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The Partnership

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for October 26, 1997: Laity Sunday
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

You may have heard of Andersen Worldwide, formerly called Arthur Andersen and Company. It is one of the largest privately held companies in the world with over ten billion dollars in revenue last year and over one hundred thousand employees. Why do I mention Andersen Worldwide? Because it is a special kind of company; it is a partnership, the largest in the world. Like all partnerships, Andersen will rise or fall based on the commitment of the partners to the ongoing success of the company. What motivates these partners? Well, this is their livelihood, so I think we can pretty safely assume that a desire to turn a profit is the prime mover.

Like Andersen, a church is a partnership, and like Andersen, a church will rise or fall based on the commitment of the partners to the ongoing success of the church. What motivates the partners in a church? Well could be the source of another whole sermon, but we'll get back to it in a few minutes.

At Andersen, the head of the firm is not a President or a Chief Executive Officer; he bears the plainly descriptive yet somehow elegant title of "Managing Partner". He is the first among equals, and the other partners rely on him to serve the interests of the partnership.

In our Gospel today, we see a similar relationship of Christians to Jesus Christ. Just as the partners at Andersen are not the employees of the Managing Partner, Jesus tells us that "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

What kind of God is this that call us His friends? He is the kind of God who became a man, to know the real meaning of the word friendship. He is the kind of God who has made Himself a servant, the kind of man who would wash the feet of those who follow Him. He is truly God, but is willing to be our equal, and in fact to elevate us to equality with Him. He does this because He loves us; and He tells us in no uncertain terms to love one another as He has loved us. In fact, when He tells us that we are His friends when we do what He commands us, the command He is referring to is the one He just gave: Love one another. In commanding this, He has called us into partnership with Him, as our love for one another is a direct reflection of the love He has for us.

Part of the theme for Laity Sunday in the United Methodist Church this year is "Partners in Ministry Disciples of Jesus Christ in the Church". This reminds us that EVERY Christian is called a partner, as a friend of Jesus the ministry of Jesus Christ through our baptism, our confirmation, and the ongoing commitment to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ we show by our participation in our church. We all are partners, "called into fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord". Our local office of this partnership is Wesley United Methodist Church. This is what our church really is—a partnership of believers. It's not the building. Not the Pastor and the paid staff. It is us. And like a business partnership, the success or failure of the partnership depends on us.

But we have one big advantage over a business partnership. God is on our side! "For in him you have been enriched in every way all your speaking and in all your knowledge our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." Imagine the success of a business that had a promise like that from God! In our ministry partnership sometimes get discouraged, and get bogged down in minutia, but only if we forget Who else is a partner in our partnership: the Lord Himself. We have to draw on His strengths, just as any partnership will draw on the strengths of the strongest partners. We still have to shoulder our share of the load, but we know there's someone there to carry a good part of it.

Now to an earlier question: what motivates our participation in this special partnership? God's grace! We receive it ourselves and we convey it to others. It's become a cliché in our society, but we really are on "a mission from God". Bringing our families, our neighbors, our friends into the presence of God's love is what our partnership is all about. This is what our Gospel is about today, and is what brings us into this partnership, and is the reason we have been redeemed: God loves us. They may be only Hollywood angels, but the characters on a TV series Lynn and I enjoy watching "Touched by an Angel" always begin their visits to we mortals with the true message of salvation: "God loves you".

So how do we follow through and build this partnership? Well, for starters, like any other human relationship, we still have to work at it, even if it is divinely inspired. We have to be committed to our mission. We have to listen. We have to trust. We have to be able to live through disagreements and we have to acknowledge and draw on the strengths (and sometimes make up for the weaknesses) of each of the partners. We have to recognize that we have a Managing Partner at the local level as well: our pastor. If every member of our congregation would always remember that we, as partners, bear equal responsibility for the health of the congregation along with the pastor, it would make part of his mission among us a far lighter load. We sometimes forget that he is still a partner in this too. But more than anything else, we must follow our Lord's command: Love One Another.

Partners in Ministry. It's about affirmation, support, listening, trust, and commitment, and each bearing our share of the work that must be done to make the partnership a success. But we have assurance that the strongest possible Partner is in there pulling with us, and all we really need to do to succeed is to follow His charge to us: Love One Another.

Copyright 1997 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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