There are movies oodles of movies about traveling. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Airplane! It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Oh, and there are horror flicks, thrillers, and adventures about traveling – romances, too. But the film that comes to mind when I reflect on today’s scripture from Luke 10:1-12 is this: Home Alone.
Now, you ask: Home Alone, isn’t that about a kid staying home? Well, yes it is. But in the Macauley Culkin Christmas flick about robbers staking out what they believe to be an abandoned home, who find a very resourceful ten-year-old instead, there is the mother of all preparations for a trip… and the mother leaves her ten-year-old behind.
Seriously, how many of you have a checklist for travel? (My mother has one saved on her computer!) Snacks, check. Shoes, check. Book, check. But, if you’re me, you’re always forgetting a necessity, like prescriptions or toothpaste or a belt. In Home Alone, the McAllisters pack for Paris, but they forget their son, Kevin. He might not be the main thing that they should remember, but he’s close!
It’s a holiday, a vacation, a road trip, and they lose focus on what they’re supposed to be doing, and why they’re supposed to be doing it. They, my friends, are a lot like us!
In our scripture today, the first seventy-two disciples are sent out by Jesus, two at a time, to go to every place he would eventually visit. They go out on the buddy system, so that they’re supported, comforted, accompanied. They go to “warm up” those places for the arrival of Jesus, to get them ready for the good news that Jesus is preaching. They are heralds of the good news but they’re not bringing the main event, that’s up to Jesus.
Jesus tells them that “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” that they are going out as “lambs among wolves” (10:2-3). Sounds peachy, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world itself is either disinterested, antagonistic, or willfully out to get them. But Jesus is sending out the seventy-two who get it, the seventy-two who want so badly to be like Jesus that they’re willing to risk it all. You’ve got to be pretty committed to be one of these seventy-two…
It’s not like Jesus has been selling this as highly entertaining, highly enjoyable work but then he lays out several directions for this road trip. He gives them marching orders, advice for the ministry, a way to progress in discipleship.
I wonder what it would look like if we put these things to practice.
1. Travel Light. Don’t take a bag for a second change of clothes is the gist of it, but it puts the focus on the mission rather than the stuff. How often do we set out with a purpose but get burdened down by the things along the way? I remember the difference in traveling after we had our first child. We were headed to the beach, and suddenly, a duffle bag packed with towels and swimsuits, and a bag with a computer and books, wasn’t enough. We needed an around-we-go, and diapers, and toys, and three times as many changes of clothes, and soon realized we didn’t have the right number of bags or the right kinds of things packed. The trip is the main thing, right? But we get stuck in the stuff. It happens to us all of the time in life, mistaking the career for the calling, the paycheck for the value, the effort for the time with family. Jesus wants his disciples to be clear that they are going out on a mission, that the stuff doesn’t matter.
2. Don’t Get Distracted. He goes so far as to tell them not to greet anyone on the road. Jesus is kind, but this doesn’t make him look too friendly, does it? Jesus’ corollary to #1 makes it clear that he knows his disciples can be like golden retrievers: “Food. Ball! Sleep. Cat. Bird! Food? Scratching. Outside!” Jesus knows that there are distractions beside stuff. Distractions like finances, destructive relationships, addictions, Facebook, phone calls, laundry, flights of fancy, temptation. Distractions that get in the way of the mission, that keep us from the mission.
3. Use Discernment. If the house they enter in town shows itself to be amicable to their work, stay; if the house is unfriendly, they should leave. If the town is unfriendly, they should just keep moving. I’m very aware that dirt is not all created equal. If you could see the flowerbeds around our house, you would know that even within a pretty small space, the dirt can vary greatly; not all of it is good for planting. Jesus recognizes this truth about people and communities, too. So he tells them to not waste their time, their hot air, on talking to people about the kingdom of God who are not interested or willing to listen. How scary is that? Jesus is preaching the good news of the kingdom of God but he knows not everyone wants to get it, not everyone will get it now, and not everyone is worth the disciples speaking over and over again with no change. When I was younger, I used to think how sad it was for those people, and now I recognize that we must be alert to make sure we are not those people who “don’t get it.”
