Sunday, July 8, 2018

Two by Two

Scripture  Mark 6:1-13

6:1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 6:2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

6:4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

6:7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 6:8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 6:9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 6:10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 

6:12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 6:13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


This really seems like two separate stories, deserving of two separate messages.   And yet, maybe not.   Maybe they do work together.  Let’s see.  

Familiarity breeds contempt.  We all know that one.  Maybe we have experienced it.   In seminary one of the things we were cautioned against ever doing was go back to the church that sent us out as their pastor.  And this passage was used as the reason for that advice.  “It will be hard for them to respect you as their pastor if they remember changing your diapers.  Even if you haven’t been there your entire life, they remember when you left for college, and they heard your first (terrible) sermons.  They aren’t going to appreciate your growth any more than your mother appreciates you are a fully grown, independent adult.  Even Jesus couldn’t go home again.”   Naturally, a few of my classmates and friends decided this sage advice did not apply to them.   I probably don’t have to tell you that 100% of them crashed and burned, and left their home church for their next call sadder and wiser.   The thing about those old sayings, and proverbs and such, is that they pretty much tend to be true.  That’s why they keep being repeated.  

So Jesus has been preaching and doing all kinds of signs and wonders, and healing the sick and casting out demons.  Everywhere, crowds gather to hear him.   Everyone who comes to him for healing goes away well.  He even brought a girl back to life, and healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years!  He commanded a storm on the sea to stop, and it did!  Then he goes back to his home congregation in Galilee and preaches, and the folks from his hometown are all like, “Uh, isn’t this Jesus?  We know Jesus.  He’s the carpenter’s kid.  His brothers and sisters are sitting right over there!  He never went to study the Law, so how can he possibly know what he’s talking about?  We never saw him cure anybody, so these must be stories he’s telling to make himself seem like somebody.  We notice he’s still on foot, wearing ordinary clothes, all dusty and everything.  And all these guys with him are no better than he is - fisherman and such.  Why would we listen to him?”   And he can’t heal anyone in that place, except for just a few sick people.  Because no one had faith in him.  No one believed he had the power.   They knew him too well, you see.  And when you think you know someone, it’s hard to change your mind about what you think you know.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  

So he left that place, and went to teach in the villages around there.  But because   he loved his home, and he knew they needed to hear the Good News as much as anyone else, he sent his disciples out to teach the folks who wouldn’t listen to him.    He sent them out two by two.  He told them not to take anything with them.   If people wanted to hear their message, they would be fed and sheltered.  And if people didn’t want to hear them, they should go on to the next place.  Not push themselves or the Gospel on people with closed minds.  Not insist that people had to listen to them.  Just go on to the next place, where they might get a better reception.  And so they did.  They proclaimed the Good News of God’s forgiveness, and that everyone must repent of their sins to be reconciled with God.   They laid their hands on the demon afflicted and cast out the demons.  They anointed the sick with oil and made them well.  All the things that Jesus could not do in that place, others - strangers - could.  

Go out in pairs.  Preach repentance.  Cast out evil.  Lay healing hands upon the sick.  Pray for spiritual and emotional wellness in those  you meet.  And if they don’t want to listen to you, don’t push it.  Don’t insist they must listen.  Go away, and pray that someone else will be able to get through.  

There’s a lot of focus on doing things in pairs in scripture.  God created humans as a pair.  Noah rescued animals in pairs.  Even Moses was given Aaron as a helper.  Only the greatest prophets went out by themselves to speak God’s truth to the people and do deeds of power - Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah.  In the New Testament, also, the apostles and evangelists typically went around two by two.   And those who didn’t often landed in serious trouble.  Again, the martyrdom of Stephen comes to mind.  As far as we know, he was alone out there, preaching to people who did not want to hear it.  Which is not what Jesus told his disciples to do.  Go in pairs.  If they don’t want to hear you, leave.  Even Paul always had companions with him.  We aren’t given specific reasons for doing things two by two, but sometimes we hear hints of those reasons in Paul’s letters.  If two people are together preaching the Good News, maybe they won’t wander off into questionable theology as they might were they alone and unchecked.  In his letters, Paul often cautions his churches against individuals who come behind him and preach and bring different understandings of who Jesus is and what it means to be Church.  And of course, there’s safety in numbers.   

Going out in pairs and groups is still a matter of safety.   One person alone with no witnesses as to what occurred in private, might be accused of crossing boundaries.  And that’s a big deal, especially in this time when people are becoming more willing to say, “Me, Too”.  As a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) I am required to take classes every  year about boundary issues of all kinds - sexual, social media, financial, cultural sensitivity, racism - to help keep any of these things from becoming an issue here. This is why I don’t want anything to do with the church’s money.   And it’s why my office door stays open, why I very rarely meet privately with anyone I don’t know really well unless others are nearby.   In many congregations, pastor and elders alike are encouraged to visit in pairs, not alone.   For when there are two or more together, even if one of them is misunderstood, the other is there to witness what actually happened.  It keeps both the visitor and the person being visited safe.  We are the Church.  The safety of everyone we come in contact with - physical, emotional, and spiritual - is important.  Far too many have been abused in one way or another by their church - by their pastor or by others in the congregation - and that should never happen.  But when it does happen, it should not be tolerated.    

We are Christ’s disciples, sent out to heal, and to carry the Good News.  We know that there are many who have contempt for the church, because what they know of Church is that they have been hurt, or people they love have been hurt.  If we are to heal those people, we need to be able to demonstrate that we are not the thing they are familiar with, that they are contemptuous of.  We need to be able to show them not just by our words, but by the way we live our lives, that we have faith that the God who created them, and us, loves each person equally.    If we are to carry the Good News to them, we need to be able to show that we also love them, as we love ourselves.  That we believe God can heal them of the injuries that have been done to them, of the heartsickness that afflicts them, if they will let Him.  When we go out from this place, let us be the Good News.

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