The motto adopted by Lord Baden Powell in the early days of Scouting is now famous across the world – and its sheer common sense is clear and evident. It's always advisable to be ready for all eventualities, to expect the unexpected and have the resources with you to enable you to deal with whatever life throws at you. On Wednesday night, when my car broke down a few miles outside Cirencester, on a wonderfully dark and empty stretch of road, I was extremely glad that though we had left the house in a hurry, so that I had only my phone and my car keys, Jack had automatically picked up his wallet – containing the all-important RAC membership card. What's more, thanks to a bit of startling self-knowledge, our family membership subs had been paid via standing order – or the card would almost certainly have been out of date, and help unavailable.
However, Jack was indeed a Scout – and had organised an expedition to Uganda whose preparations seemed to dominate every aspect of life for months beforehand, with all sorts of wonderful equipment arriving at the vicarage, designed to make it easier for his small group to survive and thrive during that part of the expedition when they were literally on their own in the bush.
I teased him – and indeed most of the medicine kit came home thankfully untouched – but in my heart of hearts I was really glad of his meticulous preparations – just as I was when eventually an RAC mechanic rescued us at a little before 1.00 on Thursday morning.
Quite often in life, it seems like a good thing to be prepared.
What, then, should we make of the rather different message that Jesus gives his disciples this morning?
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.
By almost any standards that sounds positively stupid...They are to go out into unknown situations, to places where they've no idea how their message or their ministry might be received...and they are to take nothing with them.
What a huge contrast to the way in which the Fleming family arrived at the vicarage 4 years ago, our removal van crammed to the gunwhales...and indeed, when we got here, it was to find churches thoroughly equipped with everything necessary for orderly worship and lots of measures in place to keep the show on the road.
There were, and are, teams of people engaged in managing most of the practicalities of church life, from making the important decisions to polishing the brass...and we even had funds to enable us to kick start the roof appeal, when that unwelcome eventuality came to pass.
I came, lock, stock and such a lot of baggage, to serve two groups of people who were, and are, prepared to keep the church afloat. Maybe we're not pioneers, for I don't think anyone would deny that we all of us (in the Church of England in general, and not just in these parishes) tend struggle a little with the task of going out and sharing good news with our neighbours...so perhaps we've not pushed the boundaries of our churches much in the past few decades...
Not pioneers, then......but as settlers we're not doing badly at all.
The trouble is – again and again when we read the gospels, we see that Jesus had something rather different in mind.
In the west today, even in recession, we are surrounded by the trappings of affluence – both good and bad. We have sound-systems to ensure that the gospel is heard, here in our churches …..but somehow we find we've lost our voice when we go out, so that we rarely share it beyond the walls.
We have envelopes schemes and direct debits to enable our giving – but we've lost the sense of urgency to feed the hungry and clothe the naked that inspired the early church to share everything in common as they waited for Christ's return.
We have devoted singers and musicians – but we don't always live each day as a song of praise to our Creator.
We've replaced spontaneity and openness to the Holy Spirit with a set of provisions for circumstances that WE have decided on...and no longer dare to consider how we might need to react, what kind of church we might need to be, in a world that looks quite different from the one in which we grew up.
We know what we CAN manage – so we tend to focus on that (remember the saying “if you have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail)...though as we look around it doesn't take much imagination to see that to carry on as we are is to ensure the death of the institution in the next few decades.
Does that sound bleak and pessimistic?
I don't think it needs to.
Yes, I think that there IS a crisis in the life of the institutional church...but I don't think that this is something to distress us.
We've carried so much luggage with us through the centuries, have become so very good at being the institutional church...but perhaps we've lost sight of what it means to be the radical church, the Body of Christ, charged with living the Kingdom here and now.
Perhaps we need to listen to Jesus once again
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.
Travel light...Go empty handed....That way we'll never be deceived into thinking that we are in charge of this enterprise.
Did you imagine for a moment that we were?
This is not OUR Church.......it is GODS church....called to be the agent of his transforming love in the world.
If we're not able and willing for that, then God WILL do a new thing without us...
So – we need to have courage.
Courage to put down the beloved burdens, the contingency funds the prudent provisions for every occasion
Courage to empty our hands and open our hearts and our minds
Courage to recognise and accept just how small and powerless we are, when we stand alone, no longer hiding behind the weight of preparation that we have inherited
Courage to admit our own inadequacy to the task, the mission to which we are called.
Perhaps Paul can help us, for he had to step outside his own protective shield, as he recognised that in Christ God was turning the world upside down...that the values and assurances of orthodox Judaism were no longer enough....that all his education and status would do him no good at all in his new task.
He came to embrace his own limitations, even to celebrate them
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ
Remember, this is the kingdom of God, where victory comes through vulnerability, where winners look like losers, where the last is truly first.
That's our context for living as Christians today – and every day.
Does it scare you as much as it scares me?
But, oh its exciting too...
For if we dare to take the risk...if we dare to empty ourselves, in the same way that Christ did when he set aside divinity to live human life in all its vulnerability and pain...
well, then we can claim God's word to Paul as an assurance for us as well‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness