As you know, Pentecost is a season of growth; that's why the spring- green colored paraments. The 2nd half of the Church Year is where we apply what we've learned about the Person and Work of Christ in the 1st half. And you probably have questions. I do; I have Pentecostal questions.
The first is "Whose going to fill their sandals?" In 1985 George Jones asked a similar question about country music singers. Who was going to fill the shoes of the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Elvis, Marty, Johnny, and more? Well, a lot more important question is, "Whose going to fill the sandals of the 12?" Especially when Jesus sent them out without just about everything except sandals! Jesus, using the verb from which the noun apostle' comes from, commissioned them on an official mission without the common fare every traveler with common sense took. No bread, no bag, no money, and not even an extra tunic against the nighttime cold. That would be the equivalent of you travelling without food, or money to buy it or lodging, and no luggage. Just the clothes on your back, the shoes on your feet, and some basic way to get round maybe a bike instead of a car. Who among you wants to go that way? When you leave that way will you ever get back?
Who will fill the sandals of the first men who went out dependent on the those who received and heard the Gospel? I've spent a lifetime doing this and let me tell you: it's scary. Every confessional pastor will tell you that he knows he's only one voters meeting maybe two away from being thrown out of his office, you'd say job'. He's totally dependent on those who receive and hear his message. And here's where the real problem comes. If you're a Good Time Joe, a Glad-hander, a flatterer, a sycophant, and talk about literally anything other than everyone is conceived in sin and damned eternally apart from Christ, you will be received with accolades, applause, or at least acquiescence. But Katy bar the door if you preach the Gospel. Because the Gospel makes you odiferous. You are a sweet smell to those who receive it, but you stink to high heaven to those who don't.
Whose going to fill their sandals? Jesus commissions them as heralds of His Gospel and give them authority over literally unclean spirits. You know that we are all heralds of the Gospel; we all have the authority to announce the Good News that God sent His only beloved Son into flesh and blood as our substitute to keep His law: both its commands and punishments. We can all herald from the mountain top that the blood of Christ has been shed to cover the world's sins. We can all herald without fear of contradiction that Death was swallowed for good by Jesus on Good Friday. We can all herald that the Devil's head has been crushed when the risen Jesus brought His sandal down on it. And we all have authority over unclean spirits. Scripture promises: "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world," and, "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." We can all fill their sandals; so, how do they fit?
Pentecostal questions come to mind on this 8th Sunday after. Not only whose going to fill the sandals of the apostles? But, is this CSI Palestine? The CSI shows are called police procedurals. You know you're watching one when you see the actors taking photos, bagging evidence, or imputing info and there is no dialog just music. This establishes that they are collecting evidence. From where? The all-important crime scene.
Palestine is the general crime scene, but in our text the specific one is "whatsoever place should not receive you for themselves nor should hear you." There's a lot of Greek going on. "Whatsoever" emphasizes any place at all and implies there may be many. However, the should' only says that it is possible; it doesn't indicate that it will happen. The "not receiving" is in the middle voice which means two things. They are "not receiving" for their own reasons and it's not the fault of Jesus' messengers or the message they herald. This is an important fact to establish in these latter days. Who is blamed in these Last Days? The men who won't scratch where people itch. The Gospel message which has no place for the works of man. The herald who doesn't give his hearers practical advice, who focuses not on what would Jesus do but on what did Jesus do.
And there is one piece of evidence I think all translations overlook. The standard Jesus sets up is not receiving nor hearing. All English says "or". The Greek lexicons don't give or' as a meaning. "Nor" cautions us fillers of apostolic sandals not to be hasty. It's not the place that either rejects you or doesn't hear you, but neither receives your nor hears you. I've had people who gave me the impression they were getting the odor of decay off of me, but they kept on hearing what I was heralding.
Is this CSI Palestine or what? Millenia before science knew people could be identified by dust from their clothes, hair, or flesh, Jesus knew that dust was evidence; dust can convict. Jesus says that whatever place doesn't receive you nor hear of you to repent and believe that Jesus has saved you, while leaving there you must shake the dust off the bottom of your feet. And that dust is literally evidence, proof that will stand up in God's court. It testifies to two things. That heralds of God have been here is proven by the dust off of their feet, and that these heralds of heaven want nothing to do with dust coming from this place. This place is so unclean, so filthy that even its dust is dirty. The place that rejects Gospel heralds and their message is dirtier than Sodom and Gomorrah says Jesus in Matthew 10.
