Sixth after Pentecost

“Walking staffs” by Julie Dennehy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Jenny and Heather!

PRELUDE: “L’Almanach des Images No. 8” (Grovlez)

OPENING PRAYER:

Holy One, 
you are with us in the dawning of the day,
through crowded hours of work and play,
and in the star-filled stillness of the night.
In these moments, 
touch our hearts with your peace,
that we may know your presence,
and may love and serve you in all that we do.
Remind us that any moment we focus on you
becomes an act of worship.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”

Immortal, invisible, God only wise;
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes;
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish; but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou rulest in light;
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render, O help us to see
’tis only the splendour of light hideth thee!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

O God, in whose mercy we find our peace, 
in whose presence we find our place,  
in whose world we find our calling: 
grant us grace so to hear and accept your Word 
that we may be faithful followers 
of your will and your way all our days.
The road is hard, and we often falter,
but we know that you urge us on,
willing to walk by our side.
Forgive us our halting steps.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Jesus Saw Them Fishing” (Canedo)

FIRST READING: Psalm 48

As we have heard,
so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever.
Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.

Mount Zion rejoices,
the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,

that you may tell of them
to the next generation.
For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.

SECOND READING: Mark 6.1-13

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

HYMN: “Praise our Maker”

Praise our Maker, peoples of one family:
God is love, God is love!
Praise our Maker, peoples of one family:
God is love, God is love!

Love our Saviour, followers of Jesus:
God is love, God is love!
Love our Saviour, followers of Jesus:
God is love, God is love!

Care for others, children of the Spirit:
God is love, God is love!
Care for others, children of the Spirit:
God is love, God is love!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Disciples on the Way to Emmaus, 1571. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

REFLECTION

Most often, preachers are just preachin’ to themselves.

Take the lesson about travelling light. As the boxes pile up, and the donation guy at the Value Village becomes my new best friend, I hear the instruction to travel light. You read “no bread, no bag, no money” and I hear “no books, no nick-nacks, and no electronic gewgaws.” Clearly, when they say “the Bible speaks,” it’s speaking to me.

A colleague once told me that early on her possessions were limited to what she could fit in her Pinto. As a student she moved frequently, and often across the country, and so decided to limit herself to the contents of a car, neatly packed, but not so neatly packed that the Pinto would not move. Her life had defined limits in terms of what she would allow herself to possess, and as she recounted the story, it was obvious she looked on those days with some satisfaction.

So Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

Permitted: a staff, sandals, and one tunic.
Not permitted: bread, knapsack, money, extra tunic.

And this got me thinking about ancient lists, and a particular passage from John Dominic Crossan:

The Cynic would not appear anywhere without his knapsack, staff, and cloak, which must invariably be dirty and ragged and worn so as to leave the right shoulder bare. He never wore shoes and his hair and beard were long and unkempt. (Jesus, p. 115)

Permitted: a staff, knapsack, and one dirty tunic.
Not permitted: shoes (sandals) and apparently personal hygiene.

The reason I share these lists is to illustrate that each movement (in this case being a disciple of Jesus or being a Cynic) had a set of standards with regard to lifestyle. And apart from a few variables, the lists seem fairly similar. The key difference (aside from personal hygiene, which the Gospel doesn’t mention) is the use of a knapsack. In the case of a Cynic, the knapsack was an important symbol of all that you need to travel through life. So setting aside the modern definition of the term, essentially a Cynic was a person committed to travelling lightly and possessing few things.

Cicero tells the story of an encounter between Diogenes, the central thinker among the Cynics and Alexander the Great:

But Diogenes, certainly, was more outspoken in his quality of Cynic, when Alexander (the Great) asked him to name anything he wanted: “Just now, Diogenes said, “stand a bit away from the sun.” Alexander apparently had interfered with his basking in the sun.

The most powerful man in the ancient world offered him anything he wanted, all he wanted was a better tan. In many ways, this story best describes the Cynics’ beliefs: a desire to step outside cultural norms and embrace the freedom that comes without property and a raft of possessions. Hence the knapsack. A Cynic had to be free to travel through life with only the things he could carry in his bag.

Now recall that Jesus didn’t permit his followers even a knapsack. No bread, no bag, no money, no extra tunic: only a staff and a sturdy pair of sandals. The message of new life in Christ required no possessions, only the things that would make walking safe. In all things, the disciples were to be totally dependent on God and on the generosity of others.

