Growing up in the Methodist Church in Montgomery City, my world was expanded by the people with whom our family worshiped. I would like to introduce you to Burt and Beth. My mental picture of them is watching Burt open the car door outside the church, reach in for Beth as she stood up. He then walked her into church with his hand cupped around her elbow.
[Insert slide of Burt and Beth.]
Beth had polio as a young woman in the 1950s. She was left with a limp, but she always stood up straight as an arrow with the brightest eyes penetrating you with her smile. He was a dairy farmer, so his mornings began very early, even before church on Sundays, but he never missed church and he was always there beside Beth.
This strong couple demonstrated love of God, love of family, and love of neighbors throughout their life of personal challenges. They were among my personal role models much like Pricilla and Aquilla were role models in the churches Paul established during his missionary trips around the Mediterranean Sea.
I am Susan Smith, the associate pastor of the Warrensburg First United Methodist Church, and I invite you to make sure you have a Bible, a pen or pencil and paper handy so you can follow along with the scriptures, make notes or even jot down a reminder to share questions or stories of your own later on as a comment or post to our Facebook page. Please join me in prayer.
As we take this moment to pause and clear our minds,
We ask that you open our hearts and minds
To the lessons we learn from your servants Priscilla and Aquilla.
May we, too, grow in our faith and our love for each other
So our lives reflect your love for one another. –Amen
Then Paul arrives in their community.
Let’s meet Pricilla and Aquilla by stepping back into those first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Life was so very different without all the technology we now have. The business of living was labor intensive, and the needs of the community were met by skilled craftsmen. Aquilla was trained as a tentmaker, and where he lived along the Mediterranean Sea, he filled a demand as people needed his skill to make and to repair the sails for the boats or the tents for their homes. Priscilla joined him working as a tentmaker, too.
[Insert slide of the three working on tents]
The couple were faithful Jews, and they listened to Paul. They heard the good news. Soon they were devoted new Christians. They quickly developed a special bond with Paul because he too was a trained tent maker, which we learn in Acts 18:1-3: [Insert slide of verses.]
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.
Even as a missionary, Paul would work in the community in which he was preaching. The three of them became co-workers with Paul even living with them while in Corinth. Can you imagine how close they became working, living and worshiping together?
The book of Acts, written by Luke, shares the story of Paul meeting Priscilla and Aquilla on his second missionary journey.
[Insert slide of Paul’s second journey.]
During Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, the Jewish people became upset over his teachings causing problems in the temple, so much so that the Jewish leaders took the issue to the Roman proconsul Gallio. Gallio dismissed it saying it was an internal problem. The turmoil becomes unsafe, so Paul decides to leave for Ephesus–Priscilla and Aquilla go with him.
Consider this. You are well-established in a community where there is plenty of work providing a good income. Why would you suddenly decide to get up and leave it? Priscilla and Aquilla were called to continue in ministry with Paul and they had protected him in the midst of the Jewish riots. He no longer taught in the synagogue but began a house church next door to Priscilla and Aquilla.
When Paul decided to leave Corinth, the couple decided to follow Paul to Ephesus. What a decision to make! But Priscilla and Aquilla, partners in life, did just that. This decision exemplifies the qualities of the couple not only as disciples, but as a Christian couple who follow God’s call to serve.
[Insert slide of the busts.]
Following Paul reminds me of today’s missionaries. As I shared about Beth and Burt, we also had members of our community that went to India to serve as missionaries. Even though I am struggling to remember their names, I remember wondering how in the world could they get up and leave for India. Their boys were basically my age, they were residents in my hometown, and they were fellow church members. But they, like Priscilla and Aquilla, left to serve God in ministry.
And then there is Priscilla herself, one of the strong women listed in the New Testament as disciples of Christ. The references to her always place her first and always with Aquilla. Based on how she is always listed first, scholars believed she was from a higher social status than Aquilla which was out of the ordinary for ancient times; and another difference for the couple was that they had no children. Priscilla does not follow the stereotypical roles for ancient women. Yet Priscilla worked and worshipped alongside her husband as an equal, not in a subservient role. She became a leading teacher in Christianity, a strong woman serving as a disciple. Priscilla broke the stereotypes of her culture.
