SCRIPTURE READING Mark 6:7-13 “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.”
The date: Friday, September 1, 1972. The place: Annapolis Maryland. The event: an outdoor rock concert. The bands: Blue Oyster Cult and Chuck Berry. The task: register as many 18 years old voters as possible for the November election.
That was the assignment that my friend Pat and I were given, to go to a huge outdoor rock concert near Annapolis, Maryland over Labor Day weekend in 1972, just a day or two away from heading off to my freshman year of college. Our job was to register young voters for the coming election.
Someone thought this was a great idea. Tens of thousands of young people on a Friday night. So send a pair of volunteers to register them to vote as they were entering the concert. Pat and I were the volunteers. We brought hundreds of registration forms in boxes, and a big stack of pens for people to use, too.
So we stood at the gate, clipboards in hand, ready to register all of those young people eager to vote in their first presidential election. It was exciting, my first participation in the political process.
But after just one minute at the gate it was easy to see that this was a terrible idea. In fact it was a complete bust. No one was interested in registering for anything. I could have been asking people to sign up for free car and it wouldn’t have worked. All the fans were too intent on getting through the gate to get a good seat on the lawn. And many of these young fans were not entirely focused – well, let’s just say that at a rock concert in 1972 their minds were on a plane of existence different from mine. Most of my efforts to talk to people went something like this: “Would you like to get registered to vote?” “No”. “But …”. “No”.
If I had been by myself, I would have given up on the spot and gone home. But something happened that taught me a life lesson and I still remember it forty three years later. Here’s how it happened. I thought about quitting, but Pat was there, too, and I didn’t want to let him down. Maybe Pat thought about quitting, too, but he didn’t want to let me down either. Someone, whoever it was who had sent us there, knew that sending two of us instead of one would help us stay on task even if the going was difficult. And difficult it was! But two is better than one and we stuck it out!
You can see the number “2” in many different languages on the bulletin cover. Is there a language that you know among those represented? There’re all real words from real languages, English, Spanish, French, German, Ukrainian, Greek, Mandarin Chinese, except one word that is Klingon, from Star Trek, Cha!
Why “2”? It’s because Jesus sent his disciples out into the world two-by-two. We know Jesus as a teacher and a healer, but he was also a strategist. He thought through the things he was about to do. Remember the big crowd of hungry people? First, Jesus had them sit down in rows to make it easier to feed everyone Sending disciples out in pairs was a deliberate strategy, like that, and it made a lot of sense.
Sending out disciples in pairs was a better way to reach a lot of people. There were a lot of people living in Israel in Jesus’ time. If Jesus had to meet each one it would take a very long time. By sending out 6 teams of two disciples it made reaching out more manageable. How many people were there living in Israel in Jesus’ time? I tried looking this up, and it’s hard to find an answer, but it would be reasonable to estimate about one million people. So sending out pairs of disciples would allow for more of those one million people to be reached. It was a good strategy.
Back in April we took some of our youth to the Public Market in Rochester to do some outreach for the Judicial Process Commission. The Public Market staff gave us a table to work from, but we realized that no one would come to our table; we had to go out into the crowd to meet as many people as we could. Jesus, of course, knew all about that. He didn’t stay in Nazareth waiting for the world to come to him; he went out into the world
But it’s the second aspect of Jesus’ strategy that I like the most. At the Public Market we sent our volunteers out into the crowd in pairs. Somehow each partner keeps the other accountable to the task. If one tires, the other picks her up. If one runs out of the right words to say, the other comes up with them. If one is lacking confidence, the other supplies what is needed.
Now, I believe that this story about sending disciples out two-by-two is a lesson for a church. We always need to be thinking about ways to form partnerships as we do the kinds of things that a healthy church does. This can happen in teaching Sunday School, leading Bible Studies, Prayer Chains and every kind of mission project that we do.
So how many people registered to vote that night at the Blue Oster Cult and Chuck Berry outdoor concert? Not one. It was a complete bust. But maybe it wasn’t. I haven’t given up. I still have my clipboard, a pocket of pens, and voter registration forms. See me after the service, and I’ll get you all set up to vote. If the next person I ask to register says “no”, well just like Jesus said, I’ll shake the dust off my feet and move on to the next person.
Maybe that’s the best part of this story about Jesus. He’s got a million people to reach and lots of people say “no” when he invites them to join the work of the living God, but that “no” is never the last word; he’s moving on ahead to ask the next person.
Finally, just imagine what two people can do. If they reach just two more, just four more, even eight more, Jesus’ movement begins to multiply.
Let’s try it. We’ll start with two and keep doubling it. 2,4,8,16,32,64,128,256,1012,2048,4096 …
As a church it is not to just round up more bodies to fill empty seats, it is not to increase our budget or to maintain buildings, but to announce that the living God is very near, coming into our lives, empowering everyone who will listen and respond with a powerful Spirit of hope and peace. So many people are ready … ready to be loved, ready to be befriended, ready to be fed, ready to be healed, ready to be sheltered … ready to be freed from all of the hurt of our world. Of all the things that this church has been able to accomplish through the years, it is the ability to sense the readiness in people to meet Jesus Christ, who responds to the real needs of people.