This week’s reading outlines the process by which disciples move from observation to practicum. For some time, Jesus’ disciples must have felt almost a part of the crowd as they followed Jesus around, listened to him preach, teach, heal and cast out demons. They were as surprised about “what came next” as anybody would be. They belonged to Jesus’ inner circle, but they had absolutely no idea what he might say or do, or where the whole thing was going.
Then Jesus came up with a new plan. “Alright guys, today I want you to count off by twos. One…two…one…two…” …and so it went until all were numbered. “You’ve watched me preach, teach, and heal. Now it’s time for you to put it into practice what you have learned. I’m sending you two by two into the harvest fields. Speak out the good news. Cast out demons. Heal the sick. Spend time with those who welcome you. Shake off the dust of those villages that reject you. Don’t take anything with you—no food, clothing, or money. Any questions?”
“How long are we supposed to stay? What if we run out of money? Where will you be? Will you be my partner? What if people won’t listen? I don’t know how to preach. Could I have a different partner? Do you have hard copies of your sermons? How will we know when we’re done?”
The disciples were kicked out of the nest, forced to leave the comfort of the Shepherd’s presence and make their way in the big, hard world. They shifted from spectating to participating as emissaries of the kingdom. Through this story, Jesus gives us all a gentle nudge (or maybe a friendly shove) to get us out of the nest and into the world. Jesus tells us today that he expects us…all of us…to be activists, ambassadors, spokespeople.
Both our gospel text and our morning reading from Galatians are filled with helpful advice for people sent out by Jesus to advance the kingdom in the world. When students used to gather around a teacher, or when monks gathered around an abbot, they were always given a Rule, a set of helpful instructions around which they ordered their lives. Our scripture from Galatians echoes that theme, “To all who walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy (6:16).”
Allow these scriptures to form our rule. They teach us how to take the gospel into our workplace, into our school, into the public square. These principles are for those of us who go into dark places, for those who take the word of Jesus home to family, to those of us who speak a word for Jesus in prisons. Here’s the best advice of Jesus and Paul; in other words, this is the rule of Jesus.
“Don’t go alone.” To do the work of Christ in the world, you don’t need years of education, or a highly polished presentation, but you do need a friend. Jesus sent out his disciples two by two. We all need someone to help us live the life of Christ, someone to pray with, someone we can bounce ideas off, someone to hold our feet to the fire when we go wobbly, someone to watch our back when people are throwing things at us. Jesus knew that it is difficult for us to live out our faith, and spread it to others, when we’re out there alone. His plan is for us to band together, to have someone who walks with us. Who is that person for you? Where might you find a person like that? Perhaps one of the most radical things that could happen in a congregation is that you might find a friend. Yes, and someone who is becomes more than a friend. Someone who becomes a partner in the faith. It’s a rough world. Don’t go out alone.
“Focus on relationships,” Jesus told his missionaries. We are to be all about people. Our task is to speak words of peace wherever we go, blessing households with the possibilities of peace. May we be representatives of Jesus in every conversation. In this week’s Galatians passage, Paul goes even further. He says we should even restore those caught in sin. “Bear one another’s burdens…do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.” But let us not think we are the only people with something to offer. Get out among people, Jesus said. Let them minister to you. Eat with them, be vulnerable among them, let them help you with your needs. Every friendship we have is a bridge for the gospel.
“Go with a message.” Being a disciple for Christ in the world is not just about being a nice person. Jesus reminds us in this Sunday’s scripture that the gospel is good news…”the kingdom of God has come near you.” The hardest part of being an ambassador for Christ may be working up the courage to share the vital message with which we have been entrusted. And what is that message? The message is Jesus. Jesus can turn our lives around. Jesus can turn the world around.
There is a bit more to this rule. Jesus said to those going out, “Expect failure. Expect success.” Some will listen; some won’t. We are not responsible to making peoples’ decisions for them, but we have been called to be faithful and speak a word for Jesus. Jesus knew that not everyone would listen. If those in one village don’t want to hear, go somewhere else. The main thing, said Paul, is that you don’t become weary in doing what is right. You be faithful, and let God worry about the response.
Well, that’s it. The Jesus Rule. Don’t go alone. Focus on people. Go with a message. Be prepared for success and heartbreaking failure. Oh, and one other thing. Don’t get cocky. Don’t think you’re hot stuff. Jesus said, “Don’t rejoice that the demons are subject to you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Paul put it like this, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ—by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Jesus is the story. Jesus is the show. Jesus is the message…and we…every one of us… are the messengers.