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Saint Barnabas

Son of Encouragement

Today we celebrate 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.

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 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 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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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Children of the Promise

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits 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. The 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)

Mary’s prophecy echoes the great joy of another Mother who had a miraculous child. Hannah prayed:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.   (1 Samuel 2:1-5)

Hannah dedicated her child who became Samuel, the great prophet and man of God. Hannah was barren but she believe in the promise of God.

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed the promises of God, even though great miracles of God were required to fulfill them. 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 was 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 that promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of that promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as Mary and Elizabeth, but they are important to God just the same. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There will always 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. We are also children of the promise

 

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B


The Victory that Overcomes the World

The covenant which God made with Abraham, that was extended to the children of Israel, was based on an agreement. God chose a people set apart for himself so that he might bless them. Receiving that blessing, however, required an obedience to God’s Commandments. Keeping their end of the agreement was such a struggle for Israel, as history testifies.

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, the Apostle Peter is surprised that God would accept Gentiles into his kingdom who had never been part of such a struggle. He had Been told by God to preach the Gospel to a group of Gentiles, but it does not appear that Peter was fully prepared for the response to his sermon:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.   (Acts 10:44-48)

Although Peter had received teaching directly from Jesus for three years he still lacked an important understanding concerning the Gospel. What had Peter missed? A key element to the Gospel that we might also miss today, if we are not careful. God stepped in and accomplished what Israel or anyone else, for that matter, was powerless to do.

The psalmist wrote:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

The Lord has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

What is this victory? God won a victory over sin and death through his Son Jesus Christ. His victory is for all humankind. Sin leads to death, both spiritual and, ultimately, physical death. Despite their best efforts, Israel was not able to overcome sin. They failed to keep God’s Commandments just as we have failed. Therefore, death still reigned. But Jesus defeated sin and death through his atoning sacrifice on the cross and by resurrection from the dead.

God had invited the Gentiles to participate in his victory over sin and death. What must have surprising to Peter is that God seemed to offer such an easy way out of their alienation from God. And they responded so quickly.

The intent of God was to make our salvation easy. We can be victorious because Jesus was victorious. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God —  not the result of works, so that no one may boast   (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For those of us who still want to earn our way, however, receiving God’s grace is not so easy. We must admit that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.

Yet there is still something that we can do, and must do. Jesus’s victory must become our victory. We are to participate in his victory. What that means is not so easily understood. It has not been preached all that well. The Apostle Paul goes a long way in explaining it. Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

Jesus has already made Paul his own, Paul writes. That is vitally important. Jesus has already made each one of us his own. Will we make him our own? Paul writes that he wants to press into Jesus. He wants to fully embrace what God has provided. He wants to have a part in Christ’s victory over sin and death.

The Apostle John makes this same point in his First Epistle:

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?   (1 John 5:4-5)

Faith and trust in Jesus is our response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul writes:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.   (Philippians 2:11-13)

God is doing a work in us, We want cooperate with God in this process of spiritual growth. Paul deals with this matter throughout the entire Book of Romans. But if we are looking for a simple explanation, we have nothing better that the words of our Lord. Jesus was asked:

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   (John 6:28-29)

Belief is something we must exercise everyday. Some may confuse it with a work. It is not a work, but it is required by, God. God is accomplishing all the work on our hearts and minds. Our part is to remain in fellowship with him and allow him to have free access to our hearts and minds.

Satan understands the Gospel very well so his purpose is to interrupt our fellowship with God. He discourages us. He attempts to make us blame God for all our problems. There will be problems. Jesus did say:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”  (John 16:33)

It is too bad that the feel good gospel, “your best life now,” is supported in many of our churches. It is a deception which Satan loves to use for his advantage and our confusion.

Jesus has conquered the world. He has overcome sin. He has overcome hell and the grave. We are over-comers as well when we put our trust in him. Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:37-39)

Are we ready to overcome the world? Then, reborn in Christ, we are well on the way. We will cross the finish line because we will stay in the race no matter what. We will keep our faith and trust in Jesus every step of the way.

For everyone born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that has overcomes the world, even our faith.  (1 John 5:4)

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