I am not a frequent traveler, but I travel enough that when I head through security at the airport, I usually look for the “business traveler” line. In short, I have my routine down to a science, and it starts well-before I ever meet a friendly TSA officer.
I pack a bag of medicine, everything from cold stuff to flu stuff. I pack my noise cancelling headphones, which are a must-have for any international flight. I pack my passport wallet. And I pack all my important phone numbers, should I need to reach folks while I am away.
And then I get to packing my suitcase.
Usually I try and take only a carry-on, even when I am flying internationally. So every single trip, I must ask myself: What should I bring? Where am I going? What will the weather be like? And when I have answered those questions, then I make my list: pants, shirts, shoes, socks, etc.
It is this simple: when I travel, I must decide what to bring.
Now to the Gospel for today: Mark 6. Jesus ordered his disciples to take nothing with them on their journey; no bread, no bag, and no money in their belts. Did you catch that? Instead of giving his disciples a list of what to bring, he gives them a list of what not to bring!
And there is something to that, I think.
What defines our society is the accumulation of “stuff.” Some of it is necessary, of course. We really do need a roof over our heads and food on our tables. Especially those of us with children have a responsibility under the fourth commandment to provide for our families. But providing is different than excess, and our culture is defined by the latter, not the former.
Think about all the extra stuff we have gotten or we have got to have: vacations, boats, nice cars, flat screen TVs, lake homes, good jobs, loads of respect, well-mannered children, and, hopefully, a big bonus at the end of the year to kick start our new year of new stuff.
But please do not get me wrong. Those things are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, those things are very good, but only when they find their proper spot in the order of things.
It is Christ first and all that he brings: extravagant mercy, contagious love, radical charity, and mercy for all; it is Christ first, and then everything else. And it is only when we release our grip on the “everything else,” that we can truly see who we were created by God to be, and who Jesus is as his Son.
He is for us and not against us. He wishes nothing but good for us. And as he moves this creation one step closer to the new Eden (a place in which we were created to dwell forever), he reminds us every single day, that the important stuff should be the important stuff, and that everything else should be mere commentary.
And that is, of course, the “Why?” of the Incarnation.
Jesus became man – he became one of us – not to confirm our wants, but to rearrange them. He came, not to fulfill our desires, but to reorder them. He came, not to give us what we long for, but he came to give us what we need.
And what we need most is a full-blast Jesus who is full-blast for us. He is the kind of Jesus who does not merely tell us who we should be, but the kind of Jesus who demonstrates in his very flesh and blood the kind of people we were created to be. And he is a Jesus whose goal in the Church today is not to add names to a page, but to create a culture where the Baptized and the Absolved and the Suppered live as his full-blast disciples; doing what he does and saying what he says.
This life is not easy; it is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive, yes. It costs a ton. But when we have this life as he gives it, it is filled with grace and blessing.
Listen to the famous Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Cheap grace […] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is […] grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.
Costly grace is […] the gospel which must be sought again and again. The gift which must be asked for, the door at which one must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs us our lives. It is grace because it gives us the only true life.
(Bonhoeffer, as quoted in David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor [Brazos Press, 2005], 209-210).
It is a hard life, yes, but remember how the Gospel for this Sunday concludes: “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
When we do as Jesus bids us to do – when we give up everything we have got to follow him – the world is a better place, wrongs are made right, and as his beloved children, we are drawn one step closer to Eden made new.
The Rev. Dr. Joshua Genig is Pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta, Georgia, and has recently received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.