Proper 9(B): What Are You Carrying?
By: The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly
At the outset of just about all of life’s journeys, there is some kind of ritual commissioning that sets things in motion. Military officers are commissioned with authority to perform certain tasks and duties commensurate with their rank; artists are commissioned to produce works of art; medical students have “White Coat” ceremonies; and pastors have ordinations and celebrations of new ministry.
For Christians, however, baptism is the ultimate “commissioning.” While different traditions utilize different language to speak about baptism, the gist is the same—love God; love neighbor. As Thomas Aquinas put it, “Baptism is the beginning of the spiritual life and opens the door into the sacramental world…” And when we get right down to it, Mark chapter 6 serves as a kind of commissioning for the disciples as they prepare to journey across the Judean countryside proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.
Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m about to leave town for a few days, there are certain things I try and take care of in order to prepare. I fill up the car with gas; I water the plants; I put an automatic response message on my voicemail and email; I put a hold on the mail…you get the idea. In fact, my wife will be the first one to tell you that even if I’m only going to be gone for one night, I take at least two extra outfits, six books, three pairs of shoes, and at least three months’ worth of dental floss. One can never be too careful with one’s dental hygiene! 🙂
So as the disciples prepare for their journey, we might expect them to stop by the ABC store for an extra wineskin, or for them to run over to the department store for an extra tunic and a nice pair of walking sandals, or even to stop by the First Bank of Palestine to get some extra spending money. But listen to the way Mark describes Jesus’ instructions to the disciples as he commissions them for the journey:
[Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
Jesus tells the disciples, not just that they should pack lightly, but that they should pack nothing! The disciples depart, two by two, with nothing but their walking sticks, a fresh pair of sandals, and the clothes on their backs—filled to the brim with doubt and uncertainty, and probably no small amount of fear and anxiety as well.
But what the disciples would soon learn is that for the people they would encounter along the way, it wasn’t food or money or clothes that they most needed; no, the thing that the people to whom the disciples were called to minister needed the most was healing. And so Jesus required the disciples to give what was the hardest thing in the world for them to give: themselves.
Several years ago, a clergy friend of mine began a new ministry in a new diocese. One of the unwritten rules in her new diocese is that clergy are expected to volunteer to serve for a week in the summer as chaplain at the camp and conference center. Before I continue, allow me to dispel any idyllic, Walden Pond-esque notions you may have about the conditions of the camp and conference center of which I speak. This camp and conference center features mosquitoes rivaling a biblical plague; food so sinfully delicious that it comes with a wet wipe and an angiogram; and cabins that wreak of sweat, chlorinated pool water, and mildew.
My friend is, shall we say, not the camping type. And after several particularly horrible experiences as a camp chaplain, she and God had a very frank conversation about her ministry at summer camps. She was very clear with God that she never wanted to set foot in another summer camp again. Ever! But as usual, God listened, nodded, and went on with God’s plan. You can imagine her horror, not just at the requirement that she serve as a summer chaplain, but also at her assignment to serve at the biggest and most exhausting week of the entire year featuring High School sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
She grudgingly left the comforts of home, put on her sandals, loaded up her walking stick, and set out for camp—fully expecting a week of unadulterated misery. But what she found while she was on the mountain with a bunch of high schoolers is that her world didn’t come crashing down. In fact, she discovered something similar to what I imagine the disciples discovered: The moments when we put aside the comforts of home and step into uncertainty and risk are the moments when we are closest to God.
The question that Jesus causes us to ask ourselves is this: What baggage have we been dragging along with us on our journey of faith—not because we need it, but because we’re comfortable with it? What places in our relationship with God are desperate to be explored, but remain unreachable because of what we’re lugging along the way? God is inviting us to unpack the clutter we’ve been accustomed to carrying along with us on our journey and leave it behind. Only then can we take up our walking sticks and dust off our sandals and embark on a journey into God’s abundance!
**With gratitude to my friend and colleague, The Rev. Laurie Brock, whose experience at camp not only shaped my writing, but also shaped my vocation.**
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae vol. 58 (3a. 73-78) “The Eucharistic Presence” trans. William Barden, O.P. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1963), 10.
The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly was elected the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in May of 2015. A native of Paris, Kentucky, Marshall earned a BA in American Studies at Transylvania University, and a Master of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, where he is currently completing doctoral work in Biblical interpretation. Marshall is also the editor of ModernMetanoia.org. Most important and life-giving of all, he is Elizabeth’s husband.