Lord Jesus, speak to us, we pray. And equip us and empower us to obey. Amen.
On this Mission Sunday, the question we're asking ourselves is: what is our mission from God? Listen to the risen Jesus speaking to his recently frightened, now overjoyed followers – from John 20.21. Jesus says to them – and through them he says to us:
"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."
I was dismayed a while ago to hear from a young man who was a student at JPC that never once during his three years here was he directly challenged to think about being a missionary. Well none of you is going to be able to say that. Here it comes.
Please think and pray hard about being a missionary. Ask God to show you what his will is for your life. Ask whether he wants you to go overseas as a missionary. Ask God whether he wants you to work cross-culturally as a missionary. That could be overseas, or much closer to home. Now I'm not saying to you that you should ask God whether he wants you to be a missionary. Why not? Because I know he does. God wants all of us to be missionaries. A missionary is someone who is engaged in God's mission, with him and for him. If we're disciples of Jesus, that's what we're doing. We're on mission with Jesus for the glory of God. That's what our lives are all about.
And if you're not yet a believer and a disciple, then in fact the same is true for you. God is calling you too to become a follower of Jesus and to get stuck into his mission. God wants all of us to be missionaries. Now let me be clear. He doesn't want all of us to go overseas as missionaries. He doesn't want all of us to be cross-cultural missionaries. Though he may want you to do either of those things. Many of us he wants to be missionaries where we are, among the people we know. But he still wants us to be missionaries. Jesus says to us:
"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."
God's Plan A for taking the gospel of forgiveness to the ends of the earth is that the church should do it. He has no Plan B. The eternal destiny of billions of people is at stake. Lost people matter to God. And because as believers we belong to God and we have the Spirit of Christ, lost people matter to us too – or at least they should if we're being true to ourselves. So we mustn't lock ourselves away from a lost, dark, hurting, and yes, maybe sometimes hostile, world.
One of the people whose books have been an inspiration to me is Roland Allen. He was a missionary to China around 1900. He became disillusioned with the way that so much missionary work at that time was sucking people out of the world and into semi-segregated Christian communities. He went back to his New Testament to reexamine how things were done then. He wrote two challenging books that summed up his conclusions. The first was called 'Missionary Methods: St Paul's Or Ours?'. That was written in 1912. The follow up volume, which he wrote in 1927, has my favourite book title ever: 'The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it.' His basic point is that it is of the nature of the church that it grows. That's God's plan for it. That's how God's put it together. It's like seed. It grows. That's what it does.
But nonetheless there are things that we do that get in the way of that growth. We can block its growth. We can block the spread of the gospel. Our task is to identify and remove those blocks, those hindrances. One of those blocks is too much fear – fear that causes us to lock ourselves away. What can we do to remove that hindrance to world mission? We can do what those first disciples did: spend time with the risen Jesus, take his words to heart, and receive from him his fearless and bold Spirit.
The stark reality is that Judgement Day is up ahead for the world. The nations of the world have only one hope of evading what the Bible calls "the coming wrath". That is to be reconciled with God through faith in his Son and in his substitutionary, sin-bearing death. Our heavy responsibility and immense privilege is to hold out to the world the message of reconciliation. We carry with us around the world the hope of forgiveness – locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Archbishop William Temple said:
"… it is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of our calling… We are members of the Body of Christ, through whom He would accomplish his purpose… This is the primary purpose for which the Spirit is given: that we may bear witness to Christ. We must not expect the gift [of the Holy Spirit] while we ignore the purpose. A Church which ceases to be missionary will not be, and cannot rightly expect to be, "spiritual"."
We should be massively thankful as we look back over the years and remind ourselves of all that the Lord has done by the power of the Spirit through the life of this church. But now it's time for another expansion of our worldwide mission – local, regional, national and global.
At JPC we define our mission as to 'Live Godly Lives, Grow the Church, and Change our Nation'. You can see that on the back of the service sheet. This mission is in obedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandments: love God, make disciples, love your neighbour. So our mission is to obey those three direct commands of Jesus.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"
That's Live Godly Lives, from Matthew 22.37.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"
That's Grow the Church, from Matthew 28.19. And
"You shall love your neighbour as yourself"
That's Change our Nation, from Matthew 22.39.
How do we live like that in practice? Well there are six aspects of mature discipleship. They all belong together. None of them is optional. How do we love God? By Trusting In Christ, and Obeying The Word. How do we make disciples? By Serving The Church and Telling The World. How do we love our neighbour? By Contending For Truth and Caring For Needs. But we don't live this life of discipleship alone – and we can't. We live it in the Body of Christ, as part of the church. We do this together.
But even then the fact is that we are incapable of fulfiling our Mission. We are weak, sinful and spiritually powerless. So we depend on God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit work together. So we can love God because the Son, Jesus Christ, redeems us through the cross and resurrection and rules from heaven. We can make disciples because the Holy Spirit equips us and empowers us. And we can love our neighbour because the Father who made us first loved us and provides for the world and the church he loves.
