(Un)Packing for the Journey

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Take nothing for the journey, except a sturdy walking stick. Seriously? But I’ve got this whole pack of stuff. I have dietary restrictions and I’m not sure if even the most radical hospitality can cover them. I have books full of wisdom and advice that I’m sure I’ll need. And walking shoes and blister kits and medicines and… and… and… Oh, and let’s not forget all the other stuff I tend to carry along, too. You know, the self-doubt, the guilt, that chorus of critical voices that always makes me rethink my choices, and the burden of past trauma, and all the other junk that I can’t seem to let go of. And, please, can I bring my cell phone for GPS purposes only, I swear.

In spite of my protests, Jesus was pretty clear in sending out those early disciples. He told them not to take anything along with them because nothing they could carry (literally or figuratively) would help them on their way. They had everything they needed and more. And when they forgot that they could do God’s work, they had a companion to remind them that they were not in the business of spreading the Gospel alone. Everything else would be provided by those they would encounter along the way.

I still want to launch a protest, though. I want to point out how much more complicated the world is now. I can’t just go out in the world with nothing but the clothes I wear and a friend and expect that anyone will hear the Good News. Surely Jesus would understand if I brought a few things along! He would, wouldn’t he?

Probably not. Because all those things that I think I need would get in the way of helping to make manifest the Realm of God. As I imagine loading myself up with things I think I need in order to follow Jesus and live a life of love and healing, I wouldn’t make a very good ambassador of grace. I picture a backpack weighing nearly as much as I do, full to overflowing with all my “essential items.” It weighs so heavily on me that my progress from one place to another is so slow that I might as well not move.

I’ve got all this stuff on my back so I can’t look up and see where Jesus is leading. I’m so focused on what my GPS is telling me, I haven’t noticed my neighbors on the sidelines, needing my attention. Then I’m too busy looking for a place with adequate refrigeration for my foodstuffs that I haven’t responded to those who are hungry right next to me. I’m too worried about my own comfort, covered as I am in my sun-protective gear that I’ve failed to see those who are barefoot, exposed, and thirsty all around me. My hands are full with my phone, my water bottle, my walking stick; I can’t reach out in kindness or mercy to anyone.

And if this external stuff doesn’t totally trip me up, the internal jumble I can’t quite let go of, surely will. When my thoughts are so full of my own brokenness, how will I ever speak a word of healing, or see the wholeness of God in those I meet along my way? When I am focused on what I can’t possibly do, how will I ever bring a bit of the Realm of God into the here and now? When I am caught up in regrets for all that I have not done to help others or all that I have done to hurt others, how will anyone find hope and new life in the words I offer? When I am so preoccupied with pieces of my past, how can I reach into a future filled with hope and good things and hold it out for all to see?

Jesus was right. Take nothing for this journey of love and lifesaving. Nothing I can possibly carry, in my hands or in my head, will be of any use. I need to empty myself all that I use to protect myself from the world—the material goods that reveal only a small part of who I am and the clutter in my mind that tells nothing of who I am. I need to open my head, my heart, my hands to the One who shows us how to love. Only when I let go of all that I don’t need, can I truly embody Love and receive the hospitality and joy of all my neighbors. Together, when we empty our hands, our heads, our hearts of all that is unnecessary, we can make manifest the Realm of God. We are not alone and we have all that we need …even (maybe especially) those of us who tend to live in rebellious houses.

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 8, 2018
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 with Psalm 48 or
Ezekiel 2:1-5 with Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Photo: CC0 image by Simon Steinberger

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About rachaelkeefe

Hi. I am a pastor, an author, a painter, and a poet. My latest book is available now to order from Chalice Press, The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (http://amzn.to/2DZ55EU).
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