It’s an odd coincidence, but twice now I have preached on this wonderful account of Paul’s second missionary journey – the story of how the gospel first reached Europe – just after returning from Europe.

It is not my doing! In 2019 it was the lectionary reading for that Sunday and this time it was chosen by Baptist Mission Australia for this second Sunday in their Alongsiders theme.

Who are Alongsiders? According to Scott Pilgrim, Executive Director of Baptist Mission Australia, they are us! People who respond to the call of God on my life and your life to live in our communities as the hands and feet of Jesus. And they are Baptist Mission Australia intercultural workers who, model the incarnation – John 1, God moving into the neighborhood – by learning language, culture, and traditions, seeking to live lives that point others to the message of Jesus and building relationships with other people of peace.

Last Sunday we looked at Alongsiders being people of prayer because, first and secondly, prayer aligns our lives with the purposes of God and helps us pay attention to those purposes. Thirdly, prayer positions us to access the resources of heaven. Loving our neighbours, loving our world, is what God calls us to do – so God will resource us to do it! And finally, prayer reminds us of our absolute need for God. That we can’t do this alone! We need God’s help! “It’s me, it’s me, its me O Lord, standing in the needs of prayer.”

And this Sunday we are looking at Alongsiders being people of peace. It’s a different way of thinking, perhaps, from how we have thought – or been taught – about evangelism! But it’s a biblical one! It’s the pattern Jesus outlines in Luke 10, and Matthew 10, when he sends the disciples out on mission.

Firstly, we go as people of peace – people who live the love, the vulnerability, the peace of Jesus. “He is our peace,” Ephesians 2 says, [in his flesh he has bridged the estrangement between us and God, he has broken down the hostility between us and others] “so that he might create in himself one new humanity… thus making peace.”

Secondly, we share this peace with others. ‘Share’ is a great word, isn’t it. It implies respect. It implies mutuality. It implies a relationship. You don’t just force peace down people’s throats. You don’t throw peace at people and run! It is in genuine, caring, lasting relationships that peace is shared.

And finally, people of peace seek out other people of peace. Other people of peace who also become emissaries of Jesus, who also share peace with others, who seek out yet more people of peace and so on and so on and so on… Peace grows.

We live in a world that is cynical about Christians being people of peace – however – with good reason!

In my travels, after the boys left us, Grace and I set sail – not from Troas, but from Prague – and took a straight course to Edinburgh. (Flying Ryanair, so it felt like being on the open ocean!) And from there to Kirkwall, which is a leading town of Orkney and part of Scotland (or Norway depending on who you speak to). We had booked a tour of Orkney’s Neolithic sites, amazing Neolithic sites, but our first stop was the Orphir Round Church, the oldest surviving round church in Scotland. Built in the 1100s, Frank, our guide told us, by Haakon Paalsson, Earl of Orkney, as penance for having murdered his cousin and co-ruler Magnus Erlendsson. After which he travelled to the Holy Land to kill other people to encourage them to become Christians. “Religion!” Frank said, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

He is right. Terrible things have been done by people in the beautiful, wonderful, powerful name of Jesus. Terrible things are still done! But there are also Christians who seek to live lives governed by these principles of Jesus; to go in peace, to share peace, to seek out people of peace. And in that respect, I am intrigued by the story of Magnus Erlendsson.

Magnus and Haakon were cousins, as I said. Sons of twin brothers, Erlend and Paal who ruled Orkney jointly in the 11th century. Haakon stirred up trouble, however, and the king of Norway, Magnus Barefoot, decided to take over, taking Magnus and Haakon as hostages, and launching raids across the west coast of Scotland and into the Irish Sea.

According to the sagas, Magnus refused to participate in these raids. He had a reputation for piety and gentleness (which the Norwegians viewed as cowardice) and stayed on board during the great Battle of Menai Straits singing psalms. This wasn’t the done thing among Vikings so he fled to Scotland, but in 1105, returned to Orkney to rule jointly with Haakon.

This arrangement, however, broke down again and they met for battle, but a peace was declared, the terms of which they agreed to work out on the island of Egilsay at Easter, on the 16th April 1117. Each party was to bring only two ships, but Haakon, treacherously, arrived with eight. He captured Magnus and when his standard bearer, Ofeigr, refused to execute him, he made his cook Lifolf strike Magnus on the head with an axe. It is said that Magnus first prayed for the souls of his executioners.

When you go to Orkney you cannot escape the legacy of Magnus the person of peace. To bring this right to the present moment, the Eurovision Song Contest this morning, the 2018 Danish entry, ‘Higher Ground’ by Rasmussen is based on the story of Magnus Erlendsson.

It is as people of peace – God’s peace – that Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, set out on their journey. The writer of Acts is not very subtle about this, because, as the commentators tell us, the geographical detail in this passage (all the place names that are so hard to say!) indicate that “the heavy hand of the Spirit [is] directing Paul in no uncertain terms.” And just in case we – or Paul – misses it, he has a vision of a Macedonian man begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul, Silas and Timothy go as people of peace. They go on a mission that is clearly God’s not their own.

