31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 17, 2020
Acts 18:1-4, 24-28
1 Corinthians 16:13-20
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
What do the Black Panther, Mr. Rogers, and the Apostle Paul all have in common? No, it’s not a joke, nor I have gone stir-crazy crazy. The Black Panther, Mr. Fred Rogers, and the Apostle Paul all had a team, all understood the importance of a team, all cultivated teams.
In the 2018 Marvel comic movie, the main character is the King of Wakanda and also the warrior super hero Black Panther. Often, we think of superheroes as solitary characters however this superhero has a team. His sister provides him cool gadgets and tech, in the manner of Q in the James Bond movies. The Black Panther also has two warriors who accompany him on his missions as well as a council of elders to consult with. His strength comes from the team that surrounds him.
Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame is well known for inviting you to be his neighbor and that was because Fred Rogers understood the value of connection, the value of community. Fred knew that for children to grow well, for any of us to grow well, we need others to show us we are important, worthy of their time, attention, and love. In his well-known commencement speech given at Dartmouth College, Fred shared these words:
Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
And he continued, saying:
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. (Rogers’ memorable 2002 Dartmouth commencement address.)
In these words, I hear Fred Rogers reminding all of us that we do not get to be who we are all on our own. We are who we are because of those who have loved us, encouraged us, supported and nurtured us. We are who we are because people, lots of people have been willing to invest in us, be our team, and nurture us on our life and Christian faith journeys.
Would it surprise you to know that this is the Apostle Paul’s philosophy too? When we hear about Paul traveling the Mediterranean, sharing the good news, inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ, and founding churches, we sometimes get the impression he was doing it all by himself. However when you look closer at the book of Acts and at Paul’s letters, we see how many partners he had in ministry. Paul’s ministry, Paul’s mission strategy, was one of collaboration.
In the same way that Jesus did, Paul built a team, and as happens with the best of teams, it was a two way street of nurture. At times in his ministry, Paul taught and nurtured gifted believers so they could lead communities of believers and bring even more people into a relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and at other times, members of Paul’s team supported him – financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Such was the case with Aquila and Priscilla or Prisca, a married couple Paul met in Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila were tent makers and already strong believers in Jesus Christ. They had recently been exiled from Rome, likely due to their bold and vocal faith in Jesus Christ. My study Bible calls them a power couple, and in them, Paul found strong partners for ministry.
Priscilla and Aquila invited Paul to live with them in Corinth and join their tent making business. They physically provided for Paul, enabling him to share the good news each week in the synagogue. And Priscilla and Aquila provided Paul with emotional and spiritual support, too.
We should never underestimate how important it is to have partners in ministry, partners who nurture our spirits and souls. I often tell members of the Monday morning Bible study that I created the group for myself. What a gift each and every participant is to my soul, helping me to think about God’s word in new ways, their thoughts and wisdom nurturing my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul knew that he could not be in ministry, sustain his ministry, without partners to support him – financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Paul leaned on Aquila and Priscilla and learned from them so he could go on to nurture and teach others, and Aquila and Priscilla did the same. In those many hours working side by side making tents, those Sabbath days in the synagogue, they leaned on Paul and learned from Paul, so they, too, could go out and nurture and teach others. Others like Apollos!
Now to hear Apollos described in the book of Acts, you might think he was actually the Roman god of the sun. A Jew, born in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, he clearly had been invested in greatly. He was an excellent speaker “eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures”, well educated in scripture. (Acts 18:24) Apollos preached with power, and as the New Revised Standard version says he “spoke with burning enthusiasm” (Acts18:25), burning! Oh my!
Apollos sounds practically perfect in every way however he was not, because none of us are perfect. All of us have room to grow, even the eloquent, enthusiastic Apollos. So Priscilla and Aquila took him aside, and they mentored him. They used their gifts and abilities to enhance his gifts and abilities because Priscilla and Aquila knew God was continuously lifting up new leaders, new ministry partners to support this growing ministry.
Paul could not be everywhere, doing everything, and neither could Aquila and Priscilla. They needed ministry partners to lean on and learn from, and they needed to nurture ministry partners so this mission of faith, courage, and love could continue to spread, drawing others into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years later, the Church of Jesus Christ has changed in many ways and yet, we still need ministry partners. We need people to lean on and learn from. We need brothers and sisters who will support us and teach us and mentor us so we can fully become the people God intends us to be and fully embrace the ministries God calls us to.
And our ministry partners, our brothers and sisters in Christ, invest in us so that we will in turn nurture them or someone else to know the extravagant and inclusive love of God and be their cheerleader as they discern and follow their calling from God.
In ministry, in life, we need partners. We need to build teams. Even physically separated, especially physically separated, we can’t be Lone Rangers, and even the Lone Ranger had partners after all. Especially right now, we need to reach out and learn from others, lean on others, and in turn, let others lean on and learn from us.
Collaboration, partnership, team. God created us to be this way, and since the beginning of time, God has called us to live this way.
Collaboration, partnership, team has been the way of the Christian church since the beginning. We need one another. As this time of physical separation has more fully opened our eyes to that, may God also open our eyes to the people Jesus is calling us to nurture, to the new partnerships God is calling us to form, to the new teams God is inviting us to create, all so we can continue to faithfully welcome and nurture all to know the inclusive extravagant love of God and join together in building God’s kingdom of hope, peace, love, and justice.