given on Sunday, March 27, 2011–the third Sunday of Lent
I have not taken many group tours, but I remember that the first one was with a group of juniors in high school. One of the first rules that were given us was to make sure and never go anywhere alone. We were to go with a buddy. The buddy system was considered a safety net, a sure way of not getting lost or hurt or harassed. The buddy system continues to be an important rule for traveling, especially in unfamiliar regions.
We use the buddy system each week when we meet for worship. Therefore when I began reviewing Jesus’ ministry this week, I realized that during that fall of 29 AD, Jesus used the buddy system himself. Much of his work during that fall almost matches that of a training session. The disciples were learning how to demonstrate Jesus’ method of delivering God’s message of loving one another. The techniques included casting out demons, healing the sick, and even performing miracles. At all times, though, the disciples received lectures, held discussions, and even learned the basic rules of traveling.
Over the past three weeks, our journey has introduced us to the very real places that Jesus lived and worked. We have peeked at the temples, looked at the horizon from the Sea of Galilee, and mapped out those first journeys around the region. The names of the towns and the regions now seem more familiar, but the people may not seem so real to us. We have not met them face to face and we cannot transport back in time to meet Jesus nor the disciples who were the first teachers of the good news.
On today’s journey, we focus on the people. We look at the faces of those who travel in Jesus’ footsteps. We journey through others who visit the Holy Land even today. As you can see in this week’s pictures, modern travel intersects with ancient travel. The message of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell how the disciples were to travel as they began spreading God’s words:
5-8Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
9-10“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
11“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.
12-15“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now.
16“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
Tour guides give instructions in very similar ways. Use the buddy system. Make sure to stay with the group; don’t wander away into some place that may not welcome you. Make sure you follow the rules. . . today’s tour guides, and I expect this is very true in the Mideast right now, want to make your experience safe and meaningful. Even mission teams are given very similar instructions.
The disciples, or harvest hands as Eugene Peterson refers to them in the Message, are being prepared for a difficult journey. Jesus was preparing them for their own journeys. He gave them the tools—the ability to cast our demons, to heal and to perform miracles. He provided the packing list—nothing but a walking stick and a pair of sandals. He even gave them warnings:
17-20“Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
Dare I say, we too should listen to these instructions? Our personal faith journeys need to follow many of the same instructions that Jesus gave his disciples. I particularly like the last line: The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
All too often we are afraid or uncomfortable to share our own testimonies to others, even if they are friends. The challenge this week was to talk to someone else about your own faith journey. Just like following the buddy system in traveling, using a buddy system in one’s faith journey can improve deepen one’s own faith.
Steven Manskar’s article, “Small Groups & Accountability: The Wesylan Way of Christian Formation,” explains John Wesley’s expectations of small groups:
From 1742 to near the end of the nineteenth century every Methodist was required to be part of a class. The Methodists gathered once a week to pray, read and study the Bible, sing hymns, share fellowship, and give an account of their walk with Christ. They were bound together, like family, in their common love for Christ and one another and their desire to live as Christ’s people in the world. Together, they encouraged one another in the practice of the means of grace, in doing good and sharing their faith that brought thousands of people to Christ and lifted themselves and many others out of poverty and desperation. [Accessed on March 26, 2011 at http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.3784713/k.A135/Small_Groups.htm]
Another resource from the Global Board of Discipleship includes in its appendix the “Characteristics of Congregations Embodying the Methodist Way.” The list of characteristics (provided on the back of the scrapbook page) lists the specific techniques to use including:
- “Watching over one another in love,” through small groups that nurture growth in discipleship by providing mutual support, mentoring, and accountability.
- Emphasis on cultivating intentional relationships and ministry with those whom Charles Wesley called “Jesus’ bosom friends”—the poor, the imprisoned, children, the powerless, and the vulnerable.
[Accessed on March 26, 2011 at http://www.gbod.org/site/apps/nlnet/ content3.aspx?c=nhLRJ2PMKsG&b=5503325&ct=8540803]
These two resources clearly reflect Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. The twelve selected to report to the twelve tribes of Israel the message Jesus was sharing which was the New Covenant God was making with his faithful followers.
Our faith journey is not easy. We have all experienced challenges to our faith, and in Matthew’s report of the disciples’ training and Jesus’ warnings are as much a part of our faith journey today as it was in 29 AD. Matthew 10 continues with Jesus’ admonition:
21-23“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.
In the Wesley Study Bible, “The Character of a Methodist,” which Wesley wrote in 1742 attempts to describe his understanding of a disciple of Christ perfected in love. The Study Bible states:
It is a striking portrait of noble simplicity, deeply rooted in Scripture and dominated by the image of growth in grace and love. . . . Those perfected in Christ “love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength” and they “love their neighbors as they love themselves.” This dual love, as Charles Wesley sings, “Sanctifies and makes us whole;” it “forms the Savior in the soul.” [p.1227]
Our day’s journey is just about over. We have not traveled very far today, but we have learned a little more about our buddies and ourselves. We also have taken time to review what God, what Jesus, and even what John Wesley expects from us. The sites, the experiences and the people along our journey will greatly affect our personal outlook on life. We learn from it. We grow. We persevere. Our journey is not over, but we do have Jesus’ guiding words encouraging us:
26-27“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.
28“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands. . . .
38-39“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
Dear Guiding Father,
Today our journey continues but we took a break from the sites and listened to your instructions. We are not taking this journey alone, we are with buddies. We review what we are told to do as disciples. We take courage in fellowship. We find resolve in knowing the challenges Jesus and his disciples took thousands of years ago. We find inner strength in the stories of Jesus’ healings, his miracles, and his exorcisms. We step out along our paths with buddies who help us handle the bumps along the way. We work together so we manage the bullying, the intimidation, and the uncertainties our faith journey encounters. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for guiding us. Thank you for our spiritual buddies who help us along the way. –Amen