Jesus’s Do Not Pack List

Posted: September 26, 2013 by Todd in Sermons
Tags: , , , , ,



The Grace Factory

I preached this sermon on Sunday, September 8, 2013 as the final sermon in our Grace Factory series.  The scripture is Luke 9:1-6.  Here’s the audio.

In more than 3 out of 4 times, the team that wins each series in the National Basketball Association playoffs has home court advantage.  In 2006, the Miami Heat were not even supposed to make it into the playoffs, much less the championship game – this was before the arrival of current superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh – but somehow, they made it into the finals and found themselves leading the championship series 3 games to 2.  The final two games of the 7 game series were to be played in Dallas against the Mavericks.  Given the statistical history of home court advantage in these situations, Pat Riley, the coach of the Heat, desperately wanted to avoid game 7 when this home court advantage would seem to be most acute for the Mavericks.  Coach Riley got a phone call from a well-connected friend who wanted to get a pair of tickets to game 7.  He politely told his friend that he’d get him tickets to game 6, but not to game 7.  You see, Riley had told his team before they left Miami to pack for just 1 day – he had been adamant about that, but had said nothing beyond that to his team.  Pack just one jersey, one pair of socks, one pair of pants and all the rest.  For Pat Riley – even thinking there would be a game 7 would impact how the team approached game 6.  Riley decided for his team that game 6 was game 7.  You play the game differently when there isn’t a backup plan you can live with.[1]

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen Jesus’ interaction with his disciples and have considered how it can be a model both for our church in our own making of disciples and for our own development as disciples.  We’ve used the analogy of a factory – the Grace Factory  to describe the disciple making process – both Jesus’s and our own.  Gathering the raw materials – fishing for people; putting things together on the assembly line – mentoring the gathered into the people God wants us to be.  Today we’ll look at our distribution system as Jesus sends his disciples out into the world to do ministry.  Our Scripture this morning comes from Luke’s gospel, chapter 9, when Jesus sends his disciples out into the world for ministry.  Hear these words:

Luke 9:1-6, NRSV

This is the Word of God for the people of God.


“Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic,” Jesus told his disciples.

wallenda - niagra falls


On June 15th of 2012, Nik Wallenda, a high wire artist, made history by crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope at its widest point.[2]   Wallenda comes from seven generations of aerialists and his family has been doing balancing acts and acrobatics since the 1700’s.  It is in his blood to do this sort of thing.  Just days before he walked across Niagara Falls, the television company, with whom he was under contract, insisted that he wear a safety harness, much to Wallenda’s disappointment.  Wallenda says that “harnesses give you a false sense of security which increases the likelihood you will lose concentration and make a mistake.”[3]  Less than 3 months ago, Wallenda successfully became the first person to walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a harness.  He specifically picked the Discovery Channel to work with because they agreed to televise the event without requiring him to wear a safety harness.




This past weekend at Camp Living Stones, our youth walked on a high ropes course 60 feet or more off the ground and slid down 150 foot zip lines that begin even higher altitudes.  But they were strapped in with a harness and safety nets were in place.  But I can tell you and I’m sure many of the youth can as well – that even with the safety harnesses, it still takes a leap of faith to do these activities.

But a world class tightrope walker like Nik Wallenda knows that you walk the wire differently if there is a backup plan (that literally), you can live with.

I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he sends the disciples out into the world to do ministry.  He sends them out to do the things he had been doing – casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  And then he says something interesting – “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.”  Jesus was taking away the safety harness and literally telling them to pack for just one night.

I can’t help but think that Jesus knew that you do ministry differently if you’ve got a backup plan that you can live with.  When (not if!), when people reject you, move on, Jesus says – don’t have a bunch of extra supplies that you can rely on when the inevitable rejection happens.  And don’t owe them any favors that will tie you down either – shake the dust from your feet and move on.  You are going to face the voices of resistance, Jesus warns them.  Jesus is telling them that they don’t need any more permission than what he has already given them to go and carry on the work he has just recruited and mentored them to do.

Often, permission is just another form of a safety net.   If we have someone’s permission to do something and it goes wrong – we sort of feel like we can share the blame a bit with the permission giver.  But if we’re out on the wire all alone and something goes wrong, we’re forced to take full responsibility for our actions.  Permission gives us the illusion that our calling won’t be met with the voices of resistance.

