Sunday, July 12, 2015


   Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

“My parents are sending me to summer camp,” said one boy to another.
“Why?” asked the second.  “Do you need a vacation?”
“No,” answered the first.  They do.”

Fr. Scott and I were in the car the other day
when we heard part of a radio program
discussing the American tradition
of sending kids off to summer camp.
Even if you never went to camp yourself,
I’m sure you have some notion of the annual routine
of youngsters heading into the woods for a week (or two or three)
of swimming and campfires and fast friendships.
I myself am heading to Camp Guggenheim later today
to spend the week there as chaplain.

But where did this idea come from?  How did it start?
The radio show began with a brief discussion
of the history of summer camping here in the U.S..
It seems it goes back to the late 19th century.
Even long before there were telephones, televisions, or the Internet,
people had great anxieties about the modern age
and where the world was going.
As cities grew rapidly,
there was also a growing sense
that urban life was not as healthy as life in the country—
and that men, therefore, were getting soft.
And so boys were taken camping,
to get away from their mothers and modern entertainments.
If they were going to develop into good leaders,
they would need some toughening up.
Eventually, summer camp was extended to girls, too,
and not reserved for children of the upper classes.
Many of the rituals still found at summer camp today
go all the way back to those early days.

That radio show got me thinking—
not only of my coming week at Guggenheim,
but about the gospel passage we hear this Sunday.
Maybe Jesus is doing for his Apostles
what summer camp was first intended to do:
maybe he’s trying to toughen them up.

And, in this modern age,
a bit anxious about where the world is going,
maybe that’s just what we need, too.

They’re odd instructions Jesus gives the Twelve, are they not?
To head out on a critical mission,
but take none of the usual gear required for the journey?
It can sound like he’s setting them up to fail…
…but Jesus is actually giving them the recipe for success.

I think Jesus sends out his Apostles—and likewise, sends us out—
essentially empty-handed for two very good reasons.

The first is so that we won’t have any crutches to lean on.
The tools we use to spread the Gospel
may have gotten more high-tech these days,
but the effect is still the same:
we can get so distracted by the instruments
that we forget our real purpose in using them
and depend too heavily on them to prop us up.
I’ve seen many articles and books
on how to use the Internet most effectively as a Christian…
…but I have yet to meet anyone who’s actually been converted
by a posting on Facebook.
We can easily hide behind our technology.
We can even more easily take our faith for granted.
Staying in shape—spiritually, just as it does physically—
requires regular exercise.
Take the health of your soul for granted
and, soon enough, it starts to get soft.
Jesus demands that we rely, not on gimmicks or gadgets,
but on him alone.
Purposefully going without,
withdrawing from our usual occupations,
can toughen us up and do us some good.
We must trust that God will provide everything we need.
Besides, what will really grab people’s attention
is not a person’s fancy provisions,
but when somebody practices what they preach,
when they love not only in word but in fact,
when they’re willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe.

A second reason Jesus sends us empty-handed
to announce his Gospel of repentance and salvation
is to strip away our excuses.
Jesus can dispatch the Twelve without the obvious equipment
because he’s already equipped them with everything they need.
And so, too, has Jesus done for you and me.
When people—decent-living, church-going people—
are challenged to step up and step out for their faith in Jesus,
a million excuses begin to pile up:
“Well, I don’t have a degree in theology.”
“You know, I’m not a very good public speaker.”
“Hey, everybody knows my past.  I’ll just look like a big hypocrite!”
In claiming such things, we actually deny our faith,
showing that we do not believe—as repeated by St. Paul—
that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing,”
chosen us for his purpose, given us a place in his plan,
destined us to exist “for the praise of his glory.”
An old saying puts it well:
“God does not call the qualified; he qualifies those he has called.”

Like the Twelve, we have been given a mission,
but not a guarantee of accomplishment.
God’s word is always effective—
but it’s not always the effect we’d hoped for.
Rejection is to be expected and, when it comes,
we are to shake it off as so much dust from our feet.
Yet what we have been promised is a share in the final victory:
the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of life over death.

Are you ready to set aside your crutches, your props?
Ready to drop your excuses?
Let’s empty our bags, and head with the Apostles to summer camp.

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