This sermon was preached by me (Rev. Mieke Vandersall) on July 16, 2012 at Not So Churchy.
Luke 9: 1-6 Then Jesus Called the 12 together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money–not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
I heard on NPR just a few days ago about the most recent Olympic dramas. One was the outcry over McDonalds being the official restaurant sponsor of the Olympics. Only McDonalds French fries were allowed to be sold—no chips—like real British chips—to be sold on the premises of the Olympics, in Britain for God’s sake. This is a complete scandal, as one can imagine. First, they are called French fries, how American, and then real chips can’t be sold. I don’t blame them, as much as I don’t really care.
It makes me tired. I wonder about our priorities.
Speaking of priorities. While many of us in this room are Not Really Churchy People, and that is where my heart is, I did just return from one of the biggest church geek fests ever. While few of us in this room are Presbyterian, it is where I come from, and it is the other part of my job, working for LGBT folk in the Presbyterian Church, trying as hard as I can to change the debate and reduce the homophobia slung by church-going Christians. At this national meeting that I just came back from, with professional lobbyists (myself being one) and dinners, pomp and circumstance and the same tired old arguments, where we made precious few decisions of consequence, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so, I found myself wondering again about our priorities. What does any of this have to do with the gospel, which literally means Good News? When is the last time we not only read the Bible but really took it in? Take nothing for your journey…no staff nor bag nor bread nor money, not even an extra tunic. Seems to fly in the face of so much in our lives.
After this week away I find myself craving fewer words and less church and more quiet. Like what we feed ourselves with here. Just quiet please. Quiet without the worry of the to-do list or next paycheck or the next meal or looking professional enough to be taken seriously. Take nothing for your journey…quiet acceptance, peace of mind, simplicity.
But that might not be the whole point of this text. Remember that elsewhere we are told that we need bread to live—or that by bread alone we can’t survive—but bread is a part of survival. Jesus breaks bread and gives it to us. We break bread at this Table and give it to each other.
Bread is necessary.
This little sentence and piece of advice…take nothing…is squeezed in between two sentences about power and authority. It isn’t just about simplicity. It is about how to survive when we claim our power and our authority. Jesus called his people together and gave them power and authority to cure and to heal. And when you have that power and authority, when it isn’t welcomed then leave and shake the dust off your feet.
I don’t know about you but words like “power” and “authority” scare me. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, at least I was taught young that I was to be humble, and by humble I mean don’t toot my own horn, and so it has taken me many years to begin to trust that I have something to say, and I am still learning. Maybe it is because I am queer and the church has told us for a very long time that our voices don’t matter so much, even though there are other amazing folks trying to counteract that argument.
Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. You have heard this phrase, which could be credited to first Baron Acton, a historian and moralist who wrote this in 1887. But I have heard this so much that I have had to figure out how to claim power leading me to metaphorical paralysis of my own voice, with fear that claiming my own power must be a corrupted form of power. But power is a fact of life and if it is so then it could be used one of two ways, as I see it.
What I hear in this story today, written long before first Baron Acton was alive, is that we are all given the authority to go out there and heal ourselves and heal others; and that is actually what we are mandated to do. We are mandated to listen to the experience we have been given and the voice that we have been blessed with and get out there and use it for good.
And perhaps what the gospel writer means in this story is that you don’t need the things that you think you need to make this happen. You don’t need the clothes you think you need or the food you think you need or the amount of money you think you need. Yes, you have to survive and even flourish within certain systems and structures. Yes, you have to be smart and wise. Yes, you have to be political, even. But you don’t need the tools in your bag that you think you need. Often you and I and all of us start out on a journey quite sure of what we need to get where we think we need to be going when we are focusing on the exact wrong things.
So I wonder what it was that you let go of when you entered this space. What tools haven’t been helping you that you could say goodbye to? Would you write something different now?
Before this small story the stories in the chapter leading up to it are these: Jesus hangs out with his disciples and several other women, many of whom had been cured by evil spirits, perhaps low self-esteem, perhaps proscribed gender roles that kept them from knowing their own power. And Jesus sits them down and tells them these stories, these parables, he tells them that they need to find healthy soil to grow themselves in, he told them that they are not a lamp that should be kept under a bed but instead on a lampstand for the light to be seen by all. He uses his power to calm a storm on the lake, and they wonder whoever this one is. He heals, he casts out demons, he restores to life. All of these actions are about establishing his own power and authority, which if you read carefully these stories, he doesn’t quite have control over himself.
In the biblical world, if you think about it factually, Jesus has no official power. He is not a king, he is not a monarch, he is not rich in material goods. He comes from unwed, poor parents. When he performs exorcisms, which is the only way he can claim his power, they are seen as political actions. In his world, those possessed by a spirit are in a disvalued state. And he, by healing them, places them in a state of value, as he believes it is meant to be, for us each to have a voice that can be heard, an experience that should be told, gifts that should be shared. It is this political act that leads in the next verses after our reading today, for Herod the ruler to ask who this was. He thought it might have been John, whom he had already beheaded. Who was this who claimed his authority and power whom Herod himself had not blessed?
And so after he not only does all this healing, restoring the voice and the honor of so many, he calls his disciples together and asks that they spread this word, that we all have voice, we all have power, we all have the authority by virtue of being God’s child, to right the social order.
We don’t need Herod’s blessing, so you see. We don’t need McDonald’s blessing to serve real chips, we don’t need the institutional church’s blessing to love ourselves and the world around us. Jesus did it before us and that is all the blessing we do need.
Last night I watched an interview with Steve Jobs from many years ago, when he owned NEXT, about a year before he was placed back into Apple. He told this story about an article he read when he was young, which made a huge impact on him: The article measured the efficiency of locomotion of various species on the planet. Humans were included in this measuring. The condor won out and humans were 1/3 of the way down the list. But then they tested a human riding a bicycle and their locomotion well beat out the condor. This is what he got from this: humans are tool builders. And when we use the right tools we can amplify our innate human abilities.
Steve Jobs thought the personal computer is the bicycle of the mind.
And so of course I wonder what the bicycle of the spirit is. What God-given innate gifts do you have that you shy away from, deem not useful, need to claim, need to be healed to be put back in a valued state? These are the things to take on your journey, leaving the rest of the bags and staffs, bread, money, tunics behind. These are things you need as you are commissioned to heal others, helping them to come back to a valued state that God never removed them from in the first place.
I do believe that this is the good news. This is the heart of the gospel message. And I am blessed to explore this with you
 John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 160.