Our title tonight is The Conclusion of the Mission and I thought to myself: What does one usually do at the conclusion of a mission? … Well, you would review the mission: how did it go, what did we do, what were the highlights, what were the low points, what did we do that is worth repeating, what can we build on, what could we have done better, how will all this affect our next journey? I’m really describing what is today called best practice. A best practice is amethod or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. It can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered. Best practice is considered by some as a business buzzword at the moment, but I believe, with many modern church growth specialists, that the church, particularly when we go from maintenance mode into mission mode, needs to learn from others in similar situations and discover best practice. This is particularly true as we plan mission into Hellesdon and Norwich in the post-Christian postmodern age we live in. So, I believe Paul would have reviewed the mission endeavour which had ended up taking nearly 3 years, from 49 to 52.
So … we are going to review the journey and lift some points that might be relevant to us as we plan to mission Hellesdon and Norwich, remembering, as I’ve said a few times in my short time here so far, that the church exists for mission and our mission is the mission of God. Mission is to the church what flames are to the fire. Paul was on fire for the mission of God in the world.
The second journey began on a rather unfortunate circumstance: "Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left." (Acts 15:37-40)
The reason for the quarrel was that during Paul's First Missionary Journey, the young Mark had left Paul and Barnabas and returned home early in the journey. They parted ways over this and, to the best of our knowledge, never to meet again. Barnabas took John Mark with him and they sailed to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas with him, and they started north over land.
Some would say: “That’s not very Christian” and they’d be absolutely right. Unfortunately, the church is and always has been, filled with and led by: sinners! Saved sinners … allelulia! … but sinners none the less! And that of course puts us on equal ground with those we take the gospel to … we identify with them as sinners, no better than them, no worse than the worst of them, save by the grace of God. Although Paul and Barnabas apparently never again traveled together, there seems to have been a reconciliation, perhaps just brought about by distance, because Paul later spoke highly of Barnabas. Paul also made up with Mark, who later was with him during Paul's imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11).
A church on God’s mission will sometimes find people at loggerheads with one another … we don’t encourage that, but we don’t let that put us off either.
So, the second journey began on a rather unfortunate circumstance, but begin nonetheless it did.
1. Paul and Silas leave Syrian Antioch. They travel through Syria and into Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41).
2. They worked in Derbe and Lystra, where Timothy was recruited to join them. They travel on to Iconium. In these cities they have success in strengthening the disciples and making new converts (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy of course goes on to become a great pastor in the early church … and I’ll lift 2 lessons from his story:
1st that a church on mission will uncover diamonds in the dirt. Among the people waiting to be converted in Hellesdon there are some future heroes of MWC;
2nd point about Timothy is that the Christian Paul circumcised the Christian, half Jewish Timothy. Now, relax gentlemen, we don’t lift from that that I am going to circumcise you or the many new converts we will win for Christ in Hellesdon; but we do learn that cultural sensitivity is paramount in mission. People are not called to leave their culture behind when they are born again.
3. They pass through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit would not let them go to Asia. In Mysia the Spirit changed their plans again and sent them to Troas (Acts 16:6-8). How sensitive are we, are you, to the movement of the Holy Spirit? There can be no mission into Hellesdon if there is no searching for and responding to, the move of the Spirit in our midst. Our LORD Himself warns (yes, warns) that the Spirit is like the wind: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8). Paul had to learn to go where he did not want to go … the church in mission has to learn the same. Think of the area where God has placed us as MWC: Hellesdon and our immediate neighbours, Mile Cross, Upper Hellesdon, Old Catton, Sprowston, Catton Grove … as I’ve said those names, if there are any where we find ourselves saying: We don’t want to go there as Paul did… well, God might surprise us. BUT: if there is no sensitivity and openness and willingness to let the Spirit blow (and that must begin here in the fellowship) … there will no mission of God. You see, then it becomes our mission, and we really don’t want to be on our mission.
4. They were now far out of the territory covered by the first journey. But they were to be called further yet. Paul received a vision calling him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9-12). How open are we to visions and dreams as God’s way of speaking to us … or do we believe that the God who doesn’t change has actually changed and doesn’t speak and guide His church in this way anymore?
5. In Philippi they convert Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). The first Christian in Europe … a woman … and the significance of that, joining the primacy of women in the preaching and spread of the gospel: the women who financially supported Jesus in His ministry, the first preacher to the Samaritans, the woman at the well who evangelised her whole village, the first preacher of the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene who proclaims He is Risen to the disciples, but they only believe when Peter later says he has seen the Risen Christ, all these best kept little secrets of the gospel, Lydia joins them and establishes the first house church in Europe; and then as we saw last week the amazing Priscilla.
