Luke 9:1-17 “Christian, More or Less”
Some news reports this last week made me very concerned—more concerned than I normally am—for the state of our society. First, there came the story of some lychee fruit poachers on the big island. It seems that the people were not just stealing the fruit, but that they decided to actually cut down the trees to get the fruit. I guess they did not want to use a ladder or a long stick. Since when in Hawaii do we not just share the fruit? Most of the time we have so much we cannot even give it away. And since when do we chop down a fruit tree to get the fruit? Besides being the epitome of greed, it is like starving yourself tomorrow for a meal today because next year you will no more fruit to steal!
The second news story was ever more disturbing. A homeless man was arrested for the stabbing murder of two other homeless people and stabbing injuries to two others. At his arraignment the accused murderer was asked why he had killed these other homeless men. He responded that he was putting them out of their misery. The idea was that it was better to be dead than destitute.
Our scripture for today addresses very aptly what is happening in our world today. It really talks about what we need to survive and how we are to do it while on our journey with Jesus Christ. Jesus sends out the Twelve disciples as Apostles with literally only the clothes on their backs. Why does Jesus insist on this?
An interesting point is brought up by theologians and biblical scholars about the feeding of the five thousand, too. The apostles ask Jesus if they should go into the towns surrounding the site to buy the food for the five thousand. This portends the fact that they must have somehow had the means to feed five thousand. They were not absolutely poor. They had means.
Yet, the apostles go without question. They leave their second tunic. They take nothing with them on the journey.
I must reference the history of our church here. When the missionaries came on the Thaddeus and landed here in Waimea in 1820, they had very little. They worshipped in a thatched hut. They relied on the locals to help provide them food until they could raise their own.
When it was time to build this building that we are in now, the missionaries asked for $3,000 from the church back in New England. They were given $60. The people went and got the stones and built it anyway. They were all willing to do this. This church has survived leprosy, Spanish Flu pandemic, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, hurricanes, a scandal of two, and of course Covid 19. How did it do that? The answer is by faith in the providence of God! When we set out on the journey that Christ proscribes, it is in knowing that God will provide! WE are Christians, with more and with less.
So, how does God provide for us? Have you ever noticed how much more fun it is to do things together with other people? In fact, the more the merrier! We all love coming together to have a good time in each other’s company. We here in the church even gather on Tuesday nights just to play games, eat, and chat. We do it just to be with one another. There is no Bible study or worship involved. So, why do we have it at the church? Isn’t the church just for that one purpose of doing Godly things? Yes, but just coming together is also a godly thing. Fellowship is the beginning of God’s providence in our lives. God likes to feed five thousand all at once! We think the miracle is the division of fish and loaves. Think about the greater miracle that the people wanted to stay together to hear Jesus despite their need to eat! It seems that they did not care about having enough when they were together! That was enough.
Now, all of this comes back to the very first word of our scripture for today. Do you see it there? What is it? “Then.” That is not the first word in the Greek at all! The first word is “call-together” in the Greek. It is one word in that language. That is what Jesus first did; he called everyone together. Well, not everyone. It seems he called just the twelve disciples together. So, whatever was going to happen, would happen with “togetherness” and a sense of “call.”
This is important because we sometimes get a little lazy in our understanding of mission. We think sometimes that “mission” is what missionaries alone do. The missionary is supposed to go out alone into the far corners of creation to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. No, we are supposed to always be doing God’s mission in this world together.
When Helen and I were sent to Thailand as missionaries, we were “commissioned” at my original home church in Los Angeles. What should it mean to be “co-missioned” other than to be in mission with other “co-others.” We were coordinated with mission with all of the others in that church. Indeed, through the One Great Hour of Sharing, we were coordinated with thousands of churches throughout America. It is a wonder to feel that kind of support of being with one another while sharing the gospel!
The next thing we read after Jesus called the 12 together is that he gave them all power to cast our demons and heal people. What I find intriguing in this is that Luke purposefully mentions that 12 were given these powers for their mission together. ALL twelve! Judas Iscariot, too? He was given power to cast out demons? Let us look at Luke 22:3, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. . . .”
What happened? Judas had the power to cast out Satan, given to him by Jesus, but in the end he did not use that power and made a deal with the devil instead. Never give into the devil. You have the power to cast that guy out!
What was that deal? Do you recall? Thirty pieces of silver to betray the Lord! Yes, Judas wanted to nobly give the thirty pieces of silver to the Lord. Yet, the godly thing would have been simply to stay with Jesus.
We have also been given the power that Jesus gave his disciples. This is explained in Acts 6:6 in which the original disciples laid hands on seven more men and gave them that power to do miracles as well. In other words, that same power that Jesus gave to the original twelve disciples is still being passed down to our generation of believers and beyond.
Jesus told his disciples to go out WITH ONLY the message of the coming Kingdom of God. Leave everything else behind. Don’t bring the Double-Stuffed Oreo cookies! Don’t bring the digital media equipment! It will confuse the message. People will think that being a Christian means being tech-savvy and always eating dessert for three meals a day. We have to speak in humility and show such in favor of Jesus.
I mentioned once before in a sermon an article in an online paper that discussed a church on the mainland that gives away a car every Sunday. The church is doing quite well apparently. Many newcomers come every Sunday. Donations are through the roof as well. Is this a lottery system in the guise of a church? Jesus never gave a car away. He gave his life away! When we come together we give ourselves over to others as well. That is what the apostles did on their journey for Christ. And, in the end, “I” am all I have to give in this world!
And yet, we see something in our reading for this morning that might make us a bit uncomfortable perhaps. Jesus feeds five thousand people through the miracle of the fish and loaves. What should we think about that? Would people perhaps come back to hear more from Jesus in order to be fed again? After all, in the gospel of Mark (Chapter 6) we see Jesus feeding five thousand on one page, turn the page over, and he is feeding another four thousand.
Yet in both these cases, the people did not come to eat. They came to hear Jesus. In Mark 8 we read that they had been with Jesus for three days with nothing to eat! If they had come there for the food, they would have long been out of there.
I remember a few years ago being told by the administration of the schools that the Bible Clubs on campus could not serve any food to the kids who came to the club. The pastors involved with Bible Club always have maintained that it was not fair to the students that they should miss their lunch because of the meeting every week. We provided snacks rather than see the kids go hungry to their next class.
Some parents got the idea that we were bribing the kids with sugary sweets and pizza lunches. They thought that we were not genuine in our desire to minister to the children and that the children themselves were being “seduced” into attendance. What do you think happened when we stopped serving anything to eat all together? Guess what? Bible Club continued with kids coming in, but then they had to go to their next class hungry. Yet, still they did come in! And, they have never left without being fed—at least spiritually!
So, it seems that we have two different forms of mission work being lifted up by example here. We see that the first kind is when we come together to be called out together to bring people together in the name of Christ. The second form of mission work is when people come together to hear the call to bring people together in the name of Christ. Oh, these are actually the same. Going out to be missionaries in the world and bringing the world together to hear Christ are really the same idea. We just see it from a different perspective.
This church here is a mission church. It was built by the original missionaries on this island who came here to give the Word of God to the local population. And, by the definition I just gave, we are most definitely still that same mission church. Nothing has really changed. WE are called together, empowered, and sent just as the original twelve disciples were.
My favorite verse in today’s scripture is verse 10. That is where we read how the disciples all came back together after being sent all over the countryside. That is a great but understated miracle. Surely the Spirit was protecting them all. God’s providence was with them and still with us too—as long as we are called.