How many of you have ever said the phrase, “stick together!” when your children or grandchildren were leaving the house? Or how about, “hold hands when you’re crossing the street!” Or, “go with someone!”
Why do we say that?
Well, there’s a lot of wisdom in the phrase “two heads are better than one.”
Now, we can make some foolish decisions even when we’re with other people, but there’s a slightly better chance that when we’re with someone else we’ll make a wiser, safer, decision.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been traveling around healing people and casting out demons. In our Gospel Lesson last week (Mark 5:21-43) we saw Jesus raise a twelve-year-old girl to life and heal a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhaging for twelve years.
Now we see Jesus send out twelve of his disciples to minister to people in the surrounding towns. In another Gospel account it says that Jesus sent out the disciples to every town and village “where he himself planned to go” (sending of the 72 in Luke 10:1).
But notice that Jesus didn’t send the disciples out by themselves. He sent them out two by two.
In our society, we hold up the individual as the ideal. Think about the heroes in movies and television, these figures that have become iconic. The Lone Ranger, the Marlboro man, John Wayne, John McClane in Die Hard — these are icons of what has been called “rugged individualism.” We are told in many ways, shapes and forms that rugged individualism is what we should aspire towards — complete independence, saving the day, fighting off evil single-handedly, not needing anyone else for anything at any time.
But in opposition to rugged individualism, Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs. And not only that, but he told them not to take extra food, or money, but instead to accept the hospitality of others.
Why? Because in Genesis 2:18, God said that “It is not good that the man should be alone.” And I don’t think that God was only talking about marriage. In general, it is not good for people to be alone. We were made to be in community with other people. “No man [or woman] is an island” (John Donne). We’re better when we’re together.
The Bible holds up not rugged individualism, but radical partnership and friendship as the ideal. Adam and Eve. Moses and Aaron. David and Jonathan. Ruth and Naomi. Paul and Silas. Even Jesus had a core group of 3 disciples (Peter, James, and John) that he kept close.
As much as we may think that we should aspire to be rugged individualists, the reality is that we need each other.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says,
“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.”
This is why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, why he instructed them to receive the hospitality of others, to work in partnership with the very people they came to serve.
One of the many things that I love about the United Methodist Tradition (and the Methodist Protestant tradition in particular) is our emphasis on lay ministry. In the United Methodist church, ministry is not just for licensed or ordained pastors or elders. We believe in the “priesthood of all believers,” and that in baptism we become not only members, but participants in the ministry of the church (p. 38 in the UMH).
According to our discipleship ministries website, “The ministry of the laity is the work of mission or ministry to which each believer is called. As Christians we are all called to this ministry or priesthood – not just clergy. Each of us has a responsibility to proclaim the Good News and reach out to others in love.”
We don’t have all the same gifts. Some of us are gifted in service, while others are gifted in leading Bible studies. Some of us are great at hospitality, some of us are great at fixing things. Some have beautiful voices and enjoy singing in the choir. Others have gifts of managing finances or taking care of the administrative details. And each of these gifts are important, each of these gifts are vitally essential to the mission of the church.
This is why Jesus sent out the disciples two by two. This is why we need each other, why we need “stick together,” why we should “hold hands when crossing the street.” It’s not just about safety. It’s about partnership, working together to further the mission of the Church. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. In partnership together, to proclaim the message of God’s love and forgiveness through word and deed.
This week I stopped in at the church during the week, and I saw a beautiful scene. Members of our church and other churches in the area were here giving out grocery bags of food to anyone who needed food. A young woman from St. Mary’s Outreach Center was here, letting people know about the services that their organization provides. A gentleman from St. Mary’s Outreach center was putting an air conditioner in the office for the treasurer of the HWRMW (Hampden/Woodberry/Remington/Mt. Washington) Fellowship, who was here taking care of the finances. Downstairs the thrift store was in full swing, offering wonderful used clothing, toys and gifts at very affordable prices. And many of you worked behind the scenes leading up to that day to make all of that happen. Some of you people picked up the food, others sorted and bagged the groceries. Others donated money, and clothing, and other resources. Others of you have spread the word, networked, and built those various partnerships over many years.
Friends, this is what it means to be the Church! Did you know that the word church literally means “assembly” or “congregation”? Church is not just what happens here in worship on Sunday mornings. Church is what happens throughout the week, anytime the people of God gather together to do the work of God. And every person’s contribution of time, talents, resources, and participation is important.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that where “two or three” are gathered in his name, Jesus is with us (Matt. 18:20). This means that when the disciples went out two by two to proclaim the Kingdom, when people opened their homes to them, when they healed the sick and shared the message of God’s love and transformation, Jesus was with them. Even if Jesus wasn’t physically with them, he had filled them with his Spirit, and he was working through them.
And it’s the same for us today. Jesus has called us to the work and the mission of his Church. We are not called to be rugged individualists. We are called and sent together, to partner together for the work of God’s Kingdom. And most importantly, Jesus is with us. He will equip us and give us what we need to proclaim his message through word and deed.