Matthew 6:25-34; 10:1, 5-20
People often ask about our business plan for Taborspace. I have to say, it was kind of weird – we never had one! It is kind of embarrassing, because it isn’t done that way in our culture. We did have elements of the plan, but nothing cohesive.
We had dreams to guide us. We had a community of people who shared the passion and shared the work. And we knew this act of open hospitality was what we were called to do. But there was no roadmap – not one created by our team, nor one out there from some other church who had done ministry this way before.
We had a budget for the remodeling. And the first thing we did was to gather the team – planners who would give flesh and bones to the vision, then volunteers who would make coffee. And we had friendly faces who would greet people with the invitation: What would you like to do in this space?
We tried to offer programs and get people to come, because that is what organizations do. It didn’t work very well because it assumed that we knew what people wanted to do. And it is a new time, a new culture. We were always on a more secure path when we asked people what they wanted to do, and then we could come alongside and work with them.
That was probably the biggest revolution of our church’s work in establishing the Taborspace ministry – the shift from doing “for” to doing “with.” It meant that we had to give up knowing the plan, and get used to uncertainty. Life became more about building relationships than programs. With the relationships came the seeds of programs.
Kind of like the concerts for kids. Josh met musicians through Taborspace. He met parents among his son’s preschool community, and pretty soon and idea was planted. Now we have concerts for children Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am, with wonderful joy, music and dancing little feet.
Jesus asked the same thing of his first century disciples. Don’t worry. Don’t take anything with you. Just go do the work, and the rest will be provided as you need it. No business plan! Get used to uncertainty!
This is the last Sunday of our season of Pentecost, when we learn about the Holy Spirit. We already know that the Spirit is like the wind. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). I have always read this verse thinking that the Spirit is unpredictable, moves where we may least expect. We notice the ripples of the Spirit’s movement, but we can’t necessarily run there and build a memorial because Spirit has already moved on.
But this verse also says that those who are born of the Spirit – we who follow the Way of Jesus – are the ones blown like the wind. Life does feel that way much of the time – like we are driven from one demand to the next, one invitation to the next, one desire to the next. Life just doesn’t sit still! True. But is this movement random? One of the things we have as followers of Jesus, is a guide. We have instructions from Jesus. When he sent out the twelve here and when he later sent out 70 disciples, he gave them spiritual power, he gave them a focus, and he gave them instructions.
First, Jesus gave the disciples spiritual power. Some versions translate this as “authority,” but the sense is of having the power of the Spirit in their bones to do the same work Jesus was doing. Jesus empowered the disciples to do what he was doing, and more. Jesus said, “those who love me will do what I do and even greater things than I do” (John 14:12)
John’s gospel is really clear. Jesus spends long chapters talking to the disciples about the Spirit who will come to accompany them. Jesus prays for this Spirit, his own spirit, to be given to them. And he breathes on them, and act of transferring the very breath of the Holy Spirit to them, to be in their bodies, to accompany them.
The company of the Spirit, though, is different than an instruction manual or a business plan. We already know that the Spirit is mysterious, not able to be kept in a cage, or explained in a manuscript. The Spirit can only be experienced, known in relationship. And that is a bit frightening. A little like building a coffee shop, without a business plan. It was what we knew we needed to do, but we didn’t have all the answers for what to do next.
That is exactly where God wants us! In relationship with God, and not self-assured that we know what to do next. Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that the first two of the ten commandments can be summarized: 1. I’m God; 2. You’re Not. He continues: “The goal of all spiritual life is to get your ego out of the way – outwit the sucker! … Silence the incessant planning, organizing, running, manipulating, possessing, and processing …of the ego. Not because these activities are bad or wrong…, but because they preclude awareness of the Divine. To paraphrase the Talmud, God says, “There ain’t room enough in this here world for your ego and Me. You Pick!” [I’m God, You’re Not, p. XI]
Learning to get our egos out of the way and rely on the spiritual power given by Jesus is the life-long task of followers.
So, while Jesus did not send them out with a business plan, he did send them with a focus. Go tell the people that the Kingdom of God has come near. It is a short message. Jesus did not give them any pre-packaged sermons, or classes in winning people over. He just said, let them know that God has come near. The age of one kingdom is at hand. It is already here, among us.
That is a pretty big stretch – to think people would believe something like this in an era of military dictatorship, violence, oppression, scarcity, injustice, and the list could go on. Sort of like our world today. How can we tell people that the age of the One Kingdom is at hand, when people are still plotting to destroy each other? It seems crazy! But proclaim it anyway. And show them you are not completely crazy first by staying with them, abiding, then by using the healing powers the Spirit gives you.
I wonder how confident the disciples felt at that moment. Had they practiced healing lepers? Or had they just watched Jesus do it? They hadn’t fed 5,000 in the desert. They hadn’t yet failed at the base of the Mount of Transfiguration. They were generally pretty inexperienced. But Jesus empowered them, gave them a message and sent them on their way.
He also gave them a few instructions, which sound like Rick Steve’s style of travel advice:
1. Travel light
2. Expect discomfort
3. Travel in pairs
4. Eat the food you’re given
5. Keep an open mind
6. Don’t make reservations
All of these instructions could be summarized by saying, don’t depend on yourself, but depend on others. Think about it: no purse, no bag, no sandals and, importantly, no guarantees about how they will be received.
I sometimes wonder if the decline of the church is connected to the rise in disposable income in our culture. We don’t seem to need each other like we used to: If we get sick, we go to the hospital rather than calling the neighbor. If we need someone to watch the children, we hire a nanny. If our house burns down, we collect the insurance, rather than calling the community for a house-raising. Insurance, retirement portfolios, savings accounts – whether we have them or not, they give us the illusion that we are on our own. We don’t really need each other.
But the Kingdom of God is among us. Look to your right, your left, in front of you, behind you: the Kingdom of God has come near you, and is in fact, sitting right there! We do need each other in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps that is why Jesus sent them out with travel partners. Perhaps the Kingdom of God is a simple as open, loving, inter-dependent community.
Where is spiritual power? How do we access spiritual power? I am not sure we always know. The Spirit blows where it will. But accessing spiritual power? That is right here. Together, as community, two by two, we give each other courage to walk the untraveled road. And that is where the Spirit is paving the way. So encourage each other. Share your ideas. Do something uncomfortable, bring a friend. Like the group of women from this congregation who are taking care of their lives by learning yoga, and bringing more and more friends into the practice of keeping their bodies strong and flexible. Yoga was certainly uncomfortable at first, but together they are gaining strength and having fun. That is spiritual power, too.
We live in an era of uncertainty. So now is the moment for the people born of the Spirit. Get used to uncertainty. Get moving anyway. You are born of the Spirit. Your lives may look random. But go out to the villages and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. It is near because you are near, and you have faith, and you have the breath of the Spirit, and they have Spirit too. And see who joins you, who reaches out to be healed, who welcomes you with peace. Stay with them. Share resources. Do the work.
Then come back to this home base and be welcomed, renewed, comforted, celebrated, and breathe again of the Spirit. Who knows what is in store next? We are fooling ourselves if we think we know. But love – we know. Spirit – we know. Jesus – we know. These believers, sitting in this place with you – these we know. And in them, the Kingdom of God has come near.
Because we are known, by divine love and the love surrounding us right here, we can get used to uncertainty. Lean on each other. Celebrate each other. It is enough. It is good.