A news photographer was assigned to get some video shots of a major forest fire burning nearby. His instructions were to go to the local airport, board a small plane that would be waiting for him, and then get back with the video in time for the afternoon newscast. So he raced to the airport, drove his car to the runway and, sure enough, there was a plane waiting and ready to go. He hopped aboard and they took off. At about 5,000 feet he positioned his camera and told the fellow flying the plane to take him over the fire zone so he could take video shots and get back to the newsroom. There was a deafening silence in the cockpit. Then the photographer heard the man sitting at the controls say: "You aren't the instructor?"
A familiar feeling, isn't it? From the time we're born life confronts us with things we've never before experienced. What experience did we have at kissing before our first kiss? What experience did we have being a parent until we become one? What experience do we have being middle-aged, or old, or retired, or widowed, or dying, till we get there. Haven't we all sometimes said aloud"There ought to be an instructor, or an operator's manual for all this!"
That's how Jesus' disciples find themselves in today's Gospel. Jesus tells them to go out, two-by-two, and preach the Good News to the people. "Just do what you've seen me do," he says, "don't take any money, food or extra clothes with you. That will just get in your way." The disciples must have felt ill-prepared, thinking of any number of excuses why they shouldn't be doing this. Yet, because Jesus tells them to, they go and do it. To their amazement they succeed! They announce the Good News of God's great love, they drive out demons, they heal the sick.
How does it all happen? Not by accident. Though they considered themselves unprepared, they really are prepared. They already have within themselves all the goodness that God has given them. They witness the way Jesus deals with the sick, the lowly, the vulnerable. And they have a companion alongside to strengthen and encourage them. So they complete the mission despite all their human inadequacies.
Just as Jesus did for his original followers, Jesus does for us. We too are graced with the Spirit of Jesus at our Baptism. Ever so slowly, our discipleship grows and matures as we grow and mature. We are called by Jesus to be peace makers, justice seekers, people of compassion and forgiveness. This doesn't happen overnight; it happens over a lifetime! We are also called to encourage and support each other; that's why community is so important. We can't do it alone, so we gather here at church each Sunday as a community to listen, to learn, to nourish and be nourished.
Today two new disciples are welcomed to our number: Matthew Ryan and Marla Mae. It will be awhile before they take up the adult responsibilities of their faith; and how they do will depend upon the guidance they receive from their parents, their godparents and this community. These two are depending upon the adults in their lives to help them become familiar with the life and wisdom of Jesus, with personal and family prayer, with Sunday community gatherings. For these are the experiences that prepare us to share the Good News with others. In today's world, Jesus has no hands but ours, no eyes but ours, no heart but ours! Jesus needs us! Amazing, isn't it? Jesus needs us! And we need him, for He is our instructor and his Gospel is our operator's manual!