A Sermon for St Barnabas, Apostle & Martyr
Sunday, June 11, 2017
(Job 29:11-16; Psalm 98; Acts 11:22-30 & 13:1-3; Matthew 10:7-13)
Last week we considered a number of stories of the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives. We considered ‘The Fittest Man in the World’, Rich Froning; the late-in-life horse whisperer, Joe Camp, and; the mutual ministry God has raised up between this church and the church in Indonesia.
It seems to be vital for our understanding of God’s call that we tell, share, and celebrate these and other stories of the Spirit’s work.
Today we remember and celebrate two more stories: the story of the apostle Barnabas and the story of what God is doing in this community that has adopted his name: The Parish of St Barnabas
Acts introduces us to Barnabas as he gives the proceeds of a land sale to the apostles. There we discover that there is something deliberate about this name. Joseph was his birth name. The apostles re-named him Barnabas. It’s meaning: ‘son of encouragement’.
Is there anything in an adopted name?
His story suggests Barnabas suited him well. From Acts, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians we are able to piece together something of his good, Spirit-filled, and faithful life.
There is much to commend this man: bravery, friendship, generosity, humility. Barnabas was mission-minded, showed concern for the poor, could teach and negotiate, worked hard, and proved faithful through suffering. Perhaps he could have taken on any number of names.
Yet those closest to him named him ‘son of encouragement’.
Perhaps we can see why by considering Barnabas and two of his friends: Saul who became the Apostle Paul, and John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.
Saul encountered the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road. Afterwards he found himself in no-man’s-land. No longer welcome within his Jewish sect and isolated from many of the followers of Jesus. His persecution of the church fertilised a deep suspicion and fear that took time to overcome.
Yet in this tense situation Barnabas was an early believer in Saul’s conversion and call. He advocated for Saul to the church in Jerusalem introducing him to the leaders and testifying to his faith in Jesus. He sought Paul out to join him teaching at the gentile revival in Antioch. He travelled alongside Paul when the Holy Spirit called them on the first gentile mission.
Yet as Acts unfolds there is a change. At first the author consistently refers to ‘Barnabas and Saul’. But as the mission goes forth it becomes ‘Paul and Barnabas’. Barnabas initially leads. Then he allows Paul to take the lead.
It would seem that Barnabas humbly encouraged Paul to the point that his leadership was no longer needed.
In Acts the story of Barnabas drops away over another that Barnabas took under his wing: John Mark. Mark abandoned the first missionary journey early on and Barnabas and Paul split over whether to give the young man another chance. Paul insisted on leaving Mark. Barnabas insisted on taking him.
The same Barnabas who encouraged and nurtured God’s gift in the Apostle Paul left him to encourage and nurture God’s gift in Mark.
This split is not the end. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he sends greetings to the church from ‘Mark the cousin of Barnabas’. In his second letter to Timothy he also asks that Mark be sent to his prison cell ‘…for he is useful to me’.
What a wonderfully encouraging ministry Barnabas had to both Paul and Mark. I can’t help thinking that the Holy Spirit did very well to put Barnabas’ wise and encouraging head in the team that included these two developing missionaries.
For what it is worth, I see something of this ‘son of encouragement’ in this community. In your history of taking young and developing priests; in your nurturing of Reverend Helen’s gifts from school teacher to priceless leader; in your generosity to churches beyond our own denomination, culture, and nation; in your celebration of the developing faith of our children and young people, and; in your desire to be seen alongside people at all life stages and their walk with God.
I see something of Barnabas in you.
A church this size can take on a survival mentality that closes down and looks only to meet its own needs. You have become, however, a place looking to serve others who have less: Wattle Park, Murrumburra-Harden, the churches of Indonesia, the Tongan Methodist Church, the Anglican church in the Arctic. You offer clothes, friendship, and a home for the outcast.
Perhaps there is something in our adopted name: St Barnabas. It seems to me that you are growing into this name. That you are becoming the encouraging force God dreams you can be.
And I am very proud to be a small part of the tradition!