Ecclesiasticus 31:3-11
St. Barnabas, the Apostle
June 11, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

This morning, we approach one of the exceptional characters of the New Testament… one of the great champions of the Faith!

Many facts about the Apostle Barnabas we do not know… and will never know – for they are not presented to us… But what has been set before us regarding this very special servant of Christ shows us what it means to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength… and to love our neighbors as ourselves…

One is certainly struck by the generosity of this man when he is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles… for we are told that during the very difficult economic environment in which Christ’s Church took root, he willingly sold land he owned and graciously brought the proceeds and laid it at the feet of the Apostles to feed and clothe his Christian brothers and sisters who were less fortunate… and in great need. This is without doubt the reason why the Ecclesiasticus passage has been appointed for this day. As John Ruskin’s famous saying goes… The Best Things in Life are not Things!

Then, for those who have read and understand the Scriptural record describing the early days of Christ’s Church, Barnabas stands out as one who possessed great insight into the spiritual lives of his brothers and sisters.

As you may recall, after the Lord had revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus, and the great change wrought by spiritual regeneration came over him, there was enormous confusion in the Church. The Apostles suspected this to be an insidious ploy by Saul designed to gain entry into their midst for yet further decimation of Christ’s flock…

It was Barnabas, however, who boldly met with Saul, and convinced of the genuineness of his conversion, brought him to Jerusalem to meet and gain acceptance with the leaders of the Jerusalem Church…

Further, those who have read and studied the Scriptural account enough to understand the flow of events in the Early Church, also recognize the unusual humility modeled in the life of this notable Spirit-led leader named Barnabas… for it was under his ministry that Saul learned about the Faith… and served two apprenticeships, if you will. And during the First Missionary Journey, a remarkable change, indeed, is recorded for our benefit.

At Pisidian Antioch (modern-day Turkey), Barnabas realizing the gifts of the Spirit in the life of Saul (now named Paul), stepped aside and let St. Paul lead the balance of the missionary journey. The time had come for Barnabas – not to cling to power – but to multiply it… and to propel a gifted leader of Christ’s Church forward in the service of the Gospel.

Many of the other sterling Spirit-given attributes which Barnabas possessed included honesty… faithfulness… loyalty… compassion… But in the time that remains this morning, let us consider briefly why the brethren surnamed him Barnabas – Son of Encouragement…

 

As you know, his real name was Joses (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joseph). Yet his brothers and sisters in Christ called him Barnabas (Son of Encouragement). Why?

We all know that just as there are those in life who spread joy wherever they go… so, too, there are those in life who spread joy whenever they go…

There are those in life who can only see clouds. And then there are those in life who can also see the beautiful silver lining gracefully formed around the perimeter of clouds – reminding us that it is furnished by the brilliant sun that stands behind the clouds… The difference comes from one’s comprehension of God and His purposes for our lives…

Though honest and sincere, some people tend toward pessimism – because that is all their understanding allows them to see… Others are irrepressible optimists – for that is what their understanding allows them to see…

Some people have one lone tool in their bag of interpersonal skills – and it is all too often a sledge hammer! My way… or the highway… is their song of life… Others have more specialized and delicate tools suitable for handling, correcting and defusing an assorted array of situations in life – including a remarkable instrument (a wonder tool) which goes by the name “encouragement.” Encouragement is wonderfully suited to propel others forward in the development of Faith and life… It is a powerful nutrient for the soul extraordinarily suited for health of mind, spirit, and body.

Some see the proverbial glass as always half empty… Others see it as always half full… Others, such as Barnabas, had the perspective that allowed him to see both…

There is no doubt that the encouraging manner of Barnabas was a gift from the Almighty… And one need not read very far into the Scriptures before realizing that our Everlasting Father is Himself the Great Encourager in life…

In His final words to Moses, before His people entered the Promised Land – a land full of dangers and pitfalls (the glass half empty)… but also a land full of milk and honey (the glass half full) – what instructions did He give to Moses? Listen to His Words very carefully…

But charge Joshua, and encourage him… for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land…

Encourage? Encourage a general? Are not generals supposed to be tough… and durable… and able to bear up under any burden and load? Encourage? Yet, it was God Who said it! The Almighty created us and knows and understands what we need… It is He, to employ modern parlance, Who knows how we are “wired”… He knows we are have feet of clay. He knows we require steady encouragement…

But charge Joshua, and encourage him…

So many forget when they are looking at a difficult situation… or dealing with a difficult interpersonal relationship – that the snapshot they are beholding is not the end… but the beginning of what is to follow… and that the matter is not really in our feeble hands… but rather in the Great Hands of the Master…

The Proverbs-writer reminds us…

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

And the Gospel-writers remind us that…

…Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

This is why the Scriptures continually remind us that we are the unfinished handiwork of God… in constant need of encouragement…

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Rome was not built in a day… Nor are we brought to Christian maturity in a day… or in a single season… or in a year… or even in a decade… Growth in Christ requires a lifetime. There is a definite sequence to our progress… and it must be accompanied incrementally by encouragement…

…first the blade, said Jesus, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Barnabas understood these exquisite truths… and everywhere he went he was encouraging others to progress along the King’s Highway… sometimes with words. At other times with deeds. Always by example.

Even John Mark, who had deserted Barnabas and Paul on the First Missionary Journey, and who undoubtedly was looked down upon for his failings – found a generous portion of encouragement from the Apostle Barnabas… to the extent that he accompanied him on a separate missionary journey to the Island of Cyprus (his homeland) and was reestablished in the work of the Gospel.

Oh, that Christ’s Church had more men… more women… more children… more young people… like Barnabas in our day… who can see – not what we are… but what we can become!

And what, by the way, you might ask… ever came of John Mark? Well, for one thing, he was the human author of the Gospel According to St. Mark!

And at the end of his earthly ministry, whom do you suppose St. Paul requested from his prison cell in Rome? He requested none other than John Mark… with beautiful words of encouragement…

…bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.

Those who encourage others fulfill a special and important function in Christ’s Church – one which it is almost impossible to overstate…

Many years ago, a young acolyte was serving at the altar one Sunday morning at the country Church in the small village where his family lived.

The boy, nervous in his new role at the altar, accidentally dropped the cruet of wine on the floor. The priest immediately slapped the embarrassed boy on the face… and in a very gruff voice spoke words which the communicants could hear:

Leave the altar and don’t come back.

And that is just what he did! That boy’s name in later life was Tito, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia.

Many years ago, another acolyte was also serving at the altar one Sunday morning at the Church in the large city where his family lived.

He, too, accidentally dropped the cruet of wine on the floor. The celebrant paused, then leaned forward and whispered encouragingly:

Don’t worry. One day you are going to become a priest.

And that is just what he did. That boy grew up to become Archbishop Fulton Sheen – a name many of you may remember from the 1950s when he spoke to millions in Christ’s Name about the evils of Communism.

We are called to be those who encourage – who encourage other siblings in our Lord’s Family. Our words are so important… and so are our actions… But an encouraging heart is indispensable before our Lord.

And we have every reason to encourage others and to be encouraged… For the Almighty always has the last word… He always writes the last chapter… He governs and has His Way in the affairs of men and nations…

Where are you this morning on the scale of encouragement? How do you measure up? I call upon you, with God’s help, to be a son of encouragement… a daughter of encouragement… in your own day – in this Church Family. In your circle of friends. In your spheres of influence.

Let us not forget the example of the Apostle Barnabas – who was generous… insightful… humble… and surnamed by his brothers and sisters the Son of Encouragement! His love and service to our Lord we celebrate this holy morning!

World without end. Amen.

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