I am reminded of the story of St Columba who is said to have left Ireland, in the sixth century, in a rudderless boat so God could take him wherever he was meant to go. Finally, he arrived at St Columba’s Bay (the name came later!) on Iona and established an abbey there which became the dominant religious and political institution in that region for centuries, the springboard for the conversion of Scotland to Christianity.

And Christians continue to go as people of peace. One of them is Sally, a Baptist Mission Australia intercultural team member, who is living and working in Mozambique. I don’t know if she got there by praying her way from country to country. I’m sure she didn’t use a rudderless boat! But she is there – like Paul, like St Columba – because she has responded to God’s call to be a person of peace.

And, secondly, in Mozambique Sally is sharing peace. She needed a local language nurturer to help her learn the Yawo culture and language and she met Mama L, and now Mama L and Sally meet together and eat together, they travel through the villages together, and they sit in the dirt and tell Jesus stories together because Mama L, who has grown up in an Islamic community also loves hearing and telling Jesus stories. They also serve the other women in the local community together. This is what sharing God’s peace looks like.

Similarly, in our New Testament reading about Paul and his friends: on the Sabbath, in Phillipi, they don’t go to the synagogue, their usual practice, but outside the city gate beside the river where they supposed, the text says, there was a place of prayer. They were hoping, I think, to meet the man of Paul’s dreams! But instead, they meet a group of women! A group of women willing to hear the message of peace – the peace of Christ – the Jesus stories – that they have to share.

There is a wonderful story about St Columba as a person of peace sharing a message of peace that to me describes a very different model of evangelism to the one I was taught.

The story is that while Columba was travelling near the lake of the river Nesa (Loch Ness) the Holy Spirit told him that a Pictish chief, Emchath, thought to have lived on the site of Urquhart Castle, was dying. So Columba went to Emchath’s bedside and told him that God knew Emchath had, “preserved his natural goodness though all his life, even to extreme old age” and God desired that he would now, in death, find a place in God’s Hall. “On hearing the word of God preached by the saint, [the story continues, Emchath] believed and was baptized, and immediately after, full of joy, and safe from evil, and accompanied by the angels who came to meet him, passed to the Lord. His son Virolec also believed and was baptized with all his house.”

A lot of us struggle with the models of mission and evangelism and discipleship we’ve seen and been taught. Scott Pilgrim tells a story of meeting Bob, a retiree from Western Australia, who told Scott that the words ‘mission, evangelism and discipleship’, always deflated him. He felt weighed down by the things he hadn’t done or couldn’t do or didn’t want to! But then he went to a training session on relationship discipleship, about having his eyes open for people of peace in his world.

Now Bob plays golf and he got talking with Peter, another player at his club, and realised that Peter was going through a rough time. They kept talking and as the friendship grew, Bob felt comfortable sharing about his faith, and Peter… Peter wanted to know more! More than that! He wanted others at the club to hear about Bob’s faith. Peter has become that person of peace, opening doors so Bob could share the peace of God.

It’s transformed, Scott says, what the 19th hole means for Bob. Yes, it’s still a beer, but it’s also the opportunity to show he cares for his mates, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In our New Testament reading this is what Paul discovers as well. He finds a person – a person of peace – who is eager to hear the message of peace he is sharing – Lydia, a purple cloth dealer. But far more significantly, we’re told she was a worshipper of God! In other words, God was there long before Paul. God was there, in Lydia’s life, preparing Lydia to be a person of peace. Just as God was there, before St Columba, in Emchath’s life. And God was there, before Sally, in Mama L’s life. And God was there, before Bob, in Peter’s life.

We join God on God’s mission – to be people of peace, to share a message of peace, to seek out other people of peace…

But finally – let me just take you back to Orkney for a moment.

Magnus Erlendsson’s body was first buried where he died. According to the sagas, the rocky area around his grave miraculously became a green field. Later his mother moved his body to a church in Birsay and there were numerous reports of miraculous happenings and healings, and he was made a saint. St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, a cathedral of local red and yellow sandstone, was commenced in 1137, was when it was ready for consecration, the relics of St Magnus were moved there. In March 1919, during restoration work, a hidden cavity was found in a column, containing a box with bones and a damaged skull held without (much) doubt to be the relics of St Magnus.

Now, I am a good Baptist (whatever the Association say!) and I don’t hold with holy relics or canonization, but it struck me, in Orkney, that these are just other ways of describing – of expressing – the impact of a person of peace – of a person who goes in Jesus’ name – the impact of Paul, the impact of St Columba, the impact of Sally and Bob and you and I – and the impact of the people of peace God is preparing for us to meet…

Are you prepared to pray three – rather bold prayers – with me?

Firstly, God, I am prepared – I am willing – to be your person of peace in my world. I am prepared to be an Alongsider  in my family, at the gym, at uni, work, or with my neighbours…

Secondly, help me share your peace. Shape me into a person who lives and looks and leads like Jesus.

And thirdly, open my eyes! Help me slow down and seek out the people of people you are preparing. Help me be attentive to what you are doing in my world and in my life. Amen.