Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.Mark 6:7
We live in such a confusing and complicated world, don’t we? There are so many different forces pulling at us, so much happening that is difficult to make sense of. And even though our world has made incredible progress in many ways, and we understand so much more about our universe and about ourselves than we ever have, there are still so many things that are puzzling.
Even something as simple as reading the Bible or following Jesus can be confusing, and Christians often disagree about what the Bible teaches us about certain topics, or what we as followers of Jesus should think about this pressing issue or that. But it seems to me that the basics of what the Bible teaches, and what Jesus teaches, are not confusing. And sometimes it is good to simply get back to the basics.
There was a popular book some years back with the catchy title, “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten.” Remember that one? It was popular, I think, because it offered life lessons that were not only true, but they were simple, and ultimately hopeful. And they reminded us that sometimes we adults can get in the way of ourselves by making things too complicated. So Robert Fulghum reminded us of some simple rules, like:
Share everything. Play fair. Put things back where you found them. Take a nap every afternoon. And when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.Robert Fulghum
Today, I thought I’d take inspiration from this book to offer some simple lessons from our gospel reading, on how Jesus wants us to live as his followers.
As Jesus got ready to send his apostles out on their first mission trip, he gave them some clear instructions, found in Mark 6:7-13. And from these instructions, I have identified five simple rules that we can hold onto as followers of Jesus.
In keeping with the spirit of the book, I will list them and then go back and fill in some of the details. So here are five lessons that Jesus teaches us today on how to live as his followers:
- Don’t Be a Christian Alone
- Remember that Jesus Is the Boss
- Travel Light
- Don’t Get Discouraged When You Fail
- Don’t Be Afraid to Tell the Truth
Lesson 1 – Don’t Be a Christian Alone
Jesus has identified his twelve apostles, and now he is getting ready to send them out on a mission. And the first thing that he does is pair them up. Kind of like in Kindergarten, or on a school field trip, right? Or like Robert Fulghum’s rule, “Hold hands and stick together.” Jesus teaches us something similar. Stick together. Don’t try to be a Christian alone.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, when he calls disciples, the first thing he does is make us part of a community called the church. He calls us into this community because he knows that it is too hard to be a Christian alone. We need each other.
I don’t know about you, but for me the pandemic was a powerful reminder of the gift and blessing of this community. We truly need each other, and we are better, as it has been said, together. Jesus gathered his disciples together, and he gathers us together, too. And even when he sends us back out into the world, he pairs us up first.
For Jesus, there is no such thing as a lone-ranger Christian. Because life is too hard to go it alone. And being a follower of Jesus is too hard to go it alone. We need his help and presence. But we need each other’s help, too.
Lesson 2 – Remember that Jesus Is the Boss
In the next verse of this Reading, we find our second lesson. To the apostles, we read, “Jesus gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” Which means that when we go into the world, we go because Jesus has given us the authority to do so. Jesus is the boss.
As he says in the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …”Matthew 28:18-19
We go in confidence (literally, with faith), because Jesus has given us the authority which is only his to give. He’s the boss, but he’s put us in charge. So now we have the authority to go in his name. Jesus is the boss. And he is in charge of our world, which we are certainly thankful for. But he has entrusted us with his work. That is the mission of the church: To do what he has commanded, in his name, with the trust and confidence that we are doing what the boss wants.
For you older siblings here today, maybe you remember back when your mom and dad would go out and leave you in charge. I am the oldest of four, and I remember that well. And when it happened, I always reminded my siblings of it, of course! I’m in charge – Mom and Dad said so! Which was pretty fun. Until we broke something!
As Christians, we are something like the older children of the world. We have been put in charge. Jesus has given us authority over the unclean spirits of this world. And we should embrace that. But we should also remember that we aren’t the parents. We are just in charge until Jesus returns.
Lesson 3 – Travel Light
The third lesson Jesus give us is this one: “He ordered 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 to put on two tunics.”
In other words, we are supposed to travel light when we go on the mission that Jesus sends us on. Why? Because traveling light means that we are trusting in Jesus. Traveling light means that we don’t need a back-up plan. We only need to follow instructions, and trust our boss.
Traveling light means that we already have everything we need to serve our Lord. We don’t need to read another book, make more money, have more time, solve whatever problems we face in our life right now, or do anything else before we go to serve the Lord. We already have enough right now. We have everything we need, right now, to do what Jesus is asking. So, we can and should travel light.
Lesson 4 – Don’t Get Discouraged When You Fail
And the fourth lesson that Jesus offers is found in verses 10 and 11. He said to the twelve, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.“
We go on this mission, in other words, with a caution: Not everyone will accept us, or our message, with open arms. There will be some that will refuse to hear us, for whatever reason. All we can do with them is entrust them to God, and move on.
It is not our responsibility to successfully bring God’s kingdom to our world. As if we could! It is our task to enter a community, do as Jesus asks, and if we are not welcomed there, to shake the dust off our feet and move on.
So, what’s the simple lesson here? Don’t get discouraged when we fail. If the twelve apostles were told that they would sometimes fail, then we should expect to fail, too. But I like to think of the word “fail” as an acronym which stands for “Faith Active In Love.” When our faith is active in love, then we are serving our Lord. And when we seem to be failing, we shouldn’t get discouraged. Failure in the eyes of the world might just be overwhelming success in the eyes of God. Doesn’t the cross prove that?
Lesson 5 – Don’t Be Afraid to Tell the Truth
So, don’t get discouraged when you fail. Travel light. Remember that Jesus is the boss. Don’t be a Christian alone. And, finally, don’t be afraid to tell the truth.
When the apostles were sent out, it was to cast out demons and heal the sick but it was also to proclaim “that all should repent.” Repent. Turn from your sin. Turn from your false hopes and your false gods. And turn, or re-turn, to the Lord. Our only God, and our only hope.
Our world is quick to offer false gods and false hopes. It always has, and it always will. As followers of Jesus, part of our task is to point this out, and to remind the world that there is only one God, and only one source of hope.
Today we celebrate “Independence Day,” but the truth is that we are not really independent. We might be independent from England. But we are very dependent on God: on our Creator, for this world in which we live; on our Savior, who came to rescue us from our sin and brokenness; and on the Holy Spirit, who was given to us to help us in the mission to which we are called.
We as Christians should know more than anyone how very dependent we are on our amazing God. And we should not be afraid to express it. And to invite the world to depend on God, too. Because there is no better way to live in these confusing and challenging times.
It’s not always easy to live as followers of Jesus in this world. That’s why I suggest that we remember these basic lessons:
Don’t try to be a Christian alone.
Remember that Jesus is the boss, thankfully.
Travel light, trusting that Jesus has given us everything we need to accomplish his mission.
Don’t get discouraged when we fail.
And don’t be afraid to speak the truth.
Five simple lessons we can learn from today’s gospel reading. Five things we can do to get back to the basics. And my prayer is that we live these lessons faithfully, until the boss, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, returns and invites us to rest. Amen.