August 15: Shared with Wesley United Church, Cambridge and Rev. Keith Hagerman

Scripture Reading – Acts 18:1-3,18-19, 24-28

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 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, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.

After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews.

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 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. 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. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

For the word of God in scripture
For the word of God among us
For the word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

The Story of Priscilla

I want to take you back… long before you were born… or your parents were born, or your grandparents or great grandparents or great great great great grandparents…

• Back to the first century of the common era… when the Church was just beginning to grow and expand.
• Now imagine if I were from that time period, in Ancient Greece. Here is what I would say to you today:

Hello, I’m here to tell you about my neighbour Prisca. Her name is really Priscilla, but everyone who knows her well, calls her Prisca. I have known Prisca for a long time. She grew up with parents who taught her the scriptures along with reading and writing. In a time when most families thought that such things were wasted on a woman, Prisca was an anomaly. In our time, women were often not invited to take part in discussions or even asked what they thought. Prisca though often led the discussions and taught others.

She married Aquila, and they were a great match for each other, working together as tentmakers, and then later, working together as team ministers of a house church, as missionaries, and as co-workers with Paul. Paul lived with them for 18 months while they are in exile in Corinth (but that is another story). Paul even refers to her as a “fellow worker”, the same designation he uses of himself and others he considers ministers of the Gospel – a list which includes Timothy, Apollos, Mark, and Luke. Other church leaders also found hospitality in their home.

Prisca is a force to be reckoned with: At one point, she and Aquila took on the task of instructing Apollos some of the finer aspects of Christian theology, giving him some depth, so that he could then go out and teach.

(It seems that Apollos was only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, which pointed to Jesus as the Messiah…, but Prisca and Aquila could fill him in on the significance of Jesus life and death and how through baptism in Jesus’ name, Christians participated in Jesus’ death and resurrected life… and how the church then became the presence of Christ in the world.)

Imagine, in the first century, a woman who has the skills and the charisma to further educate another minister. Now that is thinking outside the box, breaking free of any preconceived notions of what a woman could or could not do. No shrinking violet is our Prisca! She enjoyed her status and authority!

Looking back, it seems likely that Apollos Sophia and Spirit theology, developed under Prisca’s instruction. Through all of this, Prisca and Aquila continued to work as tentmakers (which in your time you may just call “leather-workers”), and supported their missionary work through this business.
So not only was Prisca a leader in the church…, a fellow worker with the likes of Paul and Timothy, Mark and Luke…, an educator teaching people Christian theology…, a model of equal shared partnership in ministry with her husband Aquila…, but she and Aquila were also involved in financially supporting the work of the growing church so that its expanding mission, reaching out to new places could continue and flourish.

Further, Prisca was one of the most prominent women in the early church. With her extensive knowledge of Christian doctrine, her wisdom and skills in Christian education, and her overall leadership skills, some would even say she functioned as a bishop in the early church.

Her activities and status remind us that early Christianity was organized around house churches (assemblies that met in homes, often those of wealthier people) and that women held significant leadership roles, sometimes working jointly with their husbands.

In fact, the reason that Prisca is not able to be here is that she and Aquila keep uprooting once a church gets established and staring a new house church in a different city. Here they worked at community building as converts gathered to celebrate the Lord’s supper and hear the good news preached. I can tell you that they established house churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, and these became missionary centres from which other missionary journeys were launched.

It isn’t that they ran from problems. Far from it! On the contrary, they dared to live out their Christian faith even in the most difficult situations. Corinth and Ephesus were both wealthy, bustling, cosmopolitan cities, but they had an underbelly as a center of idolatrous worship which made vice a religious virtue. In Corinth it was the goddess Aphrodite who called the faithful. In Ephesus it was Diana. Here Christianity threatened a thriving tourism business which centered on the cult of Diana. And then on top of this, there was the opposition of certain Jews in these cities.

Paul would even say that they risked their necks for him. In fact, it is unknown right now where they are, or if they have run into trouble with authorities again. Perhaps they are even now beginning another house church, and daring to show by their example a different way of being in the world.


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