Where then is world mission in this mission statement triangle of ours? World mission is in fact right in the heart of the triangle. Everything we do is world mission. We are on mission with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to the world. World mission is what we're here for.
As far as our individual Godly living is concerned, every one of us is a missionary. We may be neither faithful nor effective, but we can't escape our calling as followers of Jesus to be missionaries to the world he loves. As for growing the church, the local church is the primary agent of world mission. To be sure we work in partnership with mission agencies. But we can't abdicate our responsibility and leave it to them. We have to be directly involved ourselves. And as far as changing our nation is concerned, we need constantly to remember that world mission doesn't just happen overseas. World mission is local, regional, national and global. Contending for truth and caring for needs in our nation is part of our world mission.
As a church we have a good deal of work to do to catch up with what God is doing around the world. We have a part to play. You have a part to play. So, to come back to where I started, please, please, think and pray hard about being a missionary. Ask God to show you what his will is for your life. You will never be able to say that you haven't heard that challenge. The Great Commission and the Great Commandments are for every disciple. And they're not optional, like having pepper on your pizza. They are at the core of our following of Jesus. They are words from Jesus directly in our ears. And we obey them hand in hand with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says he is with us always, to the end of the age.
That's challenging – because there's no let up. We must constantly push on with the task. It's not going to be easy. Taking up our cross comes before resurrection. Suffering comes before glory. So the presence of Jesus at our shoulder is a challenge. But it's also profoundly empowering and comforting. When we're in the thick of that tricky conversation, we're not alone. When we're out of our comfort zone running an evangelistic event, we're not alone. When we're leading a small group Bible study with those who are not yet believers, we're not alone. When we're struggling with our witness to our children, desperate for them to learn from us what it means to follow Jesus, we're not alone.
We have to do the talking, but we're never required to change anyone's heart and mind. We can't. That's the job of the Holy Spirit. And as we're talking, that's what he's working at. We're not alone. And we never will be. Jesus is and always will be with us. That's a promise.
What's this all going to mean for us in our day to day lives? Here's a number of approaches that we can build into our lives. If we do these things, we'll be Great Commission and Great Commandment disciples. We'll be playing our part in spreading the good news of our Lord and Saviour Jesus to the ends of the earth and to all peoples. Here they are.
One. Commit yourself to being a learner. We can only pass on what we have learned and are learning ourselves. Learn to understand your faith. Learn to obey everything Jesus has commanded you. Drip feed the Bible into your mental and spiritual blood stream and let it fuel the way you live your life. Commit yourself to being a disciple – a learner.
Two. Let it be known that you're a Christian – a disciple of Christ – in all of the different social networks of which you are a part – at work, at school, at university or college, in your sports teams, among your friends and extended family, among those you meet during leisure activities. If you're not coy about your involvement in church, that will happen naturally and quickly enough. Then the fact is that because you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, your life is different. And that gets noticed. And the power of the witness of your different life must not be underestimated, once people know the root of it – that you have spent time with Jesus.
Then as issues come up in conversation – whether or not they're explicitly related to faith – be ready to respond as a Christian. That's three. Be ready to respond as a Christian. Let your convictions show when they're relevant, naturally and without forcing it. And be ready to answer the direct questions about faith that do sometimes crop up, sometimes unexpectedly and from unexpected people. When they ask, tell people why you are the way you are and why you behave the way you do. Be ready to do that, so you're not taken by surprise and miss the opportunity. And when we do miss the opportunity, as we will, then we should just say sorry to God, confident of his grace and forgiveness, and wait for the next one.
Then four. Use the resources of the church and invite people to hear the gospel – whether that's to normal church (so to speak), or an invitation event, or a small group format like Christianity Explored. Pick an event that's suitable for the person concerned, and go for it. Invite them. And leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
Five. Be ready to be a missionary anywhere. That might well be right where God has put you. Certainly that's where you are to be a missionary at least for now. It might be the other side of the world. But make yourself available to God to go wherever he sends you. How else is the gospel going to reach all nations? And remember that if you're a disciple, then you're a missionary – wherever you find yourself, and whatever your day job. It goes with the territory. We're all called to the task of making disciples of all nations.
Finally, six. Be ready to consider full-time 'harvesting' work. Jesus said (this is Matthew 9.37-38):
"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Maybe God's plan is that you should be one of the full-time workers. It's not for everyone. But be ready to think long and hard about whether it's for you. If you think it might be, then start talking about it to those you trust, to get advice. Whether or not we're called to that kind of full-time ministry, we're all missionaries. We're all called to play our part in making disciples of all nations. That is our mission from God. It's a daunting task. But we go in the name of Jesus who is Lord of all. And wherever we go, he is there with us.
Lord Jesus, please teach us to obey all that you have commanded us. And help us to teach others – to the ends of the earth, and to the end of the age. For the spread of your Kingdom and the glory of your name. Amen.