Sunday, June 28, 2015

As Those Who Are Sent: Just Go!

Mark 6:1-13

I woke up early on Friday morning. I had checked email and poked around on Facebook. While awake, It had been a long and full week though, and I did not yet feel like moving much, so I scrolled across the screen, taking in the other options on my IPad. I had forgotten that some time ago I had installed a "Yoga Studio" and had yet to try the only 'session' I had downloaded. "Beginner's Balance" has been staring at me for some time, but while I know yoga is good for me? It is surely not my gift and so I had declined the invitation to go any further than downloading the free application. 

I had a little time though and so I opened it up and started watching the program. No, of course, one is not meant only to watch it, but somehow it pulled me in. The young woman modeling the poses made it look so easy. The relaxing tones of the music accompanying her carried me into a kind of zone all on their own. However, about halfway through the thirty minute program I grew bored. I closed it out and moved on to other matters. And then I decided to open it up again and try it for myself. I figured no one would know if I quit early.

Some of it was familiar for I had practiced those poses when I was regularly part of a class. Others? They were familiar and just like I couldn't do them before, I still couldn't do them now. At least not well. And others? Well, I'd never heard of them and I remain convinced my body wasn't made to move in those ways.

No matter. The thirty minutes passed more quickly than I would have imagined and as I sat still and breathed deeply as I finished, I felt relaxed and focused. And the next day when I did it again? Though far from perfect, it was a little bit easier...

One can watch and enjoy and yes, vicariously experience some of the gifts. And of course, it always helps to watch someone else who is really good at something in order to learn. But if one only sits and watches? Well, you certainly don't experience all the benefits. It never really becomes your own.

At least in part, I expect this is why we see Jesus sending his disciples out in pairs to be and do who and what they are called to be and do in this week's reading from Mark. They've been tagging along, watching and listening as he preaches and teaches and heals. But just like with my yoga practice, if one only watches another do it? One never experiences the gifts --- or, in this case, has the chance to share those gifts with others.

Now we don't hear the details of how their journeys out into the world went. We don't hear whether they got it "right" the first time or if it took a few attempts before they found their groove. We don't hear whether they were welcomed or rejected --- although Jesus' instructions to them indicate they could anticipate that not everyone would receive them well. We do hear that they did their share of preaching and that they had some success against demons and that they encountered a whole lot of sick people whom they anointed with oil and were able to cure. But first we hear that they went. And preached and stood against evil and brought healing. But if they had not first gone, none of the rest would have happened.

I just completed a day long certification to teach a workshop offered by  Church Innovations called Dwelling in the World. The scripture that grounds this practice is Luke's parallel to Mark's version of the sending of the disciples this week. (Luke 10:1-12)  Luke's version offers more detail, yes, but in both examples the disciples are sent and they go. 

The practice of Dwelling in the World is not complicated. Surely it presupposes that we are sent into the world by Jesus, but the name of Jesus may not be spoken again. At least not the first time one does it. Or the second. Or maybe even the fiftieth. It simply invites us to go into the world to those places we already go, but to intentionally engage those we encounter. To strike up a conversation with the young man checking you out at the grocery store. Or the librarian behind her desk. Or, as in my case this week, the funeral director whose story I did not know before.

This is how it was for me. I officiated at a funeral last week. One of the staff gave me a ride back to the funeral home from the cemetery that morning. While we have worked together before, I don't recall that Debbie and I had ever spent much time in conversation before. Perhaps we'd never have the chance. This time, though, as she drove she marveled out loud at the number of children the deceased had --- eight of them, in fact. She wondered at how one could keep up with the needs of so many when she struggled with her one. I asked her about her daughter. Debbie told me she was seventeen. I asked if she was a senior. "Well," she said. "Actually, she has Down Syndrome." And she went on to share how interesting it is to parent a teenager who, in many ways, has the capacity of a six year old. "What is it," she asked, "what is it that makes any teenager, regardless of their developmental age, feel a need to blast their music?"  

Prior to that moment, I had no idea of the texture of Debbie's life, although I have worked alongside her a dozen times before. All it took was one question and I had an opening into her world. One I can follow up on the next time we meet.

Or this. The other day I met a friend for lunch at Panera. We were deep in conversation about our two congregations when the young man at the table next to us interrupted to ask if we would watch his computer while he went to the restroom. As he made his way, I glanced at where he was sitting and noticed he had a pile of theology books there. When he returned, I asked what he was working on. His Master of Divinity, it turns out. He's hoping to obtain a position as a youth pastor at a church in southern Minnesota next year. His name is Dave. We promised him our prayers. I may never see him again, but I expect all of our days were fuller in the best kind of way because we encountered each other. At least I know mine was.

Now if you know me, you know that I am by nature an introvert. Meeting strangers has never come easily to me and I have spent most of my life avoiding it. It is only in these last years that I have found the courage to more deeply engage the stranger, across the counter, at the next table, even in the car seat next to me on the way back from the cemetery. And yet, the mission we are called to today has us encountering strangers. And I have discovered that much of the time, when I do so, my day becomes richer. I hope it is also so for those I encounter in this way. In this way, to be sure, we have a chance to embody God's kindness. In this way we get a more nuanced sense of the lives of others around us. In this way, we know more deeply the needs of our neighbors whose names we may not even know. In this way, perhaps we begin to go exactly where Jesus' disciples went so long ago --- carrying nothing but their hearts, their spirits, and the example of Jesus, they encountered the world. They were sent. So are we.

And it's hard to say who benefited most --- the disciples or those they encountered --- when they returned.  This much must have been so though. They were never going to experience the power of following Jesus if they didn't just go. Oh yes, what a difference there is between only watching and doing.  And today? Along with those disciples, we are sent.  We are called to go, too!

  • I offer my experience with yoga as something that can't only be 'watched' in order to reap all of its benefits. What experience do you have in this way? How does this serve as a parallel to the disciples' experience today?
  • How do you imagine it was for the twelve who Jesus sent today? Do you think they 'got it right' the first time? Why or why not?
  • What stories can you tell of times you have encountered strangers? Were you sent by Jesus? What makes you answer as you do?
  • Where are you being 'sent?' Where is your congregation being 'sent?' What would it mean to 'just go?'