Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
This week in June, in most of the past eleven years, Nancy B and I were in Newark, Delaware, attending the Annual Meeting of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ. We have gotten into the habit combining the business and fellowship and learning of the CAC Annual Meeting with a mini-vacation among family in Delaware and Maryland.
This year, everything is different.
This year, the United Church of Christ’s General Synod will be coming to Baltimore, right in the center of our Central Atlantic Conference, on June 30th. WE, the people of the Central Atlantic Conference, are the HOSTS of this General Synod. People from all around the country will be coming to Baltimore for this once-every-two-years event. Leaders of our Conference have asked us to contribute snacks, or money to buy snacks, as a sign of our hospitality for these visitors. I got permission from our Deacons to ask for a special offering next Sunday for this cause. To be perfectly candid with you-all, our Conference leaders suggested that $80 would be a nice contribution toward snacks for a church the size of our Bethel. If forty of us gave $2 each, that would do it.
Have you traveled to attend conferences or big meetings ? This type of travel has some things in common with vacationing. You go to someplace special and encounter people you wouldn’t find at home. Perhaps the local food there is distinctive (in Baltimore during General Synod, there will be a crab feast). Maybe the scenery or culture there is interesting (General Synod takes place by the Inner Harbor). But the serious, dutiful participants in the conference have their fun before or after the official meeting time. During the actual conference, the faithful delegates have genuine work to do, and they focus on that.
In this Season After Pentecost, our gospel readings are from Matthew. This week’s passage serves as a re-introduction to the way Jesus and his disciples did their traveling business. Jesus told his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”
I picture the listening disciples nervously feeling their First-Century fanny packs, trying to imagine how they would fare without money or supplies among strangers. (I have my own nervous giggle as I question the way I load my vehicles with books, papers, tools, and food for every trip.)
A few years ago at our Central Atlantic Conference Annual Meeting, the keynote speaker was John Dominic Crossan, a very famous New Testament scholar. Crossan has written numerous books about how to understand what made Jesus’ Way distinctive in the First Century. Crossan points out that Jesus’ practice of sharing a table with just anybody stood out like a sore thumb in the presence of both Jewish and Greek observers. Prostitutes, tax collectors (who were collaborators with the evil Roman occupiers), and unwashed poor people— Jesus wanted to be with them all for meals. And Jesus did not always supply the food, as he did when he miraculously fed thousands using a few loaves and fishes. Rather, on most occasions Jesus humbly yet confidently dined on whatever his haphazard hosts offered. And he taught his disciples to do the same.
In the UCC, we generally give our delegates to Conference Annual Meetings or to General Synods an allowance for travel and lodging. In my experiences of these meetings, the event organizers have made preparations to be generous hosts, either feeding the delegates together in banquets or thoughtfully guiding us to reputable restaurants in the area. And, usually, there are snacks.
When I attended General Synod 26 in Hartford, Connecticut in 2007, on the 50th Anniversary of the UCC, that local UCC Conference over-blessed us with homemade cookies. Oh, how I suffered (!) Sadly, that option isn’t allowed for this Synod.
I mentioned above that this year, everything is different. In my case, I long ago promised to officiate Maggie and Nathaniel’s wedding on July 1st. That pretty much rules out my participating in this General Synod in person— but I hope to help feed our Synod guests another way. Join me!
...since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....