Monday, March 12, 2012

Mark 6: Disciples Packing for a New Exodus

Audio of This Sermon Available Here (Title: "Freedom from Clutter")

I have served in youth ministry for nearly 10 years, working with many o' youth on many o' youth trips. That said, I am used to packing. I am quite confident that I can cram enough stuff for a weekend retreat of 40 youth inside any vehicle in about 20 minutes flat. Then I can cram those same students into any vehicle, with adequate supply of seat-belts of course, with little trouble. While I pride myself on my education from Eastern University and Biblical Seminary, I will say that they failed me in not providing some sort of elective that would enhance this necessary skill for spiritual formation retreats. That said, I have had to learn it as I go. And despite the packing lists that I give to students, they ALWAYS PACK TOO MUCH STUFF!

Speaking of lists, the packing list I usually develop is quite standard:

Sleeping Bag
Change of clothes
Toiletry items
Deodorant (for the love of God deodorant)
Notebook (which students question every time, saying we never use them. true...)
Pen (most students bring a notebook and forget the pen...)
It's pretty simple. But somehow they end up with way too much stuff for a simple weekend retreat.
In Mark 6, Jesus gives the disciples a packing list. It is a list I have considered implementing on my youth trips, posting on our website, and handing out double-sided with permission form.
What to Bring:
clothes on your back.
(o.k. if a middle school trip, bring deodorant)
It's simple. It's quick. It prevents being burdened by too much stuff and the distraction that may come with it.

Still, is there more to Mark's incorporation of this Messianic and Apostolic packing list than we may think at first glance? If you are familiar with Mark, you know that there is always something more.

We need the eyes to see and the ears to hear in order to catch a glimpse of the Markan portrait.
Mark 6 is right on the heals of two significant stories interwoven together: Jesus' healing of a woman plagued by hemorrhage for 12 years and a 12 year-old girl resurrected from the dead.

But this all happened in a neighboring town. Mark 6 is in Jesus' place, Jesus' village, and among Jesus' people. They have known him since he was born...and they liked him...until now. Jesus is in the local synagogue, where he grew up and studied under local rabbis, and on the sabbath. In other words, Jesus is in a sacred space on a sacred day and, as is typical with Jesus in Mark's gospel, this spells conflict. Moreover, the student is now the teacher...and they are not fond of his particular teaching. Actually, they take offense. We know why based on all that has led us to this point. Jesus is breaking sabbath, his disciples are not fasting, he is touching the untouchables, and welcoming the unclean. Jesus is traveling back and forth across the sea (hold that reference), casting out demons and sending them into swine, in the land of Gentiles. Even more, Jesus has a following...fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners...called disciples.

And 12 of them he has called and named on a mountain. You can hear the murmur.

He knows what he's doing right? 12...sacred number...mountain...sacred place...
But this is the son of Mary and Joseph...his brothers and sisters are here with us.

They are probably still reveling in Jesus' declaration that has come to them through the grapevine, true family consists not of those born of the same blood, rather those who do the will of God.

Again, they are offended. In the sacred space and time of Jesus' hometown, he is unrecognizable, a stranger. Jesus- not welcomed.

Text says that he could do no deed of power there...except a few healings. Jesus was not welcome in his hometown. They never dreamed this was who Jesus would become.

I remember a few years ago, not long after I was married and newly hired at my current congregation, that I decided to travel to one of my "hometowns" of Linglestown, PA. I was driving through my old neighborhood when I saw an old family friend that I had not seen in 10 plus years. I pulled up alongside Mr. Tom, rolled down the window, and said "hello." He squinted, knowing that I was a familiar face yet much older now. So I re-introduced myself, "Greg Klimovitz, Mark's son." He stepped back, "Yes! How are you?" Mind you, I had a few run ins with his kids in elementary school, one which landed me in the principal's office hyperventilating in fear (another story for another day). I told him I was doing well, married, and now serving as a youth pastor in a church outside Philadelphia. "You? A pastor? I would have never guessed." His direct words that I will never forget.

Apparently my hometown never dreamed I would become what I had become. Of course, when I was 11-years old, neither my parents nor I would have either.

