Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Moving in Next Door


Acts 18:5  When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6  When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7  Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. 8  Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. 9  One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; 10  for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." 11  He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Yesterday, while I was paying for fuel for my car, the petrol pump attendant discovered that I was a Methodist Minister. He then commented – “Oh, the Methodist umfundisi (ministers) that I know are rich, because they always drive new cars”. Although my vehicle is nearly 20 years old, I was left feeling uncomfortable by association, asking myself “Ought our image as ministers of the Gospel to be one of prosperous well-being?”  I am all too aware of how ‘purveyors of snake oil and other preachers’ have used religion for their personal profit. This has made many people sceptical of those who ask for the generosity of donors so that they can remain in the Christian ministry.

Acts chapter 18 marks the moment when Paul’s ministry changed from a ‘part-time’ self supporting work, to a full time work. Silas and Timothy arrived with financial support from the people of the Christian church in Philippi.[1] This enabled Paul to focus all his time on establishing a Christian church in Corinth.   I am suggesting that the actions of Paul in the above passage reveal a helpful principle that can guide anyone who relies on the generosity of donors to sustain a Christian ministry:

Acts 18:7 tells us that Paul left the Synagogue, and moved in next door. In case we miss the significance of this, Paul gives up the Synagogue: this is the place where he has his status as a well-connected, highly educated, and greatly senior rabbi – a status that would have earned him respect, and given him clients in his tent making business. Paul gives up his access to wealth and status to migrate down the social scale into the home of the “sinner” next door – a non-Jewish, Roman speaking Gentile who would have not been welcome in the Synagogue. Paul gained nothing in his personal capacity by moving, and lost much. I believe this becomes the touch stone for authentic ministry: that those of us who are privileged to be able to serve Jesus through the generosity of others ought to show two signs – sacrifice of personal ambition, and a ministry that is grounded amongst the ‘next door people’, those people who are not readily welcome through the front door of our religious establishments.

Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Lyrics: Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756), Translated by Frances Bevan

Third Sunday of Easter
24 The Lord is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 154.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] see Philippians 4: 15-19 / 2 Corinthians 11:8-9

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