My husband and I just got back from a three-week vacation to Europe. We travelled through Italy and down the Adriatic coast. Part of the time we were in hotels or houses we rented and the other time we were on a cruise ship. We took planes, boats and trains. Before leaving, it was hard to make a decision about what to take with us–you never know when you might need that extra shirt or dress, right. The weather looked like it was going to be cold and rainy for the first part of the trip and warm and sunny later. And we hadn’t been on a cruise ship for 20 years. It was so different from the way we usually travel; we just felt the urge to throw one more thing in that we might need. Enough excuses, but I am sure if you have ever travelled for an extended time, some of you might identify with this dilemma. Despite the good advice we received from more seasoned travelers here in this congregation about how to travel light, we ended up taking one very large check on bag each, plus a duffel bag to carry on the plane.
All went well on the plane but when we got to our first train ride, we couldn’t find anywhere to stash the big bags. They were heavy and didn’t fit in the luggage rack above the seats. Then when we landed in Florence (in the rain no less) we had to maneuver the bags over cobble stone streets, taking twist and turns for about a half hour before we found our apartment. And of course, there was no elevator and it was on the second floor. Then we moved from Florence to Venice on a train.
This went smoother as it had a luggage rack between the cars but as we landed in Venice (again in the rain) we had to not only deal with cobblestone but with bridges that had steps rather than ramps. We must have been a sorry sight indeed, getting wet and dragging luggage that weighed about 50 pounds, not counting the duffels that kept falling off the top of the big bag. We had to haul these bags up and over four bridges before we found our hotel. I must have really looked pathetic because a nice Italian gentleman offered to help me negotiation one of the bridges by taking my bag and lifting it over the bridge. Either that or he wanted to impress his girlfriend who was walking with him by helping out an old lady. Guess the boy scout in him got activated.
To make matters worse, there were no straight streets in either of these cities. We would begin a direction that we thought would take us to our destination only to end up with a building facing us and the need to choose between two forks in the road. Street names changed and were hard to find. At times the GPS we relied on seemed to be as completely lost as we were. It was really a challenge to navigate at times.
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives seventy-two of his disciples marching orders to go on a mission. Let’s take a look at his instructions for going on this journey. First, He tells them to travel light and not to worry about what they are going to need for the trip. They were not to take money, extra clothes or sandals. Good advice for travelers. We were told to travel light as well and wish we had taken that advise. However, Jesus’ advice for travel is what I call extremely light!
Second, Jesus encourages them to stay with the first people who invites them into their house. He told them not to change houses once they were invited in, encouraging them to make do with whatever accommodations they found themselves in. No complaining about the food or the bed or trying to find a better house. This trip was not about being in the best house but focused on spreading the Gospel.
Third, they were told to not be picky about food that is given to them. They would be staying among Jews and Samaritans, maybe even Gentiles, some of whom practiced the Jewish laws of cleanliness and food preparation but some who might not follow these laws at all. They were told to “eat and drink whatever was set before them for workers deserve their pay.”
Fourth, they were told not to worry about the end results of their preaching. They were to grant peace to the house that received them and to give them the news that the Kingdom of God has come. They were to bless those people who listened to their message and heal the sick in that area. When their message was rejected, they were to make this public statement “As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.” After this, they were to move on to the next city and not ruminate on their failure to have their message received.
They were sent in pairs so at least they had someone to support them during their travels. Whether they were paired with someone they knew well or not, at least the other person was a believer in Jesus. Going in pairs helps to strengthen a person’s resolve. A person alone quickly becomes discouraged; partners are more likely to persevere. But I imagine that it was challenging for the disciples to leave the area they knew and go to the neighboring villages, places where they may not know anyone. Jesus told them he was sending them out as lambs among wolves. Wow, that is enough to scare anyone.
He sent them out to preach the Good News and there was no way of knowing whether they would be received well or not. They needed to learn to trust in the journey and in their belief in Jesus’s message of the Kingdom of God both in the present and to come.
