Here we are in Step 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan. And we were able to do it ahead of time. This is beginning to signal to me that maybe, just maybe, we are getting ahead of Covid-19 and finally looking at returning to some sense of normalcy.
It is good to be back to in person worship. It is good to see familiar faces. Today is the first Sunday since the beginning of Covid-19 that we have had any children’s programming. That’s a long time to be without children’s ministry. And what about singing. We’ve had lots of positive comments about the music that we have been able to do but I think we’re all looking forward to getting back to the point where we can have congregational singing. Won’t that be a treat? And I can’t wait to have our first pot blessing lunch. Breaking bread together seems to be central to who we are as the people of God, whether it’s celebrating the Lord’s Supper or sharing in grandma’s tuna casserole we like to share meals together.
But we also have to keep in mind that while we will, at some point hopefully sooner than later, return to some sense of normalcy, we can never completely go back to where we were. The world has moved on and so have we. That’s not saying that our mission has changed because it hasn’t. But the way that we fulfill that mission may very well change.
For some people, those things can be a little nerve wracking, maybe even a little threatening. But one thing that we have to keep in mind is that God will provide. Our ministry may look somewhat different moving forward but God still has a plan and God still has a purpose for our ministry and God will provide all that we need when we trust in him.
That was the basic message that Jesus is trying to convey to his disciples in today’s story from Mark 6. In this story, Jesus sends out his disciples to share the Good News with the people in the countryside. Let’s listen to what Mark writes in Mark 6:6b-13 (NIV):
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
TRUSTING GOD THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE
This passage speaks to us today about what it means to trust God to provide for our needs. The are four distinct but related points in this story and we’re going to go through them one by one. The first one is found in verse 7. Jesus has been traveling with his disciples, teaching the disciples the basic principles of his teaching and what he wants them to do with it. They have learned and Jesus believes that they are ready to strike out on their own. Mark 6:7 (NIV) says this: “Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.”
“It’s time to go,” says Jesus. “Up until now you’ve been my helpers, ministering on the periphery. But I want you to get out there, on your own and start to share my gospel message with other.” It had to happen eventually. Jesus knows by now that his journey would lead him to the cross. He knows that his disciples will not always have him with them and so he decides to let them practice what they will be doing for the rest of their lives.
One important thing that we learn from this verse, however, is that Jesus does not send his disciples out by themselves. They are not alone. He sends them out in pairs, two by two. And that’s important. I suspect that it must have been more than a little nerve wracking for the disciples when Jesus sent them out. They had never done these things before. Sure they had watched Jesus do it all. They had listened to him speaking to individuals and crowds. They had seen him heal the sick and cast out demons. But it’s one thing to watch someone else to do something; it’s quite another to do it yourself.
Jesus understands this. Perhaps that’s why he sends out the disciples in pairs. As pairs that can support each other. If one gets discouraged, the other can lift them up. If one of them forgets something that Jesus said, the other can remind them. There are so many advantages when people are not alone.
That goes for us too. There is no model for ministry in the Bible where Jesus sends out individuals. He always sends them out in pairs. In doing so he encourages them to support each other and help each other.
That’s an important part of being the church. I believe that Jesus always intended that his people work together to fulfill the mission for which he put us on this earth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve benefited from knowing that I am not alone in this ministry. That’s been especially true during Covid-19. As we ventured into new territory of ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I bounced things off of Pam or Andy or Rick or Patty or John or any number of other people who are part of this community of faith. It was in talking to others that together we got a better handle on how to move forward in ministry as things seemed to constantly change around us. It is good to know that we are not alone. It’s good to know that Jesus never intended us to be alone.
It’s also good to know that even if no one else can be there we are still not alone because God is there. Those who put their trust in Jesus are never alone.
TRUSTING GOD FOR A PURPOSE
We trust God that we are never alone. The second thing that we can trust God with is to give us a purpose. Jesus sends the disciples out with a purpose. We actually read about that in verse 12 where it says, “They went out and preached that people should repent.” Clearly this is what Jesus sent them out to do. He gave them a mission. He gave then a purpose – to preach the good news and call people to repentance.
In the same way, Jesus never sends us out purposeless. You are not here by accident. You are not a mere coincidence. Before you were born, God knew precisely what he wanted for your life and it hasn’t changed. That may not be always clear to you. There may be seasons in your life when you wonder why exactly God placed you on this earth. But always remember that just because you can’t always see that purpose, that does not mean that the purpose does not exist. Samuel was a mere boy when God called him in 1 Samuel 3. But God called Abraham (Abram) in Genesis 12 when he was seventy-five. And he wasn’t the oldest one that God called. Moses was eighty when God called him from the burning bush in Exodus 3. Now get this… in Genesis 6, God called Noah when he was 500! Sometimes it takes a while. That’s because you have to be ready and sometimes the bigger the mission, the more time it takes God to prepare you for it. That’s why you need patience. That’s why you need to trust God. The purpose for your life will be fulfilled in the fulness of time. Just be ready when it comes.
