The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9 Year B

“Be Courageous in Your Faith”

We hear Jesus this morning tell his disciples to go out in pairs, take nothing with them, no provisions, no money, no food or extra clothes. Then he says, “Whenever 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.”

This sounds so very, very foreign to us. In ancient Israel though hosting a stranger was an important cultural expectation in part because water was so limited. Water was needed for travelers, but it was also needed for the people of village. So over the years a cultural code of conduct formed. When a traveler arrived in a village, the traveler could stay in anyone’s home. At one point it was expected that the host would bow to the traveler and immediately offer water. People lived in one room homes, but a space was always reserved for a traveler. Even people who lived in tents, people reserved a special space near the door of the tent for travelers to lay down and rest. Meanwhile travelers were expected to honor their hosts and must never take anything from the host or the host village. This meant that travelers were able to receive hospitality, but also did not deplete the village of scare resources. Travelers would not come through a village and drain the well for example.

When a host and a traveler followed these cultural norms, a covenant, bond, or agreement was formed. The guest would never betray the host. Likewise the host would never betray the traveler. If a host did not offer water and a meal and lodging that was seen as an act of hostility and the host and traveler became enemies. If the traveler did not accept water or food or lodging from a host, the traveler was seen as a hostile enemy. If the traveler shared a meal with the host and then betrayed the host that was one of the worst offenses.

So Jesus instructions to his disciples were not so foreign to them as they are to us. It was not unusual to travel and expect the kind of hospitality that Jesus expects. It was also not unusual to reject people who did not offer to host the traveler. All of this was very normal, very mundane in fact. However much Jesus’ instructions fit the cultural norms of the day, they were, nevertheless, still radical, daring, and bold.

Jesus had just calmed the storming sea. He healed a woman just simply by her profound and deep faith to reach out and touch his cloak. He raised a little girl from the dead. We hear today that Jesus goes back to his hometown of Nazareth where they react him. He goes on to teach and preach in several villages and then it is at this point that he turns to his disciples and fills them with power and authority to heal and cast out unclean spirits.

Jesus had just healed all the cancer patients at Dana Farber. He raised a dying girl from the dead at a Pediatric ICU. He goes back to his hometown where they reject him. He preaches and teaches in Hartford, New Haven, and Trumbull and then he turns to his strongest volunteers in the ministry and he says, “I am giving you authority to cure cancer too through prayer. You can raise children from the dead with prayer. So get on social media. Text your friends and family. Arrange a time to meet, maybe at a Starbucks and pray for them. Cure them. Heal them.”

Say what now? It may have been common to be received into someone’s home. It may be normal to post on social media and text people and meet up at a Starbucks. It was not common to cure and heal the sick and cast out demons. This was different.

I can just imagine the disciples worries: “You want me to go out and heal the sick,? What if people reject us just like they rejected you in your hometown?

In ancient Israel if a hosts rejected them then they would now have an enemy and if multiple hosts rejected them, they would now have a whole bunch of enemies. In today’s terms, it would be like having your most embarrassing moment go viral. It would be social suicide.

Jesus was being a bold leader. There is a plethora of articles on the benefits of boldness in leadership. A bold leader thinks and acts beyond the existing organization limits and is willing to take risks. Bold leaders transcend the conventions of everyday customs and patterns. Bold leaders have clear goals. They do not let adversity or rejection shake them from achieving their goals. Proverbs 28 says that the wicked run and hide even when no one is chasing them, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.  Bold leaders empower others to step out of their comfort zones.

So Jesus invites the disciples to step out of their comfort zones. He uses the cultural norms of the day, but pushes them past their limit. The disciples and Jesus had been traveling a lot. They had been visiting people and following the cultural norms of the day, this time they were also going to go out and heal and pray by themselves. This time they were in the drivers seat.

“I know you’ve been posting on Facebook every five seconds about what we are doing. This time I want you to post that you can heal everyone in my name.”

And so the disciples go out despite their own fears of being rejected, despite their worry that they are going to be humiliated. Being bold does not mean that we lack fear. Being courageous and bold means that we step out even in the face of fear. Someone on Wikipedia defined boldness as “the willingness to get things done despite risks.” In 2 Timothy we hear that God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. So the disciples move past their fear and set out two by two and what comes of it? We hear that they cast out many demons and cured many who were sick.

They did not know what would come of this. They were afraid that people would reject them. They were afraid that they would not be able to heal in the way that Jesus could, but they pushed past their fear and boldly went out. Posted on Instagram. They texted everyone they knew and through their prayer, they freed people from depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. They healed people of cancer, seizures, and covid.

The disciples were not timid. In the face of fear, they were bold. They were courageous.

On this 4th of July morning as our nation comes together to celebrate our freedom, let us be especially mindful of all the women and men in our country who have moved past fear to be bold and courageous … men and women who have taken risks, perhaps even risked their own lives, to change the conventions of the day. People who have faced adversity and rejection and yet never wavered in their pursuit of freedom, liberty, justice, and equality for all.

Christ did not just send out the disciples to preach and heal. Christ sends all of us in our baptism to preach the good news, to comfort the weary, to the heal the sick, to sooth the suffering, to quench the thirsty. As American citizens, our country calls us to stand up for freedom and equality for all persons.

What our faith and our citizenship asks of us is inspiring, empowering, and terrifying. Today, our bold leader Jesus is telling you: push past your fear, be courageous in your faith. Be bold, speak the truth of God in Christ, speak freedom for the captive.

After Jesus’ resurrection, as the Jesus followers began preaching the word of God, a group of believers prayed this prayer and the Holy Spirit filled all who were present: “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David. Enable Your servants to speak Your word with complete boldness.” Amen.