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This is the first sermon in a series related to our month of prayer and fasting for missions.

Are you ready?

That’s our theme for this month of prayer and fasting. 

 Today, quite simply, are you ready to reach?

If you have to reach for something,

you have to put yourself off balance;

you have to extend your arm,

you have to stretch

and reaching out to others for God

is almost always a bit like that;

it’s not something you can do

with your arms wrapped protectively around yourself.

And so we are faced with this question

are you ready to reach?

What does it mean to be ready?

I can tell you what it doesn’t mean;

it doesn’t mean being completely prepared.

If I had waited until I was perfectly equipped for this job

I’d never have started.

God really believes in on-the-job training.

and in on-the-job supply.

Remember how Jesus sent his disciples out,

sheep among wolves as they were?

What equipment did they take with them?

Their job description was pretty scary; Jesus told them to:

7 ... go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

You received without payment; give without payment. “

And what did Jesus give them so that they were ready?

He said, “9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts,

10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff;” [1]

So what did they have?

They had their time with Jesus.

They had His Spirit with them,

and they had their faith in His Father. 

Superheros like Batman

and secret agents like James Bond

always seem to go on their missions

loaded down with devices and weapons and gadgets and tools

and things of all sorts.

Being ready in the Kingdom of God does not mean being laden down with many possessions;

in fact, it means being as free from possessions as possible.

and for those of us who’ve grown up surrounded by wealth

 this particular teaching is the one we find hardest to accept. 

But it is one of the most basic.

Liz read us a letter from Cindy

 that outlined a few of the things that they’ve left behind to follow Jesus

into one of the darker places on earth.

She and her family have given up so much to do that. 

They have many losses, but no regrets.

And the same story is found in the scriptures.

We might look at C and R

or any of our other current Kiwi missionaries

and wonder if their sacrifices are worth it,

but in the scriptures we have missionary stories that have come to an end

and we can say of them that the sacrifices they made

were worth it. 

Our scripture reading today, Acts 16.6-15,

shows us Paul and the other missionaries with him

being frustrated in their attempts to preach the gospel.

They try to go south into the Roman province of Asia

and they’re blocked.

They try to go north, to Bithynia, and they can’t. 

They can go back

or they can go west.

They go west, come to Troas, and there Paul has a vision.

A Macedonian man is pleading with him

saying, “Come over here and help us.”

So they go!

In order to reach out, Paul leaves behind his plans and expectations.

Are we ready to leave behind, not just our friends, homes, and country,

not just our material possessions,

but even our expectations about what is waiting for us

and where we are meant to go?

Paul was willing to be frustrated in all his plans

so that he could serve where God called him.

He went to Macedonia

to the city of Philippi,

and there

he completely failed to find the Macedonian man

who had begged him to come.

He didn’t even find a synagogue to preach in, like he usually did.

Instead, he found a group of woman on the banks of the river.

A businesswoman from another part of the world, Lydia,

who became the first convert in Philippi,

and a patron of Paul’s during his stay there.

Paul put aside Jewish ways of doing things

the rules that prevented Jewish Rabbis from talking to women in public,

the rules that declared women unfit to learn the scriptures;

he put aside his own dignity,

and accepted what God gave him in and through Lydia.

In years to come,

Paul would rejoice in the partnership he enjoyed with the church of Philippi. 

the church that began on a river bank

in a conversation with some gentile women. 

How open are we to God’s provision for us?

How prepared are we to put aside all that we have

to reach out on God’s behalf. 

There was a man who fell down a cliff,

and stops his fall by grabbing hold of a tree root,

so that he’s hanging suspended above a terrible drop to jagged rocks

and he calls out, “Help! Help!  Is there anybody there!?”

A voice from above comes back, “I am here.”

“Who are you?  Where are You?  Can you help me?!”

“| am God,” came the reply.  I am everywhere.  I can do anything.”

“Help me!  Get me out of here!”

“Certainly, but you must trust me.”

“Whatever!  Just tell me what to do!”

“First.” says God, “Let go of that root.”

There’s a pause as the man takes this in, and then he calls out,

“Is there anybody else there?!”

Unless we are prepared to let go of our security

and trust ourselves to God

we aren’t going to be able to reach out.

Reaching out is not a balanced thing to do – it puts you off balance.

It’s a stretch.

It costs.

Are we ready to reach out to others for God’s sake?
God has reached out to us in Jesus.   (communion)

[1]Matt 10, NRSV, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.