TRUSTING GOD TO PROVIDE
You can trust God to never leave you alone. You need to trust that God has a purpose for your life. The third thing is that you need to trust that God has already given you the gifts and talents that you need to fulfill your mission. We see that back in verse 7 where it says that Jesus gave them authority over the impure spirits. Jesus knew what the disciples would face when they went out two by two to fulfill their mission, their purpose. He knew that they would encounter unclean spirits that cause havoc in people’s lives. By giving them authority over these spirits, Jesus equipped them for this ministry.
Hebrews 13:20-21 (NIV) says, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back for the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will…” God still equips us to fulfill that which he calls us to do. God will never ask you to do any mission until he has given you the abilities to do the job. You can trust God for that.
All of us are born with God-given abilities that are genetically programmed into our DNA. Guess who knows all about that DNA? God does because he put it there. But that’s not all that we have. We also have the knowledge and skills that we develop over the years as the Holy Spirit has worked in our lives to mould us into the people that God not only wants us to be but needs us to be. God will never call you to do any mission that God has not already equipped you to fulfill. You can trust God for that one too.
TRUSTING GOT FOR THE RIGHT STUFF
You can trust God not to leave you alone. You can trust God to give you a purpose and a mission. You can trust God to equip you with what you need to do the job. Finally, you also can trust God to provide those things that you need, the physical stuff that is needed to make things happen. We see that Mark 6:8-9 (NIV) where Jesus tell the disciples what to take on their journey. “Just take a staff,” he said, “but no bread, no bag, no money. You can wear your sandals but don’t take an extra shirt.”
These people are going out there with the very minimum of provisions. Basically, all they have is the clothes on their backs – literally – but they still have a mission to fulfill.
Why is Jesus sending them out like this? Maybe it’s because he wants them to learn to trust him. After all, it’s easy to trust God when you have everything and more. But what if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from? What is you go out and not know where you are going to sleep the night? And you don’t know what you’ll do if your shirt gets ruined or stolen. Then what? Do we panic? I hope not. That’s why we need to learn to trust God.
What Jesus is doing here is teaching them to trust him for all of their needs even the physical ones. He’s hoping to demonstrate to them that not only is he concerned about giving them what they need emotional and spiritual, he’s equally concerned about giving them the physical things that they need to do their ministry.
Last week, we talked about money. That’s one of the things that is needed to keep this ministry going and, as I mentioned last week, this church has always been very generous with its financial support. You’ve also been very generous with the missions that we support such as Essex Food Bank, Downtown Mission and Murchadha House.
But, as we all know, the stuff we need goes beyond money. We need people to volunteer their time. Our Prayer Garden was built and it is maintained by volunteers who provide not only their time but also the shovels, gardening trowels, rakes and wheelbarrows. God provides the right stuff. Then we realized that we needed a place to store things and thought that a used sea can would do the trick. It wasn’t in the budget anywhere but we still needed it. With in a week of making the decision to get one, without even making a request going out from the church, a generous person donated most of the money to purchase it. It’s out in the parking lot right now and is very handy. We can trust God to provide the right stuff.
Jesus tells his disciples what to take: a staff, a shirt and sandals. But he also tells them what not to take: no bread, no bag and no money. Why not take these things? I think that Jesus is saying two things to his disciples. First, he wants them to trust him that their needs will be supplied but I also think there’s something else here. Jesus also wants them to unload their burdens. What is a burden? A burden is something that we carry even when we don’t need it.
Here’s a question for you. How many of us carry unnecessary burdens with us on our journeys? My hunch is that a lot of us do, not just as individuals but as churches.
I was thinking about that this week in relation to what our church will look like as we begin to reopen and hopefully get all of our programming going again in the fall. At our staff meeting this week with Linda, John Cats and myself, we were talking about how to move forward. John has been on various online seminars and lectures about just this. All of the presentations that he has seen have said the same thing. Church will not look the same post-Covid as it did pre-Covid. Now is the time to take a serious look at what kind of church we want to be in the future and to make the necessary changes that will facilitate our future ministry.
We had to make all kinds of changes while living through a global pandemic. Eighteen months ago, few of us had any real familiarity with online meeting platforms like Google Meet and Zoom. Now most of us are very familiar with them. Eighteen months ago, we had a vague notion that we needed to look at getting our worship online at some point in the future. We’ve been doing that now for over a year and we’re actually getting pretty good at it. Those are only the most obvious changes that we’ve had to make.