And this, it seems, is the key contrast between the Cynics and the followers of Jesus: one achieved freedom through self-dependence (everything needed was in one bag) and the others achieved freedom through complete dependence. They were to trust in God to provide what they needed through the people they met on the way.

It would be impossible to have a discussion on possessions and Pintos without talking about the Desert Fathers and Mothers. By about the beginning of the fourth century, the desert began to fill up with monks and would-be monks who attempted to follow the example of St. Anthony. They made their homes in caves and abandoned buildings and practiced the most severe form of aestheticism: living without possessions and living completely on the generosity of others.

We learn about the fathers and mothers by the stories recorded by their many followers and admirers. They formed a collection of “sayings” that are told and retold down to our day. This retelling comes from Thomas Merton:

One of the brothers asked an elder saying: “Would it be all right if I kept two coins in my possession, in case I should get sick?”
The elder, seeing his thoughts, and that he wanted to keep them, said: “Keep them.”

The brother, going back to his cell, began to wrestle with his own thoughts, saying: “I wonder if the Father gave me his blessing or not? Rising up, he went back to the Father, inquiring of him and saying, “in God’s name, tell me the truth, because I am all upset over these two coins.”

The elder said to him, “since I saw your thoughts and your desire to keep them, I told you to keep them. But it is not good to keep more than we need for our body. Now these two coins are your hope. If they should be lost, would not God take care of you? Cast your care on the Lord, then, for he will take care of us.”

At some point a possession becomes more than a possession and becomes a hope. At some point it takes on qualities beyond its utility and is given some power of position that it does not deserve. An RRSP becomes a symbol of “freedom” rather than simply a reasonable approach to retirement. A certain car may seem to make you cooler, when in fact, through a strict application of the rules of the road, every vehicle will get you from A to B in about the same time.

Now, rather than giving you several more examples and adding to the self-indictment nature of this sermon, it might be more interesting to go back to the beginning, and try to understand the DNA of this dependence on God we are called to. We need look no further than Exodus 20.

It is Commandment One that we should have no other gods beside the One True God. In the Ancient Near East, this commandment was a little more tangible. Your neighbours, the tribe just over the hill, likely had a God for everything. Fertility problems? Try Min of Eqypt. Trouble with your tomatoes? Osiris. Heading to war? Horus (weirdly also the god of childbirth). Thing’s a little chaotic? Try Seth (actually, I think he brought chaos, but the page I looked at is not clear).

Imagine how unfair it must have seemed to the Israelites to be surrounded by people with a god for every occasion and be left with only One God. As a rule, whenever someone offers you the “one solution” to all your problems we should become appropriately suspicious. It just seems more practical to twin specific problems with specific solutions rather than imagine that one thing is going to be able to do it for us. The first commandment, however, is the reminder that in the world of God, we are meant to travel light.

So just as the twelve were sent out with no bread, no bag, no money, and no extra tunic, they were also sent out without Baal, Min, Horus and the rest. They were to be totally dependent on the One True God, not a Swiss Army Knife of divinities to keep them from harm.

As messages go, “be dependent” may be the toughest one to sell in this society. We spend childhood moving from dependence to independence, we hear the message from every side to forge your own path and set your own goals and be your own person. But here, within these walls, the message is quite different: be the person God wants you to be, follow in the way of Jesus Christ, let the Spirit guide you. This is what it means to be dependent on God—not helpless—but open: open to the idea that God will give you what you need to make your way in the world.

So find a staff, some sturdy sandals, put on your best Sunday tunic and go with God! Amen.

Delft Plate, late 17th century, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of all, 
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we know and love— 
neighbours and friends, sisters and brothers—
a community of kindred hearts.
Keep them safe from harm,
and encourage them in the face of sadness and fear.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we hardly know—
strangers, visitors, forgotten friends—
the ones who need an outstretched hand.
Give them hope,
and remind them that there are many who care.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see what cannot be unseen—
injustice, cruelty, oppression, malice,
the careless disregard for the sacredness of human life.
Stir our hearts,
and help us to be agents of your peace.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see all the images of God represented in our fellowship.  
In me, in you, in each of us,
God’s spirit shines for all to see.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “Blessed assurance”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of the Spirit, washed in Christ’s blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight!
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending, bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love. R

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blessed;
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with God’s goodness, lost in Christ’s love. R

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

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