Over the last four weeks we have explored Baptist Mission Australia’s May Mission Month theme of Alongsiders.
Who are Alongsiders? They are Baptist Mission Australia intercultural workers – people who model the incarnation – John 1, God moving into the neighborhood – by living and working in Malawi or South East Asia or Thailand – and seeking to live lives that speak the message of Jesus! And they are us! People who do exactly the same thing in our networks and neighbourhoods and workplaces – who seek to live lives that that speak the message of Jesus!
They really are us! Just this week Lucy shared a story at prayers about a colleague at work who asked Lucy to pray because she’d invited her partner along to an Alpha course – a course that explains Christianity. He didn’t want to go because he thought all Chrsitians were wierdos, but he went and struck up a friendship with another man who was quite normal and enjoyed it. Lucy’s colleague was overjoyed, and she said to Lucy, “It was because you were just so normal and open about being a Christian at work– you even tell us you’re praying from 8 to 8:30 in the morning – that I thought, ‘I can do this!’” We are Alongsiders!
Alongsiders are, firstly, people of prayer. People who know that prayer aligns our lives with God’s purposes and helps us pay attention to what God is doing. As Paul says in Colossians 4:2-4: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.”
Secondly, we looked at Alongsiders being people of peace. People who go in peace, who share a message of peace – who seek our other people of peace. Remember Jesus’ mission directives to his disciples in Luke 10:5 and 6: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”
And last week – as we focused on our Thank Offering project in Bangladesh – we looked at Alongsiders as people of love. 1 John 3:16-19: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sisterin need and yet refuses help?”
And finally, today, we are looking at Alongsiders as people who partner – people who partner with others and with the Holy Spirit. It kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it! If we are Alongsiders we need people to be alongside! We need people alongside us! We need the Holy Spirit most of all!
Which is what we hear in our reading today – Paul describing the nature of his partnership with the church in Phillipi. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”
In the Baptist Mission Australia material, Executive Director Scott Pilgrim speaks about how many of Paul’s letters end with fond farewells to the many people who have shared in the gospel with him, partnered in the gospel with him. He cites Romans and the list of names there – 27 names in 16 verses! And some of you might remember (some of you might remember!) the series we did on Colossians last year and the list of names we read then – men and (significantly) women who were Paul’s partners in the gospel, people from all sorts of national, ethic and cultural backgrounds – who were Paul’s partners in the gospel, people from all walks of life – remember Onesimus, a slave, on the very bottom rung of Roman society, and Philemon, his owner, both now Paul’s partners in the gospel – and as a testimony to the gospel – now partners with each other!
We have the actual record of this in our New Testament! Paul writing to Philemon and saying, “[I am sending him back to you]…no longer as a slave but…a beloved brother…to me and…much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
This was – this is – the extraordinary nature of our partnership in the gospel with one another. This is what Baptist Mission Australia intercultural workers experience in their partnerships around the world today and this is what we experience in our lives today – in our networks, neighbourhoods, and workplaces. Through the grace of God different people – people from different walks of life, people from different cultures, slaves and slave owners, prisoner and jailors, people who – apart from the gospel intervening and transforming their lives – would who have been enemies become partners.
But let’s go back to Paul’s extraordinary expression of affection for his Philippian partners in the gospel – back to that “first day” that Paul mentions. We were there! Two weeks ago, we read the story in Acts 16 of how Paul and Silas and Timothy arrived in Phillipi after the modern-day equivalent of Qantas cancelling their flights and losing their luggage and rerouting them from Melbourne to Mozambique – or in their case Macedonia – except that this was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit – that we celebrate coming into our lives today.
And there Paul and his friends met Lydia, a person of peace, who listened eagerly to what he had to say and then took charge – inviting them home and turning her house into the first church in Phillipi. And if we had read on, in Acts 16, we would have read that Paul and Silas ended up in jail, but there was an earthquake that destroyed the jail, and because they did not run away, the jailor also became a Christian – and the Philippian church continued to grow. Acts 16:40, “After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.”
Yes, it is extraordinary how partnership in the gospel brings together different people, but, secondly, partnership means that despite their differences, despite what comes against them, their shared commitment to the message of Jesus, their partnership in the gospel, means that the message of Jesus continues to be shared. Paul speaks of this in verse 7: “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.”
That is this case in this church, too. Isn’t it? This is a church of people who have some things in common – we live in Canberra, a lot work in the public service, a good number are highly educated, a large number play ultimate frisbee – but we are also people from different backgrounds and different walks of life who have come alongside each other in this church and over the years have come alongside elderly people in the Canberra community, establishing the first aged care facility of its kind here in Canberra, have come alongside people struggling to find work, at Caloola Farm, have come alongside refugees, have come alongside local indigenous people in our apology for the stolen generations in 1997 (and now seek to work for ‘voice and justice’), to come alongside the people of Kingston and beyond in our community centre, to come alongside LGBTIQ+ people and to continue coming alongside friends and family and work colleagues each day living lives that speak the message of Jesus.
And over the years that commitment to the gospel, to the defence and confirmation of the gospel, has not been easy. It has been hard! It has been hard work. We have faced opposition. But we have kept going thanks to the grace and strength that we find in our partnership in the gospel – with each other, with others and with the Holy Spirit.
I’m diverting from the official resources for Baptist Mission Australia, but I was heartened in the week before the November Baptist Assembly last year by this blog from Scott Pilgrim:
I have the privilege of traversing the country to connect with Baptist churches and I am regularly reminded of what a big, broad, diverse movement we are. We’re far from perfect. But I value our differences and also what unites us as followers of Jesus at our core.
…I was recently chatting with a NSW pastor about this topic. We don’t know each other well. I sense we see the world differently on several matters from our favourite code of football to our politics. But over coffee, we were celebrating the privilege of partnering in mission together and talking about how we stay focused on what my colleague described as “the main game”.
…This experienced, mature, humble pastor said: “For example, I hold to a traditional view of marriage, and I don’t see that ever changing. But as a Baptist leader, I also highly value the autonomy of the local church and that won’t change either.”
He continued: “I don’t think we should be seeking to impose things on Baptist pastors and churches who have different views to what I or my church hold ….we’re always better when we’re focused on the main game.” [This was] his description of embracing God’s gracious invitation to mission together.
…I think this pastor’s words need to echo across our big, broad, diverse movement. “We’re always better when we’re focused on the main game.”
Our partnership in the gospel is about unity in diversity, it is about being focused on the main game, and it is about keeping on going because, thirdly, we are not only partnering with others, but with the Holy Spirit.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul say this, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” He is not speaking of himself, but of the work of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says to his disciples in John 14, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
We are partners with God. As we pray, as we go in peace, as we love and as we partner with others, the Holy Spirit in our partner. We are in a holy partnership.
Do you have that sense as you go from here to meet with family and friends and share with them God’s love, God’s peace, that the Holy Spirit is your partner? Do you have that sense during the week – at work, at uni, as you catch up with friends – as you live a life that speaks the message of Jesus that you do this in partnership with the Holy Spirit? As you live as an Alongsider in your networks and neighbourhood and workplaces, the Holy Spirit comes alongside you.
Paul concludes this section of Philippians with these words, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight [the gifts of the Holy Spirit] to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
Let’s pray that prayer together…
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.