Wading into Unchartered Territory

6 Pentecost, July 5, 2015

On my summer reading list is David McCullough’s newest book, The Wright Brothers. I am captivated by the history and story line that McCullough weaves for us of this amazing story of two brothers from Dayton Ohio who were determined to make a flying machine. Wilber and Orville Wright were inseparable from very early on in their childhood. Wilber in particular was a book lover, intellectually curious about everything and not worried about what other people thought. “Together they develop a love of bicycles, learned to make them and stared their own business. Dayton’s alarmists of the 1890s saw the bicycle as something that could corrupt innocent youth, cause children to stray far from home, keep them from reading books, encourage sexual freedom and so on. (NYT, Janet Maslin, May 3, 2015).

Human beings from time immemorial have been fascinated with flying. Wilber and Orville took on this dream, this challenge; they studied all they could about the flight of birds and wind patterns, the workings of bicycles and related ideas about steering. They set to work in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in trial and error, one crash after another, at last they soared with the eagles.

Perhaps what the Wright Brothers did is far beyond the scope of our lives and yet we resonate to it, applaud them for their success and in retrospect for their daring, their courage, their vision. At the time, there were many, perhaps hundreds who thought they were nuts. They were, indeed, in uncharted territory. I would wager that all of us at some time in our lives have stepped out into uncharted territory. Some of us love the sense of adventure and rise with eagerness to a challenge. Some others of us, against our most fervent protestations find ourselves flung out, not sure where or why we are going but trusting—perhaps praying—that we’ll land on our feet without coming into harms way. And there are those who dig in their heels and say, “No way, I like it very much the way it is, thank you.”

I find myself resonating with the disciples who got their marching orders from Jesus to go out into the villages and preach repentance.  We tend to do a ho-hum when we hear this Gospel story as if what could be more natural for this band of faithful disciples. Jesus is specific: go two by two, take nothing for the journey except a walking stick; take no bread, no bag, no money, strap on your sandals but no change of clothes.  That’s pretty stark. Imagine traveling without your four wheel Samsonite.

And now dressed for this missionary trek, they are to confront unclean spirits, demons, anoint the sick and cure them. Wow.  Nowhere does it say that they have received training; nowhere does it say that Jesus has given them a 12 week seminar on devil confrontation. These men and women were green behind the ears and just flung out there in uncharted territory.

The amazing part is that apparently—and the text supports this—they were successful.

So what’s in this for us? Let’s begin by putting ourselves into the story and think of ourselves as disciples of Jesus otherwise this story is just a curiosity and interesting piece of literature. So, let’s dare to imagine ourselves as the disciples of Jesus. And not just individuals but like them the church for they are the seed of whom we become.

Proceeding on that note, the directive of Jesus gives us three things to consider. The first is that Jesus has this habit of taking us into uncharted territory. Most of us are very comfortable with the status quo when it comes to religion. We know the prayers, are comfortable with the familiar hymns, not too keen on change. We Christians have our habits, our customs and traditions and are not prone to shake the foundations. In comparison God in Christ Jesus is constantly shaking our foundations  calling us from places of comfort into the challenge of mission.

Many of you here at St. Paul’s have begun having conversations about mission and what kind of mission Jesus is calling us to undertake—where we are being led? Harking back to the Gospel story, let’s not overlook the point that it is Jesus who initiates the mission call not the disciples which is a clue that in our eagerness to take on a particular mission, we need to prayerfully listen to how we are being called.

The second thing, which follows is that in discerning a call we may not necessary know what we are doing. Like those first disciples we may not think we have the proper tools to support those in need whether they are here in Orange Country or Haiti, Navaholand or Jerusalem. Neither did those disciples. All they had was the promise of our Lord, that God’s power would suffice in order to be successful. Think of the men and women who came to these shores in the 1600s. They came, in great part, out of the conviction that God had called them to establish a new Jerusalem. The experiment at Plymouth was not successful, it crashed just as Wilber and Orville’s flying machines crashed, but the call persisted and they found their way.

And finally, the word from the Gospel is that as Christians we need to travel light. All that business of what the disciples were and were not to bring on their journey is about traveling light.  We might think about what weighs us down. Some of it is material stuff, some of it is the weight of habit or prejudices. Some of it the emotional baggage that psychologically paralyzes us—the experience of failure can do that very effectively. “Oh, we can’t do that; it’s too hard, we tried that before.”

Think what would have happened if John Adams gave up on the Declaration of Independence had he let his failed efforts—and there were many—rule the day.

The mission of Jesus Christ is riveting and dynamic; it is challenging and requires a huge amount of faith. It is about preaching in word and action the good news: it is about healing and feeding and bringing wholeness to places of devastation. But we can’t respond to that call if we are excessively weighed down. We need to give ourselves over the power of God for it is the power of God that lifts us up and moves us out.

Annie Dillard gives us her insight into the power of God that waits upon us. She says, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke” on Sunday morning? “Does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church, we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signals flares; they should lash us to our pews…for the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

All of which is to say that the disciples of Jesus came back after their journey into the villages changed men and women—never to return to life as they knew it before. Doing the work of the Gospel will do that to you.  What is past it past; now they are soaring with eagles. It is our spiritual destiny, our Christian vocation to soar with God in Christ Jesus to go out even in uncharted territories to do the work of Gospel.