Sermon: Packing Light
Texts: Galatians 6:6-10; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Date: October 13, 2019
©Rev. Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church
Fellow travelers, how are you at packing your bags? I had a good long visit with a friend of mine recently who was preparing to be away from home for a month. She was going to be visiting a variety of places that would probably have different kinds of weather during a time when the season was shifting from summer to fall. She had to dress for a couple of weddings, one of which she was officiating, and then have casual country clothes and washable clothes for meeting her grand-nephew who is still in the spitting up phase of his life. She had bought a new gadget for packing called “luggage cubes” to keep the various sets of clothes in their own subsets. I could tell she was enjoying the extended fretting about what to take and what to leave home, and was planning a couple of packing rehearsals before she actually left home. She was going to use the guest room for a staging area.
Do any of you go through a similar process when you’re about to go on a trip? It can be part of the fun as well as part of the anxiety for preparing to travel—let’s call it “funxiety.” You’ve got all the fun anticipation over what you will need and anxiety about being on the other side of the world when you need item X and you didn’t bring it. In our family we seldom chance getting somewhere without a thing we might possibly need; we just bring all the things. John is especially skilled at this; his carry-on backpack typically contains every electronic cord and charger and adapter and replacement battery one could desire. I would roll my eyes at the amount of gee-gaws he brings if I didn’t so regularly depend on him to bail me out of some electronic conundrum when we are far from home. Anyway, we tend to be a bit on the heavy packing side, though the evolving luggage rules and expenses on airlines nowadays have prompted some reform even in the Eisenhauer family.
Even people who pack light put some thought into what to bring and what to leave home when traveling, right? Maybe even more thought than those of us who travel with tons of gear. Luggage preoccupies us for at least a little while when we’re preparing to go somewhere. I want to show you a little clip from a quirky film titled “Joe Vs. the Volcano” that our family has watched many times because it is both extremely silly and because it has some profound symbolism woven in. Joe’s been given a mission, and he’s preparing for a journey that may be his last. In this scene he leaves the gadget store to go to the luggage dealer to choose what to carry his newly purchased wardrobe and things in.
I wanted to show you that clip in connection with the story of the missionaries being sent out in Luke’s gospel for several reasons. One is the line “Luggage is the central preoccupation of my life,” delivered in a convincingly serious way which I find (inexplicably) hilarious. Besides finding it funny, it has the side effect of reminding me that we humans can devote ourselves to a million zillion different things, and we need to watch out—be on our guard—lest the central preoccupation of our lives turn out to be something as banal as luggage.
Then there’s the line after the salesperson says “So, a real journey…”: “Very exciting—as a luggage problem.” Again, hilarious; and it also leads me to reflecting on the “luggage problem” Jesus incorporates into his instructions to the followers he’s sending out on a mission journey. It seems that sending followers out on a mission journey is also very exciting, as a luggage problem. It goes by fast, but it’s very significant in terms of the implications for the journey. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” (That last bit is about getting right to it, no dilly-dallying.) Matthew’s version of this instruction is similar: “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.” [Matthew 10:9-10].
Let’s “unpack” (ha ha) what Jesus has said about luggage as the traveling disciples are sent out. Basically: no luggage. No purse or wallet or MasterCard. No changes of clothes, no granola bars, camp stoves, instant coffee, pup tents, air mattresses. No weapons for self-defense. This seems rather foolish, does it not? Why would he be sending the missionaries out among strangers like this?
Some scholars think that one reason would be to distinguish themselves from the roaming Cynic philosophers who were out on the same roads. The Cynics were interested in a simple lifestyle, and were very suspicious of wealth and all its trappings. But one big difference was that they always traveled with a staff (which could be used as a weapon for self-defense) and a bag of bread, food for their journey. The signature staff and the bag of bread were meant to be symbols of their self-sufficiency. Self sufficiency. Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan believes that Jesus prohibiting the bag and the staff was an intentional symbol of the different kind of social movement he was establishing. He didn’t want the disciples to be self-sufficient; he wanted them to rely on the hospitality of those who would receive them graciously and offer them food and shelter. He wanted them to rely on God, of course, as well.
The setting of the shared table is key to the mission. Crossan spells out in detail how important “commensality”—a fancy word for eating together—was to the Jesus movement. The way food is shared was (and still is) “one of the principle ways in which differences among social groups are marked…Eating is a behavior that symbolizes feelings and relationships, mediates social status and power, and expresses the boundaries of group identity.” Jesus is clear that the missionaries are not to be fussy about which houses they enter or what is served to them at the homes which receive them. Just sit down and receive the gifts that are offered at the table; the open table is the principal stage for the unfolding kin-dom of God.
The missionary disciples receive the gifts of hospitality that are offered, and they offer the gifts of healing and the good news of the kingdom of God. In a sense they have already brought the kingdom of God near when they sit down at the table without the usual fuss over class and wealth distinctions, or who is most honored, or who is creating obligations for whom. Crossan says that relying on hospitality and eating anything with anyone was “a strategy for building or rebuilding peasant community on radically different principles from those of honor and shame, patronage and clientage. It was based on an egalitarian sharing of spiritual and material power at the most grass-roots level.” New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton calls the mission “an enacted parable of the kingdom of God.”
