Becky and I planned a weeklong vacation in Tennessee. It was one of our first vacations together, and we were still learning about each other’s traveling habits. We were driving, which meant we did not need to worry about the size and weight of our luggage. Only the size of the car itself limited what we could take.
I like to think of myself as a light packer. I can usually get away with a single bag, even if I am traveling for several weeks. Well, by the time we got our car packed for this trip, I was worried about two things: being able to see out of the rear view mirror, and not scraping bottom. We had a packing list and we packed for every eventuality – cool weather, hot weather, rainy weather, outside clothes, inside clothes, nice clothes, casual clothes. Our room had a kitchen, so we brought all kinds of food and snacks with us, just in case Tennessee ran out of food. We brought books, movies, and games in case we felt bored. We brought laptops, notebooks, and projects in case we felt productive. This was all great until we got to the place we were staying and realized that our room was on the fourth floor – and there was no elevator.
Turns out there is some pretty practical wisdom for today’s traveler in Jesus’ packing instructions – carry no purse, no bag, no shoes. Travel light. Obviously, Jesus is not writing a column for Travel + Leisure magazine, giving his followers sensible packing tips. No, he is preparing his followers for a very special mission. He calls 70 of them apart from the community that has gathered around him, and he is sending them out ahead of him. They are to travel to the places he himself intends to go, and they are to heal the sick and announce the arrival of the kingdom of God. In other words, they are Jesus’ apostolic advance team. They are to move quickly, not even taking time to greet others on the road, and they are to travel unencumbered. In fact, these 70 individuals only need to bring two things: Jesus and each other.
Some who call themselves Christians might zone out at this instruction. They might believe this does not apply to them because they do not count themselves among the 70 called to go into the world. However, all who claim to follow Jesus are subject to this instruction. As the theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote, “Anyone who gets involved with Jesus gets involved with the kingdom of God. This is an inescapable fact, for… who is Jesus? Simply the kingdom of God in person.” By virtue of the fact that we have a relationship with him, Jesus calls each of us to announce the kingdom of God in the world, and we all need Jesus in order to do it.
Maybe the fact that we need Jesus in order to accomplish this mission seems pretty obvious. Those whom Jesus sends into the world to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God need to bring Jesus with them. In this instance, though, Jesus is referring to himself as the spirit of peace that will accompany these travelers. This spirit of peace is not only with them, it is also at work in the places they are going. Some have welcomed this spirit of peace, and when the apostles arrive and say, “Peace to this house,” those who reside there will share in that peace. Others will not embrace the spirit of peace, and they will reject the apostles. Jesus tells his followers that regardless of whether their ministry is successful or not, his spirit of peace has been and will continue to be active in the mission field, and there is no human power that can banish it. That does not mean that rejection and failure are not painful, though.
This leads us to item number two on Jesus’ packing list: each other. Rejection and failure have played a role in my Christian life. I have said the wrong things at inappropriate times. I have been misunderstood. I have even stumbled over my words reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Anytime I have experienced rejection or failure in my ministry, I know one thing that almost instantly makes it better: community. Did you notice that Jesus sends these apostles out in pairs? For some reason, that relatively minor statement, “Sent them on ahead of him in pairs,” resonated with me this week. Jesus does not want us to do ministry on our own. Jesus calls his followers to proclaim the kingdom of God together.
This is an especially important message for us this morning as we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day. It strikes me that independence means something different today than it did on July 4, 1776. Today, independence means separateness and self-sufficiency. For many, it means I am fine on my own, and I do not need anyone else, thank you very much. Yet for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, it meant dissolving unfair ties to Britain so that they could unite together. This is why Jefferson concludes by saying, “For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The poet and preacher, John Donne, once proclaimed, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a [chunk is] washed away by the sea, [the continent] is less… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Scripture repeatedly affirms this idea that we are connected. Paul uses the image of a human body, wanting us to see that while we are each of us different and unique, we are connected in such a way that we cannot function apart from one another. Jesus himself uses the image of a vine and branches, telling his disciples that he is the nourishing root, and each of us is a connected branch tasked with producing fruit. Apart from the vine, the branches wither and die.
In ministry and in life, we need one another. Jesus tells us that he is sending these apostles out like lambs among wolves. There are failures, to be sure, but there are also dangers and trials for us to endure. Jesus knows that we are better equipped to face pain, suffering, and evil when we have other Christians by our side. Our culture can seem very inhospitable to the spirit of peace we carry into the world, and we can easily get discouraged. When we realize that we are in ministry together, we are more likely to persevere. One of the things I love about this congregation is how active the people are in ministry. I especially love it when I discover two people that I do not even realize know each other are actually engaged in ministry together! I have experienced this several times in our church, and I love it.
Jesus tells us that wolves will attack us when we are proclaiming the kingdom; however, they attack the sheep in their personal, professional, and social lives, as well. We lose friends and loved ones to conflict or death. We endure illness, or care for others who suffer from disease. We struggle to make ends meet, or work jobs that make us miserable or do not fulfill us. Many things in our lives can make us feel isolated or disconnected from God. In times like that, wolves love to scatter the sheep because it makes them easier targets. What better way is there to shut down a mission than to stop it before it even begins? When the sheep stick together in pairs, small groups, or congregations, we are more likely to make it through the assault.
And when we do make it through, we return to Jesus with joy. Joy because we see that he has been with us, and joy because we recognize that we are in this together. But most of all, our joy comes from recognizing that Jesus has already defeated the wolves, and the biggest, baddest wolf of them all has fallen from heaven like a flash of lightning, and there is no power that can resurrect him. That wolf is like a firework exploding in the sky, spectacular and dreadful, yet fizzling to the earth in a million scorched pieces that can never be reassembled. Jesus has won the victory, and we rejoice because our names are written in heaven.
 Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, (Minneapolis:FP, 1994), 7.
 Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence,” 1776.
 John Donne, “from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions”, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, (NY:Modern Library, 2001), 446.