Mr. Johnson was something of a legend at the high school I graduated from. For instance I never had him as a teacher, but I knew a lot about him. All the students did. Mr. Johnson was the favorite teacher of many, and he was best known for the way that he would dispatch folksy wisdom in his classroom and some of his other idioms. For instance, Mr. Johnson never gave tests. Instead he offered students opportunities, and these opportunities did not consists of questions they consisted of several chances. How much the students studied and prepared would, of course, influence how good their odds were on getting the chances correct. So he did not give tests, he provided opportunities for students to succeed and it was up to the student to make the most of the opportunity given to them.
There are lots of examples of people making the most of their opportunities. I am reminded of one example from Hollywood. In the 1980’s aspiring actor Jackie Earle Haley went to an audition for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. He was accompanied by a musician friend of his. The story has been told differently over the years, so it is not entirely clear if the musician went along out of just because he did not have much else to do or if he was going to do some networking so he could land small roles in the future. According to the stories, the director’s teen age daughter saw the musician, thought he was cute, and insist that her father cast him. This got him an audition. It turns out that Jackie Earle Haley did not casts in the movie, but his musician friend did. It was not a huge role, but it turned out to be Johnny Depp’s breakout role. At the time he had no serious acting experience or training. Because he happened to be in the right place and the right time, Depp went from a high school dropout musician to an extremely successful actor. It was an opportunity that he made the most of.
Now sometimes we create our own opportunities through daily putting in the work and truly earning it. Other times though the opportunities show up and it is up to us to decide if we are going to make the most of the opportunity given to us or if we are going to let them pass us by. When it comes to opportunities to serve God, live out our faith, and to transform the world, these tend to be the second kind of opportunity. The kind that are thrust upon us and we sink or swim. We see this time and time again in the bible. We see it clearly in this morning’s scripture. Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them the opportunity and it was their turn to take a step in faith. Today I believe that God still gives us opportunities full of chances that we have to take on faith, and it is up to us to make the most of the opportunity given to us.
As we consider what this morning’s scripture has to do with opportunity, I think there is some important background information needed here. Specifically, how odd it is that Jesus sends his disciples out. Jesus fit into the cultural mold of the first century rabbi. These rabbis were considered to be masters in their understanding and application of the Jewish law. They would travel and teach their unique understanding of the Torah. Like, Jesus these traveling rabbis would have disciples who traveled with them. It was the expectation that these disciples were fully committed to learning from and emulating the rabbi. This is why they followed the rabbi so they could learn from the teacher every moment, and it was understood that it would take years to even get close to the rabbi’s level. This is what makes Jesus so odd here, because by all conventional wisdom of the era there is no way the disciples should have been ready.
Putting the ministry of Jesus to a timeline is not an exact science, but at this point in the gospel narrative even Jesus’ earliest disciples had likely been with him no longer than 18 months. For some of the twelve it is likely there were closer to only following Jesus for little more than a year. For disciples of a rabbi to go off on their own, they were to have completely mastered their rabbi’s way. They were to be on the same master level of the rabbi. I do not know about you but if today someone told me they had reached mastery level of something that normally takes years in just twelve months I would be more than a little skeptical. By nearly all standards, the disciples should not have been ready for the task that Jesus was sending them out to do.
Yet, Jesus sent them out anyway. Again, this was a huge break from the tradition of the day and it was likely not something that the disciples were expecting. This was not a test, it was an opportunity. It also is a clear of example of how following Jesus was different than following other rabbis. In the first century rabbinic tradition the normal expectation of the disciples were to follow, observe, and learn. Jesus added to this though, his disciples were supposed to do. The way that Jesus led, the example that he gave was not just one based purely in knowledge and memorizing the right answers. It was based in action. It was not just based in the mind and intellectual power it was based in the heart and a compassion for others. This morning’s scripture makes it clear that Jesus had completely different expectations of his disciples compared to other rabbis. To follow Jesus meant to be sent out. Ready or not it meant to go and do. This is still true today. For all modern day disciples, there is a time when it is your turn. This is not a test of faith, rather it is an opportunity.
