Sermon for Sunday, July 8, 2018 || Proper 9B || Mark 6:1-13
When I was growing up, my parents instituted a family ordinance called “the airport rule.” The airport rule stated that whenever we were in a crowded place like an airport, we always had to be holding hands with another member of the family. Observing this safety measure meant we were less likely to get lost or (God forbid) snatched. All my parents had to do was call out, “Airport rule!” and Melinda and I immediately buddied up with them.
When I became a parent myself, I finally understood the genius of the airport rule. It wasn’t just about safety, though that was a big part of it. The airport rule also made our travel more efficient because, once buddied up, we had to walk at the parent’s pace instead of the child’s. And there was one more sneaky element of the airport rule that I would never have dreamt of when I was a kid. I’m certain my parents called out for the airport rule just because they liked holding our hands. There’s simply nothing like reaching down and finding those warm, little fingers to squeeze. Every time I hold my son’s or daughter’s hands, I can’t help but send up a prayer of thanks that God entrusted these two precious lives to Leah and me.*
Now I’ve read the Gospel of Mark a dozen times, and I never noticed until this week that when Jesus sends out his disciples, he observes for the airport rule. Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.” Next he tells them to take nothing on the journey “except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” At first glance, it looks like Jesus tells them to take nothing but a walking stick. But before he gets to that, he does tell them to take something else, for he sends them out two by two. Jesus sends them out on their journey with nothing but a staff and one another.
The rest of this sermon is going to be an exercise in pointing out the obvious, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to remember what’s important. God did not design human beings to be alone. In the creation stories in the book of Genesis, God creates the first human and immediately sets about finding that person a companion. After making all the animals and finding them all insufficient, God makes a second human. “This at last,” says the first human, “is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
God did not design humans to be alone, nor Time Lords, for if you’ve ever seen the great British TV show Doctor Who, you know earth’s favorite alien protector always has a companion. In fact, in the rare times the Doctor is without a companion, he goes off the deep end. The Doctor is incredibly powerful and a little unhinged, and he needs the stabilizing influence of his human companions. Like Jesus, Doctor Who affirms the airport rule.
As does my other favorite piece of fiction to come out of Great Britain, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which is an epic story about the glorious power of friendship. Three sets of friends feature in its pages: Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf, who learn to overcome their cultural biases and become fast friends; the hobbits Merry and Pippen, who grow up together during their adventures and learn the true cost of loyalty; and, of course, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Frodo and Sam bear the weight of the Ring all the way to the fires from whence it was forged, and the only thing that sustains them all that way, through all their trials, is their friendship. It would not be a stretch to say that I personally learned what friendship was because of Frodo and Sam.
There is one moment in the film version of The Return of the King that never fails to bring me to tears. Climbing up the face of Mount Doom, Frodo can no longer walk because of the burden of the Ring. He falls to the ground utterly spent. So Sam does the only thing he can think of. He picks up his friend Frodo and cries out, “I can’t carry [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you.” (I teared up just typing that into my sermon text, by the way.)
Sam’s courageous words teach me why Jesus sends his disciples out two by two, why they practice the airport rule. None of us can carry our burdens or accomplish our missions by ourselves, nor did God design us to. We need spiritual friends. We need accountability partners. We need each other. But in our country, we have all marinated in the juices of the myth of rugged individualism, and so reaching out to someone for help is never first on our list of solutions. Our cultural upbringing told us it’s better to go it alone. But Jesus said go “two by two.” Jesus ordered his disciples to take nothing with them except each other.
To counteract the myth of rugged individualism, we need to cultivate our close, personal connections outside of the trauma of emergencies. Our spiritual friendships are relationships that we sustain on both the most mundane days and the most critical ones. They may be spousal relationships, but I’d venture to guess that many are not. Our spiritual friends are those with whom we can share our deepest fears and greatest hopes. They are those for whom we commit to pray and hold in our hearts every single day. They are those who will carry us when we can no longer walk ourselves and those whom we will carry under the same circumstances. God blesses us with the strength to carry each other in these times and with the delight of daily friendship in all other times.
This week, I invite you to look at your relationships. Which would you consider spiritual friendships that might be in need of further tending? If you have none, whom might you ask to explore if such a relationship might be possible when built on the love of God? None of us need end up like Doctor Who when he’s companionless. And if Frodo had not had Sam, Frodo would still be lying on the side of the mountain with the Ring pushing him into the dirt. No, God gave us the gift of each other for a purpose. God gave us the gift of each other to be the clearest signs of God’s love in one another’s lives. And Jesus commands us to take each other with us when we go out in his name.
* Writing, preaching, and sharing this sermon keeps me aware of and praying for those families at the border who still cannot hold their children’s hands. Keep them at the forefront of your mind and continue advocating for them to be brought back together as soon as possible.