When I was a kid I loved riding horses, one of my childhood hero was Annie Oakley. And we had a horse. My horse was awesome. His name was Speedy. And Speedy, he was not, unless we were trying to saddle him. When you pulled out the saddle he was speedy out the gate if you didn’t close the paddock. But once the saddle was on, he wasn’t going anywhere. He had worked out his retirement in our pasture. And as it turned out, he was the most stubborn of all of us.
But I did get to ride horses in the summer. Every summer I went to a horse camp that was about riding. We put together a show for our parents and learned how to run barrels and ride in formations. But the best part was when we got to go on three and four hour rides in the pastures. Riding fast, riding long… but it was a far cry from being a cowboy.
As a young adult I spent some time in Wyoming. In fact, I was called to serve in Wyoming as a missionary, serving and helping others serve on the Wind River Indian Reservation. I will never forget the first time I saw a real horse drive, of wild horses by real cowboys. Or the time, driving through the mountains I hit a cow because the cows were out at pasture on the rocky cliff for the night. Or the time I slept out under the big Wyoming sky in the Rocky Mountains with only a blanket to sleep on. It was like I was I finally a cowgirl.
There is something very romantic about being a cowboy or cowgirl, about the cowboy lifestyle. They see the most amazing parts of God’s creation on the back of a horse. They work hard. They ride hard. They rope and lasso. I think we also recognize that being a cowboy is a tough job. It’s dangerous. The terrain is dangerous. The animals can be dangerous. The weather can be dangerous. But it’s not just danger that makes it tough. But cowboys work from sun up to sun down. They also have to travel light. There is not room for luxury or comfort in the life of the cowboy. They bring what they can put in a saddle bag or a bed roll. And they are often dependent on the hospitality of strangers.
We like to think that being a cowboy is unique to America and the development of the West. And the American Cowboy is certainly an American icon. But the reality is, there are cowboys, loosely defined as people who herd animals while riding another animal, who travel as a lifestyle, perhaps nomadic, who live minimally, and are dependent both on land and hospitality, there are cowboys on almost every continent… at least the ones inhabited by people.
In Spain, they are called vaquero’s, in Australia they are called stockmen or ringers, in China there are nomadic Mongolian tribes that herd on horseback, In many parts of Africa they may be classified as shepherds, in Israel, Jesus called them disciples.
In today’s scripture, we have the instructions of when Jesus sent out the twelve. So we are all up to speed, the twelve are the twelve disciples that worked closest to Jesus. They are the ones in Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus is sending them out to go from town to town and spread the kingdom of God.
This was the foundation of the church.
The sermon series we will be starting this fall, is Church 101. We will be looking at the practices of worship and learning together why we do the things we do in church. This moment, this sending out of the disciples, is the beginning, foundational work of the church. The beginning of church.
Disciples, like cowboys, are called to travel light, they are called to depend on the hospitality of strangers, and care for those in their charge. This was a serious challenge. There is a cowboy saying, “If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.” These disciples were all saddled up, and they were in for a ride.
They were given a few instructions for the ride… Take nothing but a staff, a tool used to care for the flock. It is the tool of a shepherd. Don’t bring food, don’t bring money, don’t bring an extra tunic. The extra tunic for a shepherd meant protection from the elements, it meant being able to build a shelter in if needed, it meant having a blanket on a cool night. It meant having some ability to care for oneself. Live minimally.
There’s a challenge in that, for us … When we live simply we are less attached or distracted by our possessions. We are not held back, held down, but we are free to answer the call. There is a famous story in the Bible where a rich young ruler comes to Jesus and says, what I must to be your disciple? What must I do to get into the kingdom of heaven? Jesus tells him to go sell everything he has and then come back. The rich young man was distraught and done. He couldn’t do it. Jesus wasn’t messing around. How many of us could give up everything? How many of us could downsize to a pair of shoes and passion? This is where most of us fail, where most Christ followers fail. It’s awfully hard to care more about the call to serve than the call to accumulate possessions. If you climb up in the saddle, be ready for the ride.
But something else happens when we travel light, we are more dependent on the hospitality of strangers. Everything they needed for basic survival they had to be given, it had to be shared. It pulled out the best in the disciple but and the best out of the people they were ministering, too. It created a partnership between the minister and the people. If you want to get to know someone, live with them. By traveling light, they were forced to be in relationship with the ones they were serving. It was a pressure cooker for relationship building.
When I was in college I went on a road trip with my college roommate. We went to the Grand Canyon. On the way home, we stayed the night at my mom’s cousin’s house in New Mexico. I had never met them before, but when they heard about our trip, they asked us to stay. I will never forget sitting around their kitchen table with their teenagers that didn’t want to be there, and hearing about their whole life, the good the bad and the ugly. It was fascinating. This is where the church has failed for centuries. They have put clergy and church leaders up on a pedestal. We put them up as out of touch, more holy, more perfect. But I have a secret for you, clergy are just like everyone else. We are called by God to be in relationship. We are all called by God to be in relationship. There is nothing more important about my call than your call, the work just looks a little different. If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.
And the results, they were amazing! They went from town to town and they cast out demons or healed people of their spiritual struggles, they anointed the sick and healed them. They brought both spiritual and physical healing to the community. They were concerned with wholeness and wellness of everyone. Because they were willing to follow the call and willing to be in relationship, people’s lives were forever changed! If you climb in the saddle be ready for the ride.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church once said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
This is a founding principle of this church.
It is also the call of the disciple. And like the cowboy, they did everything they could, went where ever they could, to care for the flock entrusted to them. This is our call, as Christ followers. It is our call as a church. It is our call as individuals. We are called to be more focused on the call to serve God than the call to accumulate possessions. We are called to make ourselves vulnerable, be in mutual relationships. We are called to bring spiritual and physical healing, wholeness and wellness to everyone. Cowboy or Cowgirl Christ-followers…. Climb in the saddle, get ready for the ride.
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