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You may have heard me talk about organizing clutter before. I love Marie Kondo and Cassandra Aarssen (the Canadian clutter guru) and if I have free time then I will usually try to organize something. I get a lot of satisfaction from filling a bag with stuff and sending it off to Value Village. I grew up with a mindset of collecting stuff. I had a collection of collections. There was my pig collection with over 100 stuffed, ceramic, plastic, and even flying pigs. There was my key collection. There was my milk poster collection. And the one that made me very popular, my candy stash; a shoebox that was always full of candy, chocolate, and whatever else was edible and delicious. I’m reluctant to share about this next collection because it’s pretty gross, but there was no tooth fairy at my house, and so I even had a collection of my teeth that had fallen out. Needless to say, I had a hard time letting go of things. This collecting habit of mine continued into university and beyond. I loved having stuff. This love turned into hate when I had to move. I had to open every closet and shoebox and desk drawer and pack all the stuff. This became worse when both Bruce’s dad and my parents decided in the same year, that they were going to renovate our childhood homes and each packed up the boxes of stuff we had left there a decade ago and sent them to us. I received boxes of shoes, pigs, pictures, school binders, purses, and even some boxes of things that belonged to my sisters.
There are two philosophies when it comes to organizing. One is to buy storage containers so that your stuff can be put way neatly, and the other is to get rid of the stuff. After reading “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up” and “The Year of Less” by Cait Flanders, I learned that I prefer to get rid of the stuff. I also learned how attached I am to having things. Every time I acquire something, I assume that it will make my life better. But in reality, it makes my life cluttered. And yet, it can be so hard to get rid of things. Marie Kondo almost broke the internet when she mentioned that she tries to keep no more than 30 books on her bookshelf. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m trying. The problem with clutter is that it takes your time away from what is important. In the same way, I think that with Christianity, we have become very good at organizing our clutter. We can clutter the calendar and clutter our ministries and even clutter our services so that it becomes harder to and harder to see what is at our core.
This is our second week of looking at Kingdom life, of what is at the core of the Church. Last week we looked at the church as a group of people who are sent out to proclaim the good news. Today we are going to look at the ‘how’ of being sent out. We read Mark 6 which tells us what Jesus expected his disciples to do when they were sent out. But before we get to the sending out, we have this story of Jesus’ return to his hometown.
Back in Chapter 4, Jesus began teaching about God’s reign, and then in chapter 5, – Jesus performs miracles. He delivers a man from evil spirits and restores a girl to life, and heals a woman who has been bleeding for years. You can imagine how excited his disciples must have been as they headed out on their next mission having just witnessed these miracles. They travel to Nazareth and head to the synagogue, the centre of religious life. By all accounts, something good should be about to happen. Jesus begins to teach and to talk about what he has done, only to have his hearers his hearers scoff at him. They think they know him, and therefore they don’t believe that he is anything special. After all, this is the kid they saw grow up. This is the Jesus of Nazareth they watched do common every day things and as such, they continue to expect him to do common, everyday things. It’s amazing how many times this story has been repeated throughout history, this inability of people to accept exceptionality of people who they see as common. The news anchor who was fired from her job because she brought too much emotion into her stories started her own talk show and eventually her own network and now, there’s not a person in the world who doesn’t know the name, Oprah Winfrey. Kerry Washington, one of the most well-known actresses today, was replaced by another actress in the first two pilots she filmed. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was fired from his writing job because his boss believed he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”. And these are people who have changed and are changing culture and there are so many more stories like this. This inability for people to see beyond what they expect of you seems to be a part of fallen human nature. Which is why the people in Nazareth, those who claimed Jesus as their own, couldn’t see Jesus for who he really was. They saw ‘Common Jesus’ and nothing more.
Jesus is amazed at their unbelief. Verse 5 says that “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people”. I love that exception, but overall, this was not a place for Jesus to be Jesus. The Son of God is standing in the centre of religious life, the place where religious culture is defined and practiced, and he is dismissed. They want the ‘Common Jesus’ they know and they want the ‘common religion’ they know and nothing more.
