Elaine Storkey reflects on the legacy of a faithful friend – as well as Jesus’ instructions to his followers – to share principles we can all live by
Study passage: Luke 10:1-9
A few months ago, I went to the funeral of an old friend. She had been widowed for over 20 years and faced death cheerfully, without regret or fear. An artist and designer, she had lived most of her life in a large village near the Norfolk coast and worshipped in a small mission hall. Her daughters decided to hold the funeral at the big Anglican church, because, as they explained: “quite a few people knew her”.
That was a massive understatement. Almost the entire village turned out and people came in their hundreds from great distances. The cavernous church building was packed and the singing swelled into powerful worship as the tributes poured out. It soon became evident why. Ann had engaged with so many people across the country. Wherever her work took her she encountered people from wide backgrounds and diverse interests. And she had impacted lives everywhere with the gospel. Quite simply, she had lived and died as an evangelist for Jesus.
Ann reminded me so much of the people Jesus sent out on mission in Luke 10. The picture we get there recalls itinerant land workers in traditional Middle Eastern society setting out to bring in the harvest. In our context today it feels unusual, even a bit dated. The current focus is to use tools of contemporary culture to do effective evangelism, such as YouTube, Facebook and TikTok. Yet these can still work alongside the principles for mission outlined by Jesus in Luke. I saw how that mission produced fruit in Ann’s life.
Sent out by Jesus
In Luke, those sent on mission were sent out from where Jesus was. They didn’t go on their own with their own plans but went simply because Jesus sent them. They were also told to partner with others, which avoided the possibility of being seduced by the limelight. They were not instructed to go in huge groups, which could have intimidated outsiders, but were sent in twos or threes. That way they could receive support and encouragement but also be accountable to each other. And just as Jesus’ own, closer group of followers included women and men together (see Luke 8:1-3), women would almost certainly have been in this larger group he sent out.
Jesus also told those who went to go in vulnerability. He said: “Look, I am sending you as lambs among wolves” (v3). We all know what happens to real lambs among wolves; they are torn to shreds, killed and eaten. Their only protection is to keep close to the shepherd. Mission requires those sent to stay close to God and be attentive in prayer. What’s more, they were to accept vulnerability. Jesus reinforced this when he told his disciples not to take a “purse or bag or sandals” (v4) or be diverted en route. Accepting vulnerability teaches Christians to rely on God for how we live and what we say. It doesn’t mean having all the answers, but being honest in our response to people’s questions and open in our relationships.
People need to know God is a God both of compassion and fairness
Jesus also urged his disciples to go and seek out the people of peace (v 5). When they entered a house or gathering, they were to bring the peace of God in with them. If people of peace were present, God’s peace would rest on them. So, who were these people of peace? In Luke’s passage, they were people who hadn’t yet heard the gospel, but were warm and hospitable, welcoming others out of generosity or kindness. Above all, they were people who didn’t mind being in the presence of those sent by Jesus, for their hearts were not closed against God.
Another key principle was that Jesus’ disciples were to receive from the people they witnessed to, accepting kind hospitality, and eating and drinking whatever was put before them. I remember my own experience of this when travelling with Tearfund in many poor areas of the world. Our hosts were always generous, despite poverty, but I was often offered meat of very doubtful provenance – I once suspected it was rat! My colleagues and I ate what we were given nonetheless. We didn’t die but were blessed by God through those we served.
What Jesus pointed to in Luke’s passage was the need to undertake integral mission. He told his followers to heal the sick, and share the kingdom of God. They were not simply to preach to people, but their message had to be integrated into the whole of life as work in God’s kingdom. For the people who hear the gospel are whole people with emotions, cares and needs. They have jobs, they sometimes get sick and struggle with relationships or injustice. They need to know God is a God both of compassion and fairness. Christian mission deals with every aspect of human life as it draws people to know and experience the love of God in Jesus.
I saw these principles in the witness of my friend. Ann was always on the lookout for partners in the gospel to affirm the message she brought and join in prayer for those they reached. She accepted vulnerability. She knew she was sometimes out of her depth with people but trusted that God would reach them through her witness. Ann had a great knack of seeking out people of peace, and they opened doors for her and made it easy for the message of Jesus to reach others. When I visited Norfolk and was invited to eat with new people, I would be amused to find Ann already there enjoying the graciousness of their hospitality, yet never afraid to witness to Jesus.
How can we be more effective witnesses today?
Jesus’ teaching on mission in Luke speaks to us now, whether our calling is to be a street pastor, an online evangelist, a mum at the school gate, a musician posting on social media or a politician seeking economic justice.
Sometimes we need to begin by recognising the season we are in. Some of us might be like those disciples, in a time of harvest, with people waiting to hear the message of Christ and ready to respond to the gospel. Unfortunately, most of us are not. Our mission season might be springtime, where the ground has been prepared by others, and our task is to sow the seed and pray God’s sun and rain will make it grow. Yet others of us might find we are in winter, where the going is tough and the ground is hard and cold. Our work there is to dig, trusting God in the darkness, and be constant in prayer for the light to break through.
Whatever the season, God’s mission requires us to partner with others and be accountable. We hear dreadful stories of those who are not. We need to be wise to our own limitations and accept our vulnerability. God also asks us not to put our trust in externals – money, status, power, influence – but in Jesus only. Some of us have to embrace the vulnerability of poverty, yet may find that God can release resources through the hearts of others.
We must be careful not to make ourselves vulnerable in an unwise way. One woman I knew began to do street evangelism on her own because she found people listened to her attentively as she offered them prayer. On one occasion a man standing by struck a bargain with her – to go to a club with him, where she could preach to his friends. It seemed a great opportunity so she took him up on it. When she realised that his real intention had been to get her drunk and out of control, she left swiftly – having recognised the importance of partnering with others.
Learning how to receive from those who are not believers deepens our friendship and interdependency
Seeking out real people of peace is just as relevant for mission today as it was when Jesus was speaking. Somewhere in your own circle of friends outside church will be people who readily engage with you and mean you well. Sometimes they even seek you out. Who are they? If you ask God to identify them, they can begin to enrich your life and ministry. When real people of peace open their networks to us, God blesses them and many others through our relationships.
Finally, accepting hospitality with gratitude, even from those we might not know, is a biblical principle still important today. The hospitality offered might be food, children’s clothes, collecting a prescription from the chemist or tech help. Learning how to receive from those who are not believers deepens our friendship and interdependency. And as we reveal more of ourselves and our needs, it becomes easier to share the trust we have in God’s love for us.
Even in today’s challenging post-truth culture, the calling for Christian women is still to listen, pray and embrace our own vulnerability as we pass on the truth of the gospel. Your mission might lead you to work with pregnant teenage girls, help in a soup kitchen, pray with people in debt or grieve with bereaved friends; whatever you do, when you know Jesus has sent you, the Holy Spirit will give you the love and power to see it through.