Even the sending of the missionaries in pairs may be an aspect of the “enacted parable” of the kingdom, or as we often call it, the kin-dom. Christianity really is not a solo act; it’s always lived out in community, whether large or small. One of the commentaries I read mused on the potential challenge of being sent out with a missionary partner with whom you didn’t always see eye-to-eye, or who had irritating habits, like chewing with his mouth open or talking with her mouth full. There’s a certain amount of acceptance and compromise needed even with this one other human being with whom you share the journey as you enact a parable of the kin-dom out on the road. Community is not always effortless even when you’re on the same team with a common purpose. The fact that neither partner could bring all their swell REI gear and freeze-dried food along to demonstrate their superior wealth or preparation kept the missionary teams on an egalitarian footing with one another as well as with their gracious hosts.
Are you beginning to see that this particular journey was very exciting…as a luggage problem? The journey into Jesus’ mission is defined as much by what is left behind as by what is brought along. Of course, we can’t overlook what Jesus’ followers brought along: the power to heal and cast out demons in God’s name, the exciting promise of God’s radically egalitarian kin-dom drawing near in the here and now. They received bread and gave the Bread of Life. This sharing of gifts was made possible because they were relying on God to provide what Jesus promised and embodied, now that they were practicing the opposite of self-sufficiency. And God came through with flying colors, much to the joy of the disciples returning from the journey.
I’m fascinated with what Jesus said when the disciples joyfully reported their mission’s success. He says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” It’s not clear whether Jesus was reporting an actual vision he had, or whether we are to understand it as a metaphor, a kind of short parable on the significance of the disciples’ work. It’s certainly a colorful image, Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning. The enemy falling from a high place to its doom is an archetypal theme we see everywhere from apocalyptic texts like Revelation [see Revelation 12:7-12] to Disney cartoons, where many villains get dispatched in long falls. For Satan to be cast out of heaven means that Satan has been defeated, his power broken. It’s a look forward to the end times when God will finally put Satan in his place once and for all, decisively winning the endless battle of good vs. evil. But more than a look into a faraway future, Jesus seems to be saying that the disciples’ obedience and success was a sign that it’s already happening. On all these occasions where the kin-dom of God was enacted in the egalitarian sharing of material and spiritual power and gifts, the hold evil has on the world is being broken. Or at least weakened. Because, to be honest, we can see that evil has not yet fallen to its ultimate doom or been locked up for good.
But maybe Satan falls over and over until the final fatal crash. I was brought up on Loony Tunes cartoons, so this made me think of dear old Wile E. Coyote, who has fallen off of cliffs an infinite number of times as he pursues the uncatchable Road Runner. Suppose every time Christians succeed in enacting a parable of the egalitarian kin-dom of God Wile. E. Satan falls again like a flash of lightning, and there is a bright burst of Light to announce the kin-dom of God drawing near again. I caught a glimpse of that this week when Gerri Harrington relayed a simple story of encountering a man whose wife died just a month ago while she was on a trip up to Neah Bay. He revealed his grief to her when she mentioned that she was bringing some of her husband’s ashes to scatter in the Pacific. She didn’t say exactly what happened but just the way she mentioned it with her eyes bright with love and tears told me it was a kin-dom moment in which she, a Christian widow who has not given up hope in the midst of grief, was in the right place at the right time to bring some healing encouragement to a man in terrible pain. Little burst of Light! Hopeless grief, shove over–the kin-dom is drawing near! The Galatians text urges us not to grow weary, to jump on every opportunity to do what is good and right. Occasions to bring love and healing present themselves to us continually as we travel through our days; all we have to do is open ourselves to be instruments of the kin-dom.
I think Jesus wants every generation of disciples to be encouraged by the effects of participating in the dawning of God’s kin-dom, from that first generation of disciples to this one. Marcus Borg uses the phrases “participatory eschatology” and “collaborative eschatology” to describe what Jesus was trying to teach about and bring about. That means that Jesus believed that God would ultimately complete (or fulfill) the coming of the kin-dom of God in dramatic fashion, sometime in the future. But meanwhile, Jesus and those committed to the principles of the kin-dom would respond to God’s call and participate in the kin-dom drawing near. Whenever they participated they would strengthen the kin-dom and weaken the grip of evil and corrupt powers on the world.
Who among us wouldn’t want to give Wile E. Satan a hearty shove out of high places and make more room on Earth for the kin-dom of God to draw near? That’s or heart’s desire, our soul’s longing, right? We would love to participate, to collaborate. We do need to bear in mind, though, that we all have a luggage problem. That is, we have been taught in our culture that self-sufficiency is ideal. We rely on no one. We bring along everything we might possibly need on our trip so we won’t have a moment’s discomfort or uncertainty. And in terms of our psychological baggage…well, we all have a load of that. We don’t mean to pack it, but we’ve got unconscious biases of all kinds that battle with our conscious desires to be egalitarian and non-judgmental. And we really like to pack our education, good taste, financial security, and enlightened opinions everywhere we go. We’re weighed down with a need to be right and we bear a horror of looking foolish or unprepared. We lug a desire to win, and clutch a strong preference to be givers rather than receivers. We have a luggage problem.
This spiritual journey we’re on, this mission journey that continues what Jesus set in motion so long ago, is exciting. I want to urge all of us to reflect on our luggage problem, consider what we might need to leave behind to enter fleet-footedly into this traveler’s mission in our time and place. How can we practice giving up our heavy aspiration for self-sufficiency so that God’s power may be made manifest in us? What can we set down—unpack—to free us for this joyful journey in which material and spiritual gifts are given and received by all kinds of people?
Beloved, when we travel with Jesus, we’re already packing Light. It is enough.
 Crossan, John Dominic The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. 341
 Ibid. p. 344
 Chilton, Bruce Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996, p. 113
 Borg, Marcus Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, p. 259