Sent out in weakness

Posted 7/14/18

Excerpt from Mark 6:1-13"He 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 …

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Sent out in weakness


Excerpt from Mark 6:1-13

"He 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. . . . So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them."

There is a legend that has been told for decades which is included in the folklore surrounding Poland's famous concert pianist and prime minister, Ignace Paderewski, who lived in the late 19th century. The story goes that:

A mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, bought tickets for a Paderewski performance. When the night arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and admired the majestic Steinway piano waiting on stage.

As they waited for the concert to begin, the mother began talking with a friend, and so the boy took the opportunity of her distraction to slip away. The time for the concert arrived, and the spotlights came on, the audience got quiet. It was only then that they noticed the boy up on the bench, who began to innocently pick out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

Before the mother could retrieve her son, the great concert pianist appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the piano. He whispered to the boy to keep on playing. Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part, and with his right arm he reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a a part on top. Together, the old master and the young novice mesmerized the crowd.

We often read and hear about God being with us in our times of trial and weakness, when we are in our valleys, in our lows, which he always is. Wherever we may be. But this week we are thinking about something a little different. 

The gospel lesson this morning is about God using our feeble faith, our efforts as novices in ministry, to advance his kingdom in ways far beyond our imagination. It is about the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and again, to keep on playing. And as we do, he augments and supplements our feeble efforts until a work of amazing beauty is created.

In the gospel lesson we first hear that Jesus’ ministry in his hometown had been a bit of a bust. It seems that the people there could not look past his history, his family. They could not see God because their vision was clouded by what they thought they knew about this man and his family and his past. And so Jesus decides to send out the 12 apostles free of all of this baggage of their past.  

And you can just picture Jesus walking out of Nazareth with the 12. Coming to a crossroad and saying ok, you two go that way, you two go that way, you two go that way. Time for you to do some work. Leave everything behind—your family, friends, your stuff. Even me. And get out there and get to it.  

And he sent them out two by two with only four things: one tunic, a pair of sandals, a staff and his blessing. No food, no money, not even a spare pair of underwear. And they go trotting off in their separate directions ready to get to work. They were new to his ministry, but they had already seen him in action healing the people, and preaching about repentance. So that is what they do.  

They mimic his work and his teaching. They live and work in the world as he did, praying for and healing others, and preaching repentance. And lo and behold—they are successful.  And it is clear to them exactly and completely why—they give the entire success to the glory of God. They had gone out in complete weakness, carrying nothing but a staff and a willing heart to go in a certain direction. Willing to take those first steps in their ministry. And they learned the valuable lesson that it is when we are willing to step forward in weakness; using our own inadequate resources, that is precisely where God steps in. The master steps in and creates a masterpiece alongside the novice.  

God separates us from our former life and former selves and send us out into our new life as new selves, new creations in Christ. This separation and sending sounds so radical, like something that only applies to special people, to priests and prophets. But the truth is he calls each one of us and gives us each work to do, sending us out into the world.   There is a sign at the exit of the parking lot of a Lutheran Church in Birmingham that reads “You are now entering the mission field.” That sign has got it right. We are all called. We are all sent. But then we all come back.  

This was just the first mission trip of those 12 apostles into the world. It was their first step in ministry. Mark is clear that they came back and rejoiced in their work with Jesus. And then they received more training—heard more preaching; saw more miracles and healings; enjoyed more fellowship with one another; assisting Jesus in his work. And that first mission trip was just the small first step of a walk around the block which would later lead to journeys around the world.  

Small ministries leading them on to bigger things. The apostles played such a large part in the work and stories of Jesus. But then came their time for their work in the trenches.  99% of which we know nothing about. We have very little information about what they actually did or said in their own years, even decades of ministry. But we know the effect.  We are the fruit of their labors, from a harvest that still occurs centuries after they had gone. And that’s how the work of the kingdom is accomplished and perpetuated.  

So what are you being called to do for which you may feel weak or inadequate? This past week a couple of people forwarded to me a quote of Max Lucado in his book "Cure for the Common Life," and I am considering using that book for a Wednesday night book study this fall.  Max writes:

"All the billions of Christ followers over the last two-thousand years have this in common:  'A spiritual gift is given to each of us' (1 Corinthians 12:7). God’s body has no nobodies. No exceptions…no exclusions. Our gifts make an eternal difference only in concert with the church. Apart from the body of Christ, we are like clipped fingernails or shaved whiskers and cut hair. Who needs them? He grants gifts so we can 'prepare God’s holy people' (Ephesians 4:11-12). . . Broken people come to churches. Not with broken bones, but broken hearts, broken homes, broken dreams, and broken lives. And if the church operates as the church, they find healing. All members help to heal brokenness, 'to make the body of Christ stronger!'

So I encourage us to all to take time to think about what gifts God has given us and what he may be calling us to do to prepare and heal his people. And if we are shy about our abilities as missionaries for God, let us always remember that it is when we reach the end of our resources and abilities that we finally allow God to use his.

The Rev. Robin Hinkle is the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.