John 4:1-24 & Luke 14:25-42

Preparing for Mission

This week is our second week thinking about mission and sharing the good news of Jesus in different ways, all building up to the Start to Stir day on the 8th of July. Last week we thought about motivation for mission – if you missed it, do look it out on our Facebook and Youtube channels. This week we’re thinking about being prepared for mission. So let’s look at this account of Jesus and his friends and followers on mission and see what we can learn from it.

The first thing I’d like us to notice that Jesus was travelling around. He wasn’t sitting in Jerusalem, or Galilee, waiting for people to come to him. As we read through the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, we find him travelling around quite a lot. Even when people do gather around him, he talks to them and then goes off somewhere else to find a new crowd. As he travels, he is ready to engage with the people that he meets, he’s on the look out for opportunities. He doesn’t force it, but he is attentive and open to talking with people, even unexpected people.

And the woman at the well is very unexpected. She’s a woman, who in the culture of the time a man on his own shouldn’t have spoken to. She’s a Samaritan, someone that a Jewish person wouldn’t normally speak to. She’s out at mid day, an unusual time for someone to be out getting water from the well.
I’m not going to go into all the reasons behind these unexpected factors, or the details of the conversation – those are things for you to research – for our purposes this morning the important thing is that by all human standards this is a surprising and unexpected conversation. This is seen in the woman’s surprise “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria.” and in the surprise of the disciples, “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.”

The only one who doesn’t seem at all surprised was Jesus. He was always prepared, always ready, to talk with anyone, whoever they were, where ever they were, at whatever time he came across them.

For some of us this comes very naturally. Some of us will talk to anyone. Some of us are more reticent, more reserved. I’m not saying that we should all become something that we’re not – striking up random conversations on the train or in the bus queue. But, I do think that we can all be attentive to those around us, and prepared to be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit prompting us to talk to people we meet, even if it might be unexpected.

And, to loop back a bit, we can’t be waiting for people to come to us. As a church, we can’t just sit here on a Sunday waiting for people to come in, we are sent out. That’s what we say as part of our purpose – we are sent to be closer to others. In our day to day conversations with family, at work, at college, we can’t just wait for others to start conversations about spiritual things. At times it will be up to us to start those conversations. This is one of the practices that Start to Stir can help us with. It will give us practical suggestions for how we can initiate conversations that stir up people’s curiosity about Jesus.

The next thing I’d like to draw our attention to is that Jesus started by asking for something. He asked for a drink. He began by sharing his vulnerability. He was thirsty, he needed a drink, he asked for water. He didn’t start with the speech about living water.
We see a similar pattern in the second half of the conversation. Again Jesus asks something, “Go and call your husband.”

As we are preparing for mission, as we think about what it means to be ready to share the good news of Jesus, it seems to me that it is important to remember these things. We are most likely to have fruitful conversations if we go in with questions and being willing to show our vulnerabilities. Yes, we are confident in the power of the good news, and the truth of Jesus, but we are not arrogant in that confidence. Jesus came with humility, and we are sent in humility, just as Jesus sent out the disciples on their mission trips with no extra shirt or cash, dependent on the hospitality of those they were sent to.

As we read on in the passage we find the disciples coming back from town (sometimes the thing we need to be prepared to do is get out of the way), and Jesus talking to them about the ongoing work of sharing the good news and calling people to the joy of eternal life. He’s in farming country, so he uses the picture of harvest, and talks about those who reap and those who sow.

We continue to find this at work. The research on how adults come to faith suggests that it often takes years, and multiple conversations with different people, before someone becomes a Christian. There’s an awful lot of sowing that goes on along the way before any reaping.

It seems to me that this has two implications.

The first is that we should be prepared to sow often and over an extended period of time before we expect to see any fruit. We might never see the fruit. To switch metaphors, we might just be one of the stepping stones on a long path. That’s ok. Let’s do our bit and trust God with the rest.

The second implication is this, that sometimes there will be reaping to do. We can choose to do things now to be ready for this. If somebody told us this week that they wanted to become a Christian, would we be prepared, would we know what to do? And just in case you’re wondering the answer is not, “ring the vicar.”

Depending on how well you know them, and what you know of their journey, you might have a conversation with them about what it means to be Christian. To turn away from the things we do and think wrongly, for the way in which we fall short of God’s way. To commit to follow Jesus, to obey him as Lord, and to receive his forgiveness. You would probably want to pray with them, perhaps leading them in a simple prayer of repentance and asking Jesus to forgive them. You’d encourage them to join in a Christian community, and help them find one. You might also ring the vicar.
The final thing to notice is that the woman told everyone what Jesus had done for her, and pointed them to Jesus.

I wonder what it would look like for us to be prepared to tell other people what Jesus has done for us. In his book, Storybearers, Phil Knox explores the power of our stories, and what God has done in them. He suggests that one of the things we can do is to take time to think about our stories – maybe write them down, share them with each other. The woman at the well didn’t do any of this, she was so overtaken with excitement that she ran into town and just told people, but it doesn’t always work that way. Usually it’s much more down to earth and day to day.
Phil suggests some questions that might help us to think through our stories, and to prepare to tell them:

When were the times you knew God was real?
What would your life be like without Jesus in it?
How does your faith give you a way of understanding the world?
When have you known God to be close?

These don’t have to be earth shattering stories. There are amazing and dramatic testimonies out there, and I am grateful for them, but they aren’t most people’s lived experience.
Most people live lives that look quite a lot like ours, and so they are, it seems to me, more likely to identify with our normal, everyday, stories of God at work in our lives.

The Samaritan woman had quite a dramatic story, and she didn’t have to think about what words she might use, she just said, “come and see the man who told me everything I ever did” (which was a bit of an exaggeration). But we might get a bit stuck for words, what kind of things should I say. Phil Knox is helpful here again, he provides some suggestions of words that we might want to include, that are likely to connect with people.

Partly prompted by this, one of the things Liz and I did while we were away was to take some time, look back over our lives, and write down the ways in which we had seen God working over the years, in the joys and in the difficult times. You might find it helpful to do something similar, and share what you’ve remembered with a friend or in your small group.

As we go out into this week, let’s reflect on how prepared we are for mission, how ready we are to share the good news of Jesus. Not to wallow in guilt, but so that we can take the opportunity to be more prepared, to be better ready, so that we can make the most of the opportunities that do come our way. Let’s be prepared to go out and be open to unexpected conversations, some of which we might prompt. Let’s be prepared to be open about our vulnerabilities and to ask questions. Let’s be prepared to tell our stories clearly and with humility. Let’s be prepared to sow in sowing season and to reap in reaping season. I believe that as we do this, so we will have the immense privilege and joy of seeing people coming to faith in Jesus, and living in the fullness of life that he promises.

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