Finally, consider Priscilla and Aquilla as teachers. Reading in Romans 12:6-8: [Insert slide of verses.]
6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
we know that Paul must have identified the skills that these two had, and especially Priscilla as indicated by the placement of her name in relation to Aquilla’s. When the couple followed Paul to Ephesus, they resumed their trade as tentmakers and as faithful disciples. Their home became a church meeting place. They were leaders in the faith community, and there they met Apollos.
Apollos was a gifted speaker and was spreading the news that he learned from John the Baptist’s preaching and prophesying, but he did not know of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore Apolloa, while developing a following, did not know the fulfillment of John’s prophecy.
Luke shares the story of Apollos’ ministry and how it developed through the mentoring of Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts 18:24-26: [Insert slide of verses.]
24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.
Priscilla and Aquilla were able to take Apollos and teach him the about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Their gifts transformed one man’s ministry and the growth of the church continued as is recorded in Acts 18:28: [Insert slide with verse.]
28 for he [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
Priscilla and Aquilla are a team. They demonstrate to us today that faith can bind us together enriching our lives, especially our daily lives working together. Luke refers to strong women in his gospel and in Acts, emphasizing their strength for leadership in ministry. The fact that this married couple are referenced repeatedly in Paul’s letters indicates the level of his friendship with them and that the different churches also recognized their leadership.
Priscilla defied the stereotypical role of women in the ancient culture, but her strength and her spiritual gifts placed her in a leadership role within the early church. Today’s culture may have lifted the social barriers for women leaders in faith, but Priscilla’s story is one for us to preserve and model.
Consider the image I have of Beth and Burt growing up. I can add others to the list of strong women of faith in my life; and when I do, I realize their spouses were important to their leadership, too. I can add my own mom and dad to models of spiritually-focused leaders. I can stop and look around me today, too, and know that here in Warrensburg I have been blessed with other models of faith: Mary Belle and Paul, June and Tom, Ruth and Harold, Nan and Bill are just a few to mention.
And what about today’s generations? They are present, too. Look around and spot the faith leaders you know. I recognize several: Beth and Bryan, Kim and Dan, Krystle and Brain are just three faith-filled couples. The church continues thanks to the leaders of our church. The couples gain strength together and we see the future of God in their lives.
In closing, today, I would like to share one more story of a strong couple leading in discipleship. Just like I watched Beth and Burt growing up managing to put aside the trials of a pandemic, I am watching a new generation. My cousin Neal married a young woman who also is a teacher. They are living in quarantine just like the rest of us, but they have a vulnerable daughter who was born with Downs Syndrome just a few years ago. Meet Amanda, Kaylee, Neal and Alyssa. [Insert picture of family.]
Despite the challenges that all of us face in our lifetime, without faith we falter. With faith, we strengthen. Amanda has grown in faith and uses the platform of Facebook to chronicle the life of her daughter and her big sister growing in faith. She testifies how God supports her and the family through all the medical and educational challenges they face. She is Priscilla. Neal is Aquilla.
Are you living your life in a manner that shares the good news? Are you modeling your faith life and your daily life after Priscilla and Aquila? Are others watching you and seeing that God has been with you, is with you, and will always be with you?
Just remember–you are strong. During this pandemic, we live with uncertainty, but we turn to those strong teachers in our lives to discover our own strength. My cousin sent a message through Facebook that I want to share with you: [Insert sidewalk chalk screen.] Her daughter Alyssa is the artist: “God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”
Let us close in prayer:
Thank you for all the strong women
you have shared with us through scripture
and throughout our lives.
Thank you for all the disciples,
both men and women,
who worked to teach us about Jesus.
Thank you for all the Priscilla and Aquilla couples
you have placed in our lives
so we may know you personally. –Amen