In her book Everyday Sacred, author Sue Bender writes about monks who set out each day with a begging bowl. Whatever people place in the bowl becomes their food for the day. No choices — no gluten-free, Atkins or Paleo. Some days there’s an abundance, and the bowl is piled high. Other days, the food barely covers the bottom of the bowl. They accept whatever comes into the bowl as a gift from God. When the bowl is full, they stop. There’s no need to save up for tomorrow.
The monks’ daily journey reminds me of Jesus instructions to his friends, as he sends them out to the first century version of Airbnb.
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His friends have been doing fine, as long as he’s with them, and here comes the test. Do they know enough to invite people toward the realm of God? He gives them very specific instructions. No extra supplies, no snacks, no laptops, no smart phones, nothing extra. Everything will come as they need it. They will trust in the strong obligation to hospitality in the ancient world, assuming that they will receive what they need.
His instructions present a dilemma for people like me. Full of a sense of possibility, I always over-pack for a trip – you never know when you might need bowling shoes, or a ballgown, right? Or is it a lack of trust that has me over-packing? Surely my host will have a jacket I can borrow, if the weather changes. There will be grocery stores there, too.
Bringing too many shoes, or too many sweaters, isn’t a huge problem, but Jesus has me wondering about the other kind of over packing. Do we pack too much, in a spiritual sense, when we set out to follow God? Are we too full of the memory of past failures, disappointments, and new expectations?
Jesus is setting his followers free to do their work, without carrying along their familiar worries. He sends them out with no cushion, no spares, no extras, so their minds are free for whatever comes along, and he tells them to be content with the first house that welcomes them. No moving around for better meals, or a softer bed.
Jesus also tells them to unpack any feeling about the results. When things go wrong, he says, stop, and move on. There’s no back-up plan, no emergency rescue, no divine intervention. Forget the baggage of the outcome. Feel free to keep following. Interestingly, he says “when” you fail, not if. He already knows that some failures are built into this journey of speaking for him.
He’s calling them – and us – toward a radical kind of acceptance that’s rare – and hard work. This ability to receive what’s given is a spiritual journey in itself, before we every say a word for God.
• Sue Bender writes in Everyday Sacred, “The image of a begging bowl reached out and grabbed my heart. I didn’t know whether I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl, or all three…At that moment I felt most like the empty bowl, waiting to be filled…Like the monk going out with his empty bowl, I set out to see what each day offered,” she says. If you had to pick, where would you be in that equation? How about your faith community? The traveling monk, or the follower of Jesus? An empty bowl? The person filling the bowl? The thing that’s served up in the bowl?
• Traveling reminds me of the many layers of privilege in my life. Generally, I get to pick what I eat, and when. I choose my own clothes. I have enough space in my home that no one feels crowded. Jesus is talking about a different way of being in the world, with fewer choices and more acceptance. The more privileged we are, the more choices we have. Is there a spiritual value in moving in the other direction?
• What Jesus is talking about is hard to achieve for a community with a building, which requires insurance, and sometimes a new roof, and someone to lock the doors. Are there ways our church communities have gotten away from this kind of unfettered following of Jesus? How do we use our buildings to provide hospitality to other people who are on a journey of following God?
• Jesus assumes that there will be failures in this experiment, and he instructs his followers not to be hobbled by them, but to keep going. We often treat failure as a permanent condition, and assume that we should never try something again. We remember that failures longer than the successes. How might we live as communities of faith if we expect to fail some of the time?
• How do we sort out the spiritual work of acceptance – accepting the people in our path, the places where we serve, the challenges before us – from the spiritual work of raging against things that should never be accepted – unjust systems and bad behavior?
• Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below?
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse community in the city of Detroit. She blogs randomly at Stained Glass in the City.
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