“Let God Be Our Pilot” A Sermon
by The Rev. Jay Lawlor
7th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 9, Year B – July 8, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Richmond, IN
Psalm 48:13 | Mark 6:1-13
Do you remember the bumper sticker “God is My Co-Pilot”? Bumper-sticker theology can be puzzling. I’ve always wondered about that particular bumper sticker theology. I get the point it is trying to make. But why is God the co-pilot? Isn’t God the pilot?
I think of our Psalm this morning: “This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore.” (Psalm 48:13)
So God as co-pilot is of good intentions, but where theology gets lost somewhat in translation. It can be hard for people, particularly Americans who value individualism, to accept our authority is not our own; that our authority to minister comes from God. Yes, we need to accept God’s call and act on the authority given. But we should be clear on where the authority comes from.
There is an interesting pairing of passages in Mark’s gospel about authority. Jesus’ authority and how he offers that authority to his disciples. And it begins in an interesting way.
A central theme in Mark is how closely related the call to discipleship is to Jesus’ own experience of rejection. Jesus arrives in his hometown of Nazareth and there are all these questions about him.
“Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3)
In the eyes of those in Nazareth, Jesus doesn’t seem to have the credentials to do what he is doing. They don’t believe he has the authority. They know him as a carpenter. The son of Mary.
They knew him as the boy who played in the streets of Nazareth with his brothers James, Joses, and Judas. They know Jesus’ sisters. They know Jesus’ family, and who Jesus was. They don’t know who Jesus is.
They don’t know who Jesus is, and so Mark’s gospel tells us they took offense at him. What offense? I wonder. Perhaps it is as simple as Jesus is doing things they don’t expect him to do. Things Jesus, in their eyes, should not be able to do. Maybe they cannot accept Jesus’ authority doesn’t come from Nazareth.
This is coupled with Jesus’ sending out of the twelve. This short passage from Mark is packed with insight about Jesus’ teachings on discipleship — what it was like for the apostles then and the Church’s mission and ministry for the 21st century, and on whose authority ministry is given.
Jesus sends the twelve apostles out two by two and provides them with detailed instructions:
He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money for their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place does not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)
First, let us examine the significance of Jesus’ instructions for the twelve apostles. Traveling in twos was common in antiquity for practical purposes. It was dangerous to travel alone due to some treacherous terrain and the threat of robbers/bandits along many of the roads. It provides a clear message that ministry should not be done alone — even if it is to protect one another from the dangers the world may present.
Jesus first instructs the apostles that are to take nothing but a staff. This, presumably, was a staff for travelers to help traverse the countryside and fend off wild animals. But this is rich in important symbolism.
Now, I know it is not our appointed Psalm for this morning, but recall Psalm 23 and the imagery of God’s rod and staff, they comfort me. Or Jesus as the Good Shepherd caring for his flock. The staff being a longer rod that a shepherd can lean on for support and use to guide the flock is the imagery, I believe, that Jesus wants to leave with his first disciples, and us.
Jesus is granting the disciples an extension of his authority to act on his behalf in the world. They are to become the shepherds of Jesus’ flock.
Through our mission we are called to continue Jesus’ ministry. The Church today shares in the authority and mission as given to us just as assuredly it was given to the twelve. The question we need to ask: How is Jesus sending us out into the world to preach and to heal through a gospel of compassion, justice, and reconciliation? A gospel of love.
What we first need to remember, and today’s gospel from Mark offers wise instruction, is that ministry cannot be done alone. We must walk side by side with one another and always be calling upon the Holy Spirit to move in us and through us. Second, I believe that Jesus’ message is for us to carry our staffs to draw people together in caring and compassion. In love.
And we should never forget the words of the Psalmist: This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore. Nothing we do in ministry is of our own authority. Our ministry as Christians is an extension of Jesus’ authority – given by God. It is a ministry Jesus has invited us to share in. We are ALWAYS dependent upon Jesus as the source of our authority in ministry. Jesus’ authority as part of the Triune nature of God. This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore.
Let us see the world through Jesus’ eyes and may we answer Jesus’ call to go forth into the world as his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be powerful catalysts that build a stronger Church, and a just, compassionate, and loving world.
May we be held by the love of God and empowered in recognizing our authority is not our own. Can we hear the Psalmist reminding
us?: This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore.