I’d like to begin this morning by telling you one of my favourite true stories. It’s a bit longer than my normal sermon illustrations, so please bear with me. Are you sitting comfortably?
Mary’s mother carefully placed the apple pie in the oven. She wiped her floury hands. ‘That’s all the baking done, Mary. Now let’s clear away.’ Mary Brailsford, who was 18, gathered up the remains of the apples she had prepared. Among the curls of apple peel were some dark brown pips. ‘I wonder,’ she said, ‘whether these will grow.’ Outside, in the cottage garden, Mary found a small pot, filled it with earth and planted the pips. She stood the pot on the kitchen windowsill. Later that spring, Mary was pleased to find a small, two-leaved seedling in her pot. One of the apple pips she had sown had grown! As it grew larger, she found it a bigger pot and, many baking days later, planted it in a sunny corner of the garden. Eventually, she married and left the cottage where she had grown up. She had forgotten about the apple pip until, one day, her mother visited and brought her an apple pie. ‘I hope you enjoy it, Mary. I’ve made it with some of the apples that have grown on your tree!’
Years later, Mr Bramley came to live at the cottage where the apple tree still grew. By now, Mary’s tree was producing so many apples that many were given away to friends and neighbours. One day, they caught the attention of a man called Mr Merryweather. His family grew the fruit trees that were planted in orchards and gardens. ‘These are very fine apples,’ he remarked. ‘I’ve never seen this kind before. Could I take some cuttings to see if we can grow some more?’ ‘Of course,’ replied Mr Bramley, ‘but please will you call the apples Bramley, after me?’ The shoots grew! Soon, more and more trees were producing the large cooking apples that became known as ‘Bramley’s Seedling’. They were the very best cooking apples. News of their quality spread and Bramley apples were the ones that people wanted to put in their pies. Mr Merryweather sold hundreds of Bramley apple trees. Soon they could be found in orchards and cottage gardens all over Britain. The name Bramley was famous! Mr Merryweather, however, wanted to make sure that someone else was not forgotten, so he also told the story of how Mary first planted her apple pip. ‘Isn’t it amazing,’ he said, ‘that so many people can enjoy these wonderful apples that have all grown from one small pip!’
The apple tree that Mary grew still stands in the garden of the cottage that was her home. It’s now very old, but still bears fruit.
Inspiring isn’t it. One, ordinary young lady, doing an ordinary thing, having such far reaching, extraordinary results.
There are lots of stories around the world like it, but each one a bit different. There’s the story of Sarah, who was making an apple pie with her Dad one day. When they finished there were the peelings and the cores left over, with the little brown pips. Sarah asked her Dad if she could plant them, which she did, and she was delighted when it sprouted, with two little green leaves coming up. She looked after it, potted in on, planted it out. It grew into a tree that fruited year after year, providing the family with apples each year.
Then there’s the story of Andrew, who made an apple pie with his Gran one day. When they were finished the peelings and the pips were sat on the side, and he asked if he could plant them out. He did, and he was delighted when he saw them sprout. He potted on and planted out. Then the family moved to a town on the other side of the country. He never did eat an apple from that tree. Perhaps he drove past one day, when he was visiting the area with his kids, and pointed out the apple tree he’d planted all those years ago, but maybe he didn’t. Maybe he never knew what became of it.
And then, of course, there is Ann, who planted her seeds, having made her pie, and nothing happened. No shoots, no plant, no more apples.
There are almost many stories as there are apple trees and youngsters making pie.
Over the last month or so we’ve been thinking about mission in our sermon series and in our small group. We’ve been examining our assumptions and beliefs about mission, and what it means for us, as a church and as individuals in Wellington in 2019. Mission is one of the ways that we work out one of our values as a church. We value loving our neighbours, and having a good handle on how to reach out to our neighbours with God’s missional love is a practical expression of that value.
This morning we’re thinking about the myth that mission is for extraordinary people. We’re not just thinking about it, we’re going to bust it. Perhaps a helpful place to start with this might be to think about why we think that mission is for extraordinary people. It seems to me that there are two reasons for this. One is that we have a distorted view of mission. The second is that we have a distorted view of what kind of person does mission.
In Scripture we read about Jesus’ preaching, and the crowds that he attracted. We read about the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 being added to the number of those who were being saved. We read about Paul and his adventures and churches he planted. When we read about historical missions, we hear of whole nations being turned to Christ by missionary bishops and monks. In modern times we read about people like Jackie Pullinger, going to the walled city of Hong Kong and working with drug addicts. In the history of Wellington we read about the revival of the 1860’s, when hundreds of people in this town came to faith, and a new meeting house was built, which had to be extended to seat 1,000 people, to cope with the demand for services.
Please don’t misunderstand me. These are all great things, for which I thank God, but they are the equivalent of the Bramley apples story of mission. These are the extraordinary fruit, that God gave in grace, to ordinary people planting ordinary seeds. In the Wellington example, the revival followed about 2 years of 10 or 12 folk, meeting to pray for the town and its people. Persevering, even when nothing appeared to be happening.
What I think that we need to understand is that our responsibility in mission is not about the fruit – it’s about the planting, which is a completely ordinary thing that any ordinary person can do. Of course, when the fruit comes, we also have to be faithful in harvesting, but that is also an ordinary thing that ordinary people can do.
It’s about the faithful, persevering, consistent, living out of Kingdom values. It’s about being examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s about being quick to acknowledge our own sins and to forgive the sins of others. It’s about being ready to share the reason for the hope we have in us, being able to answer the question, “Why are you a Christian”, or, “Why do you go to church”. It’s about looking for opportunities to invite others to meet Jesus. It’s about praying for other people, that they will come to believe and to God’s love. Some of these things are difficult, some of them are easier, but the decision to do them is within reach of every one of us, every ordinary one of us.
Mission is an ordinary, normal, common place expression of the average Christian life. Sometimes the results are extraordinary, but often they are not, and that’s OK.
The second misconception that I think we can have is about the kind of person who does mission. Again, we read the Bible, and Christian biographies, and are over awed by them. Encouraged perhaps, but also over awed. These prayer warriors, walking so closely with God, holier than we could ever be. Completely sorted. If we’re not careful we fall into the trap of thinking that we need to get ourselves sorted before we can reach out to others.
In our two Bible readings today we heard about the calls of Levi and of Zacchaeus. They were very much not sorted. They were both tax collectors, collaborators with the occupying Romans, despised by their communities, probably ripping people off. They weren’t sorted, but Jesus calls them to him, and takes them both straight into mission. Levi as one of his closest disciples and Zacchaeus into generosity and restitution to his community.
And what was the first thing that Jesus did with both of them? He went to their houses to share a meal. A completely ordinary thing. A couple of weeks ago I spoke about the necessity in mission of being willing to receive the hospitality of others, and here we see Jesus putting that into practice. What if mission is as ordinary as going to share a meal with someone?
This is the last sermon in this series. So, perhaps it’s time to take stock. Over the last few weeks we’ve busted the myths that Mission means we have to save the world, that mission is primarily a western thing, that mission is about doing things for people in need and that mission is for extraordinary people.
We have learnt, or been reminded, that mission is multi-directional, from everywhere to everywhere, that mission is largely about being with people and that God wants all Christians to be set free to join him in mission.So now it’s down to us to put our learning into practice, to plant those seeds, tend those seedlings, to pick that fruit, and to pray to the Lord of the harvest for a rich harvest. I wonder how you are going to do that this week.