We see here how unbelief has a restrictive effect on Jesus’ ministry. This is a danger for people who claim Jesus as their own. Familiarity with Jesus can lead to unbelief. We can think that we know Jesus, we know what he does and what he doesn’t do. We can become so comfortable in our church culture and in our rituals that we dismiss the Son of God because he doesn’t fit in with our ideas of church. It can be church folks who claim to be the people of God and yet, amaze him with their unbelief. In the gospel of Mark, being amazed is usually reserved for those who witness the work of God. The only time Jesus is amazed is when his people show unbelief. Which is why, in Mark 3, Jesus tells us that it is not necessarily the ones who claim his name or those who claim to be Christians who are the people of God, but the people of God are those who do his will. This is what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, it means that we are a people who do God’s will. A big part of doing God’s will is getting rid of the clutter in our Christianity so that we focus on being the Church that God has called us to be.
When Jesus sends his disciples out in verse 7, he gives them a mandate to witness and heal, he is telling them to go and replicate his own ministry. What do they need for this? Nothing. Jesus shows them that their mission is to ‘go’ and they rely on God for the rest. This is an invitation to simplicity. This is an invitation to look at our bookshelves and ask if we really need more than 30 books. This is an invitation to look at our Christianity and to get rid of the clutter. For some of us, that might be the call to live more simply; to have less and give more. As a church, we can ask, what has been cluttering our witness and our ability to see beyond the common and experience the power of God?
I find it’s always good to start with God rather than with ourselves, so a question for us today is what do we expect God to do among us? Lamar Williamson Jr., a theologian who died this past summer wrote that “the spiritual climate of a congregation, its sense of expectancy, its openness to the power of God at work through Jesus Christ, will, in fact, have a great deal to do with how much God’s power can accomplish in that particular community”. Jesus’ lack of activity in a community is not a reflection of Jesus, as we saw in our reading, but a reflection of the people within that community. We can talk about programs and money and identify needs that we have, but when you strip all that away, the question that remains is what God will do in this community? We know that God wants to heal, renew, and redeem. Words that might seem beyond our capabilities. The good news is that because Jesus is not common, he uses common people to do his will. If you look at the disciples, there was nothing special about them. The most important piece in them becoming disciples of Christ was that when Jesus said ‘Come’, they followed him. And in our passage for today, Jesus tells them to ‘go’ and that’s what they do. We’re going to take a few moments to look at how they go out because their mission is one that is clutter-free.
First, they go out two by two. Jesus doesn’t send anyone out alone. The weight of ministry is not on any single person’s shoulders. I know in the church, we need to be careful of seeing someone’s gifting in a particular area and then putting everything on them. Ministry is not done in isolation. Ministry is not the role of one person, of one Super-Christian, but as a priesthood of believers, we are all ministers and we are to go out and do ministry together.
Second, Jesus sends the disciples out with authority. They are able to fulfill their mission because they do so in the name of Jesus. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this world’s darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. There are times when we think the enemy is someone or something other than the enemy. When we’re frustrated with a co-worker or a family member, when we see injustice, when we want someone to blame, we may see the person standing in front of us as our enemy. But the Bible tells us that our struggle is not happening in the physical world but in the spiritual world. That is why prayer is so important. To invoke the name of Jesus is to call on the only One who makes the powers of darkness tremble at the sound of his name. To go in the name of Jesus is to go in the power and authority of God.
Third, Jesus sends the disciples out with a walking stick, sandals, and the clothes on their backs. He does this because they have what they need. They are equipped for the journey because they have spent time with Jesus. They have lived with him and eaten with and watched as he healed people. They have witnessed his miracles and they know how he responds to and interacts with people. Because of their proximity to Jesus, because of their relationship with him, they are prepared to go out. Ministry shouldn’t be easy, but it should be simple.
And lastly, Jesus sends the disciples out and gives them the freedom to walk away if they are not welcomed. This phrase “shake the dust from your feet” was one that the Jews would use to show separation from anything that kept them from being pure. When the disciples are met with unbelief, they are not required to prove themselves or prove Jesus. They are free to walk away.
With these instructions, the disciples go out to preach, to deliver people from evil spirits, and to heal and anoint the sick. This is what clutter-free Christianity looks like. When you strip everything away that isn’t necessary, you are left with a community of people who have chosen to follow Christ, and who are going out together with authority and power to preach, to deliver, and to heal. You are left with common people who build their lives around the not-so-common Jesus. Jesus who has shown his love for us by giving everything, even his life. Part of living clutter-free is knowing what gives you joy. It’s making space so you have room for the things that you love. Jesus had made room for all of us. In his death and resurrection, he has made room for us to live in relationship with him. And as we celebrate communion later on Zoom, we’ll remember that he has made room at his table for us.
May God open our eyes so we can see what clutter we need to clear away so that we love Christ freely and fully, the way he loves us.