(Jesus) went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that all should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.Mark 6:1-29
I started thinking about this sermon a few weeks ago, without even realizing it. I don’t know how many of you travel up in the county, along Padonia Road, but as I drive there to get Emma from school at Dulaney High, I’ve noticed a new building going up on one of the corners. For weeks I thought it was going to be a new Holiday Inn Express, even though there is already a Holiday Inn across the corner; but it was the right shade of green and it is now about four stories high, looking like a hotel in the making. So a week or so I ago I saw a new sign on the building. The first word was STORAGE. I was surprised at this, because there are already two other self-storage facilities within view of this new site. It must be that lots of folks have too much around the house & need to keep it elsewhere, or maybe they are down-sizing and can’t do without what they need to store somewhere else.
It sure is a statement about our society that we need to build new places just to store our stuff. It is also how I got to thinking about these words that Jesus once shared with his disciples as he prepared them for their work in the world. One of the most important things to remember about life with Jesus is that you need to travel lightly.
As Jesus approached his hometown, a village of maybe 400 people, he must have known what people would think of him. He was the son of Joseph the carpenter, ‘teknon’ in Greek; a day laborer, one who worked with his hands. He was one of at least six children in the family, four boys and at least two girls.
That he wasn’t accepted back home with a new identity is almost a given. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a saying that goes back ages, because it is largely true. “Too big for his britches”- is another way of putting it; or, “You can’t go home again.”
So it seems that Jesus did little while there but make a visit to his Mom and siblings (Joseph seems to have died, since his name is not mentioned). Before Jesus left, he healed some people (just because). And as he left town he just shook his head, because, well, people mostly like things just the way things are, and no young whipper-snapper was going to turn their world upside down, thank you very much.
So our passage for today really focuses on the sending out of Jesus’ disciples, which importantly begins with these words: “And Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” This was their purpose and mission statement. Together, go, disburse and cast out unclean spirits.
Through almost every chapter of Mark’s gospel this is what Jesus does. He confronts and removes unclean spirits. By the way, today also he will send us out, too, as his followers, to do just the same thing because unclean spirits still occupy our world.
So this isn’t just about those who live in places of war and violence and retribution somewhere “over there.” For in nice and beautiful homes all over Baltimore, people live in the midst of their own places of hurt. We live and work in places haunted by unclean spirits that addicts people to money, prestige and power. Our children go to schools that are filled with the unclean spirits that tempt to conform or be lost in loneliness. We all know about living in a world that struggles under what can only be called unclean and is not getting any cleaner, in many ways. That’s because a long time ago, our ancestors strayed a long way from paradise, and we’ve been caught in the same cycles as they.
That is why Jesus arrived in this world as the human form of God who was determined to find us, deliver us from evil, and lead us to share his way of living any way we’re able.
According to Jesus’ words, you now have been given the “authority” to participate in this same mission, too.
You have the ability to transcend the unclean spirits, and you have the authority to stand up and say, “This is crazy. I don’t have to get sucked into a life like that.”
So how will you do that? How in the world will little ol’ you take on the evil that plagues the hearts of people everywhere, heading toward potential self-destruction?
Well, this is where the story gets really interesting. “He ordered them to take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” If Jesus gives the disciples such an overwhelming mission, you’d think he would have sent them out better equipped. (At least a light saber, or a huge bank account.) Why does Jesus insist that we journey through life so lightly?
First of all, scholars note that Jesus is repeating to the disciples the tried and true instructions that the Hebrews were given by God through Moses in their march to freedom in the Exodus from Egypt, centuries before. “This how our ancestors did it. It worked for them and it will work for you, too.” That’s one answer. But there is more.
One reason to travel lightly is that if you’re going to take on evil and make changes in the world, you can’t have anything to lose. The things you are trying to hang onto in life have a funny way of controlling you. That is how things unclean begin to work their way in…
It works its way in, quietly, insidiously, telling you that there is someone out there, somewhere, who’s trying to take something from you. (Which is not true.) This can create a paranoia that can literally be demonic. Before you know it, you’re worried all the time. Maybe you won’t realize it, or you get used to it, and then anxiety takes over, and you become more worried about what you are losing than about living our your life’s purpose day to day. You cannot use your life for the work of Christ’s gift of love, or even strive for some semblance of that in your own corner of the world, if you are always worried or looking over your shoulder.
Unclean spirits have a way of finding your anxieties. The only way you can prevent the evil spirits from this kind of blackmail is to give up the things you are afraid of losing.
