The Very Rev. Tom Callard – July 4, 2021
I’m not a real gardener. And maybe you can tell that looking at me. We’ve got some real gardeners here at the Cathedral and I always appreciate what the real gardeners can tell you about plants, and the patience they have to work with the earth. Me, I figure that if it’s pretty then you leave it in and if it’s not you take it out.
So in that spirit I was on my knees in front of our house last week taking out everything that wasn’t pretty. And always, when I’m working on the ground in front of our house, this thing happens that I find little burned pieces of shingles from the roof that came off when our house burned down in 2015.
It’s hard to believe that this September it will be six years since our house burned on down Memorial Day weekend. It was a Saturday night I woke to the smell of smoke and found that the fire was growing in the walls right next to our bed. I woke up the family and we ran outside, moved the cars and then stood there on the grass watching as the house burned.
It was about seven minutes, I think, seven life-changing minutes from the moment I woke up to the moment we were all safe on the grass in front of the house. It was seven minutes of confusion, as we tried to figure out where the smoke was coming from because you couldn’t see any fire because it was in the walls. It was seven minutes of action as my daughter called 911 and my wife and I moved the cars out to the street and we all ran out to safety. It was seven minutes of comedy, because at one point I ran downstairs to get water, thinking I could put the fire out with this little bowl of water. And then when I got back upstairs I found this big wall of fire, so I just thew the little bowl and the water into the fire, which I thought was pretty funny.
And then when the firefighters came, after seven minutes, we finally took a breath and we had a chance to look at what had happened. Thanks be to God, we were all okay. No one was seriously hurt. No pets were lost. Most of the photos we had were safe because they were in a chest in the closet that was spared. Some of my daughter’s shoes were fine. But everything else was destroyed.
After the fire and with three hours of water being pumped into the house, our possessions were smoke damaged and pulpy, and the house was considered a total loss. But it was okay. Because we got new things. We got a new house built on the same spot, new clothes, new furniture, new computers, and a new perspective.
I got to answer that age old question – if you could save one thing from your house as it burned down, if you could rush in to save one thing, what would it be? And for me the answer was my family. I didn’t even think about anything else in those seven minutes.
In my seven minutes I found that I did not stop and worry about my clothes, or my television, or my computer, or things I had been given, or things I had collected. And I’m guessing that you would probably be the same. When pressed to decide what are the things that you really need on this journey of life, I think most of us might call to mind some things that we really want or some things that we really like. But what do we really need?
Need is overestimated. When you compare what we have in this country with what most people have in most parts of the world, you realize we have a lot of things we don’t need, things which we could lose in a fire and we would still be fine. Some of the people I served with while I was a missionary in Honduras were among the poorest people you could ever meet. They lived in tiny shacks with dirt floors and tin roofs with maybe a chicken or two that ran in and out of the house, the family all sleeping on one bed, wearing the same clothes day after day.
And I don’t want to romanticize their poverty, because the truth is that it’s very difficult to be poor. People who are poor struggle with so many things. But you do realize when you spend time with people who live like that, when you worship with them in church, you realize that they know Jesus. They trust Jesus. By and large the people I knew in Honduras had a profound and rich spiritual life which was solid because they knew their lives belonged to God.
Often when I was in Honduras, and since our house burned down, I have thought about what we hear Jesus say today: take nothing for your journey, take nothing with you. So you can run out of your house knowing that your most prized possessions are the people you love and the presence of God. And beyond that nothing else matters.
Earlier in the Gospel according to Mark, a few chapters before the one we have today, Jesus appoints the twelve and he commissions them as apostles and he sends them out with power to cast out demons. But here, today in this passage, his mission for them is somehow different, because here he is explicit – take nothing with you. He didn’t say that before.
I don’t know if by the time we get to this passage Jesus has more confidence in the disciples. Maybe before, he sent them out as kind of a test, and he was unsure about how they would do. And maybe now Jesus has seen them in action, he’s been with them for a while, and he knows that they have reached a place in their spiritual maturity where they are ready for more.
It’s interesting that when you are ready for more, Jesus invites you to take less. There is a spiritual truth there. What does it mean for us to take nothing? What is the spiritual significance of nothing? What does it mean just to have a staff but no bread, no bag, no money, nothing to carry with you to rely on or fall back on when you feel like you need more?
Part of what it means is that we in our lives can let go. I think was Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, who talked about the stages of human life, beginning with that early stage of childhood, where you are learning and developing, and then the stage of adulthood, where you focus on work and building a home and collecting and gathering things, and then the stage of later adulthood, and where you give things up, and where you let go, where you let go of your job because you retire, and you eventually let go of your car as you stop driving, you let go of your friends as you lose them one by one. And then, of course, the ultimate letting go which is giving back our bodies when we die.
And it is that stage of letting go which is part of mature faith which Jesus invites us to today. It is a time to realize more and more our dependence not on things but on God. And we don’t have to wait until we are toward the end of our life to do that. We can start at any moment to rely less on our possessions and more on God. We can say: I don’t need these things to define me or help me. I can take with me nothing.
What does nothing mean? What is nothing to the person who has God? Those people in Honduras had nothing. Yet I saw them with a faith that was rich and full, and a life confident in the security that God will provide. .
They knew whose they were. They weren’t their clothes or the sum of the things, or what they collected, or in any way identified with their house or their car. Most of us wrap these things around ourselves and we say to the world and we tell ourselves: this is who I am. But what does it mean to be defined just by God? Like a baby naked in its crib is not defined by what it has, but simply exists. Like the disciples, sent out in pairs with nothing but their staff, closer than ever to Jesus Christ, who loves them for what they are.
In nothing- we get to know whose we are, and find that the whole time at the bottom of everything we own, and all the things that belong to us, we have always only belonged to God. We have always been God’s.
Have we lost that? Have we misplaced our identity in Jesus for our identity in things? Then let us take nothing.
But here’s something else, something to consider as we ponder today the journey on which we have been sent. Jesus doesn’t just send the disciples out with nothing. There’s the staff of course. The sandals. But what else do they have? They have another person. They have been sent in pairs.
I realized after the fact that the only thing I remotely thought about in the seven minutes of our fire was my family. And again and again in this life, I have realized that I need nothing more as long as I have you – someone to travel with me, someone to help carry the staff when it gets too heavy, and someone whose staff I will carry when I am able to. Jesus sent them out in pairs. He told them to take nothing, but in those pairs they were taking something very important, they were taking each other.
I try and imagine the people who will hear this message, and who among you has absolutely no other person in your life. Because I know there are people who have no one else. And even if you have no one else in your life, you can say that you have me. You can call me. You have Linda. You have Joel. You have probably many others in this church. Even if you don’t know us, through this fellowship, through Jesus, you have us, you can call us and say- I need you to carry my staff, and we will be there.
Being part of community is often something we take for granted. Which is why during the pandemic some people struggled so much because suddenly that community was not felt in the way that it had been before. I know there were people who basically lived without anyone else for more than a year.
But we’ve entered a new phase. And in this new phase, we don’t just want to survive. Survive is what you do when you have seven minutes to run out of your house. In this new phase, we want to thrive. We want to excel. We want to take the journey of our life that Jesus has set before us. And for that journey, we want to take each other.
This summer and in the next few months, I invite you to explore community as if you were doing so for the first time. Which maybe you are. I invite you to realize what it means to be part of church, this one or another one. And I invite you to be part of a faith where we believe God has given us all we need, and to practice our faith by letting go.