Mark 6 New International Version (NIV)
6:7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
How were the disciples able to strike out with no provisions? How were the able to make themselves guests in the homes of strangers?
Imagine taking off for the next town, Donahue, Oxford Junction, without any money, parking your car, knocking on a door, and telling the person who opens the door, “I have Good News for you.” Maybe if you were driving the Publisher’s Clearing House van, you’d be welcomed. Otherwise, you would be met with suspicion.
You might be asked for credentials. What credentials do you have that prove you have Good News? A cross around your neck? And what does that prove? The Christian Kingdom is as divided as the political kingdom when it comes to reputation and fundamentals.
The disciples actually had some competition at the time. One of the philosophical movements of the time was Cynicism. Cynics led a simple life free from all possessions. We think of cynicism now as an attitude of suspicion. But the Cynics were an organized group who also shared their philosophy by traveling from town to town, preaching and begging for sustenance.
That is the difference between Jesus’ disciples and the disciples of Cynicism. They did not beg. They, instead, anticipated hospitality on the part of the homes they approached.
It was not unreal for the disciples to expect hospitality from strangers. Hospitality was one of the standards of the Jewish culture. Remember Abraham offering hospitality to three strangers—who turned out to be angels revealing that his wife was pregnant. (How would you like it if a stranger told you your wife was pregnant?)
Hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution that evolved from the harsh nomadic life of the Israelites. We’ve read many times about the injunction to welcome the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, “for you were strangers in a strange land.
However, in giving instructions to the disciples, Jesus also knew they would encounter rejection, so he tells them 11 “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Don’t waste your time.
So what does this passage have for us today?
No way, during our shelter-in-place situation, are we going to go knocking on doors of strangers, let alone friends and neighbors. Do we still have a message that needs to be shared? Absolutely! What are our credentials? Our faith. In what do we have faith? A risen Savior who conquered sin and death for all humanity.
The culturally acceptable view of Christians is people who do good works. People who give to charities. People who open up food banks in their church basements. People who open homeless shelters. Do-gooders. People who take sides with the oppressed. People who work to improve the lives of those who are insecure. In the last two weeks the number of people who are unemployed has doubled, from 3.3 million to 6.6 million. If you would step into one of those homes now, you would meet a family who is food insecure, who is in danger of losing the one place where they are safe, a family whose health is in danger. Would you be welcomed? And what could you offer?
Presidents as far back as Bush I have suggested that churches need to step up and do the work of the government in providing for people. Ironically, churches have been declining in size since that time, able to do less but asked to do more.
Maybe what we need to think about, beyond providing for physical needs, is to find more ways to provide for spiritual needs. Christinas have always been susceptible to claiming their good deeds as keys to the kingdom of God. We need to remind ourselves that the door to the kingdom of God was opened, not by what we do, but by what God does. God saves us. God destroyed the barrier between God and us through Jesus death and resurrection. Jesus died in our place so that we might be free to live as the humans God created in God’s image—the original humans before the invasion of sin in all its manifestations. We are those reborn people. That is the Good News we have to share.
Think about how much comfort your spiritual life gives you. Think about sharing that gift with others.
There have been pandemics before. The last one that we know about was the Spanish Influenza of 1918. We are lucky to live in a time when we can communicate with each other, when we can afford to social distance, when we can avoid physical proximity to an invisible enemy. We are lucky to live in a time when scientists are hurrying to create cures and vaccines.
My point is, we have time and the ability to share the Good News. Many of you have email or Facebook. All of you have telephones.
First of all, figure out what the Good News means to you. Then think of ways to share your faith. It can be a simple “I’m praying for you.” It can be bringing up something you read in the Bible or in a devotional book or in a sermon. It can be sharing a hymn. I like to post youtube performances of favorite hymns on my Facebook page. Share your favorite Bible verse, the one the keeps you going in tough times. Don’t tell the person what they should believe; share what you believe.
Don’t assume that someone isn’t interested because they don’t attend church. I’ve heard some statistics that more people are attending worship now, via live-streaming, than previously were attending worship in a physical space. I was working with some teachers earlier this year and one of the top topics students were interested in was spirituality.
Some of you are old enough to remember farmers planting oats by scattering them over the ground. It was not unlike the Parable of the Sower, with seeds randomly flung across the soil. Some were gobbled up by birds right way. Some never sprouted. But by July 21, golden stalks of grain swayed in the breeze, ripe for the harvest.
So, as spring surrounds us, so does the work of spring—sowing seeds. The soil has been disced by the machines of fear and danger. You can make something good grow out of these terrible times. You are sent out, from the safety of your home, via invisible radio frequencies that were unknown when Jesus sent out the disciples. Jesus is sending all of us out now, no purse needed, no extra coat. Shoot! We can sit barefoot in the security of our homes, spreading the Good News of salvation. Amen.