Partners in Ministry

Acts 18:1-8/1 Cor. 1: 10-13        Paul was on a mission.  He was committed to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ– planting new churches and then nurturing them and guiding them in the faith, staying in contact via visits or letters, and always praying for them.  In city after city, Paul plants churches.  He starts with the existing Jewish synagogue, not usually a building like we are used to seeing today, but a gathering place for prayer and for energetic, passionate debate over what the law and the prophets meant in the current setting.  I can imagine a circle of men, first listening to one of them read a portion of the scripture, and then each one getting their two cents into the conversation.  Always there would have been time for prayer, for praising, thanking and seeking God.  Perhaps some singing/chanting.  Perhaps an instrument or two or three.  Jews living in these Greek cities throughout the Roman empire sought one another out so they could worship together.  There was no Jewish temple there for them to worship in.  Maybe a courtyard, maybe a home. In their midst would have been some Greeks who were not Jews, but clearly believed in God and were wanting to know more.  In city after city,  Paul starts with people like him, with shared roots in the scripture, with shared history, with shared language.

There is something different in Corinth, though.  He stays with a Jewish couple who were refugees from Rome, kicked out due to their Jewish faith by the Emperor Claudius in the year 49.  Aquila and Priscilla ended up in Corinth, a major urban city, capital of the region of Achaia, sitting on an isthmus looking over not one harbor, but two harbors!  They were tent makers, or leather workers, and were plying their trade in Corinth.  Perhaps around 51, Paul joined them, living in their home, working alongside of them, sharing his faith with them.  The couple became faithful partners in the ministry with Paul.  They gave him a place to stay, a job, and companionship.

Perhaps you have heard of pastors who are bi-vocational being referred to as tentmakers.  You might know pastors who are professors, counselors or security guards, pastors who put together additional sources of income to make ends meet so that they can remain true to their call to share the gospel.  The term comes from Paul’s example.  He worked as a tentmaker to earn his keep so that he could share the gospel in the community. He ended up staying 18 months in Corinth.  He used his secular job as a way to share his faith.  I have heard testimonies from pastors who serve a congregation and work another job describing unique opportunities to have deep theological conversations in the context of the secular job.

Like Paul, Louis Wyley had a mission. He saw his mission as sharing his faith in Christ with others. Often when I visited with him in a hospital or rehab facility, he spoke of conversations he had with people who were working there– nurses, aides, cleaning crew.  Conversations about his faith and their faith.  He gave them an opportunity to reflect on God’s activity in their own lives as he listened and shared his faith in Christ.  He definitely exhibited that deep concern for, and sincere interest in, people here at HRPC since he joined in 2004.  I am not sure how many of you know, but Louis was here at church VERY early every Sunday, unlocking doors, turning on lights, checking the heat, and making the coffee.  Most weeks I would encounter him sitting in the library with his cup of coffee, waiting to greet anyone who walked in.  Newcomers were made to feel welcome, he worked hard to learn new names, and even used a little “buenos dias” for Francisca Tatis when she came to Bible Study on Sunday mornings.  He loved to go with me to deliver communion to church members unable to join us here in the sanctuary. His gentle, caring presence was not lost on the people he encountered.  He was not a big orator or preacher in the time I knew him, but he quietly connected with people in his path.

As Paul worked his trade together with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, he had the opportunity to make those connections, the chance for conversations outside of the lively debates in the synagogue on Saturdays.  He could not have had this kind of ministry without the cooperation of Priscilla and Aquila.  Perhaps he connected with them first on a business level.  Being in the same trade, working together could only benefit all three of them.  They opened their home to him as well, being hospitable in a way more generous than most of us in the 21st century North American culture would be.  We know they were Jews, but do not know if they had already been exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the process of working with Paul, of getting to know him and what his mission was, they clearly learned more about Jesus and became his followers as well.  Later on in this same chapter, they serve as guides and mentors for a firebrand preacher named Apollos who needs a little more accurate understanding of God’s way.  Aquila and Priscilla actually leave with Paul and end up forming a house church first in Ephesus, and then later back in their hometown of Rome, serving as mission co-workers in multiple settings.

[Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.] Team leadership brings different gifts into play, provides different perspectives, and different life experiences.  But you always run the risk of people aligning themselves with one member of the team over the other.  In the first letter to this congregation in Corinth that we have access to  (Paul refers to a previous letter we do not have), he cautions the congregation about being divided into factions identified with one preacher or another.  Some apparently say:  I follow Apollos (the firebrand preacher), and others:  I follow Cephas, or Peter (the reinstated disciple-turned-preacher), and others:  I follow Paul.  Only some seem to get the picture right, saying:  I follow Christ.  Paul argues that multiple leaders should not create division, but foster unity. After all, Christ has not been divided.  I remember working on a staff of a larger church where we never made an announcement about who was preaching, and where we did not follow a predictable preaching schedule.  As a staff, we did not want to encourage people to selectively attend worship only when a particular preacher was preaching!  Paul seems to be saying– you need each one of these partners in Christ’s ministry.  He modeled partnership with the Corinthians– he needed the hospitality and support of Aquila and Priscilla and they needed him to teach them ways to spread the gospel.

We too need partners in ministry.  This morning I want to encourage you to be aware of the ways you are already involved as partners in ministry.  Who are the other people who need you to accomplish a task God is calling you to do together? It could be here at Hunting Ridge, or it could be in some form of volunteering or serving that you do in other places.  Who do you support in some way?  Who do you work alongside?  You are a partner in ministry by praying on the telephone, by contributing money or time, by organizing a Strawberry Festival or by bringing pastries to a grieving family.  You are probably partners with different people in different forms of ministry.  Perhaps you have noticed that I like to invite you again and again to partner with me in going to meetings or workshops or prayer vigils or service opportunities.   I am a firm believer that we are more effective in ministry as a team than as lone rangers.  We each bring different gifts and talents to any endeavor.

Take a moment to list in your mind the people you are partners with in some form of ministry.  Yesterday I observed three adults and four teens washing, drying and putting away dishes in our new kitchen.  They got a lot done in just one hour.  It would have taken a LOT longer if someone was trying to do that by him or herself!  Can washing dishes be a form of ministry?  Definitely.  Not only were they helping our church kitchen to be ready for service, particularly in time for the repast for the Wyley family this week, but they were relating across generations, laughing together, learning more about one another than they could by sharing a pew.  Experienced adults contributed wisdom of how to put a kitchen together and nimble youth contributed the comfort of climbing on a chair to put things on the top shelf or getting down on the floor to put things in the back of the bottom cabinet.  Ministry partners appreciate the gifts each one brings.

As a church family we are particularly aware of the gifts which Louis Wyley has shared with us over the last 12 years.  We will miss his easy smile and warm welcome.  We will miss the opportunity to be in ministry with him by setting up for Easter breakfast or preparing communion.  He has left you behind to find new partners in ministry, new people to support, new co-workers, new tasks to take up.  You see, the mission of sharing Christ’s love and grace and peace never stops.  New partners are always needed.  Be a partner in ministry.  Amen.

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