Rooted In Faith, Growing In Discipleship

Grace Lindvall
(Colossians 2:6-7; Luke 10:1-12)

Most mission trips I have been on come with an extensive, detailed packing list – gloves for the work, long pants, boots, bug spray, sunscreen, journal, a Bible, so on. But not this mission trip. This mission they are sent out and explicitly told not to bring anything – no money to buy food with, no sandals to keep your feet safe, no bag to carry your possessions, and not even the permission to ask someone along the road for directions.

The difference however is that Jesus isn’t sending the disciples on a mission trip, he is commissioning them for a new way of life – called discipleship.

These 12 verses aren’t describing just a mission trip or a one-time affair, they are describing this new way of life that the disciples will live, a way of life called and set forth by Christ himself to do the work of ministry that Christ does, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

This way of life comes with no packing list. In fact, it comes with an anti-packing list. All the things that the disciples do not need to bring, that even we 21st century disciples, don’t need to bring. David Lose of Luther Seminary poses an interesting thought about this idea, the idea of packing so light, bringing no purse, bag, or sandals – he postures that it calls us to deeper discipleship through “faithful dependence.”

Faithful dependence. The idea of depending on one another, by depending on God to provide these things that we could provide for ourselves. Trusting that God will provide what we need for the journey, that God will sustain us along the paths of discipleship.

When these 70 commissioned disciples go out into the towns and cities without bag, purse, or sandals, they are not just without personal items, they are dependent on others to provide their necessities. Without purse, how can they buy food to eat, instead they are told to eat the food given to them along the way. Without sandals, they are in need of a place to rest their feet, and so they must rest among the hospitality of those who welcome them into their home. Without a bag, they carry no items that would keep them safe from the harsh world, they rely instead on God to protect them through the love of their neighbors, trusting them to provide safe shelter for them.  

Which makes me wonder, for us 21st century disciples, what things do we cling on to, what things do we hoard away for ourselves to protect us from what may come? And furthermore, and more importantly, how do those things keep us from living faithfully in a life of discipleship with Christ? How can we be faithful disciples if we are so confident that we, not God, can provide all that we need for ourselves, where is our discipleship if we do not need God?

Most mission trips I have been on are vetted, places someone has been, where someone knows another person, where the rate of violence has been measured, the security threats are low, the routes are mapped out. But not this mission trip. Jesus sends the people into every town and place, sending them out as he says as “lambs among wolves.” Because this isn’t a mission trip – this is a new way of life, called discipleship.

The disciples are sent into the world to places unknown, to a world that likely will reject them, and to an unknown new way of life. The call that Jesus places on their lives is unmapped, under-researched, and a diversion from the lives many had likely planned to live. But that is exactly what it is, a new life, a risky new life, but new vibrant life nonetheless.

I heard a story a number of years ago, about a father and mother standing and watching their youngest daughter board a plane in the airport. The daughter had recently graduated from high school – she had been raised in the Presbyterian Church, a church not much unlike ours. She was raised with her parents bringing her to youth group on Sunday nights, to worship most Sunday mornings, she had gone on the mission trips each year that the church organized for the youth group.

When the time came for her to apply for colleges, her parents and her decided she could apply to a number of prestigious colleges. She applied and was accepted to several of these prestigious colleges and her parents prodded her to go, they saw the success she could have by attending these schools. She could go to one of these good schools, be involved in a campus group, get a good job after school, and live a good life. But she insisted on something else. She insisted on this call that she had felt to take a year off of college and become a missionary in some far-off land that they didn’t know of. Her parents persisted against her, she could do this after she went to school, maybe as a semester abroad or an alternative Spring Break, but she prevailed, insisting this is what she was to do. As her father watched his daughter board the plane he leaned over to her mother and whispered to her, “I knew we raised her to be a good Christian, I just never expected she would become a real Christian.”

Christian writer Elizabeth O’Connor writes, “Following Christ is a dangerous act! It is dangerous because you may find yourself digging with a shovel, or reading the Bible or changing your job or praying as you have never prayed before. It is indeed dangerous, for if one becomes committed to this way, all life will be different and every sphere of one’s existence will be involved in the change.”

The life of discipleship that Christ calls us to is one that involves risk and one that involves change. When we speak of discipleship, we often speak in terms of what we are doing, how many activities we are signed up for, the various things we do, the many organizations we serve with. So the call to discipleship may sound overwhelming, exhausting, like a time suck – it may sound like we are be called to do more – sign up for more service opportunities, volunteer more, or to be more, to be more generous or more spiritual, or more involved. But the call to discipleship is not a call to more discipleship, but rather I’d suggest the idea that the call to discipleship is about more faithful discipleship.

And that is where I think the turn is, as I said before, this is not a one time affair that Jesus calls these disciples to, not a week long trip abroad (sure our lives of discipleship will include that) but this is a call to a new life. When these disciples leave on this mission, they leave for a new life, when and if they return, they will undoubtedly return changed. But that is precisely the point of discipleship – to live faithful lives with Christ that may go against the grain of our planned lives and may enter us instead into faithful lives filled with risk, surprise and change.

Discipleship has often been all about giving, giving time, giving resources, giving money but it is much more about being changed, receiving, trusting, giving things up. Discipleship isn’t asking you to wring yourself out of time, out of energy, out of resources, its calling us to make changes to our lives – to take steps that help us to follow Jesus more closely, to do things that help us serve Christ more faithfully, to take risks that allow us to bring about the Kingdom of God more faithfully.

Preacher and Professor Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “What many Christians are missing in their lives is a sense of vocation. The word itself means a call or summons, so that having a vocation means more than having a job. It means answering a specific call: it means doing what one is meant to do. In religious language, it means participating in the work of God, something that few {sic} people believe they do….the ministry of {sic} people has come to sound like more work when most people have so little time or availability for more work. She goes on to tell a story….

I will never forget the woman who listened to my speech on the ministry of the laity as God’s best hope for the world and said “I am sorry but I don’t want to be that important. Like many of those who sit beside her in church, she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to do more, to lead the every member canvas, or cook support for the homeless, or teach VBS. Or she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to be more – to be more generous, more loving, more religious. No one has ever introduced her to the idea that her ministry might involve being just who she already is and doing what she already does – with only one difference, namely that she understand herself to be God’s person in and for the world”

Perhaps the best way we can be more faithful in our discipleship, not more discipled, is to be who God has called us to be in the very best way. To lean on God, to take risks for the kingdom of God, to be authentic in who we are as people of God. To be faithful disciples for the kingdom of God, to be who God created and called each of us to be, perhaps not with busier planners but rather with lives filled with discernment and discipleship. 

Finally, remember the one parallel that these 12 verses have to any mission trip I have ever been on. Buddy up! Every mission trip I have ever gone on or will go on or will lead relies on the buddy system – for safety, for encouragement, for prayer. Jesus sends his disciples out two by two because he knows, he knows that discipleship is hard work.

We rely on one another when our faith grows weak and waried from being beat down, we rely on another to encourage us with faithfulness. When we are ready to quit and move on, we rely on others to revitalize our call to do this work of ministry. When we are doubting and uncertain, we rely on another’s faith to inspire us and give us courage to move forward in discipleship.

Discipleship is hard work, Jesus knew that, so he gave us the gift of one another, the gift of a companion for the journey – when discipleship gets tough, turn to a friend, for Jesus gave us one another to do this hard work of ministry.

The promise has never been that this would be easy work but the promise is that it is work we do with the company of others and its ministry we do in the name of Christ who called us and sustains us through the journey.

In the name of God our Creator, sustainer and redeemer. Amen.