A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

It’s no secret that I love my electronic devices. They say there’s an app for everything, and I think I have most of them. One of my favorites is a packing list app. You can make your packing list on anyone device you happen to be working on, and you can see it on all the others. You can sort everything according to category—my electronics list is rather long, though some others are short. And you can check each item off as you put it in the suitcase, so you can see what you have left to pack.

Over time I’ve developed a sort of template, a master list, so I don’t have to start from scratch every time. When it’s time to travel I just look at it and decide which things I need and which I don’t, and that’s my packing list.

Chris has a slightly different system. He’s actually in Cuba right now, traveling with the Bucks County Choral Society, singing in a couple of concerts and also touring around. Communications aren’t that great, even in this Internet world, but he’s sent a couple of emails to say that he’s having a wonderful time. But his system for packing is a little different. It involves a lot of wandering around the house on the day he’s leaving, saying, “I wonder what I’m forgetting to pack?” over and over again.

On the day he left last week, he went to the gym in the afternoon and came back with a scrap of paper he’s used to scribble down some things he thought of while he was on the exercise bike. It said, “P, S, S,” and he couldn’t remember what the second S was. And I couldn’t help him, so whatever it was, I hope it turned out to be something he could live without. There probably isn’t a CVS on the corner where he’s staying in Cuba, which is what I usually say to reassure him that he can get anything he really needs if he forgets it.

So in today’s Gospel, Jesus sends his followers out on a journey, on a missionary journey, and for this trip it turns out you don’t need an app, or list on a piece of paper, because the packing list is about as basic as it gets: the clothes on your back, the sandals on your feet, and a walking stick. That’s it.

This is really the first time that Jesus has asked his followers to do anything big. Up until now he’s been teaching, and they’ve been traveling with him and soaking in his message, watching his healing. Although, in his home town he had a little trouble. He wasn’t really able to do deeds of power. The people there weren’t impressed. They were like, “Who is this guy? He grew up here, we know him. Just who does he think he is, anyway?” So with that resistance he wasn’t able to do the things he usually did.

But now he’s sending the twelve off on a mission of their own, to do the same things that he’s been doing. It’s a mission of proclamation. It’s a mission of casting out demons, and healing the sick.

And this is really the very beginning of the church. This is a story that tells us something about our own identity, who we are as Christ’s people, and we are on this same mission today, actually, all these many years later.

Of course there are some aspects of this story that we can’t imitate exactly, so we have to prayerfully discern and how we can live out this identity in our own times. But the basic things we can take from this story are, first of all, that they go out in pairs. You can’t be church alone. You can have a personal relationship with God, but you really can’t be the church until you’re doing it with other people.

Also, it’s important that he sends them out, not in. Sometimes I think we forget that part, because our times and our needs have changed. We’ve got this church to take care of. It’s a legacy to us. It’s a gift from the past. It’s something that we have to preserve, to hand it on to the future, and I want you to understand, people in this community work very hard to maintain this building, and to keep it fresh and preserve it and make it useful. I do not mean any insult to them at all, but we can never be the church, totally, if we think the main idea is to come in here and make ourselves comfortable.

We always have to be thinking about how we will go out, because ultimately, that’s what we’re here for, is to prepare to go out on mission. So, that’s another lesson we can take from it.

And we have the same basic three things we’re supposed to be doing. There’s proclamation. Literally, what this means in the words of this story is calling on people to change their hearts. The second thing is standing up against evil. And the third thing is being agents of God’s healing in the world. So, we have to be constantly asking ourselves, “How do we do that? How do we do those three things in this time and in this place?”

How do we call on people to change their hearts? Of course sometimes we use words, but I wonder if the most effective way to do that isn’t by the very way that we lead our own lives, as examples.

And we stand up against evil. We speak out against evil. God knows, there’s plenty of evil in our world. How do we do stand against it? Again, by the way we live our lives, by our values, our principles, sometimes by protesting, sometimes by writing letters to elected officials, sometimes by the donations we give to organizations that do represent our values.

And then finally, being agents of God’s healing in the world. We do that one on one, all the time. We do that locally, when we participate in various activities, when we support organizations like Keystone Opportunity Center, or Saint James School, or the other partners we work with—the food pantries, for example. Sometimes we do it by partnering with organizations that go out across the world and carry out some of the same work that we can’t be there doing.

So, even though times have changed, this is still the essence of who we are as church.

And we only get to take one thing on this mission? Jesus said the 12 could take a walking stick. What would you choose if you could only take one thing. You know, I thought about that part all week. At first I thought, well, for me it would be my camera, because my camera is kind of how I process things. I see the world, and make sense of it, through pictures. But then I realized that if I were going to take my camera, I’d need the charging cable and the computer to upload the pictures … It was getting to be quite a collection of things I’d take, so I thought, “Okay, not the camera, then what?”

And I want to put that question to you, to think about when you leave here. I don’t know if anybody has an answer they’d want to share now. What one thing would you take?

Christina Kales: When I went to Cameroon I was terrified. I had traveled fairly extensively to some third world countries and developing countries, but never in Africa, and never in an area that was so totally undeveloped as the part of Cameroon I was going to, and so, I thought, “What can I take with me that will keep me centered and focused?” And what I took were pictures of my family, my husband, and my grandchildren, and daughter, so I had them right here with me. And I said, ‘I’m going to recreate a little sense of home anytime I was in a place where I felt uncomfortable.’’ So, that was what I took.

Rev. Cathy: Thank you for sharing that. Anybody else? What would you take? Well, I’ll leave the question with you. I don’t think there’s any one answer that will suits everybody. At least that iswhat I was going to say, but honestly, after I thought about it for a long time myself, that’s exactly what I came up with: pictures of my family. I thought, Well, I’ll take a little book of pictures of the people I love: my family, my friends. Maybe my church—why not?

Because that’s where we are grounded. We are grounded in love. And that’s the thing that I would want to remember and carry with me. Well, think about this yourselves, and you can share later if you want to. I just pray that the things we carry sustain us and inspire us, and don’t just slow us down and distract us from our true mission.