The following sermon was preached by Rev. Esko Murto in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for a divine service on the 9th of December 2015. The sermon text was Luke 9:1-6.
The sermon today focuses on the verses 3 and 4 in today’s Gospel: Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.
Why does our Lord give this kind of a marching order for his disciples? These are the ones he is sending like sheep among the wolves – and to make things worse, so it seems to us, he specifically orders them not to take a staff for self-defence, no bag, bread or money to keep them sustained, not even two tunics to help them stay warm in case they would need to spend the night outdoors.
Perhaps he is setting an example here? Showing that those serving him ought not to expect much in the way of possessions and especially not to be greedy for worldly things, but should accept a humbler, more meagre standard of living, showing in their own lives that they do not gather treasures on earth, but rather seek only to increase their heavenly riches?
Yet none of the things Christ lists here could be considered particularly extravagant or luxurious. He is not talking about magnificently ornamented chariots or splendid robes, rich foods or money bags heavy with gold. All the things he lists are parts of ordinary travel gear, the kind of things any sensible man would take when heading out. The things our Lord denies are not some additional, extra comforts. He takes away the things to meet their very basic needs.
Why then such a commandment? The fourth verse gives answer to this: Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.
Our Lord did not intend that his disciples would not have bread during their mission, but he decided that this bread would not come from their own bags, but from the ladles of their hearers. Those people who heard and received the good news of God’s kingdom were meant to be the ones who supplied them with their basic sustenance.
The reason for this can be two-fold. Firstly, it gave the hearers a way of showing their faith and thankfulness in tangible, concrete works of service. Those whose hearts were filled with new hope, joy and peace, were thus invited to take part in the mission of Jesus. Not as preachers themselves, but as ones who supplied for the preachers by giving them a roof over their heads, a bed, a meal, warmth and friendship. As St. James exhorted, they were given the chance to show their faith through their works as they took care of the disciples.
Secondly, Christ here wanted to bring his disciples into closer contact with the ones who they were preaching to. The disciples would not form an isolated group that just conducts hit and run preaching assignments. Eating the same bread and sharing the table with their hearers made them part of the community they preached to, allowing, or even forcing them to get to know the people they served with the gospel.
During my years of ministry I have come to understand that there are two things that make it hard for Christians to show love toward each other. One of them is the obvious one: we struggle with selfishness, and are often slow to help when others need aid. The other is more easily missed and it is this: we are reluctant to allow ourselves to be helped by others. We strive for self-sufficiency and independence, and even if there would be someone who would be willing to help and give, we try our hardest to hide our needs and problems. This problem can occur with pastors, when they try to be as self-sufficient and self-reliant as possible, perhaps imagining that in this way they won’t burden the congregation, but actually by so doing, they are unwittingly isolating themselves from the people they serve.
So here Jesus prepares his future apostles for the time when they, as bishops of the early church, would need to devote themselves fully to prayer and preaching, and allow themselves to be cared for by their hearers. Even today, it is not only the duty, but also the holy and unalienable right of the Christian to care for their pastors, and those preparing for that office need to learn the art of receiving kindness as well as showing it to others, lest they deprive their congregations of this God-pleasing sacrifice they otherwise would want to give.
This is the manner with which God provides for his servants, he operates as if working from behind masks. The disciples returned, our Lord asked them: did you want anything while you were on the road? And they replied: no. They had everything they needed. But how did they receive it? They received their upkeep from other people, but this way they were also shown from first-hand experience that our Heavenly Father knows our needs and provides for us.
Yet all the love and service we can receive from fellow men pales in comparison to the loving kindness and grace our Lord himself shows to us. Whatever house you enter, He once said to his disciples, there you should remain, and eat what is offered to you. Today we have come to the Lord’s own house, and set before us is the food he has prepared, a meal that restores the traveller’s strength and strengthens our faith. This is the house where we will not be turned away, where we are invited to stay, eat and rest. This is where those without bread will come to eat the bread of life; those without gold will drink the blood of Christ and receive eternal life; those with soiled tunics will be clothed with the white garb of Christ’s righteousness; those with no strength will be defended by the rod and staff of our High Shepherd. So leave aside your pride and self-sufficiency, and allow yourselves to be clothed, fed, defended and made rich by the Lord Himself. Amen.