Pentecost 7B – July 8, 2018

“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment….” Mark 6:8
Next Sunday morning, July 15th, at 5:30 am, 21 of our youth and adults will meet another group of youth and adults from St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Devon in their parking lot. After loading up knap sacks and sleeping bags, praying for safe travel and a good week, they will set off for Kentucky where through the Appalachian Service Project they will work to make homes safer, warmer, drier. It is our first ASP mission trip and while the group is very excited, I suspect they are also a tad apprehensive. What will it be like? Where will they sleep? What about showers? Will there be cell phone service? Will they get along with each other? Will they like the people? Will the people like them? Will they have the skills, patience, and energy they need? What will happen if? And what about that?
In our Gospel today, we meet the disciples as they are being sent out on a mission trip. Unlike the 49 years of experience behind ASP and the months of planning here at St. John’s, their trip is impromptu. It could be that after Jesus was poorly received by the people of his hometown of Nazareth, he’s decided to find out if his disciples will be more effective. Was the problem the message, the messenger or the listeners?
Jesus sends his disciples two by two – to divide the burdens and multiply the joys. They go as a team. When in the Spring of 1975 I arrived at Emanuel Lutheran Church in South Philly for an urban study intensive the first thing the Pastor of Emanuel did was find me a partner. It wasn’t another member of the staff, but one of the congregation. He asked me to go visit Mrs. Vivian Lane and said, “She has a lot going on.” I suspect he’d stopped by her house to ask, “Would you spend some time with our new college student? She has lots to learn.” The next Thursday afternoon I knocked on Mrs. Vivian’s door, she invited me in and went to turn off her soap opera. When I said All My Children was a favorite, we watched it together. Then every Thursday at 1 pm, the misadventures of Erica Kane and the residents of Pine Valley became the common ground between a naïve Pennsylvania Dutch college student from Emmaus and Mrs. Vivian, an African American grandmother living in the Southwark Housing Project. During the commercials, burdens were shared and joys multiplied as she taught me more about life, mission and ministry than I’ll ever realize.
Jesus sends his disciples two by two so that they will have mutual support, working together, caring for one another. But also, mutual accountability staying focus on the mission and not getting discouraged. In the same way, our group of 21 will work in teams with one another, but also with homeowners and ASP staff. No one goes alone, but always with a brother or sister in Christ.
Then Jesus grants them authority, saying, “You can do this because God is with you!” Such confidence in us can be a little un-nerving. On June 18th, the first day of Vacation Bible School, the staff gathered at 8:30 am to get organized. Everyone was put into teams and then given their mission instructions – to love God, love the children and make sure everyone drinks enough water. Love and hydrate. “You can do this,” they were told and after a prayer they went forth to serve with enthusiasm. Especially so on Wednesday, water play day, when they were hydrating everywhere. It was a wet, joyous mess.
Next Jesus tells his disciples to travel light. In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates his instruction this way, “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment.” What an amazing thing Jesus says to his rag tag crew – some fishermen, a tax collector, a couple of guys mainly known for losing their tempers, not a well-traveled, moneyed, educated guy in the bunch. Yet Jesus says they are enough to accomplish the mission. He tells them, indeed, tells us, you don’t need a lot of extra equipment for this. You with your particular history and distinctive personality are the equipment. You with your unique combination of strengths and weaknesses, successes and screw ups, hopes and regrets, joys and sorrows – the real authentic you – you are the right equipment for the job of moving God’s kingdom forward.
There is such power and grace in this. You are the equipment – not if you hadn’t done such and such, you could’ve been the equipment. Not if you do this and that, you might be able to be the equipment. ASP folks listen, for even if you do not know how to hammer in a nail, you are still the right equipment. Everything that has happened in your life, the good and the bad has combined to make you who you are in this moment. You are what Jesus needs to spread the good news of God’s love, justice and forgiveness throughout the world. It’s hard to believe this – the good stuff, well maybe, but the bad – our mistakes and failures, the anger we carry inside or the grief and hurt, our doubts and uncertainties, how some days we don’t know if we believe anything at all, surely this limits us in some way? No. All of them shape us and teaches us something. They give us a perspective and can be a bridge between us and someone else.
Could that be why Jesus sends the disciples out on a mission trip on the heels of his rejection at Nazareth? Maybe he wanted them to take that experience of frustration and disappointment with them, so that they would learn that even the difficult and painful things they experience in their lives have meaning and purpose in God’s mission to love and bless the world. Maybe the problem wasn’t the message, messenger or the even listeners, but simply that there are times and places of brokenness, when God does not seem to be present. And yet, God is there on the cross, there in the dying, there bringing a promise of a new day, even if no one recognizes it to be so. God is still there.
I remember one day asking Mrs. Vivian about the pictures that hung on her living room wall. There was one of President John Kennedy and another of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were surrounded by the military pictures of her sons and the school pictures of her grandkids. She said, “When the President was shot, it was so sad. But when Dr. King was killed, my heart broke and I lost hope. But then I thought about God and how his only son was killed and of my children and hope found me again.
The disciples took off on their mission trip with nothing but themselves and yet it was all that they needed. Mark tells us, “they preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different, right and left they sent demons packing, they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.” Amazing, isn’t it?
Our ASP team was also told to travel light – some work pants and shirts, a hat, socks, sturdy shoes, sleeping bag, towel and for their construction work eye and ear protection, work gloves, a hammer, tape measure, dust mask and nail apron. The most important thing they will take is themselves and that will be more than enough. I’ve seen what members of this team can do – they are really good at loving God and loving others, even when they’re hot and tired. They are the equipment!
God’s on a mission to love and bless this world and invites us to be his partners. God gives us authority and empowers us with the Holy Spirit. God blesses us with one another as companions on the journey. That’s all we need to share God’s love to bless the world. Thanks be to God! Amen.

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville