June 11th is the day we remember St Barnabas. His name means Son of Encouragement and was actually a nickname given to him by the Apostles. His given name was Joseph. When you read the New Testament his name occurs now and again, but it is Paul who features most prominently. Without Barnabas and his ministry of encouragement, this might not have been the case.
The readings at the 2pm SLT service were Psalm 112, Galatians 2:1-10, John 15:12-17. Thanks to Bish and Cephus for reading.
Three years ago a friend asked me who my favourite saint was. She asked because I was getting ready to do a walk to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago means Saint James and she wondered if he was significant to me but it was just the walk that was significant, not the saint. My friend did set me thinking though, and in the end I decided that St Barnabas is my favourite. Today we remember Barnabas so for me it’s a special day.
Barnabas’ real name was Joseph but Luke says he was given the name Barnabas by the apostles. The name means Son of Encouragement. The word for encouragement is ‘paraklesis’ in Greek. The Holy Spirit is also called the Paraclete so Barnabas was seen as acting in the same way as the Holy Spirit does, which is a great affirmation of the type of person he was. He encouraged others both by his words and his actions.
Barnabas was from a Jewish-Cypriot priestly family but seems to have been involved fairly early with the church in Jerusalem. Luke tells in Acts of how Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the apostles. His action is contrasted with that of Ananias and Sapphira who sold property but only gave part of the proceeds to the Apostles.
Both Luke and Paul call Barnabas an apostle, though obviously he’s not not one of the original 12. Luke describes him as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.’ He seems to have had great spiritual insight and to have been a warm, friendly character who was widely respected.
The work we see Barnabas do reminds me of something that John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said recently. A poll was carried out for Premier Christian Radio which asked churchgoers in the UK which living Christian, currently in the public eye, they respect the most. The outright winner, by a huge margin, was John Sentamu. He gained 18% of the vote, with Billy Graham and Steve Chalke (founder of the Christian charity Oasis) coming joint second with 5% of the vote. Rowan Williams polled 3% of the vote. A spokesman for the Archbishop said that John Sentamu considers himself to be ‘an unworthy servant of a most worthy Lord.’ The archbishop apparently likes to quote an old African proverb which states that ‘those who stand out, only do so because they are being carried on the shoulders of others.’
When you read the book of Acts the hero seems to be Paul who goes on his missionary journeys and spreads the Word far and wide, founding churches and preaching to many people including some very influential ones. In fact he only stands out because he was carried on the shoulders of Barnabas. If it hadn’t been for Barnabas, Paul is unlikely to have been accepted by the apostles in Jerusalem after his conversion. They were naturally suspicious that Paul had found a new way to trick the believers and so arrest even more than before. Barnabas took a risk and met Paul. He might actually have been risking his life but in fact he found that Paul had been wonderfully converted and was definitely a Christian. The next risk Barnabas took was to take Paul to the leaders of the Church and speak up for him. Barnabas risked his reputation in order to encourage Paul in his Christian life. Without Barnabas Paul’s ministry might never have got under way at all. Had that been the case, we might not be meeting here today to worship God together, held together by our faith in Jesus our Saviour. We certainly would not have had most of the New Testament to read as the majority is either about Paul or written by him. That one act of encouragement by Barnabas really transformed the early Church and helped to form the Church as we know it today.
When many Gentiles were converted in Antioch, partly by Barnabas’ fellow Cypriots, it was he who represented the Apostles there. He quickly realised that this was the work of God and encouraged the believers. With his encouragement more believers were added to their number. Barnabas had not forgotten Paul and went to search for him in his home town of Tarsus, bringing him from obscurity to a prominent and growing ministry. In the passage we have heard from Galatians, Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles was recognized by the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem and he and Barnabas were sent back to work with the blessing of Peter and the others. Not all went without problems as later Barnabas followed Peter in refusing to eat with the Gentile believers for a while as the result of the disapproval of James. Paul was not afraid to challenge both Peter and Barnabas about this.
Barnabas and Paul were commissioned in Cyprus to go on the first missionary journey, taking John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, with them. As a result of this journey, many Gentile churches were founded in Asia Minor. It was this journey that highlighted the cost to Barnabas of his encouragement of Paul. In Acts Luke begins to refer to ‘Paul and Barnabas’ not ‘Barnabas and Saul’ from this time onwards. Barnabas had sacrificed his predominance for his friend Paul just as Jesus exhorted his followers to lay down their lives in love for others.
Later Paul and Barnabas disagreed about including John Mark in a second missionary journey as he had left the first one early. Paul took Silas with him instead and Barnabas took John Mark. Although they were separate they seem to have remained friends, with Paul speaking of Barnabas with respect in his letters. Later, Paul and Mark were reconciled, no doubt due to the encouragement each received from Barnabas without which they might both have failed to do as well as they did.
Barnabas is my favourite saint because of his ministry of encouragement. It seems such an important thing to do and I want to model myself on him. Everyone needs encouragement, especially at times when they feel alone or particularly challenged by life. Giving encouragement may not be a high profile, public kind of ministry but it is vital, as we can see from the effect Barnabas was able to have.
Some years ago I was having difficulties with the church I attended and knew I needed to leave as all attempts to sort the issues out had not led far. I was in the process of handing on the jobs I did to others and meanwhile working hard to stop myself feeling bitter. In the midst of this I felt that God told me to take up a new role for my last few months there, that of encourager. It made such a difference to look for positive things to say to people instead of dwelling on the things that had gone wrong. Many of the people I was going to leave behind were good friends, so my encouragement was a bit like a parting gift.
Encouraging doesn’t mean that you may only look at the positive in someone. There is no call to don rose-tinted spectacles, although I’m sure you can buy them somewhere in SL. However, if you have made an effort to encourage, you will have earned the right to point out errors to people because that criticism will be given in the context of a good relationship. Barnabas was able to challenge the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem because he was well respected for his encouragement. I know there are people in my life who criticise me, and sometimes I think to myself that I really should be annoyed by what they say, but I’m not because they are also people who encourage and uphold me.
Today is the last service which will be held in this Cathedral before Mark’s farewell service on Saturday/Sunday. We are drawing to the end of one era in our life here and moving into another era. I would like to encourage you to do a few things in this important transitional period if you will.
First I would like you to encourage the Leadership Team in whatever way you can. We are taking on extra responsibilities, learning to work together in a new way without Mark there, and there are sure to be teething problems along the way. One particular way to encourage us is to offer to help with this ministry wherever you can. Another is to say an encouraging word if you can do it sincerely. It’s hard to convey just how much it means to me to finish a service and to hear that it has been helpful to someone, or to preach a sermon and have responses typed to show that the points have made a connection with those listening. I’m sure the rest of the team feel the same.
Secondly, I ask you to pray for this community, for the Leadership Team and for Mark, in these next few days as that farewell service draws closer. It would be nice to see people pop in here to pray in ones and twos, but prayer said anywhere is always welcome.
Thirdly, I would like your help in building up the sense of community here. Take a look at your friends list and send an encouraging IM to any you’ve not seen around for a while to show them that they are not forgotten.
Fourthly, I would encourage you to come to me with any concerns you have about this ministry, either caused by the transition or otherwise. Please don’t feel that you will be ignored. I will take what you say seriously and do my best to put right anything that is wrong. I am not a person who takes offence easily; I can deal with criticism well. If something really does get under my skin, I have friends who can help me get it into perspective without asking for names and details. They will tell me if I am reacting wrongly and help me to respond appropriately.
Finally, if you haven’t yet read the post on the blog about how things will work going forward, I encourage you to do so and to ask if anything is not clear.
I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the farewell service.