I guess you would say this blog includes a “guest writer.” I asked my dearest friend, my husband Mitch, if I could include his meditation from Sunday’s service (2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13) in this blog. I’m not sure why this week seemed especially impactful for me. So, I’ll just say to you what I hear him say often, “listen for a word for your life.”
I should have been relieved. But when I heard restrictions for church services had been lifted for phase 3, I was suddenly overwhelmed with all of the “what if’s.” We’ve been in a bubble that felt safe and controlled. What I thought was a safe zone, I would no longer have. I feel comfortable and in control when I wear my mask and physical distance.
In Mark 6, Jesus goes back to Nazareth and preaches in the temple. The hometown crowd was initially impressed with Jesus’ fame but the more he talked, they took offence with what he said and did. How could this man they knew as a boy say and do these unconventional things? Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, but his focus was on the disciples.
Jesus sends the disciples into the villages two by two and he gives them their first instructions. Here is what you take, this is what you don’t take. Here is how you respond to people who aren’t receptive to you.
I call Jesus’ instructions the good news of not having enough. Jesus provided limitations and boundaries to help them do their job of ministry. He ordered them to take nothing with them but a staff. The staff was to help them walk but also to ward off animals. Take no bread, no bag, no money in their belt, wear sandals but don’t wear two tunics. When they entered a house they were to stay there until they left the place. If no one would welcome them, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.
It is important to focus on not taking more than we need. Wherever you are, that [moment] is your focus. Do not look around or look out, do not depend upon things outside of yourself. Don’t rely on what is in your hands but what is in your heart. For 18 months, we’ve had to focus on the present because the only future we could grasp was day by day. Was that a weakness?
2 Corinthians is really about boasting of your weakness. Paul talks about being given a thorn in the flesh and asking that it be removed. Paul was reassured by God that “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul is content with his weakness; knowing that when he is weak, God is strong.
Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul balances his struggles with God’s sufficiency. In almost every chapter, Paul describes his despair: he’s been hard pressed, but he hasn’t lost heart; he’s been struck down, but not destroyed. He has been able to endure, he’s been able to sustain persecution and hardship.
Part of Jesus’ challenge to the disciples is not to take more than they needed. As humans, we want to be prepared. But Jesus would have them consider that the good news of not having enough is that Jesus’ ability and power is made perfect in weakness. God’s sufficiency is made perfect in our weakness.
The disciples might have thought they needed two tunics and money for the journey. Our caution moving forward is us filling our backpacks with what we feel we need because it is what we needed before. Our challenge is not just to go back to the way it was because that was comfortable.
How do we learn from this moment? If all we’ve done is wait until we “go back to normal” then we have wasted this time. What has this time taught us about feeling insufficient or not knowing what was around the corner? What do we really need?
Frederick Buechner tells about meeting Agnes Stanford, a layperson who was well known for her prayer practices. He recalls,
The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back and unable to do any mighty works there because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them for fear that he wouldn’t or couldn’t and that their own faith and the faith of their congregations would be threatened as the result. I recognized immediately my kinship with those ministers.
The crowd that knew him too well and couldn’t understand his authority tied Jesus’ hands behind his back. Jesus prepared his disciples for the rejection that they were sure to receive because he knew that their hands would be tied just like his hands were tied by unbelief. Jesus cautioned the disciples about tying their own hands by filling them with things that were comfortable and familiar and would give them confidence and assurance they had what they needed. It’s not your own resources that will prepare you, it’s the things that happen on the journey. Trust your own perceived weakness, trust your own insignificance because as Paul taught throughout 2 Corinthians, it is our weakness and our struggle that makes perfect God’s strength and power working in us to do what needs to be done. The good news of not having enough.