July 8-9, 2006
One of the books I have enjoyed the most recently is a biography of a man named James Holman. http://www.jasonroberts.net/holman.html. He was born in England lived in the years that bridged the 18th and 19th centuries. Like many memorable people of that time, he was an explorer, an adventurer, and a naval officer. His greatest feat was being one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe as a civilian, or at least not in the service of a military mission. But what sets him apart as being worthy of remembrance is that he walked, rode horses, sailed and did all that he did through Siberia, Africa, South America and Asia, and all the oceans in between, blind.
As a junior officer in the North American squadron of the British Navy, he developed rheumatism that caused him to lose his sight. He was declared disabled and came to live in a place called Travers College, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. He and six other similarly retired or disabled men, the Seven Gentlemen, would be housed as they led “a virtuous studious and devout life. . . “. Their only requirement was that they attend worship daily in the chapel at Windsor Castle. They would be called the Naval Knights of Windsor.
The thing about this was that Holman had been bitten by the adventure bug. He was raised by a father who was an apothecary (what we would call a pharmacist), in a port town. So he grew up in the midst of exotic smells and substances and in regular contact with sailors and travelers who could tell stories from all over the world. He had even originally joined the navy to, as our own Navy used to advertise, “see the world”.
Losing his sight in his twenties was a blow, but it did not stop him. He resolved to travel around the world on foot as much as possible, and his first attempt led him through Europe into Siberia, and only when he was in the last major city before the Bering Strait did the Russian government retrieve him and expel him westward into Poland.
Because he was on half pay from the British Navy and received only a slight stipend from the Naval Knights of Windsor, he was obligated to walk for many of his travels, and was also obligated to eat very simply. He was a great storyteller and has the ability to listen as well, not the least of which enabled him to learn languages well. So he was welcomed into many places, through many cultures in his travels. He carried little other than a length of leather string at times, which allowed him to walk beside a carriage or cart. He also carried a walking stick which he used similarly to those white sticks that many blind people use now. The stick he carried had scorch marks and a partially melted tip from a nighttime sojourn up the side of Mount Vesuvius.
Though his story is not an explicit story of discipleship, traveling the world to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, his story does hold much instruction for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.
The Disciples, sent by Jesus to do his work, were instructed, at least in this Mark passage, to take nothing for their journey except a staff. No money, no extra clothes, no luggage, no snacks for the road. Just go and do what you are commanded to do by God. This sounds a little imprudent to our ears, (what about a little bottle of Purell? What about some water? What about sunblock, a hat, extra can of gas in the trunk. . . .), but one commentator explains it this way: “. . . A second tunic would have provided protection from the cold night air. Rather, they are to trust God to provide lodging each night. . . The disciples were required to depend on local hospitality.”. The command to shake one’s dust off of one’s feet was not so much to cast a curse upon the town that had rejected the message, but rather to say to oneself that the town refused to hear the Word of God as this human disciple has presented it, and it is time to move on.
Holman’s story is instructive because it tells us that courage, intelligence, wisdom, good humor, and a genuine curiosity about the world will overcome any handicap or obstacle. It also tells us that we must follow our nature—we must pay attention to how God made us. For Holman, it was only when he was traveling that he was at his healthiest. He never regained his sight, but his rheumatism and other ailments disappeared in travel, even when he was in a climate worse than where he was stationed in the Navy, which caused him to lose his sight.
So too, we must follow our natures. For those who nurture, we must find ways to serve God with courage, intelligence, wisdom, good humor, and genuine interest. For those of us who study and teach, this is no less true. For those of us who build and repair, it is still true. Any of the ways that we can see our lives following certain patterns are the ways that we have been made to serve God. And just as the disciples would walk their roads with faith, so must we, not knowing what is around the next bend, who we will meet, whether they will like us and what we have to give to the world, or not, but trusting that we will indeed find places that will be open to us and to our God.
We are all called to God’s service to journey with his love, but we are also called to refresh ourselves in God and in each other. We must remember that are not sent out once for all time, never to return to the fold. Later in Mark, the disciples return from their sojourns in ministry, and Jesus entreats them to “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. We should not think we can be any different.
So we come back here to worship and to share with each other our stories. We come to study the Bible, or fellowship with each other. We go on retreats alone, or with others. Then we go back out into the service of God.
James Holman was a man who accomplished a lot though following his nature. He took periods of rest, took the time to participate fully in whatever culture he was in, but because he was a traveler, he traveled.
What is your mode of discipleship? What is your nature? How can you serve God, make Jesus known, in your journey through life? How can you contribute to the ministry of this church, or to the church in the Wyoming Valley, or Pennsylvania, the US, the world?
Sometimes it is as simple as contributing something positive to the world. A talent for quilting in its time and place is as powerful as forceful diplomatic peace talks. A quarter in a strangers’ parking meter is in it’s time and place as powerful as 30 billion dollars of foreign aid. All we do to make a loving, caring, powerful God known, including trusting in him to provide basic shelter and care, is to the good.
So, what do we take with us in God’s service? What do we put on our travel list?
(At this point, I pull some items out of a knapsack)
Courage (toy lion), intelligence (tour guide book), wisdom (Bible), faith (cross), our best natures (Angel statue), good humor (Joke book), curiosity (magnifying glass) and love of the world (globe).
Well, OK, perhaps a toothbrush.
Relying on God to serve God says more to the world about God than any gift we could give, any thing we could say, any distance we could walk or drive or fly. The only things that truly need to be on our Travel list are the things that God has given us to do his work.