It’s lovely to be with you this morning. As some of you know, I am a Pioneer Minister in Priorslee. Usually when I visit places I ask people to talk to me what that’s all about over coffee afterwards, but this morning the Bible readings are so suited to talking about mission and Pioneer ministry that I thought I’d do something a bit different. What I hope to do is to draw out some insights about God and the Christian life from the Bible readings, talk a little bit about how those insights have worked out in our ministry in Priorslee, and also pose a few questions about what they might mean for your lives.
So, the first insight from these readings. God is a God who sends. In the gospel reading we heard Jesus sending his disciples to the villages with authority to free people from the power of evil, and with a message of good news. Elsewhere we read that Jesus came to earth because God sent him to live among us, to die for us, and to rise to life with us. We know that Paul, the writer of the letter from which our second reading came, was sent by God into many different places to bring good news to all kinds of different people.
God is a God who sends. The story of our sending to Priorslee is a long one. One part of it is the Church of England in the wider area feeling that the most effective way of reaching the people living in the newer housing estates in Priorslee was to have somebody living there, focussed on nurturing the growth of a fresh expression of church in the area, exploring ways of following Jesus that are faithfully Christian and which are accessible to the people of Priorslee.
Another part of the story is the call on me to ordained ministry, being sent to a curacy in Stoke on Trent where I was blessed with opportunities to practice, to get things wrong, to see changes in peoples lives, and to develop a desire to do this kind of work. Another part is the way in which those two processes came together- the end of my curacy and this job being available at the same time, and the process of interview, prayer, and listening that went into the appointment being made.
As a family we feel very strongly that we have been sent to Priorslee. Not as the outside experts with all the answers, but in humility, looking to share the good news of Jesus life giving power in ways that people can understand and respond to. This feeling of being sent is sometimes a bit scary, with Moses and others we often feel inadequate, but it is also encouraging. God knows us better than we know ourselves and God has sent us and God’s grace is sufficient for us, power is made perfect in weakness. We can rest on that.
I wonder how you feel about the places that you live or work. Do you believe that God has sent you there? Do you feel like you know what God has sent you to be or to do in that place?
The second insight I want to explore is about living and working together. It seems to me that in general the emphasis in the Bible is for God’s people to live and work together for God. This is seen in Jesus gathering a group of disciples, in him sending them out in pairs for mission trips, in the little groups of people that went with Paul on his missionary journeys.
There are counter examples, for instance some of the Old Testament prophets are sent on their own, but even here I would suggest that the message that they were given was to pronounce God’s judgement on God’s people for failing to live faithfully as a worshipping community that honours God in its love, care, and justice for all its members.
In the work in Priorslee this insight has led us to make the formation of a Pioneer Team a high priority. We are looking for about eight adults to commit to live in Priorslee and work with us in reaching out to the people who live and work there. So far we have one other family, who already live in Priorslee and worship at All Saints, who have joined this team. There is another family who are hoping to move from Manchester to join us. We continue to pray for a couple more folk. Talking of prayer, this insight has also led us to seek prayer support both locally and far and wide. If you would be willing to be part of this support network and receive our monthly prayer letter then please do let me know.
As for those of us here this morning, I wonder whether there is anybody here who feels isolated or lonely in their walk with God. I wonder if there are people who would be willing to draw alongside those people, and whether they would welcome the company.
The third insight is that in some places the message we have will not be warmly received. As the first part of the reading from Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and work makes clear, there were places where the impact that Jesus himself had was reduced by the response of the people who lived there. It says, “he could do no deeds of power there”. In the second half of that reading we hear Jesus preparing his followers for the mission trip that he is sending them on. He tells them how to behave, and what to say. He also tells them what to do if people will not listen – he tells them to leave that place and go somewhere else. Jesus is quite clearly expecting there to be people who will not listen to or welcome his followers.
In the last verse of the reading that we had from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, we hear something that hints at how this kind of experience has worked out in practice. Paul has faced insults, hardships, and persecutions. We know from the account of his missionary journeys in Acts that these were a result of negative reactions to the message of the good news of Jesus that he shared everywhere he went.
Now, I have to say that in Priorslee so far we have been made welcome, and we have not faced active opposition from people. But, we are realistic about the future. We know that it as we spend more time there, and as we share more about Jesus’ call on people’s lives, a call to turn away from one way of living and to live another way, a more loving way, that people are likely to be offended and react negatively.
We know that there is spiritual opposition to what we are doing. We sometimes feel like the area is quite passive, almost apathetic, a bit cynical maybe. Perhaps more like the situation that Jesus faced in his home town than the active persecution that Paul faced.
I wonder if you have experienced negative and painful reactions to your faith and your obedience in sharing it with others. It seems to me that whatever form the negative reactions we meet take we can all be sustained by the knowledge that those who have gone before have also faced these reactions, and be inspired by the courage and perseverance that they showed to endure and be faithful to what God has sent us to do.
Now, I know that there is more about mission and other things in these parts of the Bible that we have not explored this morning, and similarly there is more of the story of Pioneer Ministry in Priorslee that remains untold (ask me over coffee!), but I hope that as we’ve thought about the God who sends, working together, and being prepared for rejection, we have all been encouraged and strengthened for the works God has prepared for us to do.