Saint Barnabas

Son of Encouragement

Today we celebrate the life and ministry of Saint Barnabas, the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. He was more than a traveling companion. Barnabas was largely responsible for encouraging Paul to undertake an active ministry in the first place.

We know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. We know that Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry. Nonetheless, Paul was not easily accepted as an apostle of Jesus by the leadership in Jerusalem. He had been persecuting the Church. Barnabas, however, looked at Paul through the eyes of Christ. He rescued Paul and presented him to the apostles, testifying that Paul was indeed a true believer. This was typical of Barnabas. His name meant “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was chosen along with Paul for a special mission:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   (Acts 13:1-3)

This was the beginning of the great mission to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were willing to travel without special requirements or treatment. They endured great hardships for the Gospel. They were willing to follow the instructions which Jesus gave His disciples concerning the conduct of ministry:

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.   (Matthew 10:7-10)

What can we learn from Barnabas about our own ministry? He did not care what others thought or said about Paul. He listened only to what God was telling him. He wanted the praises and approval of God more than that of human beings.

A positive attitude is helpful. Prayer and fasting is preparation. The support of a community is vital and of absolute necessity. A willingness to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for ministry directed by God and not by our own desires. Perhaps this last one is the most difficult. The Holy Spirit may lead us into difficult places where we must rely solely on God.

We may not be asked by God to leave home and job. We may, however, be asked to give up some of our cherished beliefs about ministry. We may be asked to leave our comfort zones. We may be required to work with others who are not on the approved list. We might just be called to offer encouragement and support to others in their ministry. God is still calling his Barnabas’s.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 5

Track 1:  Darkness to Light

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The children of Israel wanted a king like the other nations around them. Samuel new it was a bad idea and took it to the Lord. God gave the people a warning:

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”   (1 Samuel 8:10-18)

God’s warning did not dissuade them. How often do we think that we no better than God? With our limited understanding, do we think that God is out of touch to reality? This must have been the thinking of the children of Israel:

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”    (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

The founding fathers of our nation understood the dangers of concentrating too much power in governmental leadership. That is why they built in a system of checks and balances agents that power. Leadership makes promises to the people, but too often they are interested in their own welfare, often at the expense of others.

God had a completely different idea for Israel:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.   (1 Pet. 2:9)

There is the kingdom of darkness which is ruled by Satan. The culture has bought into this kingdom. Then there is the kingdom of light. This kingdom is ruled by God. Which kingdom do we prefer? We cannot have both. The Apostle Paul wrote:

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins .   (Colossians 1:13-14)

To live in the kingdom of God, however, requires faith on our part. His kingdom is not fully formed on this earth yet. Satan will attempt to draw us back into his domain. Often times it is with ridicule and mockin. Ever heard of the mocking bird media?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was casting out demons from many people. He was accused of being out of his mind by the religious authorities. Even his own family were questioning what he was doing:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”   (Mark 3:31-35)

The kingdom of darkness is passing away. The Apostle wrote:

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.   (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.   (Romans 8:15-81)

Do we have the staying power? Jesus has that power for us. All we need to do is rely on him. He has won the victory over sin and death.

 

Track 2: Suggestions

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The theme of two kingdoms seems to fit here as well. The reading from Genesis tells how the kingdom of darkness began with the fall. Man was in charge of the world until he handed it over to Satan.

The theme of casting out demons in the Gospel reading might be explored. This may be controversial. Can christian be oppressed by demons and be bound by generational curses? But there is nothing new here. Jesus’ own family tried to restrain his from. They were embarrassed by what the religious leaders were saying about Jesus. Maybe it is time for religious leaders to wake up to reality?

 

From this Sunday the appointed lectionary reading are split into two tracks. This treatment is carried through out the remainder of the Pentecostal Season. This year we will concentrate on Track !, offering complete homilies for this track. For Track 2 we will offer suggestions  for homilies based on the different Old Testament readings and Psalms of Track 2.

Track 1 of Old Testament readings  follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. In Year A we begin with Genesis, in Year B we hear some of the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophets.

Track 2 follows the Roman Catholic tradition of thematically pairing the Old Testament reading with the Gospel reading, often showing how the person and ministry of Jesus Christ is foretold in the Old Testament reading.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Standing on the Promises of God

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. This moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed in the promise of God, even though great miracles of God were required. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as did Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today? Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded this promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of the promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as that of Mary or Elizabeth, but they are important to God’s plan. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There may be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon us to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds.

God will do great things for us but he requires that we exercise our faith. Are we willing to hear, believe, and stand on the promises of God?

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

The Fullness of God

Today is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the unity of God in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is complete in three persons. Each one of these persons is God. God is all three. God is not divided. Reading from Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.   (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Let us look the separate ministries of each of the three Persons of the Trinity and see how they support and complete one another.

We will start with the ministry of God the Father. In our Old Testament passage today the Prophet Isaiah sees a vision of God the Father sitting on his throne:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”   (Isaiah 6:1-3)

God the Father is Holy. He is pure. He is absolutely good. His glorious presence makes us very aware of out sins. Isaiah said:

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:5)

God the Father is in total control of the universe. He sets the rules. He alone determines what is right and wrong. He alone is the one who judges sin. He alone can also forgive sin. This is what he decided to do for Isaiah:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The tseraph[b] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Isaiah could do nothing to eradicate his sin. Only God could do that. What he did for Isaiah he can do for us. Isaiah prophesied how the Father would deal with our sn. He foretold the coming of the Messiah:

He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:3-6)

The Apostle Paul proclaimed that there is one God. But he also illuminated on the ministry of the Holy trinity:

For there is one God;
    there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
   who gave himself a ransom for all.   (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

God the Father judges sin, but Jesus, who is God the Son, is our mediator.

Let us look at todays Gospel reading. God explains the new birth to Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

This is the message of salvation. But this is not all that Jesus said to Nicodemus. He also said:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:5-8)

Jesus has introduced us to the ministry of God, the Holy Spirit. Later, Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from this world, he comforted them with the promise of the Holy Spirit:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.   (John 14:15-17)

The Spirit is our helper and guide to a Holy life. His ministry is essential. The Apostle Paul

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-17)

Are we children of God? If so, we are led by the Spirit. That is choice we must make. To be a new creation in Christ our old worldly self must come under the authority of the Spirit.

God, in his fullness, is found in the Holy Trinity. This is true of his ministry to us as well. Do we know him this way? Today, he is calling us to embrace all that he has given us. Are we willing to give him all of ourselves?

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