God wants to use each of us in unique ways to help build the kingdom.  Each of you has something unique and valuable to contribute to this kingdom.  Even if we know exactly what this is – which is hard enough, we often feel like we need the blessing of someone in power, someone official, someone/something more important than us to get started.  With permission, we’re more insulated from three different forms of the voice of resistance: judgment, cynicism, and fear (according to Otto Scharmer, TheoryU).  Permission comes in various forms.  We’ll allow ourselves to do ministry once we find he form of permission we’re looking for.  An official license, a notarized slip, mom and dad’s approval, a certain ACT score, health insurance, a salary threshold, a titled position in your organization, a boyfriend/girlfriend, your kids reaching a certain age or moving out of the house.  These are just a few of the forms that permission comes in that prevent us from beginning or more fully embracing our own ministries.  Certainly, life circumstances may give rise to different phases in the ministry that God calls you to, but you don’t need to wait to get started or, I suspect – to throw yourself into it more fully.

Permission gives us the illusion that we won’t be judged – by others or ourselves.  We fear judgment so much because the human heart experiences it as rejection.[4]   If we find ourselves being judged, we want to be able to show some official documentation that we’ve been granted permission to do ministry.  But it doesn’t take long for life to reveal that judgment rains down on all who act boldy – in ministry or otherwise.  And when it does, Jesus tells his disciples, shake the dust off your feet – you don’t owe the voices of judgment a permission slip.

Permission gives us the illusion that cynicism won’t rain on our parade.  If someone else tells us we can – then we must not be crazy for thinking our idea is feasible or worth pursuing.  But people will grant you permission just to get you out of their hair.  Much better than permission is inspiration – to gather a few others who have a shared vision for a ministry that needs to happen.  Inspiration is the antidote to cynicism.  It opens hearts to the possibility that ministry can and does make a difference.

The last frontier that our permission harness keeps us in bondage to is fear.  If we can get beyond all the naysayers, we’re often forced to confront the enemy within our own heart – that if we do what God is calling us to do, we don’t know what’s going to happen.  We don’t know where it will take us.  Often that which we fear the most is that which we most need to do.  Fear is the final piece of luggage that we want to take with us on our journey into ministry.  And because fear is an internal thing, we cannot always consciously and intentionally abandon it in any immediate way.  But we can take it with us.  And as we move into ministry with whatever fear we have, it fades away.  Typically, our fears are tied to the things Jesus asked us not to take anyways.  You see, fear feeds on our attachments.  I think that’s why Jesus asks us to leave them behind.  Ministry will be a source of pain, rather than joy, when you take all that stuff with you.

Ministry, the activity of all disciples, demands a certain “lightness of being,” Jesus tells us.  Preacher and author Rob Bell illustrates this well in a story about his son being weighed down by the things he was carrying.  Let’s listen: (from NOOMA video, “Shells” – not sure if this YouTube video is legit, so it may get take down at some point)

Clip should start automatically at 7:41. Stop at 9:07.

Using a harness, having an acceptable backup plan, holding on to things causes us to do ministry differently.  We can’t pick our starfish up with both hands.  We’re forced to live with the baggage we’ve brought along for the ride.  When the voices of judgment come, the feelings of rejection emerge and cause us to stop or limp along.  When the voices of cynicism come, we can’t manage to radiate inspiration to keep them at bay.  When the fear from within emerges, we consider what we might lose, and if we proceed at all – we do so with hesitation – and like a high-wire performer or professional basketball player – that hesitation threatens everything.

It’s Hokey Pokey ministry.  When we don’t travel lightly like Jesus suggests, we stick our right arm in and then take our right arm out.  We stick our left leg in and then take our left leg out.  Sticking one arm in may be okay as a trial, but don’t stay there forever.  When we piddle around the edges of doing God’s work it is typically because we’re being pulled in multiple directions and we’ll find ourselves shaken all about.  The final verse of the song, Hokey Pokey is what ministry is all about.  You put your whole self in and when people criticize you – that’s your cue to shake it all about.  Don’t let them shake you – you shake the dust from your feet – keep calm and carry on.

