It’s been a few years since I told this story, and some of you weren’t around then, so allow me to start today by telling it once again…
About 20 years ago, I spent a week volunteering on a replica of James Cook’s sailing ship the Endeavour. It was sailing around the world, but for one week it was docked and open for tours, and I was a guide that helped show people around the ship.
I didn’t know anything about James Cook; but they gave me a book. I read it. And I learned a few things.
One of the things I learned is that James Cook was accompanied on his first voyage, in 1768, by a naturalist named Joseph Banks. Together, they made many discoveries and observations that added greatly to European society’s knowledge of the world.
Their voyage was a huge success, and the two men were hailed as heroes. They quickly began planning for a second voyage.
However, fame went to Joseph Banks’ head. He wanted to bring more than a boatload of scientific gear and personal items, so he insisted that an extra deck be added to the Endeavour in order to accommodate all the scientific and personal gear that he was determined to bring.
An entire extra deck!
I’m no ship expert, but even I can see that this might not be a good idea.
Sure enough, the extra deck made the ship top heavy and wobbly. Any sensible person would know that this was not going to work. A wobbly ship will undoubtedly end up in a shipwreck! We’ll be talking more about shipwrecks during VBS this week.
But a shipwreck was not what James Cook wanted, obviously, so he ordered the extra deck removed. This infuriated Joseph Banks, who just didn’t get it, and Banks refused to go on the voyage.
My friends, we are on a journey. In many ways, our journey takes us to uncharted regions, just like the voyages of James Cook. We are venturing forth into an unknown future.
We are in the midst of a New Beginnings program; our progress has slowed down a little for the summer, but will pick back up in the fall.
Also, we live in a time of great change. Every 500 years, the church experiences a great transformation; the last one was the reformation. Yet the change the church is experiencing in our own time is just as profound.
Change in the church is matched by change in society. One single invention - the world wide web - has transformed the way we communicate just as much as the invention of the printing press changed things 500 years ago.
All this makes our journey a great adventure - at times scary, at times exciting, and always an adventure.
Jesus sent the disciples out on their own adventure. He sent them out two-by-two, and told them to preach a message of repentance, a message of transformation, a message meant to invite people to change their hearts and change their minds and enter into a new way of living.
And in that message - and in the love and care shown to the people by the disciples - the people found healing.
What always catches my attention in this story are the instructions Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out: “Take nothing for your journey, except a staff. Don’t take any bread. Don’t take a bag. Don’t take any money.”
He didn’t even want them to bring an extra shirt.
Jesus is telling them to not bring anything that would hold them back… not bring anything that could be an attachment to their former lives. To keep their course straight, to keep their ship from wobbling, they needed to bring only what was absolutely necessary.
Soon, I’m going to go on a backpacking trip in the Sierras, with some friends from Pomona Christian Church. It’s been a few years, but I’ve gone backpacking before, so I know what to pack… and what not to pack.
And in case I’ve forgotten, a passage in the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed helps me remember. With no experience, Cheryl decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She gathered everything she thought she needed, and in a motel room near the start of the trail, loaded it all up into her backpack.
Then she went to put it on. Here’s how she describes that moment:
“I was ready to begin. I put on my watch, looped my sunglasses around my neck by their pink neoprene holder, donned my hat, and looked at my pack. It was at once enormous and compact, mildly adorable and intimidatingly self-contained. It had an animate quality; in its company, I didn’t feel entirely alone. Standing, it came up to my waist. I gripped it and bent to lift it.
“It wouldn’t budge.
“I squatted and grasped its frame more robustly and tried to lift it again. Again it did not move. Not even an inch. I tried to lift it with both hands, with my legs braced beneath me, while attempting to wrap it in a bear hug, with all of my breath and my might and my will, with everything in me. And still it would not come. It was exactly like attempting to lift a Volkswagen Beetle. It looked so cute, so ready to be lifted - and yet it was impossible to do….
“I scooted over the carpet and situated myself on my rump right in front of my pack, wove my arms through the shoulder straps, and clipped the sternum strap across my chest. I took a deep breath and began rocking back and forth to gain momentum, until finally I hurled myself forward with everything in me and got myself onto my hands and knees. My backpack was no longer on the floor. It was officially attached to me. It still seemed like a Volkswagen Beetle, only now it seemed like a Volkswagen Beetle that was parked on my back. I stayed there for a few moments, trying to get my balance. Slowly, I worked my feet beneath me while simultaneously scaling the metal cooling unit with my hands until I was vertical enough that I could do a dead lift. The frame of the pack squeaked as I rose, it too straining from the tremendous weight. By the time I was standing - which is to say, hunching in a remotely upright position - I was holding the vented metal panel that I’d accidentally ripped loose from the cooling unit in my efforts.”
This passage is a reminder to me to be very careful when I pack for my upcoming trip. It’s important to figure out what you really need, and leave everything else behind.
Of course, the lesson here applies to other aspects of life besides backpacking. Psychologists today warn against children having too many toys.
According to an article published last fall in the journal Infant Behavior and Development, a recent study from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests “an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.” Having fewer toys can lead a young child to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play, according to the study. Fewer toys, it turns out, result in healthier play, and, ultimately, deeper cognitive development. They’ll play with one toy longer, which helps with attention spans. They’ll learn better how to take care of things. They’ll become more resourceful. And they’ll learn that happiness comes from places other than the toy store.
This study, and others like it, don’t say that children should have no toys. They do say that children should have a few carefully chosen toys, toys they can cherish, toys that will inspire them.
It seems to me that what’s true for children might also be true for adults.
Joseph Banks had too many toys that he refused to part with - and that kept him from going on the voyage.
A lot of adults today have too many toys - what is it that those toys are keeping them from doing? A Facebook friend of mine is preparing to move into a new house, and every day she shares a picture of some items with the question, “Keep, or get rid of?” What an important question that is, because it helps us discern what is really important.
Like people, churches, also, tend to have too many toys. Like the disciples, we are on a journey...but the temptation is for us to carry too much baggage with us. Especially churches that have been around for awhile. What should we keep, and what should we get rid of? What is essential, and what is excess baggage?
One church might find a suitcase that says “liberal ideology,” and they pick that up and carry it along. Another church might find a suitcase that says “conservative ideology,” and they pick that up. And another church might find both of those suitcases and pick them both up, trying to make everyone happy, and carrying them with them on their journey.
But God doesn’t want us to carry any liberal baggage on our journey. God doesn’t want us to carry any conservative baggage on our journey. God only wants us to carry the gospel of love. The gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of hope. The gospel that makes all people whole.
In all areas of our life, I think our tendency is always to overpack, to take along too many things on our journey. Jesus told his disciples to take only a staff. I think maybe I would have at least taken along an extra shirt and maybe some spending money, but Jesus said those weren’t necessary for that particular mission.
“Take only what you need.”
The question is: What do you really need?