Give them over to God, whose grip on them is better than yours anyway. Let the Lord hold them, because it’s the only way you can enjoy them, while on your great mission in life.
A second reason Jesus calls us to travel lightly through life is that we are never going to go far if we are weighed down by our baggage. Have you ever stood for a long time at the baggage carousel at the airport? A really long time?
It is proof to me that all people are inherently spiritual, because a little prayer circle develops there as people wait and hope their bags made the trip. Even the atheists are praying, “Dear God, please…” Meanwhile, the people who travel lightly are already on their way.
Just picture the baggage claim areas over at BWI. As I’ve waited at the baggage carousel watching the bags come down the chute, I’ve thought about how much this reminds me of life and all those things we tend and carry, that take up our days and nights our busyness and our dreams. As we wait; we see one by one the bags start to appear: down the chute comes the parent baggage, then comes the children baggage, then the mortgage baggage, and the retirement fund baggage. Then down come more bags that we could label “relationships,” “bottomless work,” and lots of bags marked “what we’ve invested ourselves in.” Some of the same bags just circle around and around. Our lives are delayed for those ever-circling bags; they own us, and we can’t leave them behind. But we need to move on in life and not forever live in the past, so we need to travel light so as not to be burdened with heavy baggage. The amount of baggage is not our goal, remember? Traveling light helps us dismiss unclean spirits, and maybe unclean things have infiltrated our bags. Best to leave it behind; even those things we cling to that we cherish. Give it away, give it back to God- for that’s who can take care of all these things, far better than we can.
It’s more liberating than you think. We can unload it all; the achievements and the failures, the times we’ve felt great about what we did and the times we’ve failed miserably. God will take them all and keep them from haunting us.
Our load will be lightened, we’ll be renewed for action, for something new and not the same-old-same-old, to make a new world of difference in a way yet unknown.
A third reason Jesus calls you to travel lightly is that he has always wanted you to be free to be you, and not to be defined by anything else but the grace of God.
No one is actually born free. We are first dependent in the womb, and then we are dependent on the care of our parents. But loving parents know their job is to train a child to leave home as a free young adult, because freedom is a skill, and it takes years of learning and discipline, trial and error, accident and healing. All of it based in unconditional love. The purpose of all that was not to keep you in your parent’s home until you were fifty. The purpose was to make you free to go out and commit yourself to something worthy of a meaningful life.
Similarly, Jesus has called you, not to make you afraid of the world plagued by unclean spirits but to make you free to be in the world but not of it. Jesus wants you to be free: free of the baggage the world lays upon you, free of the fears over what you might lose, free of the possessions that have taken possession over you, and free of the guilt that has gnawed away your humanity. Jesus wants you to be who God created you to be, and who God is converting you back to being.
That’s why Jesus insists that you travel lightly and let go of those things that unnecessarily burden you. As many of you know, my Mom is now 93, and as she says- she’s getting older. Many times as I’ve visited, she comes up with interesting things to give to me – she’s trying to get rid of things she no longer needs. I’m getting back many of the books I’ve given to her for Christmas & her birthday over the years. The last time she came up with something I had forgotten that I’d given to her.
I guess it was in college that I took an art history class and we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was taken aback by the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, who was one of the featured artists in our visit. I had purchased a small replica statue of a human figure emerging from a rock to give to her. It is hard to tell where the rock ends and the human begins. It is a depiction of humanity, either being created, or perhaps returning to its pre-creaturely form.
As I’ve heard, Rodin’s philosophy of sculpture was that the image was already inside the stone. The artist was merely freeing it by removing everything that didn’t belong there. That’s what my Mom remembers, too. So she said about the sculpture, “I guess God is helping me get rid of everything I don’t need, one way or the other.” She’s learning that lesson day by day and no longer needs to have the object lesson around to remind her.
This is what Jesus is calling us to be reminded of in his words to us today…
There are things we can get rid of in life; hate, hurt, too much stuff, selfishness.
The reason the world is filled with places of hurt and retribution is that we’ve believed the unclean spirits’ lies that we have to stay hurt and act like victims. But rather than an eye for an eye, Jesus says to shake off the hurt, forgive, and move on. Rather than rehearsing guilt or practicing retribution, Jesus says to confess, repent, shake off the sin, and move on. Rather than living in fear, Jesus says to shake off anxiety and be free.
So, what about you? What do you need to shake off so you will be free to take up the challenge God gives you to take part in Christ’s mission in life? What do you need to let go of?
May God set us free. Whatever it takes, may God set us free. Amen.