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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Were the Disciples Ready - 07/04/2021

We had a good bible study session on this text Wednesday night. The disciples being sent out in small groups is good modeling behavior for bible study. That is not to say individual study of the bible is unhelpful or less than fruitful. I have regularly occurring “a-ha” moments when I’m studying the bible on my own.

I must also admit that it becomes a different kind of study in pairs or groups – suddenly you are able to see things in new ways, see different perspectives, hear God in new ways, and grow in Christian fellowship. It’s affirming too because others bear witness to how you hear God’s guidance and wisdom through scripture. One could say the difference between individual bible study and group bible study is a matter of well-roundedness.

One of our study resources this past week asked a question that I have been thinking about ever since, in one way or another. It’s about the second part of our reading today, where Jesus sends the disciples out to various parts of the region with “authority over unclean demons” (6.7).

The idea of the disciples having and using this “authority” would have been alarming. These disciples were not socially fit to be received by most, at least in the social hierarchy and structures of the time. They were mostly laborers, fisherman, fringy people, women, tax collectors, people who didn’t seem to belong or fit the expected or prescribed mold. They were not a particularly educated lot.

These people were at the bottom of the social hierarchies of that first century world. And this hierarchy was a powerful force in Jesus’ time.

We are reminded of how powerful hierarchy can be in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. Notice the passive aggressive hints going on here. Where did Jesus get this wisdom and power, some begin to ask? This is out of order. “Is not this the carpenter?” … carpenters are important, and certainly among God’s beloved, I think we can all agree. Here however, the title carpenter holds little, if any social honor and clout.

They continue, “…the son of Mary” and sibling to a bunch of other equally ill-placed and unimpressive relations. They are mounting public opinion against Jesus. Notice Jesus’ father is not mentioned … it is a strong and socially deadly suggestion, of course … Jesus is illegitimate, they are intimating; born out of wedlock, his mother is a whore. “And they took offense at him.” (6.3)

This rejection at home in the synagogue is a brutal affair, have no doubt about that. And if that’s how they are going to treat Jesus, how do we suppose a bunch of laborers, fisherman, fringy people, women, tax collectors, and people who don’t seem to belong or fit the mold are going to fare?

And wait! That’s not all, their steadfast and abundantly loving teacher told them. They were sent out to unfamiliar places with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, the sandals on their feet, and a stick. They would be completely dependent on God and the gracious hospitality of others.

When they were not received, when people laughed at the lowly laborer or “outsider” with the ability and will to heal; when people pretended not to see their hunger or need for shelter, they were to move on, Jesus instructed. Do not carry the weight of that rejection. Shake it off, Jesus said. … if you don’t, it will collect and grow so heavy that you mire yourself needlessly on the journey.

Jesus was leading them into experiences that made them physically inhabit the two primary points of his teaching. Love of God and only God, and love of neighbor. Being faithful to these commandments – our Christian beacons of truth and freedom, is entirely dependent on our ability to trust in God and only God and to practice our ability to receive the love of neighbor.

It’s brilliant, as Jesus is. And it’s also hard sometimes – putting your whole body into your Christian identity like that. Leaning into your faith like that.

And so, the bible study question that has been following me since Wednesday night is, “Do you sense the disciples are ready for these responsibilities.”

My first response? Ha! No! They don’t even seem to know who Jesus really is – or maybe they have an inkling with no true confidence to really believe it.

The only beings who have recognized Jesus for who he really is so far are the demons. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God,” (Mark 1.24) said the man with an unclean spirit in chapter one. The disciples and followers have witnessed Jesus casting out demons and healing more people than they could count already. And yet when Jesus spoke “Peace! Be still!” to quiet raging seas, they said “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4.41) And when Jesus asked who touched him from a crowd of people pressing in on all sides, they said, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5.31)

They don’t seem ready.

And not only that, but – this is asking a lot, Jesus!

Imagine what the disciples must have felt and thought when Jesus began to explain his plan, his intensive field education curriculum, to the disciples …

… imagine when he began to carefully match people up to go out 2x2 for a new Way of testifying to the one true God … a way in which one is blessed by God and therefore becomes a blessing to others, and then, because of that, is blessed by God some more, and so on and so forth …

… imagine what the disciples must have felt when Jesus began to quiz them and talk with them about what it means to be a healing presence to others, to help welcome the fringy and ex-communicated back into community.

Imagining like this makes me think of the black rocks in Marquette. I have not been able to get myself to jump from them, inviting as those Lake Superior waters can be. I see others, including my own kids and grandkids do it. I know it is a possible thing – that I’m most like to survive that leap of faith. But when I get up there and look at the water, I might as well be jumping into a wormhole in the universe somewhere. I just cannot seem to make myself do it.

On a more serious note, I also think of my call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I resisted this call in one way or another, for much of my life. It’s strange and kind of wonderful to think of that now because I cannot remember what it is to be other than a pastor. I am surprised at my resistance in retrospect.

So no, I do not sense the disciples were ready for these responsibilities.

And all the while, I’m also thinking: That is not unlike so many of us disciples today. Right?

It’s still an alarming idea to be sent out like this by Jesus, to be commissioned in the Jesus-following Way. “Who me?” we may instinctively respond as Jesus suggests his intensive field education curriculum for us. You, go tell the story of the Risen Christ to others … You, go tend to the dying … You, go be a healing presence to the forgotten people … You,  go name those persistent demons and bring God’s beloved back into community… You,  to come this table and eat and drink of what God promises will fulfill you eternally … because nothing else can.

Who me?

In short, yes. Because remember who it is doing this sending – it’s Jesus, Friends. Jesus, who truly is our steadfast and abundantly loving teacher. If we cannot place our trust in him as he sends us, then who? And, if not us, then who?

Our fears and hesitancies are real, Jesus know that. And he knows we are ready anyway. We’re ready because we have already gained what we need to be courageous and trusting enough to be sent from here, called and prepared in the Ways God has imagined for out there. We have already gained what we need to be courageous enough to follow what God’s Spirit is stirring in each of us for our Christian Way.

What we have gained already is our salvation through Jesus on the cross – no hierarchy is more powerful than that. What each of us carries with us as we are sent from here, is not the dust of rejection on our feet. It is freedom in the Risen Christ to see and be healing presence and gracious hospitality in the forms of laborers, fisher folk, fringy people, women, men (!), tax collectors, people who don’t seem to belong or fit the mold …  even ourselves. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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