As we consider how Jesus sent out the twelve in this morning’s scripture, I think we can learn two principles that still apply to us today when opportunity is knocking. First, notice how Jesus sends them out in verse 3: “Take nothing for the journey- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” Jesus asked them to head out with little more than thoughts and prayers. While it seems borderline reckless, there is a method to the madness here. They disciples were sent out with nothing so that they had no choice but to rely on God. What Jesus was asking the disciples to do was not anything they could accomplish on their own, and Jesus ensured that they would understand that by having be sent out in a position where they would be dependent on God’s provision quickly. I have to wonder how many of the disciples, upon hearing Jesus’ instructions, started to think of what they could sneak along just so they have some kind of back up plan, or anything to help provide a little security. I am sure someone of the faced that temptation, but the followed Jesus and they went out fully relying on God to provide and see them through.
For the original disciples part of following Jesus was to be sent out and go. Not only were they to go, but they were to do so in a way that had them relying on God. This is still true today. Our faith and following Jesus is not meant to be lived out only within the confines of a sanctuary. Being a disciple is to be more than a Sunday morning only activity we are supposed to be sent out into the world, we are supposed to go. When it is God doing the sending, then we are going to need to rely on God to provide and see us through. It has been my experience that this is often where we can begin to struggle. It is has been my experience that we are not opposed to going into the world to serve, to help, or to proclaim the good news. We are willing to do this, but often we are only willing if it is safe with a dependable return on investment. That is how we like it, but that is often not how it works with God because safe rarely transforms the world. That is not how it worked with the original disciples, being sent out by Jesus with nothing was a risk. In the same way our faith, when put into action, should be defined by risk. Bishop Robert Schnase wrote about this in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living. He wrote, “Those who practice risk-taking mission and service . . .follow Jesus into areas they would not tread on their own volition. They practice service with passion and intentionality, pouring themselves out for others. They go where Jesus leads, even when it is uncomfortable, awkward, unexpected, and costly. They risk.” To make the most of the opportunities God gives us, we need to rely on God and we need to be willing to take risks.
The second principle we can learn from is what Jesus sends the disciples out to do. This is stated in verse 1: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons, and to cure disease, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.” At this point the disciples had been traveling with Jesus long enough to see him cure the sick, to cast out impure spirits, and they had heard him proclaim the kingdom of God. So in short, Jesus was empowering his disciples to go and do everything that he was doing. Jesus expected his disciples to be able to do what he could do. Again, this goes completely against the ethos of the day where the disciples were supposed to only follow, observe, and learn. Instead of just observe and learn though, Jesus added do to his teaching style as a rabbi. Jesus likely knew that experience is the best teacher. This is all still true today. We learn how to be a disciple of Jesus by doing, and we can still do the miraculous today. We should not settle for the mundane and good enough. If we are being sent by Jesus then we should represent Jesus. We should proclaim the good news, we should help restore the broken, bring healing to the afflicted, speak truth to power, unsettle the comfortable, love the unloved, and have compassion on those desperate for belonging and care in our lost world. Jesus did this with confidence, Jesus did this with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and as this morning’s scripture illustrates that Jesus believed his disciples could do the very same. Friends, if our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, and the Lord of all believes that we can do it, then what more encouragement do we need?
In this morning’s scripture Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity. It was an opportunity to learn by doing. It was an opportunity to take risks, and it was an opportunity to make a real difference. It was through this opportunity that the twelve learned what it meant it to be a disciple of Jesus, because they learned through experience how to love and have compassion like Jesus. As the modern day disciples of Jesus, I believe we are still extended opportunities. To follow Jesus is to be sent out, so may we go because we are not going to learn how to be disciples if we never get out of our pews. It may look different for each of us but opportunities abound for us to bring healing, to love others, to share the gospel, to make disciples, and to transform the world. It is your turn. So may you go, may you make the most of opportunities that God gives you by saying “here I am lord, send me.”