Monday, April 3, 2017

Sermon: “Low Battery Alert (Fifth in a Series on “Hitchhiking with Jesus”: What Do We Bring?)", Matthew 17:14-20/1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (April 2, 2017)



Before I launch into my sermon today, I need to admit something to you all: I’m somewhat of a technology addict. Specifically, I’m addicted to my cell phone. Whenever I’m bored, the first thing I do is pull out my phone and check Facebook (even if I already checked it 30 seconds ago) or play a game or read an article that I saved from the internet. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m fairly confident that I’m not alone here. How many of you are like me? For those of you who didn’t raise your hand (or are in denial), I apologize and hope you’ve encountered someone like me so that you can understand everything that I’m about to say on some level (I assume that you have…it IS 2017…).

Onto the sermon: today’s question regarding how we hitchhike with Jesus is “What do we bring?” A few weeks back we talked about what we leave behind, what we need to give up so that we aren’t burdened as we travel. Now we get down to business and figure out what DOES make the cut. Today, finally, after weeks of preparation, we pack our suitcases.

You may think, given my sermon prelude, that I’m gonna make the argument that we should make sure our cell phones are on our packing list when we travel. Who doesn’t follow Jesus without a smartphone, right? Well, you’re partially correct. I know there are people out there who don’t like how complicated phones have become in recent years, but there is SO MUCH that you can do with that little 2” by 4” computer in your pocket. Even if you’re a techno-phobe, you have to admit that a cell phone, if wielded effectively, can be an asset on a journey.

Are you lost? Pull up a map of the area, or even turn-by-turn directions.

Late for a reservation? Call and let them know you’ll be there soon.

Not sure when your flight departs? Look it up.

Forgot to get a ticket? Buy one online and get it immediately.

Hungry? Look up restaurants near you.

Hungry—but it’s 11pm? Check to see if there’s anywhere nearby that’s open late.

While you can definitely get by without a cell phone, you have to admit it’s a remarkable tool that provides seemingly unlimited possibilities—especially when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Although Verizon didn’t exist back then, Jesus’ disciples had some impressive tools of their own. By the time we encounter them here in Matthew 17, they’ve been given authority: Jesus had bestowed it upon them back in chapter 10. At this point, they’re empowered to do everything that Jesus could do to heal others. And they’ve had the experiences following Jesus around to back up that authority, which is no small thing. As any brand-new college graduate on a job hunt can tell you, experience is worth its weight in gold. The disciples had basically served as unpaid interns to Jesus since the beginning of his ministry back in chapter 4, and Peter, John, and James were fresh from their experience of the Transfiguration. They’d seen things. They knew how it worked. Their credentials were impeccable. They were packed and ready to go. They had the iPhone 7 of resources—fully loaded and ready for action. They were prepared to live out their calling.

But we, savvy 21st century people that we are, know that even the newest and most technologically advanced phone is useless if it’s lacking one important thing: a charge. We’ve probably all been there—you pull out your phone to text a friend when BAM! Low battery alert. Panic ensues. Few things can evoke such disproportionate anxiety as realizing that your phone is about to die and you have no way to charge it. Now, if this happens when you’re on your way home from running errands, it’s not such a big deal because you know where you are, where you’re going, and where you’ll be able to charge the battery again. But when you’re on a trip, somewhere unfamiliar, with a plan that relies on the information that your cell phone provides, it can be an uncomfortably disorienting experience. All of the resources that your phone affords you are useless without a charged battery. If you forget to pack your charger, you’re toast.

Guess what? All their preparation, and the disciples forgot to pack their charger. As important and impressive as all their resources were, they weren’t enough to heal the epileptic boy. All the experience and authority in the world was useless if it wasn’t powered by faith.

How could this happen? To Jesus’ disciples, of all people? Peter had JUST recognized and identified Jesus as the Messiah at the end of the previous chapter; what’s the deal with this lack of faith? We can only speculate as to what the disciples were thinking and feeling leading up to this attempted healing since scripture doesn’t really tell us, but I imagine it was sort of like when you’re packing for a vacation, and you prepare for every eventuality but forget the basics. Here’s my general thought process, for reference:

“Okay, I’ve got one outfit for each day, but I should probably pack a sweatshirt in case it’s cold. Well, maybe two, in case the first one gets dirty. And I really ought to bring a dress in case we decide to go somewhere fancy for dinner, like McDonalds or something. And that would require nice shoes, so I’ll put those in there. Oh, and I should bring a swimsuit in case there’s a pool at the hotel. And workout clothes in case I have extra time to go to the gym. And definitely an extra pair of socks or 20. Oops, almost forgot my phone! I am so ready for this vacation.” Meanwhile, my phone charger remains plugged into the wall, cheerfully waiting for me to return home a week later.

Only instead of excessive amounts of clothing, the disciples would have been frantically packing all of their experiences and credentials: “Okay, so last time Jesus healed someone, he moved his hands in this way, so we need to remember that. And he said some words; those might have been important. And we should make sure everyone knows that we’re licensed to do this. And just to be safe, let’s make sure we pray a couple extra times beforehand…” Meanwhile, they completely forgot how faith had undergirded everything that Jesus had done. And in their forgetfulness, they weren’t able to do the things that Jesus had called them to do.

We overpack because we want to have control over every possible situation. And with the illusion of control comes the distraction from what’s really essential. When we fixate on things like our outdated rituals, our impossible standards, or our hypocritical judgement—you know, those things that Andrew told us NOT to pack—we forget about those things that are REALLY important. The things that we can’t make the journey without. Things like faith: giving up the control that we crave to a God that we should be trusting.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a slightly different packing list, but the same message; he even seems to up the ante of what’s necessary. He says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Man, Jesus set the bar and Paul raised it. As essential as faith is, Paul says, love is even more essential.

So let’s extend our original metaphor a little. If faith is the charger to our God-given calling, love is the adapter. After all, a wall charger is well and good…unless you’re in the car. Or in another country. Then you need an adapter to make it useful. Without a charger AND an adapter, a cell phone eventually, in one context or another, becomes useless. And Jesus’ calling to us is on our WHOLE LIVES, in every context, not just a few parts of it. Without faith AND love, we can’t effectively be who God means for us to be. We need to pack both.

We can allow a bit of grace for the disciples, I think, because they were the first ones to pack for this particular journey—following Christ. They also had to process everything that Jesus told them as it came without the benefit of reflection, discussion, or Biblical commentary. We, on the other hand, have already received our call (not the kind on a cell phone, but the kind given through scripture). It’s written down in black and white for us to read as many times as we need to: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us.[1] Although the journey to the cross is an important part of the trip, it’s not the end. We already know where we’re going, even if the disciples didn’t, even if we don’t necessarily know how we’re gonna get there. Jesus has told us so many times. What we have to do now is figure out how to prepare and what to pack for it. There’s plenty that’s worth leaving behind, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing worth bringing. We have to pack lightly, but effectively.

For anything that we do in Christ’s name to make a difference, we need to make sure that the very first things in our suitcase are faith and love. These are the foundation of everything else. Without these, it doesn’t matter what else we pack. This week, take an inventory of what’s in your suitcase when you follow Jesus. Is there at least a mustard-seed’s worth of faith? Is there more than that? Is there love? Is there REALLY? Are you taking them out and using them, or forgetting that they’re there? Are you depending on all the other, less necessary things that you’ve packed and letting your battery run low?

Don’t forget your charger. There’s a long road ahead of us: we’re gonna need it.


[1] Matthew 28:19-20.

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