Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Reformer Martin Luther was inspired by remembering the saints, and so he wrote, “Next to Holy Scripture, there is certainly no more useful book for Christendom that that of the lives of the saints… For in these stories one is greatly pleased to find how they sincerely believed God’s Word, confessed it with their lips, praised it by their living, and honored and confirmed it by their dying.” Today, we remember the life and faith of the apostle St. Barnabas who the early church referred to as the “Son of Encouragement.”
Throughout life we all need gestures and words of encouragement. When our sons and daughter are young, we place signs and posters around their bedrooms with gentle reminders to do their best. From Wolfgang Riebe, “No one is perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers.” From Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out.” As they grow older, we offer words of encouragement to inspire them to discover their passions, and we remind them that they should not be afraid of mistakes for when you avoid failure you also avoid success. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “I didn’t fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
Young parents have a whole new set of needs and anxieties. Mignon McLaughlin discovered in “The Second Neurotic’s Notebook” that “Mama does everything for the baby, who responds by saying Dada first.” Having a baby even changes the way you view your in-laws. As one young mother noted, “I love it when they come to visit. They hold the baby and I go out.” And so it goes, whether facing challenges of work, transitions in life or a crisis of faith, we need words of encouragement.
Encouragement, however, is different from praise. Praise is to extol, laud and to express approval. Encouragement focuses on the deed. It is to motivate the individual on the inside to demonstrate and practice a similar positive behavior in the future. More effective than giving praise is to encourage those we love and care for to find their own praise; to teach them to recognize their own capabilities, to affirm their own ability to make thoughtful decisions, and to accept themselves unconditionally. So where should we begin?
The story of St. Barnabas teaches us that encouragement is not found simply in words, but encouragement is also found in deeds, in human acts of generosity, sacrifice and loyalty.
Let us begin with encouragement of generosity. St. Barnabas, named Joseph at birth was a devout Jew born in the year 1 AD. His family was part of the priestly clan of Levites living on the island of Cyprus. Barnabas was well- travelled, well- educated and a man of great means. Soon after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Joseph became a Christian and was regarded as a respected and prominent member of the church in Jerusalem. He believed in Jesus’ resurrection, and the love of God for all people. The church was growing daily, and there was an increasing financial need to support the apostles in going forth to spread the gospel. Surprisingly, all the apostles were taken care of, supported and encouraged by the church community in Jerusalem. In the Books of Acts, we read that there was not a needy person among them, for as many owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold to the church. Barnabas was among the financial supporters. The first reference we read of Barnabas is that “He sold a field that belong to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” It was this generous gift that earned Joseph the name Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement.”
Now you may be wondering: So why is generous giving such an important gesture of encouragement? Pretty crafty way of increasing the Sunday morning offering to be sure What I have discovered about my own stewardship, is that the more I invest in a program financially, at home, in the community, or in the church, the more I want that institution to success and thrive. To the receiver, it is a gesture of encouragement. It says, “I believe in you. You are doing the right thing. I trust your judgement.” Generous giving and support is not empty praise. It is solid encouragement.
Let us turn now to the encouragement of sacrifice. Although he was not one of the original twelve apostles, Barnabas was called an apostle by St. Luke in the Book of Acts. Apostle, you see, simply means one who is sent. The Church in Jerusalem recognized Barnabas’ gift a very good preacher, so they laid hands of prayer on him and sent him off to the city of Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. It was there that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The task, however, was overwhelming. Barnabas soon realized that he needed help to reach all the people. He thought of Paul of Tarsus who was earlier called Saul. Some Biblical scholars believe that the two studied together with the respected Rabbi Gamaliel. Barnabas took a chance, and sacrificed his own honor and credibility by presenting Saul to the Church in Jerusalem as a follower of Jesus. The Church was shocked by Barnabas’ words. This Saul was they very man who had persecuted the Church in Jerusalem, and sent hundreds of Christians as refugees around the Mediterranean Sea. Barnabas told the story of Saul’s journey on the road to Damascus to the church and that that he believed that Saul’s conversion was real. Barnabas risked and sacrificed his own good name for the sake of Saul.
Encouragement may seem easy, but true encouragement may often demand sacrifice from you. It’s the difference between words and commitment. Sacrifice becomes second-nature to parents. They strive to make their children’s lives better even before they come into this world until their last breath. The sacrifices they make for their children are innumerable. A man and a woman They are transformed into a mom and dad and everything that was before ‘us’ is now “the baby.” Throughout life, parents dedicate their time directly or indirectly to their kids. Even relaxing after a busy day at work seems difficult when a child is eagerly waiting to play. As every parent learns, “The quickest way to get a child’s attention is to sit down and look comfortable.” In the process you discover, that “The more you go through parenting, the more you owe an apology to your parents.” You simply hope they remember your sacrifice. As Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s the encouragement of sacrifice.
Barnabas went to Tarsus, Saul’s home town, and invited him to come and work with him. He was not afraid of sharing the responsibility and the power. He knew that Paul, too, had a great gift to give and he wanted him to have the chance to share it. They worked together in Antioch for a year. Together, they journeyed through modern day Turkey, on what is always known as Paul’s First Missionary Journey. They were accompanied by Barnabas’ young relative John Mark. They had many sufferings to bear. The young John Mark abandoned them on their way, as Barnabas and Paul risked their lives. Their hardships and sacrifice did not stop them from preaching. On that first missionary journey, they won many people to Jesus which they later reported to the Church in Jerusalem. Increasingly, the gospel was being received and welcomed by Gentiles and not simply by the Jewish community.
Let us turn now to the encouragement of loyalty. After the two apostles returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, Paul invited Barnabas to go on a second missionary journey. Barnabas agreed to Paul’s invitation, but he insisted that his cousin John Mark join them. Paul disagreed vehemently. In scripture we read that “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out.” For John Mark, his cousin Barnabas chose the encouragement of loyalty.
We don’t know who went too far in their sharp disagreement Barnabas or Paul. Martin Luther wrote, “It must have been a violent disagreement to separate the associates who were so closely united. Such examples,” he added, “are written for out consolation; for it is great comfort to us to hear that great saints, who have the Spirit of God, also sin. But that was also the reformer’s greatest hope. “If Barnabas or Paul, or Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he rose again, I, too, may rise again.” It fit perfectly with Luther’s understanding that we are all “sinners and saints.”
Whatever the disagreement, Barnabas chose to be loyal to John Mark and encourage him in his faith. The two went on to Barnabas’ own country of Cyprus, where many people would come to believe. Barnabas’ loyalty nurtured his cousin John Mark back to faith and walking in confidence. Nicole Yatsonky said, “Your truest friends are the ones who will stand by you in your darkest moments-because they’re willing to brave the shadows with you-and in your greatest moments-because they’re not afraid to let you shine.” Loyalty, in the darkest hours of the soul, is one of the greatest gestures of encouragement we can offer those we love.
St. Paul would see this change in John Mark as well. In Paul’s letters written from Rome, what are commonly referred to as the Prison Epistles, Barnabas’s cousin, John Mark is seen ministering and giving comfort to Paul, whom he calls his co-worker. According to tradition, John Mark would also pen the first of the four gospels, the Gospel of St. Mark. How different his life and witness would have been if he had not received the encouraging loyalty of St. Barnabas. As for St. Barnabas, he himself died a martyr in his home in Cyprus when he was stoned to death in the year 61.
Throughout life we all need words and gestures of encouragement. So let us in the ordinary times remember St. Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement,” and let us show encouragement, not simply in words, but in deeds and gestures of generosity, sacrifice and loyalty. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.