Chaplain Mel Baars
July 8, 2012
In the twenty-five years we shared together, my grandfather taught me quite a lot. He was a lifelong athlete and ball coach, so much of his wisdom stemmed from the field or the court. When I was a little girl, and first started sports and in particular gymnastics, I took some pretty nasty falls, often scaring myself more than suffering any real injury. His advice never wavered. “Just rub some dirt on it,” he would say, expecting me to jump back up and try again. I never understood how dirt would do me a bit of good, but sure enough those are the words that still echo in my head today when I fall down either literally or figuratively. A temporary failure never had the final say. No matter how bad things got, quitting was never an option. “Once a quitter, always a quitter,” he would remind me. And, sure enough, I was so petrified of becoming a quitter that I never even entertained the possibility of quitting, at least until I joined the Army.
All of you who went to real basic training or even some more difficult training experience can laugh all you want, but for me, Cadet basic was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The possibility of quitting crept onto my radar without me even realizing it. But, I have a distinct memory which reminds me to this day why I didn’t quit. It was a rare break, and my battle buddy and I were sitting under a tree talking about what typical Army folk talk about... how many days, plus a wake up, we had left before graduation and freedom. I am sure this sounds familiar. We were hot, gross, and tired, but despite how miserable we felt, I remember thinking, at least I have my battle buddy. We were going to get to the end of this thing come hell or high water. I knew right then, more than I had ever known in my entire life, that my success, my ability to hang in there and finish what I had started, was completely dependent on this companion. Without my battle buddy, I don’t think I would have made it. I really may have quit. She made all the difference.
Reading our gospel for this morning, I can’t help but think that it is Jesus, and not the Army, who is really responsible for the concept of battle buddies. He called the twelve and sent them out, two by two. It’s the biblical buddy system. And, with good reason. The world was then, and still is now, a harsh place. The work that they had been called to do would be difficult. They would be rejected, as Jesus himself had experienced in the verses leading up to this send off. If the disciples went at it alone, they may not have lasted very long. But, two by two, strengthened by the friendship of the other, they would be prepared to weather whatever storms waited for them beyond the horizon. They would be able to complete the mission that they had been called to do.
This is what we find in these two different yet conjoined stories. In the first six verses, we encounter a story of Jesus being rejected by his own hometown, by his own family, even. This rejection was so serious that after previously performing many miracles, healing a woman who had been hemorrhaging for years and bringing a dead child back to life, in his own home, he is rendered powerless.
Juxtaposed with this tragic tale of rejection and unbelief, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples to take the gospel into the world, giving them authority to heal in his name, casting out demons and delivering good news. These two stories are completely separate from one another. Except, when we look closer, we realize that they are also inextricably bound together. Jesus’ hometown’s wholehearted rejection of him, despite news of his marvelous deeds, is the backdrop which the disciples face. This is their reality, too. If Jesus isn’t safe from ridicule and rejection, the disciples will surely endure their share of hardship. Because of this, they are going to need each other to survive.
Ecclesiastes portrays this idea beautifully in its fourth chapter when its author writes these words:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (4:9-12)”
This passage is often read at weddings, very appropriately. But it doesn’t only pertain to marriage. These words are also about the gifts received in friendship. When one has a bad day, the other is in a position to lift him up. When one has lost sight of hope, the other is able to remind her of the blessings which still abide, even in the darkness. Alone, we are more susceptible to being derailed by harsh words or hurtful behavior, but with a friend, even experiencing pain, we are able to withstand so much more.
Jesus instructs his disciples, and by extension all of us, on what they really need to go out into the world and do the work that they have been called to do. He tells them that they don’t really need anything for their journey, not food or a suitcase that conveniently rolls on wheels making it easier to traverse the distances. For their journey, they don’t need money or extra clothes, just the sandals on their feet and the shirt on their back. Yet, there is one thing they need to bring, just one thing—they need a friend.
Don’t we know it? If it weren’t for friends, for the support and care and love and friendship that exists in a place and time like this, I don’t know where any of us would be. We may think we need all kinds of “things,” our laptops and tv shows and gaming stations and IPADS and, if you are like me, unlimited reading material to ensure that no time is ever wasted. But really, none of those things provide much more than distraction. A friend, however, is another story altogether. Because, no matter how bad things have been, no matter how hard or monotonous or frustrating our jobs may be, when we look to our left and our right and see that we are not alone, but in this together, we find a little more strength to continue on and finish what we have started. It is friendship that makes all the difference. It is friendship that we will hold onto, even years from now, when we look back and remember this place and time in our lives. When all is said and done, it is only friendship that really matters.
Jesus knew this all too well. Just hours before his arrest and crucifixion as he faces his death, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are not my staff. You are not my servants. You are not my slaves. You are my friends.” In his moment of complete fear and disappointment and grief, Jesus looks to his left and his right. He remembers that he is not alone, but that he continues his mission, his journey even unto death, surrounded by his friends-- not staff, or servants or slaves, but friends.
And, so do all of us. We are worth more to each other than our rank or our work colleague status or our petty disagreements or our annoyances. Eventually, all of that will fall away and what will be left, the only thing that really matters at all, is friendship. There is only one way to finish this journey, and that is with each another, together to the very end.
Our gospel for today is a reminder that though we may be called to go out into the world sharing good news, being witnesses to the light of God’s unending love, we will likely face a mixed reception. While some may embrace what we have to give, others may do the opposite, they may even try to kill us. And this is the thing, we can’t control how all of this unfolds. We don’t get to dictate what others do or neglect to do, how they respond to the good news. This is not our job. We plant seeds and trust that God will make a way for them to grow.
What we are each responsible for is our own response to God’s love, for our own enduring faithfulness despite any difficulty or hardship we may experience. I know, we all know, it’s not easy-- not when we face persecution, not when we are hurt, not when promises are broken. But, we are never called to go out alone. Instead, we go together, two by two, strengthened by friendship, ready to face a harsh and broken world that is waiting, that is desperate, to hear and know and be healed by the good news. May it be so. Amen.