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Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 7, 2013

In the name of our all-loving God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.

Summer vacation for my family always meant a camping trip to the shores of Lake Michigan for at least two weeks in July. We had a pop-up camper for a while which was a godsend. The “windows” were huge and made of thin screening; it felt like we were sleeping under the stars, but in fact, we were up, off the ground (much more conducive to a good night’s sleep, in my opinion), and the screens had a layer of thick plastic that could be rolled up during pleasant weather and down when it rained.

Preparing for this kind of vacation takes some work. It begins by popping up the trailer, and airing it out; washing the plastic “camping” dishes and vacuuming out the spiders and other debris left by winter occupants, mopping the floor and disinfecting the storage spaces.

Then there’s the creation of lists. Who will need what this year? How many diapers? Are the kids old enough for jigsaw puzzles? Do we need a pail and shovel for each of them or can they share? Pots and pans? Canned beans? Certainly a box of pancake mix and a bottle of syrup. And a deck of cards – there’s always room for a deck of cards.

Lists dictate what we want to take, but it is the size of the storage bins and airplane-sized cupboards that determines what actually goes and what stays in the end. And so, from the staging area in the house, final decisions are made. Things go out, find a place to live in the trailer or not. Bargains are struck.

One of those years, however, I remember closing down the pop-up, hitching up the trailer to the car and then seeing my husband duck back inside the house, only to return with two bulging grocery bags. “These can go in the “way back” (you remember station wagons) of the car,” he said, “I’ll be right back.” And he was, with two more bags. Upon investigation, I found 72 – yes, I counted them – 72 books.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions about what my reaction was, let me tell you that my husband’s reading habits were one of the things I loved about him. It made him a great conversationalist and, on our camping trips, his love of reading was what allowed me to stay at the beach in the middle of the afternoon to swim while he sat in the shade at the campsite and tended to the napping children. But 72?

Obviously this had an impact on me because it was the first thing that came to my mind when I read over today’s Gospel lesson this week – 20 years later. The point is, what we pack, what we take along tells us something about who we are, what we want and maybe what we can expect. Most times, we have the freedom to choose what to carry along; sometimes, God has something to say about our “baggage.”

The number of Jesus’ small band of followers had increased exponentially. Even after his rather startling and strict comments about who was fit to follow him, there were at least 70 people willing and ready to start out on a kind of missionary journey. That’s who they were. People ready to risk a great deal (more than they knew, probably) to follow Jesus. But at this point of the story, they are not only going to follow, they have been commissioned to go ahead of Jesus – like John the Baptist – they would be preparing the way for him.

70 faithful people – and Jesus has instructions for them before they depart. The first instruction is that they are to travel in groups. No lone rangers on the journey. Secondly, they must ask for what is needed – in this case, more people willing to take on this mission – more people willing to take on this risky business – more people willing to be vulnerable. They are to pack lightly. Nothing extra, nothing superfluous, nothing that, to our way of thinking, is probably necessary: no purse, no bag, no sandals. Then he tells them that they are simply to rely on the generosity of others. Stay in the places where you are welcomed and stay put. Eat what they give you; drink what they provide. And while they are away from home, they are to do the kinds of things Jesus was always doing – sharing God’s peace and healing the sick and proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

Travel together.
Ask for what is needed.
Pack lightly.
Rely on the generosity of others.
Do the things that Jesus did.

Why, we might ask, did Jesus suggest these things?

The first suggestion: travel together. Jesus knew very well that they were likely to end up in places where they were not welcome. Fear, disillusionment and anger were likely responses – none of which would further their mission or nourish them for their work. They needed one another so that when one faltered, the other could help. When one feels lost, the other could find the way. When on was discouraged, the other could hold the faith for a while. That’s what the company of believers does – we hold on to each other, believe for each other, pray for each other when we can’t pray ourselves. We are stronger when we are together.

The second suggestion: ask for what is needed. Too often we forget to ask– assuming that what is needed will simply be provided. That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus ever thought. Time and time again he urged his followers to ask: ask, ask, ask.
And, just as Jesus did, we ask for more workers – not to increase the number on our rolls or our average Sunday attendance, but that more will be called, more will be nourished, more will be ready and able to spread the news of God’s grace and love – more people ready to change the world!

Suggestion #3: pack lightly. You all know what Jesus said about “things.” They get in the way; they become objects of pride and sometimes of worship; they blur our vision; they destroy relationships. No thing can ever negate the fact that we are all totally dependent and vulnerable. Maybe that’s what Jesus wanted the 70 to experience and understand.

Suggestion #4: Rely on the generosity of others. This may seem totally unrealistic to most of us. In reality, however, it is already the case. None of us, I dare say, would be here today if it were not for the grace-filled generosity of another. We have received so much; it is our responsibility to offer the same.

Suggestion #5: do the things that Jesus did. Heal the sick; share the good news. That was the mission of Jesus’ followers then; it is the mission of his followers today. How we carry that mission out is something we must always be thinking about. How are we forces of healing and bearers of the Good News in our families, our community and the world? The Kingdom has come near – but it can come closer – and the number of people who experience it can increase.

The 70 go out and the 70 return – eager to tell Jesus what they had accomplished: “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us!” That’s not what’s most important, according to Jesus, though. Yes, he tells them, I have given you great authority to do amazing things, but what is most important is that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice in that!

It seems to me there’s one more suggestion for the journey we need to remember: leave your ego behind.

Travel together.
Ask for what is needed.
Pack lightly.
Rely on the generosity of others – and the flipside – be generous.
Do the things that Jesus did.
Leave your ego behind.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. No wonder. But when if and when we are called into the mission of Christ, when we are ready to risk being vulnerable, and when we set our eyes on the Kingdom of God, it will come near and it will spread and we will rejoice – because that book of heaven will fill more than four bags and contain way more than 72 volumes. Amen.

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