The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

PARTNERS IN MINISTRY

Delivered 6/4/06
Text: Acts 2:1-21
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Pentecost. The Birthday of the Church, they say. It was on Pentecost that the Spirit came in power on that frightened little band of believers in the Upper Room in Jerusalem and began something that would change the world forever. The Birthday of the Church. Time to party!

And so we will today. It was not planned as a Pentecost Party, but that is just providential. You are generously and graciously celebrating with Christie and me the 25th anniversary of our years in ministry. It was the first Sunday in June, 1981, that our work began at the Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church in rural South Carolina, and today we come to the quarter century mark. Time does fly.

As I say, it is providential that this celebration comes on Pentecost, but not simply because of the party connection. Pentecost is a wonderful reminder that we are not in this divine enterprise alone. The picture we get from the 2nd chapter of Acts is a gathering of the faithful - no Lone Rangers here - "all together in one place," as the lesson says. The power came to individuals in a group and they, together, became able to accomplish things that no single one of them could have ever imagined.

On an anniversary such as this one it is tempting to be selective in our reminiscing. Even though I am the one with the titles in front of the name and the alphabet soup following, this was never an individual journey. From the start I have always had a wonderful partner. I would never have made it to this milestone without her, no question at all.

As I have told you before, Christie did not marry a minister, she married a disk jockey. For years I had made my living in radio and television, and contentedly so. I was always active in the church, having grown up in a Presbyterian manse, and, as a boy, had recognized a call to the ministry, but I had blissfully ignored that and gone about my life. Lots of church, of course - teaching in Sunday School, singing in choirs, serving on boards and committees. With some regularity I heard from folks with whom I worshiped, "David, I know your father is a minister; you should be too." Uh-huh. Thanks, but no thanks. I appreciated the compliment, but I was happy doing what I was doing.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, my minster father died - six weeks shy of his 65th birthday. A heart attack, they said. Total shock to all of us. No warning whatsoever. I had never had to deal with death at quite such close range before. As I confronted the reality of it all, I became introspective, as many of you probably have in similar circumstances. In the midst of that, I began to hear the still, small voice that I had heard as a boy asking, "David, are you ready yet to do what I have wanted all along?" I was not sure.

Christie and I had been married less than a year at this point. I thought about it, prayed about it, and finally informed her that I was feeling called to go into the ministry - I had known since I was eight years old that this is what God wanted me to do, but I had ignored it and put it out of my mind. Now, I could postpone it no longer. Needless to say, she was not prepared. We were both very active and involved in the church, but she had never anticipated anything like this. For the next ten days, every time we looked at one another, she burst into tears! Uh-oh. What had I done?

She said later that she was not so much worried about my being a minister, but her being a minister's wife. There was the persistent mythology about pastor's wives that said they would have no life of their own - everything they did would revolve around their husband's ministry (and it was pretty much all husbands back then) - they would be shy and retiring and get all their clothes from the missionary box. But then she thought about my mother and our own minister's wife, neither of whom were anything like that, and began to think more carefully about it. She says she finally was able to resolve the issue by answering two questions: 1) Do I really believe that God is calling David to the ministry? Yes, no doubt about it, and 2) Do I really believe that God wants us together? Absolutely. Then if both of those answers are correct, that must mean that God will equip me to be a minister's wife, and at that point, she gave the plan her whole-hearted support. And as you know, no minister could have a better partner than I do. When it has been time for us to move from one church to another during the course of this 25 years, consistently we would hear, "Fine, David, it's OK for you to go, but Christie has to stay HERE!"

As you know, mission is a big emphasis with us. After all, the church, in a unique way, exists primarily for the sake of those outside its doors. Much of the commitment to mission is driven by Ms. Christie. Besides being a pastor's wife, she was on the lookout for what her unique calling might be. Having grown up in Venezuela and being bi-lingual from childhood, she wondered whether that background might come into play. Well, surprise, surprise. Remember this: if you want to know what God would have you do with your life, look to what you have been prepared to do. Hear it again. If you want to know what God would have you do with your life, look to what you have been prepared to do. What has God trained you for?

One day, Christie went down to the road for the mail, glancing at what was there for both family and church as she brought it back up the hill. Among the pieces she saw a flyer from the Presbytery looking for volunteers for a Mission Trip to Guatemala and Honduras to check on a joint hunger project that we were funding. She asked me about it later. I didn't know anything; I had glanced at the flyer and thrown it out. She dug it out of the trash, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This has been an amazing partnership, but it has not been limited to just the two of us. So many have been involved through the years. Many of you have made your own wonderful contributions to this momentous task - teaching Sunday School, leading youth groups, singing and playing in choirs, serving on boards and committees, keeping the facilities in good shape, going on mission trips, working the Farmers Market and Sharing Place, Hope Tutoring, Institute for the Arts, offering your prayers and words of encouragement, etc., etc, etc. This is not a one- or two-person effort. We are all partners in ministry, and on this Day of Pentecost, reminded that what we do, we do together, empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, and nourished in our work together as we are fed at the Lord's Table.

I love the way Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, put it:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view...We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work...We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest."(1)
Partners in ministry is what we are. May the Spirit of Pentecost empower us as we move into the future.

Amen!

1. http://www.micahmorphosis.org/Brix?pageID=15772

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