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July 5, 2015
Hear the Word of God as it is recorded in the 6th chapter of the gospel of Mark:
And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Though my family is Presbyterian on both my mother’s and father’s side, I have always been suspicious that there is a Baptist gene or two lurking in the Evans bloodstream. And indeed my Dad’s mother was raised a Baptist in Mississippi and only became Presbyterian when she married into it after moving to Texas as a child.
One 4th of July weekend before Dad died Linda and I visited my folks in East Texas. In the process of going through some things stored in an old trunk in the shed, I happened across one of my grandmother’s tattered old hymnbooks called “Gospel Melodies” published by the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1909. My Dad, then 87, still had a remarkable memory. So as we sat on the front porch one evening, I thumbed through the hymnbook and would say the first lines of a song. And my Dad would immediately pick up the tune and sing the first stanza. A dozen times I picked out a song I did not know and he never failed to remember the words.
One of the songs was called “Ready”. It goes:
“Ready to suffer grief or pain, Ready to stand the test;
Ready to stay at home and send Others if He sees best.”
And then the refrain goes:
“Ready to go, ready to stay, Ready my place to fill;
Ready for service, lowly or great, Ready to do His will.”
Our text from the gospel of Mark is essentially the account of Jesus asking the disciples, “Are you ready?” Are you ready to become my hands and my feet? Are you ready to be my voice and my witness? Are you ready to be sent out into the world to proclaim my saving love? Are you ready….?
The truth is, they probably were not ready. Though they are always promising to follow Jesus, the repeated failures of the disciples are more spectacular than their achievements. So what does Jesus do? Give up on them? Find some more intelligent and capable disciples to entrust his work? No, “flawed as they are, he sends them out.” (Lamar Williamson, Jr. in Mark/ Interpretation Bible Commentary series, p. 118). Even though they never seem to get it, Jesus sends them out and entrusts the gospel to flawed disciples. People like Peter and Andrew, James and John. People like you and me. People like the undergraduate who showed up in the office of William Willimon when he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University (in The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized, p. 74-77).
The student told Willimon about his conversion to Jesus Christ during his senior year in high school. He was an eager new convert when he heard the Rev. Tony Campolo speak about his ministry in inner-city Philadelphia. So the summer before his freshman year at Duke the young man volunteered for the mission.
In mid-June he joined about a hundred other kids in a Baptist church in Philadelphia where they sang, then heard Dr. Campolo preach. By that time they were all shouting and standing on the pews clapping and ready to go save the world for Jesus. And Dr. Campolo asked:
“OK, gang, are you ready to go out there and tell ‘em about Jesus?” And everyone shouted: “Yeah, let’s go!” Tony shouted back, “Get on the bus!”
And the hundred or so eager young evangelists for Jesus spilled out of the church and onto the bus. They were singing and clapping and having the time of their life. But then some of them began to notice that the bus was driving them deeper and deeper into the inner city. The neighborhood where they started was not all that great, and it just got worse by the block. Gradually the singing stopped and soon everyone on the bus was silent, staring out the window. The growing sense of fear on the bus was palpable.
Finally the bus pulled up to one of the worst-looking housing projects in Philadelphia. Tony jumped on the bus, opened the door, and said: “All right gang, get out there and tell ‘em about Jesus. I’ll be back at 5 o’clock.” And he was gone.
The suddenly subdued evangelists hesitantly made their way off the bus and stood on the street corner and prayed, then spread out across the projects. Our young student walked down the sidewalk and stopped before a huge tenement house, gulped, said a prayer, and ventured inside. There was a terrific odor. Windows were out. There were no lights in the hall. He walked up one flight of stairs toward a door where he heard a baby crying. He knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” said a loud voice inside. Then the door cracked open and a woman, holding a naked baby, peered out at him and in a harsh, mean voice said: “What do you want?” And he said: “I want to tell you about Jesus.” With that she swung the door open and began cursing me. She cursed me all the way down the hall, down the flight of steps, and out onto the sidewalk. And there he sat down on the curb and cried and thought to himself: “Some Christian, I am.”
At some point he looked up and noticed a store on the corner with windows boarded up and bars on the door. He walked into the store and looked around. Then he remembered: the baby had no diapers…the mother was smoking. So he bought a box of Pampers and a pack of Marlboro Lights and slowly walked back to the tenement house, said a prayer, and knocked on the door again.
“Who is it?” said the voice inside. The door opened and he slid the diapers and cigarettes into the room. She looked at them, looked at him, and commanded, “Come in. Sit down.” So he sat down and began to play with the baby and diaper the baby, even though he had never done that before. When the woman offered him a cigarette, he took it, even though he had never before smoked. He stayed there all afternoon, talking, playing with the baby, listening to the woman.
About 4 o’clock the woman looked at him and said: “Let me ask you something. What’s a nice college boy like you doing in a place like this?” “So,” he said, “I told her everything I knew about Jesus.” It took only five minutes. Then she said, “Pray for me and my baby that we make it out of here alive.” And so he prayed.
We live in a culture that chatters about God incessantly. Yet amid all the talk there is a serious lack of authentic speech about God. And what the young student learned is: the most important characteristic of one who wants to talk about God is humility. The recognition that Jesus is not necessarily the easy “answer” to every human situation. The recognition that the most authentic witness to Jesus Christ is to truly care about the souls entrusted to our care for that moment in time.
That evening, on the bus back home, Tony Campolo asked the bus full of students: “Well, gang, did any of you get to tell ‘em about Jesus?” And the now humble young student replied: “I not only got to tell ‘em about Jesus, I met Jesus. I went out to save somebody, and I ended up getting saved.”
Do you hear the refrain of an old gospel hymn playing in the background of this story? A refrain that goes:
“Ready to go, ready to stay, Ready my place to fill;
Ready for service, lowly or great; Ready to do his will.” AMEN