Our Scripture tell us that ministry is a leap of faith.  But the first leap of faith isn’t about faith in God.  It’s God’s faith in us.  Jesus called and mentored his disciples and then in a grand act of faith – only 3 chapters later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out into ministry.  He doesn’t say, “you’re ready.”  He doesn’t say, “I’ve equipped you with all the supplies you need.”  He doesn’t say, “You’ve completed your discipleship training course – here’s your certificate.”  I don’t want to sugar coat this for you – like a mother bird – he pushes them out of the nest without a harness.  God takes a leap of faith in us.  And because God has shown his faith in us, faith in God is paradoxically faith in ourselves to get busy and do the work of ministry.  The Holy Spirit is with you always, even to the end of the age.  Our very bodies are the temple of God.  It is up to us to spread our wings so that we might fly.  For God has made a home in our hearts that we might engage the ministry we’re called to do.

So how do we know when we’re doing ministry?  How do we know what ministry we’re called to do?  If you’re given a packing list for a trip, but you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing – you might just analyze that list for some clues.  And I think Jesus’s packing list (really, Jesus’s DO NOT PACK list) reveals some clues that can help each of us determine where and what ministry might look like to us.  Let’s see if we can read between the lines of this list and each hear what our next step or even first step in ministry might be.  As I go through each item on the list, I’ll do so slowly so that you might take some time to consider what specific and personal clues each item might reveal uniquely to you as a disciple of Jesus Christ being sent into ministry.

First on Jesus’s DO NOT PACK list is no staff to guide you.  You might be doing ministry if you know that it needs to be done, but you’re not exactly sure how to do it.  There’s no how-to book or map with a clear cut process.  You will have no staff to guide you.  Not your own personal staff, not a church staff, no crutch of any kind.

Second on Jesus’s DO NOT PACK list is no bag.  You might be doing ministry if you don’t feel prepared.  You don’t have a trick up your sleeve to deal with every potential wrong turn.  You don’t have degrees, credentials, or even permission.  You don’t answers for all the what-ifs.  You’ve got no bag of go-to solutions.

Third on Jesus’ DO NOT PACK list is no bread.  You might be doing ministry if you’re putting your security at risk.  You don’t have the equivalent of 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings before you start.  If something goes wrong – or even if it goes right – it is going to cost you something.  It causes you to go without, but you willingly and enthusiastically do it anyways.

Next on the DO NOT PACK list is no money.  You might be doing ministry if you don’t have enough resources to do it.  No God-sized ministry is ever fully funded.  Ministry is too important to wait on a grant that may never come in.  Ministry gets started because the work is too important not to do, even if it has to start small and grow along the way.  Fully funded ministry is done differently.  It has a safety net.  It’s done in style rather than with the urgency of mission.

Last on Jesus’ DO NOT PACK list is an extra tunic.  Thankfully, we’re allowed to at least wear one pair of clothes.  You might be doing ministry if you’ve ensured that you can’t turn back.  You’ve got no plan B.  All you’ve got are the clothes on your back.  Not giving it your all isn’t an option because you’ve only packed for one night.  You’ve decided that this is your game 7.  There’s no choice to play with the fullness of everything God has invested in you.  Ministry is fueled by the disciples that God has called and mentored, not by some list that you might wish or we might wish we had.  Ministry is fueled by you.

Since technically, Jesus gives us a DO NOT PACK list rather than a packing list, we might also be able to learn some things about the journey by what isn’t prohibited.  Often, we tell ourselves that we could make the sacrifices, take the leap to do ministry in the way God wants us to.  But alas, we have a family.  We have to protect our family.  There are things on the DO NOT PACK list that we might be willing to give up – but we won’t give them up on behalf of our family.  That may be the hardest part of the Christian faith in the context of a family – we can’t help but want to insulate those we love from any and all potential harm and risk.  But, family isn’t on the DO NOT PACK list.  Everyone is invited to come along on the journey into ministry.  Your family can come with you or various members may need to go on journeys of their own.    Indulging in the desire to insulate our loved ones from harm of any kind – especially kids // is to teach them to follow a different packing list.  To hang on to the things in life that ultimately, fade away.  That they don’t have anything to offer the world worth risking something for.  To always be protecting our loved ones from risk and sacrifice is to limit the scope of their ministry. As one rock star says, “If you love someone, set them free.”

Ministry is risky.  And true ministry doesn’t come with a safety harness.  Your ministry probably isn’t walking across the Grand Canyon without a safety harness.  But all of us have something that literally scares the Jesus out of us.  That might just be the ministry that God is calling you to do.


[1] Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, Peter Gruber, chapter 5.

[4] Remembered from Rev. Laura Early at Surge camp at Lake Junaluska, NC.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *