Sermon: “Discipling Light”

June 18, 2017: Father’s Day

Matthew 9:35-10:16

For many years, my duties for the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ included setting up or coordinating most of the technology for the Annual Meeting of the Conference. That meant that I showed up with a bunch of equipment: digital projectors to display images, backup digital projectors in case the first one didn’t work, extra lamps for all of them, screens to show them on, computers to run them, backup computers if the first one failed, cables to connect them, more cables if the reach was farther than I’d expected, extension cords to plug them in, cameras to capture the action on still photos or on video, tripods to stabilize the cameras, extra memory cards, audio recorders, and a packet of papers to tell me what was happening next.

I didn’t have to worry about going from one island to another, so all I had to make sure of was that it would all fit in my car. Unloading, and packing up when the meeting was over, took some time.

For this past weekend’s ‘Aha Pae’aina, I brought just two bags. One had clothes, including a warm jacket for visiting the summit of Haleakalā, and another for the camera I brought, mostly to take pictures from the summit of Haleakalā on my first visit there. Plus, well:

  • An iPad,
  • A cell phone,
  • A camera,
  • Chargers for all three,
  • Adapters for a projector if, for some unanticipated reason, I found myself needing to display something on a screen, and
  • Extra batteries.

For me, that was traveling light.

Somehow, though, I have this mental image of Jesus rolling his eyes.

Karoline Lewis says that in Matthew’s Gospel, the side-by-side missions of Jesus, to which he also assigns his friends and followers here, are healing and liberation. “Proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near,” he tells them, a new reality that will free them from the oppression of outside forces. They hope that includes the Romans, but Jesus also means the to free people from the burden of their sins and errors. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons,” he says. That’s the basic task; that’s their side-by-side mission. Healing and liberation.

He spends more time telling them what not to do than what to do. And most of his what-not-to-dos are what not to bring: no money, no bag, no spare clothes, no spare shoes, not even a stick to balance yourself along the road. Me, I brought two pair of shoes to Maui.

Jesus, I’m sure, was rolling his eyes.

Some of these instructions were really only practical in a culture practicing the Hospitality Code. If I’d turned up at a stranger’s door in Kahului, I doubt I’d have found as ready a welcome as I found at the hotel. Can you just imagine the reactions if I’d gone knocking on doors? For better and for worse, we don’t do things that way.

The level of comfort I expect in my lodging, however, probably had Jesus rolling his eyes.

I wonder: if traveling light has taken on new meaning in this day and age, is there still a way that we can “disciple light?” Are there ways that we can do the work of healing and liberation without burdening ourselves with things that are irrelevant or harmful?

I think so. I think so.

Let’s leave greed behind. Let’s abandon the western obsession with wealth. Let’s give up the notion that wealth follows inevitably from the exercise of virtue. Let’s give up the idea that possessions entitle someone to influence the lives of others.

Westerners almost worship ownership. They think: I bought this land. I paid for this land – or my ancestor did – it’s my land, and I should be able to do what I like on it. That reasoning has dominated western thinking for generations.

But streams and aquifers flow downhill. What happens to the water on my land affects those who dwell below.

And smoke and fumes rise and blow downwind. What happens to the air on my land may flow up toward the mountain.

The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated how investment practices used by a relatively small number of people could have an enormous impact on people who not only didn’t use them, but didn’t have access to them, hadn’t heard of them, and didn’t have the resources to exploit them. So how could it affect them?

Well, when the house of cards built with greed collapsed, it took banks and manufacturers and service companies with it. Investment managers lost their jobs, but so did people who made things and filed things and cleaned things.

The foulness of greed and fraud spilled a long way downstream.

This week, the Treasury Secretary proposed rolling back some of the regulations imposed after the 2008 crisis. Here’s what the New York Times editorial board had to say about that on Friday: “the administration can weaken Dodd-Frank by neutering the rules that carry it out. We went from the repeal of Glass-Steagall to the financial crisis in less than 10 years. It is, sadly, safe to say that we can start counting down to the next crisis now.”

For God’s sake, let’s leave greed behind. Let’s leave the worship of personal property behind. Let’s leave the callous disregard for our neighbor behind.

Let’s leave anxiety behind, too. I know that’s hard.

We can’t leave fear behind. Fear is a natural response of the human body, and it’s a very useful thing. It’s no longer handy for keeping us at a respectful distance from a sabre-toothed tiger, but that little jolt of adrenaline (that has us shaking for an hour afterwards) was really helpful in getting me out of the crosswalk before that car driving without aloha ran me down.

Fear is in our blood and bone. We’ll have to take it along.

But we don’t have to let it rule us. When our fears take charge, nobody gets healed. When our fears take charge, nobody gets liberated. When our fears take charge, we’re imprisoned. When our fears take charge, it will even make us sick.

That stick Jesus told his friends not to carry? It wasn’t just a walking stick. I’m afraid I misled you there. It was a weapon. It was something to have ready to use against bandits and bears and bugs.

All, right, not bugs. I just wanted something else that begins with “B.”

But twice recently juries have given fear the nod, have said that fear appropriately determines our actions. Two days ago, a Minnesota jury said that officer Jeronimo Yanez did nothing criminal when he shot Philandro Castile to death during a traffic stop. Officer Betty Shelby was similarly acquitted in the death of Terence Crutcher, whose car had become disabled on an Oklahoma highway. In both cases, the juries were convinced by the defense argument that the officers acted in fear for their lives, and that fear justified pulling the trigger, even though neither was actually threatened at all.

In a nation with falling crime rates, we’re letting anxiety about darkly colored skin justify violence.

Dear God.

No, we can’t leave fear behind. But let’s leave behind the anxiety that keeps us from healing, that keeps us from liberating, and that keeps us justifying our deadly aggression.

Let’s go, disciples. Let’s go, apostles. We’ve got healing to do. We’ve got liberating to do. There are griefs to comfort, there are illnesses and injuries to bring our love to. There are people imprisoned by low wages and by hopelessness and by homelessness and by racial profiling and by not realizing how much they are loved by God. Let’s go heal and liberate.

And let’s disciple light. We do not need a bag to carry our greed in. We do not need an extra tunic to call our own. And we do not need the staff to reinforce our fears.

Let’s disciple light. Let’s disciple faithfully. Let’s disciple for Jesus. Let’s disciple for the world God loves, and the people God loves.


Photo is of Pastor Eric’s luggage when traveling (as a reporter/photographer) to the 2013 General Synod of the United Church of Christ. He, um, didn’t travel very light.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on June 18, 2017

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