6. They cure a slave girl of her evil spirit and are thrown into prison (Acts 16:16-24). In mission we will come across evil spirits, but the good news, the gospel, is that if we tell them to flee, they will flee. If we don’t tell them to flee … well, they won’t flee … and that can be very dangerous. And they find themselves in prison … opposition follows the gospel like bees to a flower.
7. Their jailer is converted (Acts 16:25-34) and of course, immediately baptised. Have you been baptised? The church in mission is a baptising church.
8. They are released from prison with some embarrassment to the authorities when they demand to be treated according to the law of the land (Acts 16:35-40). In as much as it is not an ass, we use the law of the land for the furtherance of the gospel. Unless the state obstructs the path of the gospel, we obey and use the law of the land when it is useful.
9. Next they go to Thessalonica, preach in the synagogue and make converts. But some Jews make trouble (Acts 17:1-9). Once again, our preaching, if it is gospel preaching, will get us into trouble, particularly in the post Christian society that Western Europe now is. Gospel preaching will always rattle cages and ruffle feathers. Someone far wiser than me has said: “Gospel preaching must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
10. Paul and Silas are sent by night to Berea. Working in Berea, they find ready minds to receive the gospel. But the trouble makers arrive and Paul is taken to Athens to avoid them (Acts 17:10-15).
11. Paul's sermon in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and the reminder that Paul did not only have one way of presenting the gospel … he embraces and uses the culture, completely opposite to his own, and makes a case for Jesus. We don’t want the people of Hellesdon and our immediate neighbours, Mile Cross, Upper Hellesdon, Old Catton, Sprowston, Catton Grove … to become like us. Heaven forbid! No … we want them to become like Jesus and to join us on our faltering and unfinished journey towards Christlikeness. And to do that, if we have to use the idols unique to those places, so be it. We don’t want to tear them down … Paul didn’t … we want the Spirit of God to show us how to use them for the furtherance of the gospel.
12. After Athens Paul went to work in Corinth, where he met Pricilla and Aquila. In Corinth, Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul (Acts 18:1-5). Here you might remember, when Paul wanted to wash his hands of them, the LORD said: I have many people in this city. MWC, I have many people in Hellesdon, Mile Cross, Upper Hellesdon, Old Catton, Sprowston, Catton Grove.
13. In Corinth, some Jews make serious trouble again (Acts 18:6-17) … it all gets a bit repetitive, doesn’t it? But here’s the point: Paul never gives up.
14. Paul sets sail to go back to Syria. From Corinth Paul went to Ephesus via Cenchrea where he cuts his hair off because of a vow he had taken. This is a strange Jewish cultural practice which one would think Paul would not feel bound to, but it reminds us again of the necessity for cultural sensitivity when reaching out to others. Paul, Christian and radically born again, remained a Jew. He stayed at Ephesus only a short time on that occasion (Acts 18:18-21). Now, that’s interesting, because he was in no hurry and Ephesus was a huge and important city. On his next missionary journey, Paul will stay there for 3 years. Why didn’t he spend time there now? In our reading this evening: They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. WHY? Here’s a Jewish synagogue that actually wants him to stay. Why not seize the opportunity? Here’s the answer: 21 But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus. He sensed, because he was sensitive to the Spirit, that it was not God’s will at that stage. We can only surmise that if he had stayed, he wouldn’t have had the effect that his ministry would have when it was God’s will a few years later. Sensitivity to the Spirit is key to our work in God’s mission field, which for us is: in Hellesdon, Mile Cross, Upper Hellesdon, Old Catton, Sprowston, Catton Grove ... and of course wider to the suburbs and villages I haven’t mentioned where many of you live … please don’t hold it against me.
15. He took a ship to Caesarea, visiting the church there, going to Jerusalem briefly, then back to Syrian Antioch where his journey had begun (Acts 18:22).
And then, perhaps reviewing the trip and establishing some best practice for the next. What would that best practice be for us:
We must take the gospel to the people around us;
We can expect some conflict to arise amongst us as we do this;
The future leaders of MWC are out there now, waiting to be saved;
The Spirit is already blowing, we must set our sails to catch the breeze, but for that we must be sensitive to the breeze; sensitive to dreams; sensitive to visions; open always to move of the Spirit;
We must value the ministry of women, as Jesus and Paul did;
We must be aware and prepared for spiritual warfare;
We must baptise;
We must be culturally sensitive in our multi-cultural society, as Jesus and Paul were;
We must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
We must never forget: “I have many people in this city.”