The early pilgrims of Christianity were similar to these 72 sent out by Jesus. The word pilgrim is from the same root as the word peregrine which means “coming from another country or foreign.” Many early Christians took on the mission of Jesus and wandered to foreign countries to spread the Gospel. According to Christine Valters Painter’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim, the Celtic monks used the metaphor of peregrinatio to shape their ministries. Peregrinatio is “the call to wander for the love of God.” Often these wandering missionaries journeyed for “the love of Christ,” setting out without a destination in mind. They even at times got into a small boat with no oars or rudders and trusted themselves to “the currents of divine love.” In order to do this, they trusted in love and that God would provide for their needs and would guide them to where their message was most needed. They relied on the Holy Spirit to provide both the destination and the way. The impulse for the journey was always love.
This way of travel or journey is foreign to most of us. When we go on a trip, we want to know where we are going, maybe map out the best way to get there, plan for exactly where we will stay and where we will find food. It is no different for most of us when we set out on a mission trip. We have in mind where we will go and stay. We may research the situations and culture we are going into. We don’t want to have many curve balls thrown at us. We have a hard time trusting in God to provide or to be flexible if things don’t turn out the way we thought they would. And yet, when Jesus sent the 72 out, he told them to let go of their expectations and just go. This is the Gospel pattern for mission. To not fear talking with people you don’t know, to not worry about your needs being met, to make sure you eat and take care of yourself and to not worry if you are successful or fail—just shake it off and move on.
The same need for control is true for most of us on our spiritual journeys, both externally and internally. In our external spiritual journey, we want to know ahead of time where we are being called and what God wants us to be and do. We want to know what will be expected of us. We may have a plan in mind but also want to be able to discern if it is God’s will for our lives. Am I call to ordained ministry or to work with the English as Second language program or to serve in mission by building houses? We might find ourselves asking, “Have I made the “right choice”? Did I hear God correctly?” What if I commit to a path in life and then feel like I have no passion for it? What if I find one obstacle after another in my way? Should I continue along this path or take this as a sign that it is not God’s will for my life? Many of us want to be sure of the answers before we begin that journey at all. Let’s face it, most of us want a burning bush or at least a neon sign pointing that way. I know I did as I answered the call to ministry.
To believe that God only has one path for our lives is limiting God. God grants us choice and free will. In each choice, there are lessons to be learned that can help us to deepen our relationship with God. There are multiple ways of living into the fullness to which God calls each of us. We need to listen closely to discover what is truly life-giving and learn to trust ourselves as well as God. Our thoughts and habits have a way of keeping us on well-worn paths of action and thinking. We need to increase our ability to sort out which stories that we tell ourselves are life-giving and which ones keep us stuck in fear and the desire to stay in a comfortable routine. We need to challenge those that do nothing to bring us to wholeness.
Likewise, on our inward spiritual journeys, we want to have a seasoned guide or guide books that will help us know what will be required of us as we seek to deepen our relationship with God. But the inner journey is more about learning to let go of this desire to be in control and have the faith that Jesus encouraged his disciples to have as they went out on their mission. We need to learn to be open to inner guidance that is given on the way. We may need to examine the places where wounds and shame reside. We may not want to go to these places as we don’t trust that God will be there to provide the help and support needed to find the way to wholeness. The spiritual journey calls us into foreign and wild places where God cannot be put in to a box and tamed. God is full of surprises but underneath every surprise is love and the promise to supply our needs. Isaiah’s metaphor for this is that God is like a mother who comforts her child. Isaiah says,”
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
in Jerusalem you will be comforted.
When you see this, your heart will rejoice;
your entire being will flourish like grass.
Our job is to learn to let go of the baggage that keeps us stuck, just like that 50-pound suitcase that bogged down my journey in Europe. Leaving behind all the shame, the need to be perfect, the need to be able to predict the outcome, will free us up to take the journey into wholeness with and anticipation for the joy that will be found. The invitation here is to let go of our own agendas and discover where God is leading us.
It may not involve getting into a boat with no oars and drifting on the sea, but at times it will feel like we have no idea where we are going or how to get there. If we set out with love as our guide and motivation, we can rest in the assurance that the Spirit will guide us and that we will have companions on the way if we are open to those who cross our paths. They might not be who we thought they would be, but we just might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to contribute to our growth and journey. Our God is a God of love, who provides like a mother does for her children. I invite you to take the journey, to yield yourself to God’s prompting and discover the joy that comes from “your entire being flourishing like the grass.” (Meditation on Luke 10:1-11 and Isaiah 66: 10-14)