4. Don’t Mooch. (I love this!) Jesus tells them not to “move around from house to house” or not to rotate who they’re getting from. Maybe this isn’t the main directive of the mission, but Jesus says that the disciples shouldn’t move from house to house in search of a better offer. Jesus wants his disciples to be steady and honorable; to leave the house that showed hospitality and move around would have dishonored the initial host. It would’ve confused the issue about what the disciples were about, and kept some people from hearing the good news. So even if the bed was more comfortable or the soup was a little saltier, they weren’t supposed to move.
5. Do the good work of the kingdom. Heal the sick, and preach. Sure, Jesus gives the disciples a list of things to avoid, a list of things not to do, but he reminds them again, repetition repetition repetition, what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to heal first and preach second. They are supposed to do good and talk about Jesus later; they are supposed to take care of the needs of the people around them and use that as an introduction to talking about what Jesus was all about. What would it look like if we served first and preached second? Answering that question is why I’m so excited about things like our Society of St. Andrew’s potato drop on Easter. Yes, Easter is a high holy day: Jesus was raised from the dead! But what better way to celebrate what Jesus means to us than to do the work Jesus would do if he were here? If Jesus is in us? We’ll separate potatoes and distribute them to local groups to feed the hungry- and celebrate in word and song the beauty of the resurrection.
6. Remember Whose You Are. Jesus tells them that whoever accepts the disciples, accepts him, and whoever denies them, denies him. It’s not about them. Yes, Jesus is giving them the heads up that this isn’t going to go well all of the time, that this might not even end well for them, but he’s putting it all on himself. If they’ve taken up their cross to follow him, they know it will be rough, but Jesus is telling them that they don’t have to own it. If someone mistreats them it’s really because they’re upset about the changes that Jesus’ teachings would make in their lives: no one likes anyone meddling in their comfort zone. Jesus is telling them this to free them up from being angry (or sad) with the other person, but instead, to love those people and serve them freely. It’s Jesus’ people skills and insightfulness acknowledging that we never know what people are really wrestling with but we’re called to love them anyway, to love them as friends even when they act like enemies.
So the disciples go out. We don’t know exactly what they experience or who they encounter or how they’re received. We figure that it’s probably a mixed bag. But we know they came back – no one was lost – and then Jesus gives one more piece of advice, when the disciples return from the first road trip celebrating their victories, that reminds them about the first half-dozen, and prepares them to go forth for what will be a lifetime of ministry:
7. It’s Not About What You Do But What’s Been Done. Jesus tells them it’s not about what they accomplish, what they do, or where they go; Jesus tells them it’s about the fact that they are beloved and forgiven in heaven. The disciples are celebrating the healing and the demon exorcising, getting caught up in the ‘look what we’ve done.’ And Jesus makes it about the mission (again) not about the success. Jesus makes it about following the process, not whether it’s an individual win or loss.
That’s the lesson I’m trying to teach my seven year old basketball team. A few weeks ago, they were practically doing cartwheels in the closing seconds of a game, having beaten another team. I called them together and told them, “Look, we don’t do that. We do our best, and win or lose, it doesn’t matter.” They looked at me like I was a little bit crazy, but then they nodded. They understood what I was trying to say: we’d win some, and lose some, but we needed to keep team and the process first.
That’s Jesus’ message throughout: the disciples are forgiven, loved, claimed, empowered, and called. It doesn’t matter what’s been said to them as long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to, as long as they stay focused on following Jesus, on the dust kicked up by their teacher’s feet.
Are you ready to go where you’re sent? Are you ready to be bold and faithful and focused? Are you willing to leave the unnecessary behind and follow Jesus?
Jesus is calling, empowering, and sending, but you can’t be a disciple and stand still. We must be ready to go.
We must be ready to move.