The Pivot and The People
- 15 September 2021
- Stuart Robinson
First, ‘The Pivot’.
The term ‘pivot’ is one we use in ‘COVID-parlance’ to speak about the need for people and communities to make quick and sometimes radical changes in the way we live, and operate, as we contend with this pandemic.
For example, we’ve seen catering organisations quickly move to take-away and home delivery, or where entrances to shop fronts and pubs now serve as outdoor counters and point of sale displays.
We know all about the lines outside café’s and the crosses on the pavements, right?
And then when that iteration of restrictions is repealed, we shall, once again, ‘morph’ into a more relaxed format…until the next strain of the virus presents.
And of course, teachers, and students have rapidly changed from on-site class classrooms to on-line-formats, and retailers have had to pivot from instore to on-screen, and so it goes.
We understand ‘the pivot’, don’t we?
Now whist the context is different, I was delighted to note that St. Paul is the master of ‘the pivot’.
I suppose it should not surprise me that the God who created and sustains the universe is entirely capable of flexibility and variety in the way he calls his people to minister.
Quick and rapid change – when necessary – is the norm.
Let me show you, briefly, what I mean:
Having established another mission base in Europe – in Corinth, St. Paul then leaves the new and growing church in that city after 18 months and sets sail with his colleagues, Priscilla, and Aquila, for Syria.
That’s an overland journey of 2,300 kilometres, though Paul takes the express route and sails part of the way.
Interestingly, Luke mentions that Paul had his hair cut off in connection with a vow he had taken (Acts 18:18).
We do not know much about this (though scholars love to speculate) other than Paul thought it a necessary step to assist in the advance of the gospel.
A ‘whatever it takes’ attitude.
Paul is not risk, or change averse.
And so, they arrive in the city of Ephesus (Turkey) where Paul then farewells Priscilla and Aquila.
Having preached in the local synagogue, Paul declines an invitation to continue his ministry there but does promise to return, if God should so lead.
Then it is back in the boat and down through the Aegean Sea into Mediterranean waters, ashore at Caesarea, and a quick trip inland some 50 kilometres or so to Jerusalem to have fellowship with the leadership and saints in the mother church.
Wasting no time, Paul then turns around and heads back through Israel and Lebanon down to his hometown of Antioch (a journey of more than 700 kilometres) – then across and into ancient Turkish provinces close to the Black Sea where Luke observes that St Paul was engaged in ‘strengthening all the disciples’ (Acts 18:18-23).
Paul crosses borders, cultures, customs, languages, and traditions, in the advance of the gospel.
The art of the pivot!
He travels light, his flexibility, and his adaptability is prodigious, and his focus – in growing the church and helping people mature in Christ, is resolute.
‘Whatever it takes’, appears to be his credo in the advance the gospel.
So, that was, ‘The Pivot’, and I’ll return to it when I conclude.
Second, ‘The People’.
Those whom God appoints to promulgate and model the good news of Jesus are an interesting bunch, to say the least.
Just look at all the variety on this call this morning!
In the text before us there is of course St. Paul whom we know was a highly educated, zealous, and much feared persecutor of Christians until he encountered the risen Jesus and surrendered unequivocally to his Messianic rule.
Now that was a pivot! (Acts 9).
In the early part of Acts 18, Paul met a fellow tentmaker (for that was his trade), named Aquila.
Aquila and his wife Priscilla were refugees from Rome who had fled the Jewish persecution that Emperor Claudius has instigated (Acts 18:2).
Aquila was himself no stranger to change as he was originally from Pontus on the Black Sea – 3,000 kilometres from Rome.
So, Paul, and Aquila, and Priscilla (as I mentioned earlier), head off to minister in Ephesus – and when Paul leaves for Jerusalem, the Lord deploys one Apollos from Alexandria in Egypt, Northeast Africa, to Ephesus, Turkey – a 1,500-kilometre journey.
Apollos, we are told, is a learned man, thoroughly acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures, who had become (somehow – we are not told) a Christ follower (Acts 18:25).
He preached about Jesus with great passion but may not have been aware of the events of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as he knew only of the baptism of John – that prefigured Jesus’ ministry (Acts 18:25).
That did not stop him from sharing his faith in the synagogue – where Priscilla, now spoken of in the dominant first position by. S. Luke, and Aquila – immediately offer him hospitality (they ‘take him into their home’) and he (with great humility) receives their instruction in relation to ‘the way of God’ (Luke 18:26).
Then, with the blessing and support of local believers (Acts 18:27), Apollos is dispatched to Europe (to Corinth) where we read, “he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah’ (Acts 18:28).
Of their partnership in the gospel in the city of Corinth, St. Paul would later write, ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow’. I Corinthians 3:6.
A scholar from Alexandria, refugees from Rome (one of whom was a woman, Priscila, who led and taught in the early church [Romans 16:3-4]), and a former inquisitor and persecutor of believers, are used of the Lord in the planting and watering of the church of God.
Here then, is my point in all of this:
In God’s goodness and grace, we too as a community of faith have embraced the art of the pivot.
We have met online and in person.
We have nuanced and adjusted programmes and activities such that people are cared for and discipled.
And we have even changed our giving habits so that new ministries can be launched, and established ones continued.
You have embraced change and you have taken risks, beloved.
Whatever it takes in the advance of the Kingdom and the promulgation of the gospel, right?
And in this time, we have grown in maturity and diversity, I would opine.
More people, from a wide range of backgrounds, are doing more ministry.
The Pivot and The People: Yes, our ministry base has broadened as people share their faith with neighbours and friends (planting), as they teach, instruct, and model Christ-like care (watering), and consequently we are seeing the miraculous ‘increase’ that God is bringing (to borrow from 1 Corinthians 3:6).
I was tempted to say, that this is the ‘new normal’, but as we’ve seen from today’s text, ‘pivoting and people’ are a part of a divine strategy that God in his mercy, has brought to our remembrance and has caused us to embrace.
So then – to him alone be the honour and the glory.
In the name of Christ.