Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Underpacking


Last month, I spent three weeks taking classes at the School of Theology in Sewanee. It's my third summer to do that, but it's the first time I lived in the dorm. In my previous summers, I've been able to rent a house from a seminarian and share part of the time with my family, but, this year, it was just me. The week before I left, I began to scramble to get together the things I needed to take with me. I had already ordered and received all of my books, but I discovered that I needed things like extra-long twin sheets. (I haven't had those in my closet since I graduated from college.) Like a kid going to summer camp, I hastily went through the e-mail with the recommended packing list, and, like the parent of a kid going to summer camp, I ordered everything I needed from Amazon--at least everything I thought I needed.

At Sewanee, here's what I discovered. No one tells you to bring hand soap or a hand towel. Unless you like overhead fluorescent lights, you may want to bring a lamp. And all those dress socks I packed? I didn't wear them to class a single time.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy followers, and here are the instructions he gives them: "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road." In other words, don't bother packing anything, and don't try to make friends along the way. Just show up in whatever town you go to, and trust that things will work out. Knock on a door and say, "Peace be to this house!" And if the people there are willing to share in peace, your peace will rest on them. If not, it will return to you, and you can go to another house. When you find a family that will welcome you, stay there until your work in that town is done. Eat whatever they provide, and stay focused on your work. And, if no one will take you in, shake off the dust and keep moving. Regardless, the kingdom of God is on its way.

I wonder what it felt like to go out to prepare the way for Jesus but to be so under-equipped. I wonder what it teaches us to travel light. I wonder what lessons we learn when we put down our smart phones and leave behind our wallets and head out down the road to see what we will discover. I wonder what we might learn about depending on God and the generosity of others and the limits of our own abilities and the limitlessness of the Holy Spirit's power.

When the seventy return, they are filled with joy that even the demons submit to them! In their travelling light, depending on whatever provision God will bring to them, the seventy discovered that they had remarkable power--even power over evil spirits. But Jesus reminds them to keep everything in perspective. "See, I have given you power to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Setting down the encumbrances of this life and travelling light--living on the edge of complete dependence on God--gives us access to great power. When we recognize that we are sustained not by our own efforts but by God's never-failing love, we find the Spirit's power breathing through us. We are given the courage to face the evil of this world. We receive the power to risk our lives and our fortunes for the sake of justice. We are able to proclaim with authenticity, "The kingdom of God has come near!" But those who live in that place of powerful dependence on God don't celebrate merely the stuff they accomplish--the kind of stuff that gets your name in the local newspaper. There's something more important to celebrate. Those who live and eat and drink and breathe upon God's blessings are those who belong to God--those who are citizens of God's reign.

Take a step away from over-preparedness for life. Look at the stuff you've packed. Examine your bank account, your 401(k), your life insurance policy. Think about your house, your lake house, your cars. Think about your resume, your degrees, your CV. What would happen if you set them aside and learned even just a little bit better what it means to depend on God? What power would you find? What identity would you discover? You are God's children. God will provide for you. God has a purpose for you. That's true of everyone who belongs to God. What's getting in the way of celebrating your participation in God's reign?

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