There are very much two different things I want to address here in this passage. I probably could have divided them into two readings, so forgive me for the length and disjointedness.
About The Mountain: The first thing to address here is that Jesus has this regular and beautiful rhythm of going “out to the mountain to pray”. We need to take note of this. Even Jesus, the very son of God, needs to take time to get away and connect with God. He needs to get somewhere in which he can shut off the noise and simply be. All too often my “prayer life” gets reduced down to another thing to do on the to-do list. This the last thing it should be. When Jesus goes out the to the mountain to pray, he doesn’t go out of obedience; he goes out of hunger. He longs to get away with God. I all too often sit down to pray because, well, “I’m a pastor and this is what a pastor should do, so by golly, I’m going to pray.” This is not the spirit in which God wants us to do this. God wants us to want to do this. But this world gets noisier and noisier, and it gets busier and busier.
I am of the belief that the greatest enemy to spiritual growth is not doubt, it is not uncertainty, it is not a lack of discipline, it is not zeal. It is noise and busy-ness. These are like a mighty dust storm blowing around us and clouding our vision of, connection to, and hunger for the Spirit of God. If you’re like me, and find yourself in times where God seems like a non-factor, check your lifestyle. How much noise in it? And check your calendar. How busy is it? Do you want to grow in your connection with your Creator who loves you, fuels you, and sustains you? Slow. Down. As one singer songwriter once put it, “if you slow down long enough, you’ll come present to your pain.” And when we come present to our pain, we desire for nothing more than for the comforting Spirit of God to meet us in it, and in so doing bring peace. But you have to slow down long enough.
About Disciples and Apostles: The other thing worthy of noting here is this strange verse which I don’t recall seeing in any other Gospel: “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (6:13). We often use the word “disciple” and “apostle” interchangeably, and to a certain extent we can. But here, Jesus makes a distinction. I believe that distinction lay in what these words literally mean, meanings which are largely lost on contemporary Christianity. The word “disciple” is the Greek word μαθητής (mathētēs), and means “learner”. It’s english translation is where we get our English word “discipline”, and (and I hate this part) the Greek word is where we get our English word “mathematics”. A “disciple” is one who sits at the feet of an instructor and learns. She is a learner. The word “apostle” is the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos) and it means “sent out” (it may be where our English word for “postal” comes, but I have been unable to determine that). A disciple is one who follows and learns. An apostle is one who is sent and goes. In this sense, it is these 12 that we commonly know as “the 12 disciples” that are the ones who will be sent out in the Book of Acts. But in order to be sent, you need to learn. So they are all disciples (because they are all learners), but these 12 are the 12 who will be sent.
So there is a distinction, but in the end, they become inseparable. An apostle cannot be sent out without having first learned (well, they can, but they shouldn’t!). But if you sit, follow and learn from Jesus long enough, you can’t not be sent, because part of Jesus’ teachings and way is to go out. And so we come to worship, we join a small group, we search the Scriptures, and we listen for the voice of God in our lives in order to be trained and built up, so that we can go out and share the good news of God’s unending love for humanity in word and deed. To borrow from one of my seminary professors, in a nut shell, this is why we “gather and scatter”; because we are all both disciples and apostles. To put it another way, we gather so as to position our lives in the flow of the outpouring of the Spirit, but we also scatter to position our lives so that the Spirit may overflow out of us and onto the world around us.
So, beloved, when, where and how will you gather? And when, where and how will you scatter?