What we do know is that we are not going to go back to the way things were. Online meetings are here to stay for some committees that actually prefer them to in person meetings. Even those groups that may want to meet in person most of the time will find that there will be times when online meetings make sense.
And what about livestreaming our worship? That’s going to continue. But what does it mean for the way that we do worship? We have to be conscious of the fact that we are now broadcasting to the world. We may discover that some of the things that work for in person worship don’t work so well if someone is watching online. One of the things that we know we have to work on is dead air which is okay in person but deadly online. And then there are the people leading worship. They have to be comfortable being on camera which, all by itself, can be a little unnerving.
The bottom line is that we are going to have to assess all of those things and more as we move forward. What we will discover is that we will be able to continue some of our past practices quite seamlessly. But some of them will become burdens to us moving ahead and we have to be willing to let go of those burdens that will hold us back. Each of us as individuals and all of us as the church need to let go of he burdens and only carry what is essential to the ministry of Jesus Christ.
THE TRUSTING CHURCH
I want to be clear about something. It is my experience that God does not always do things according to our schedule. Sometimes God gives us what we need in lots of time and we can just sit back and relax. But I have also experienced where God has waited until the very last moment to give me what I needed. But regardless of whether it comes early or late, God continues to provide.
Jesus sends out the apostles with nothing extra, just the basics of life, a staff, a cloak and a pair of sandals. No money, no food, no change of clothes. And he tells them to go out there and begin their ministry.
So what happened? How did that all work out. Let’s look at Mark 6:12-13 (NIV) which says: “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” Sounds like mission accomplished to me. They took what they needed and no more, trusting God to provide the rest which God did. They trusted God and so can we.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Heavenly Father, we walk this earth day by day receiving blessing upon blessing. We offer our thanks for your many gifts given freely to us out of your generousity and grace. We praise you and thank you for the beauty of summer, for bright flowers and rustling leaves, for clean water and refreshing swims, for lemonade and ice cream.
We thank you for our nation, for Canada Day. Thank you for family activities and fireworks. Thank you, especially, for the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy. Our life style and peaceful existence are the envy of much of the world. Help us never to take these blessings for granted for they can quickly slip away. Enable us, also, to be generous in our gifts to others. We have so much. Help us to resist the temptation to hoard and bless us with the gift of sharing.
We thank you for the life of Charles Weyrauch and pray for her family as they mourn her loss. She was such a dear and faithful person. Thank you that for her, pain is past and she is in your arms in your heavenly kingdom.
We lift up in prayer, also, those who are sick at home or in hospital, remembering especially Richard, Angela, Rachel, Carol and Gary. Bless them with your Healing Spirit for we believe that you desire to heal all people.
God of Life, regardless of what happened yesterday, your mercy is new today. Regardless of what happened last year, or any time in the past, your love is eternal! Enable us to move forward in the walk of faith with renewed hope for the future which you have prepared for us. We thank you that your mercy and compassion have no limits and that we can look forward with hope and renewed strength. We seek, every day, to trust in your great faithfulness and unfailing love. Our prayers, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
July 4, 2021 / Pentecost 6 / Proper 8
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; Mark 5:21-43; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
CALL TO WORSHIP
Out of the depths, we call to our God
who hears our pleas and answers our cries.
Out of the depths, we wait for our God
whose love is unfailing and mercies endless.
Out of our need, we seek the one who meets all need.
Into our lives, the Saviour comes.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God of Earth and Heaven, we come into your presence seeking words of encouragement and blessing. We are so thankful that you have extended your grace to us though we have neither merited or earned your favour. By your grace, we live life on earth to the very fullest. By your mercy, we accept the renewed hope of eternal life. Rain upon us with your unfailing love as we bow before your throne of glory. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
In the midst of your blessings there is the reality of our sinfulness. We were made good but we fall far short of your perfection. As we grow more mature in you, we will not be deceived, for your truth will become ever stronger within us. Expose everything that we do to the light of your word, correcting any areas of sinfulness, and strengthening the rest. Help our lives to be lights and beacons of your salvation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The great deceiver is set to bring us down from the grace of God. But nothing in heaven or on earth has any power to separate us from God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ. Hear the Good News of redemption. Receive the life that only Jesus brings. We are forgiven. We are free. Alleluia!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The heavens are filled with the wonders of God. Our lives are gifts given to us by God our Creator. Our offerings to God are in gratitude for the countless blessings that come to us every day. We thank you, O God. Amen.
The great and wonderful love of God moves in our hearts. It shines through our words and actions. May we so live that all that we do and say will give glory to the One whose glory is everlasting. Let us go and live our faith to the fullest.