Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
There is a great paradigm or paradox in scripture (what else is new, right?). In the Old Testament those that have much are generally the ones that God seems to favor: kings, particularly, or other religious leaders like Samuel, even while the prophets call those people in power to remember the poor and the stranger or foreigner among them. In the New Testament witness, those who have are often seen as selfish or not ones to be imitated; Jesus speaks a lot about economic balance and the righteousness of the poor.
But there is one message that is constant throughout scripture: no matter who we are – rich, poor, or something in between; foreign born or native – we are all called to 1) repentance so that we may 2) cast all our cares, devotion and trust upon the One who made us and sustains us.
So, in Mark today (a story that is told in Matthew as well), Jesus sends the disciples out with essentially nothing. No extra food, clothing, no money (in case they get into a financial bind). They are only to take a walking staff to steady themselves along the way. They are, it would seem, at the mercy of the world. Jesus is not physically going with them; they are going to practice being disciples on their own, a trial run for the real thing, when Jesus is physically away for good.
And we contrast it with the story of King David (2 Samuel 5), who has power and a royal see in Jerusalem. David, after becoming King of both Israel and Judah, has it all, it would seem, including God’s favor. Jesus’ disciples are being sent out with the clothes on their backs.
Sometimes it seems that we are being asked to live out the good news of Jesus without much help. We may feel bereft of so many things in life. But, in my experience, it is often the people who have the least that are able to be the most faithful. The most joyful worship I have experienced has been in poor communities in the U.S., or in even poorer communities in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, or ones I have heard of in sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes, when we have nothing left to hold onto, we fall most fully into the arms of Jesus.
When we were recently in the Dominican Republic, on our first full day, the mission team (along with the team from Tampa, 21 of us in total), celebrated in worship with the Dominican congregation San Mattías, a few hundred yards from where we slept each night. The congregation had few amenities: no organ (there are few in the DR), no piano or keyboard; only a set of drums played enthusiastically (and loudly) by a young man we got to know well over the course of our week there. But their worship was joyful, with clapping and singing and a full-blown lovefest at the peace, with hugs all around. They came to Communion reverently, even though it was administered by the American with the bad Spanish. And there was a sense that God saturated their thinking and viewing of the world, even though they had very little, compared to us in the western world. There is a trust and hope in God’s promises, a sense of casting cares on God that is part of their living of their daily lives that may escape us here.
God in Christ is a powerful force in the world, one that can bring light into the darkness of poverty, violence, and hopeless situations. Jesus’ disciples are not alone, after all, nor are they empty-handed, as He sends them out, two by two, to minister and heal. Our Lord always goes with us and, if we trust in His presence and power, we can experience joy and hope, even in the most trying of times.
Even we, who have so much, as a whole, can experience this too. King David’s life saw strife, in spite of his wealth and power. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, an abuse of his power against not only her husband but of her, as well, and compounded this sin by having her husband killed, to cover up her pregnancy by David, a product of their affair. But David found a way, through repentance, a need to turn back to God, and thereby re-centering his life and trust in the God who gave Him strength and life.
Paul remembered that, sometimes, our strength and power can be a stumbling block for us, as it was for him, and God may remind us of our own weakness, our pride and sense of importance, as a blessed reorientation of our life on God’s goodness, love, grace, and forgiveness alone. The thorn in the flesh that Paul speaks of was his reminder that even though he was humanly flawed and weak, God made him strong enough to see God’s grace, right before him, to guide him forward on the journey. We need little in this life, as long as we remember God is with us as the source of hope and strength.
So, may our staff be our faith, as we go out into the world, whether we are wealthy or poor, sick or in health, to proclaim the news that Jesus loves us, no matter who we are. Faith is that sense that no matter what challenges we face, God is with us; no matter the situation, or the pain. We are sent out in community, too, so let us not feel we are called to go on this journey alone but to make relationships, based on the good news of Jesus, that we may help each other along the way.