Galatians 61:10

My friends,[a] if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill[b] the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Matthew 10:1-14

10 Then Jesus[a] summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;[b] Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’[c] Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,[d] cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.

My first call as a pastor was to the Forest Lake Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.  In that congregation was a member named Tom Cureton.  His wife Ethel and five daughters were very active in the ministry of the church.  After a few months as the Associate Pastor, I found out that Tom was kinda famous.  He had a advertising agency that was top notch.  The company did all types of communication and ads for many different companies, but his claim to fame was his connection to the slinky.  Tom wrote the slinky jingle: It’s right there in the song: “What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, And makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, Everyone knows it’s Slinky. It’s Slinky, It’s Slinky for fun it’s a wonderful toy! It’s Slinky it’s Slinky it’s for fun for a girl and a boy!” (You will now have that song in your head all day long. You. Are. Welcome!)

So anyway, I was excited to get a large amazon box last week and the first thing that I pulled out was SLINKY DOG!   I wanted to send my slinky down the stairs. So I stood at the top and tipped it over. And well, it did go down the stairs. But it did not walk. More like it rolled. So I tried again. And again. And again. And again. And again. But then every single time it sprang back on itself and then rolled.

But since it has been decades since I played with a Slinky, I thought maybe I was doing it wrong – is that possible? Just when I thought I should give up and choose another toy for this week’s sermon, I gave it one more try. I brought Slinky and Mr. Slinky Dog over to the church to play, and I realized something. The slinky also does not go down these chancel stairs, but it does go down the uncarpeted stairs. I learned an important lesson: Slinkys do not work on carpet. Turns out I wasn’t playing with the slinky wrong; I just played in the wrong place. In order for a slinky to walk down stairs, you need the proper surface, the right conditions, the right place.

That’s actually what Jesus tells the disciples in this morning’s text, as he sends them out. They must have the right surface – the right foundation – in Jesus. They must follow the right conditions in what they take and how they act. Finally, they must go to the right place – the cities who will be receptive to the Gospel message. For to be disciples of Jesus, we must follow one step at a time (one staircase at a time, if you will).

In fact, this is how the Slinky was invented. In 1945, Richard James happened to be just in the right place at the right time under the right conditions. He was an engineer in the Navy and was developing a method to measure horsepower aboard battleships. As he was working, “a tension spring rolled off his desk, hit the floor and just kept bouncing.”1 He immediately saw the potential for a fun toy. It was his wife who came up with the name, Slinky, which is derived from the Swedish word for many spirals. Betty James became president of the company and was also the inventor of the very famous and much beloved Slinky Dog. As she ran the company, Betty’s one goal was making sure the toy was accessible to all children, so the Slinky originally sold for just $1.

It may seem silly to compare this spring to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but I think it actually has a lot to teach us about how to be disciples and to share the Good News.

First, we must remember that the Slinky is for everyone – as the song says “it’s fun for a girl or a boy.” You need not have special skills to play with this spring (you just need non-carpeted stairs). And you not need be rich – the toy is priced so any child, or adult, can purchase one. The Slinky is accessible to all who are willing to be stretched.

God is a God for everyone. And the Gospel message is accessible to all who are willing to be stretched. Just like Slinky Dog, Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot follow him unless they are willing to be stretched almost to capacity. In today’s passage, Jesus gives them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness” (v.1). I don’t know about you, but my faith would have to be stretched really far for me to believe that I could actually cure every disease. And on top of it, the disciples have to go out of their comfort zones, performing acts they’ve never been trained for and going to strange places. They are sent out into towns all over 1 Hunter and Waddell. “Toy Box Leadership” pg.22. Israel – to places they don’t know and to people they’ve never met. They are sent, hoping to be in the right place at just the right time, because they have Jesus as their right foundation.

And yet, the disciples aren’t told to go into towns and force people to follow Jesus. They aren’t supposed to force the right place. Just because you want your slinky to go down the stairs, doesn’t mean you should tear up the carpet. If it’s not right, then move on to a better place. Jesus tells the disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (v.14). 

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that the people in that place are completely lost, but it does mean that there is nothing more that you can do. Just do what you were sent to do: tell the good news, help how you can, and leave when you must. Remember: it isn’t us who bring people to faith – God does that. We help plant seeds; God does all the growing and changing.

We pull, and we let God do the rest. We must pull and be patient. Slinky Dog can only be pulled from the front end. And frankly, there’s only so far that we can take him on our own. His back end may take some time to catch up with the front. In Slinky Dog, that’s the job of the spring. In discipleship, that’s the job of God.

We must pull, then be patient. But we mustn’t push. See what happens when you try to push Slinky Dog. The same is true when disciples share their faith. Have you ever tried to push someone into believing in God? Or yelled at someone to believe the right way (which of course is your way). Even if you are right, you know that if you push and push and nag and nag, that person will stop listening. They’ll ignore you, and you’ll fall over from shouting at the wind.

Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to go into a town, stand on a street corner with a sign, call everyone sinners, and proclaim the end of the world is near. Okay, he does tell them to proclaim: “The kingdom of God has come near” (v.7). But they aren’t supposed to push people into believing it by shouting at them. No, they are to proclaim the kingdom of God by showing it to them. “Cure the sick,” Jesus commands them, “raise the dead cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (v.8). In discipleship, we lead by example. We pull others toward God by showing how Christ has changed the world; how Christ has changed our lives. We pull with our actions and our words, and then we remain patient. For only God can spring their hearts forward to belief.

In order for us to be followers of Jesus, we must be open for God’s leading. Jesus wants his disciples to have the capacity to be stretched, to pull not push, and to only lead those who are ready to follow.

Think of how our church would work if I wanted to go one direction, and all of you hoped we’d go in a different direction . All we’d have is a tangled up mess of chaos and confusion.

Or what if I refused to listen to you and insisted on going my own way.  I’d only be dragging you around and we’d all fall over.

Or what if our Session, Deacons, and Trustees all had a new and exciting path for us. But when they start leading us down a new road, a few people dig their heels .  All of us would tumble over.

We cannot be God’s people; we cannot be God’s church; we cannot be the body of Christ- unless all our parts and coils and strings and feet and hearts work together. For God has brought us, this church family, together as one whole body moving and slinking along toward the common goal of “proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near.” That Jesus is in our midst right now.

So friends, let us stretch our imaginations. Let us be pulled to places we never thought we’d go. Let us pull others into our fold, and patiently wait for God to act. Let us follow Jesus one staircase at a time.

Sermon based on commentaries from Ron Hunter, Michael Waddell, Eliza Cramer, NT Wright and Douglas R.A. Hare.