simply the ability for Jesus to capture people’s imaginations with his promises of God’s love and grace.  Perhaps it was clear that these folks might never hear it, so Jesus moved on.  Sometimes it is apparent that others don’t sense our passion for ministry or life work, so being faithful means moving on.  And it may mean that we need to leave behind us the things that disconnect us from our call – things like negativity, a sense of defeat, ridicule, and maybe the pain of not having our gifts received well.

 

So Jesus moved on, inviting 12 friends to come along with him.  But they weren’t going to stay with him for long.  He invited them to leave him, going out 2 by 2.  Eugene Peterson in his interpretation of Scripture called The Message writes that “[Jesus] gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition,” perhaps the kind of opposition Jesus had just experienced in a town where everyone knew his name.  The disciples were going out, perhaps to places where they were known, perhaps not.

 

Jesus’ instructions were clear:  except a staff, sandals and only one tunic, they were to take nothing for the journey.  After having packed and moved during the past two weeks, I sometimes wish I’d had that requirement place upon me!

 

Why a staff and nothing else?  No food and no money– but a staff?  The image of a staff brings to mind pastoral scenes of rolling green hillsides dotted with sheep.  Perhaps Jesus was encouraging the disciples to begin to claim a role of shepherd, a guide for the lost sheep of God.  Well, I didn’t bring a staff with me, but I do come to you with a deep and humble desire to offer myself as a guide to this congregation.  The staff can also be a symbol of authority, and I come as one with authority, taking that on when I was ordained. 

 

Next - one of my favorite instructions from Jesus:  “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.”  While a bit amusing in it’s wording, I think Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about presence – be with the people they were with in the moment.  Be present to them, listen to them, don’t start thinking about your next gig until you are done with the place you’re at.  As someone who has just left one people and has come to be among another, I can tell you that it’s not an easy thing to do well.  Since the end of May, I have felt like a person with one part of myself in Vermont and another in DC.  Since my arrival, I catch myself still referring to the church in Burlington my church, and a part of that church will always be with me.  All the other churches that I’ve served or attended have given me something to take with me on my way, most of which weren’t things. So too will I receive much from Foundry that I’ll take for my continuing journey with God. My attentions and intentions are here now, with you all at Foundry and our life and ministry together.  I look forward to what we have to share with one another as we journey together on the Way.  

 

Jesus offered a third instruction, one which most assuredly must have come from his own experience in not being received well.  If the people you are encountering do not receive what you have to give, shake the dust from your feet and move on.  I don’t see this as Jesus telling the disciples to say, “So there” and such.  But rather, he asked them to make good use of their time, recognizing when their time among a certain people were done and the time had indeed come to go and be with others who desired the words and deeds they had to share. Perhaps it’s as simple as this:  the seeds that we plant don’t always bloom while we’re around.  We don’t always have the opportunity to reap what we have sown.

 

It is somewhat ironic and often uncomfortable for most clergy when this passage comes along in the lectionary during the end of June and the beginning of July – traditionally a time of leave-taking and new appointments among United Methodist clergy.  I have come to love the freedom this directive offers.  Release from one appointment allows us to be accepted and received by another.  Jesus’ disciples were released from the responsibility of taking care of folks that couldn’t respond to their ministry, and freed to move toward those who might find comfort and healing from them.    The symbolic act of shake dust off our feet can help us leave what needs to be left, and move into the future.

 

These are the shoes I worn on my feet the last time I was in the church in Burlington.  As I left out the south entrance of the church and headed for my car, I took off these shoes and shook them a little.  I loved serving there, and I came to love those with whom I served.  While I’ve brought plenty of things for my journey that are in boxes in our home and in my office, I’ve left behind a fruitful ministry with the people there that will continue long after I’m gone.  But my time there is done, and I look forward to getting your dust and the dust of all the saints who have preceded us onto these sandals. 

 

I will share with you the final prayer I left with my congregation in Vermont.  It comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, a church with whom Paul is purported to have had a close and happy relationship:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow

more and more with knowledge and full insight

to help you to determine what is best…

-Philippians 1:9-10 (NRSV)

 

May we work together to determine what is best for Foundry and all the people we serve. May we grow close in Christ, and may our time together be fruitful and blessed.  AMEN.

 

 

www.foundryumc.org