But we probably haven't gotten to the Pentecostal question that's really on your mind. That would be, "Anointing oil anyone?" I wish I didn't have to address it but I must. I've told you the Pentecostal movement whose blazing embers only died out in the late 1980s will be back. This heresy has cyclically plagued the church since a man named Montanus in 160 A.D. travelled around with two women prophets, and eventually many more, claiming to directly hear from the Holy Spirit of visions and a new Pentecost. It first flared up in the U.S. in 1900. Call this a preemptive strike against the rekindling that will happen among us.
This passage comes into play because of the last verse. The 12 commissioned by Jesus "anointed many sick people." First, this is the only place it mentions the apostles doing this. We don't know what they did but we do know Jesus didn't command it be done. Second, in the Good Samaritan the oil has medical value not religious value. The mentioning in James 5 of anointing the sick with oil in Jesus' name does suggest it was used in connection with praying for healing, but in that text, the Lord is said to be the one who raised him up in answer to praying not oiling. Finally, it's clear in Greek that 3 distinct things are mentioned. They are highlighted by imperfect verbs I translate with "were". "And many demons they were casting out, and they were anointing with oil many, and they were healing." The insert makes it sound as if the anointing caused the healing. No, it was just one more thing they were doing. What it being done here and in James 5 is what is being done in the Good Samaritan. Oil is applied to treat physical symptoms. If I'm visiting someone in the hospital who is thirsty, I give them a drink. If they are cold, I give them a blanket.
As a church, we do this too. You give money to missions and charities. You support the preaching of the Gospel so that the forgiveness of sins, the defeating of death, and the casting out of demons goes on here and elsewhere. And you support the physical needs of people. You support the homeless in Austin to the tune of about 2,500 a year. You supported the physical needs of those here in Austin who went to a life center rather than a death center when pregnant with a 1,000 dollars this year. Even the world regards this highly; works given to support legitimate worldly needs don't stink to the world. Here's where the world and Pentecostalism connect. Pentecostalism values ecstatic visions, prophesies, physical miracles, and undervalues Word and Sacraments. The world values works done for the benefit of people that they can see, and they value Word and Sacrament as nothing but religious opinion or superstition.
The churches who have as their goal to reach you emotionally can do this either by emphasizing the outward works you can do for other people in Jesus' name or by the visible, impressive works done by the Spirit. Emotions aren't Confessional Lutherans point of aim, but being redeemed, restored, forgiven should produce emotions. But we can go through the motions of confessing, absolving, singing and praying without being in any of them or wishing we were somewhere else. In the Gloria in Excelsis we can sing of blessing, worshipping, glorifying, and giving thanks for God's great glory and for taking away the sin of the world without a thought for what we're really saying. The privilege, the joy, the specialness of being able to lift our hearts to the Lord can be lost on us. And should having seen our salvation in the Body and Blood of Christ hidden in the Bread and Wine of Communion move us less than Simeon holding the Christ-child? We Confessional Lutherans have plenty of Spirit-driven emotions, but we don't live for or in them or in physical acts praised by others.
Because the world values all things physical and because the Pentecostal values visible shows of God's power not God working through physical things like Water, Words, Bread, and Wine, the church is ever tempted to live there. When we do something the world sees as an earthly good or the Pentecostal spirit sees as something spiritual, we will be praised. But the outward physical works that impress can't be our focus. For this reason, I think the Holy Spirit has sandwiched the one physical thing the apostles did on their own initiative, anointing with oil, between the two things they were commanded to do: casting out demons and healing the sick. All 3 of these actions are imperfect, the one definitive thing they were commissioned to do is first: "They did herald for people to repent and believe the Gospel."
There's the answer to all our Pentecostal questions: the divinely commissioned work of heralding the Gospel comes first, and the big miracle of the Spirit in every age is that anybody at all believes it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost (20180715); Mark 6: 7-13