I have been a fireman in my hometown of Monmouth Beach for almost seventeen years. That said, the last fire I was in was almost three years ago now, when a second-story condo went up in flames. My friend Jimmy Cook and I were first in, and in an effort to save a couch from being damaged by our need to open up the wall behind it, I pushed the couch about ten feet away toward the adjoining kitchen. Much to my dismay, I had pushed the couch right over a spot on the carpet that was beginning to catch fire, and within a minute or so, the whole couch was up in flames. Jimmy still makes fun of me for that one, so I have learned to be very careful about where I push couches in burning buildings. I’ve learned other useful lessons as well. I have learned that when it is very cold outside, it is best not to spray water anywhere you don’t want ice to form, such as on a sloping side yard that you will later accidentally slide down, much to the amusement of your fellow fireman. This will be shocking, but I have learned that the worst time to stick an eight-foot pike pole through a ceiling is when you are standing in three feet of water and happen to be in a condominium’s electrical room. OK, bad shocking joke. But for all the funny lessons, I’ve learned a few really useful ones, and the big one is this: don’t get caught alone. Fireman go in in pairs and come out in pairs. Going in alone increases your risk of not coming out exponentially. It’s the buddy system, and it works. Jesus knew that too.
St. Mark just told us that after Jesus had raised the daughter of Jairus the ruler of the synagogue from the dead, He called the twelve disciples and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Jesus sent them out into the world without extra provisions, He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but rather to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Jesus didn’t make any hotel reservations for the disciples, but rather told them that wherever they went and entered a house, that they should stay there until they left that place. Jesus gave them no back-up plan, no Plan B in case the people of a particular place didn’t want to hear what they were saying, in case their message wasn’t relevant to their times, but rather He told them that if any place did not welcome them and refused to hear them, that as they left, they should shake off the dust off their feet as a testimony against those who would not hear. Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing, but He also sent them out with everything. Jesus sent them out with His power, and He sent them out with each other.
Earlier this week the Episcopal Church met at General Convention, the great triennial congregation of representatives from all over the Church. In her opening remarks, the The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said that the Church is in decline because of what she termed “the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.” She goes on to say that this heresy is “caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” and that “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.” Boy did she get that wrong. Or perhaps rather Bishop Schori took what was a good idea and made a complete mess out of it: The idea that we are all in this together, that there is no salvation outside of the Church, outside of that Body of those who put their trust on Jesus as Christ and Savior, is correct. Bishop Schori’s logic then fails her, however, when she states that no one individually can be in right relationship with God; she ignores Sts. Peter and Paul and all they wrote, she ignores two-thousand years of Sacred Tradition, she ignores the fact the Adam, even alone on the face of the Earth, was for some time in right relationship with God. She ignores the fact that those specific formulas we recite about Jesus do not exist to exclude or constrain, but rather to lead us into life and truth. But even in her error, egregious as it is, we can find a nugget of truth.
Jesus called the twelve disciples and began to send them out two by two. Individuals, each on his own saved by the merits of Christ, but individuals put into pairs, put into pairs for their mutual benefit and for the benefit of the mission. St. Mark summed up the mission as this, that the disciples went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. Jesus, the one who was to come into the world had come, the Kingdom of God was near, so both the message and the medium were clear: repent, and be healed. The power of God in Christ was evident in those first missionaries, those first priests of the New Covenant, and in the face of that power Satan ran and darkness fled from Light, sickness fled and the oil of gladness brought saving health. The disciples went out in to the world with nothing but the power of Christ and each other, but they changed the world.
There are times when we all feel alone in the world, when we feel as if no one understands, no one shares our beliefs, no one stands with us. Each one of us has had those times; Paul must of felt rather abandoned in prisons and shipwrecks, John in the steaming cauldron of oil and on Patmos, Thomas in India, Philip as he was flung around by the Spirit, Peter hanging upside-down in his own cross. But they were never really alone, and neither are we. We have each other, we have been given each other; we have been given Peter and Paul, John, and Thomas and Philip, we have been given all the saints and angels as companions on the Way; we have been given the Church as a sanctuary wherein Satan flees and saving health abides. Jesus has come, the Kingdom of God is near, and so what is left is for us to remember and renew that mission of Christ, to repent and be healed, to proclaim to everyone we know and everyone we meet that salvation is had in Christ Jesus. A daunting mission for sure, but we are all in this together.