And Jesus' story evokes a similar feeling. But that is only the beginning.

Packing lists.

Jesus has already called disciples from a variety of places, a motley crew of those who did not make the cut as disciples of other rabbis. Mark has named them for us in chapter 3, calling them apostles here and here alone, which means "sent people." Then we come to 6:7, "Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits."

And the packing list, take nothing with you except your staff.

No bread. No bag. No money.
Staff. Sandals. Clothes on your back.

12 of them, sent out, with little to nothing to take with them. They were sent to cast out demons in strange lands. 12 of them with a packing list of immediacy.

If you have the eyes to see and ears to hear Mark's allusion you may begin to draw on the Exodus. Remember the mountain? Remember the sea? Remember the wandering in wilderness before entering strange lands? Remember the 12 tribes?

And it began with a newly liberated Hebrew people with a rather short packing list, eating unleavened bread with staff in hand, sandals on their feet, ready to pick up and go at a moments notice as they leave captivity and venture towards liberation.

Hear Exodus 12:11: "This is how you shall eat [the passover lamb]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly."

Again you can hear the murmurs of Jesus' hometown, Is Jesus provoking a new exodus? Is Jesus calling out a new people of God to pursue liberation in a new and foreign lands. Is this the start of something new? Surely this is why Jesus was not welcome at home.

Jesus calls and sends out his disciples with authority to cast out demons and heal the sick in strange lands. And if they are not received well, they shake their sandals and leave that place in the same sort of dust that covered Pharaoh's chariots as they crossed the sea.

Jesus' hometown in dust. Sacred space and place in dust?

If it holds people captive...yes...

Said differently, the Jesus movement and those who follow the Way, are to be all about exodus.
Everything else is dust.

Exodus from oppression.
Exodus from injustice.
Exodus from marginalization and isolation from community.
Exodus from poverty and systems that promote it.
Exodus from homelessness and institutions that allow it.
Exodus from unclean spirits of violence and all forms of abuse.
Exodus from demons of power and addiction.

The church, as disciples gathered and scattered, have been sent by Jesus, with authority, to liberate and heal others from unclean spirits- and in strange places. Everything that hinders this sort of Jesus-centered liberation is to be left in the dust.

Packing Lists.

What I love about this Markan narrative is the simple reminder that disciples of Jesus don't need to pack much for the journey. They travel light. Why?

Mark tells us. When God calls a people to a strange place to live into the strange dreams of God, God provides through mutual hospitality and generosity of those situated there.

If God calls you somewhere, God will provide. You need only go.

Disciples of Jesus practice liberation. Apostles of the crucified and resurrected Messiah are sent to exorcise evil and call others to repent of the unclean spirits masked in systems, cycles, behaviors, and trends that exploit and take life versus redeem and fulfill it. And along the way, in these strange places, disciples depend upon and partner alongside the mutual hospitality of new friends and neighbors who welcome them and their witness. And when this is not the case, offense is not taken and violent opposition is certainly not prescribed- nor do we force-feed the gospel. [1] Rather, disciples shake the dust and move to a new place and incarnate God's dreams for peace in another location.

So, packing list. Staff. Sandals. Clothes on your back.

Don't take anything more. In your anxiety, refrain from over-packing. When you follow Jesus and work towards liberation you must travel light. After all, you will need all the room, all the hands, and all your strength to carry and extend the generosity of God to others.

As disciples of Jesus we are moving in mass exodus people out of captivity.

Are you ready?

Where and to whom is Jesus calling and sending you?

Stop packing and get moving...

[1] Ched Myers, et al., note that should this have been the posture of early missionaries, whose posture much more paralleled colonialism than Messianic framed "missions", the history of Christian evangelism would look a lot different. They write, "Jesus is instructing his community to learn to be 'at home among strangers.' The suggestion is simple and clear. Where the gospel is received and embraced, disciples are to remain; where it is rejectedbthey are to move on (6:10f). This severs evangelism from any practice of domination or conquest. How different the history of the world would have been had Christian missionaries heeded these directives!" ("Say to This Mountain," 72).