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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


12th June 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 3

'For he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith.'
Acts. 11.24

That verse is St. Luke's description of St. Barnabas whose feast we celebrated yesterday. I found myself writing about Barnabas the encourager for the 'In faith' column in the Watford Observer. As I said there he is special to me because I was a curate at St. Barnabas' Church, Wirral. I thought I share some more thoughts about him today.

If you study the Gospels, Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles carefully you will find many references to individuals who played a part in the story of the early church. Thus in today's gospel there is a list of the twelve although Luke does not include Barnabas amongst them. As well as the main characters like Paul and Peter there are those who superficially seem little more than extras and yet two thousand years they are remembered. Some unfortunates like Judas Iscariot feature because of their wrongdoing and evil nature. Others are recalled for their good qualities. All that we know about some early Christians is summed up in a few pithy phrases that somehow encapsulate their personality. Their memory warms us, inspires us.

The Russian word for a saint, prepodobnia, is best translated as 'very, very like'. The saints are thus very, very like Jesus. Those short NT pen portraits skilfully capture the ways in which some early Christians were very, very like Jesus. We should note that the NT does not simply present us with plaster saints. Some of the bad features of the good are conveyed too, which is somehow reassuring to us. We can connect with them, relate to them because like us they are flawed before they are redeemed.

So back now to St. Barnabas, let's spend time some time getting to know him better.

  1. 'Barnabas... having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles feet.' Acts. 4.37. Barnabas is recalled for his generosity in responding to the needs of the church, and particularly for his organisation of relief for the Church in Judea. (No doubt he would have played a big part in Christian Aid week if they had had it then.) That generosity came out of his response to the love of God. He 'had seen the grace of God, was glad'. That sums up the principles of Christian stewardship, a glad response to seeing the grace of God. God gives every church all that it needs. We are resourced in terms of talents and finance. The difficulty lies in the release of those gifts for distribution according to need.
  2. 'Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles.' Acts. 9. 27. Barnabas took Saul, soon to be Paul, to the Jerusalem Church. The Christians there were rightly terrified of Saul the persecutor. Barnabas having seen the change brought about by Paul's conversion took him through those barriers of fear. Barnabas was a bridge builder (in Latin a pontifax also meaning priest), and a minister of reconciliation. Within and without the churches there are many such prejudices to be over come. We too are called by Christ to share with Barnabas in the ministry of reconciliation.
  3. 'And when he a had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.' Acts. 11.26. Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch where the 'disciples were called Christians first.' For a year they shared in a ministry of teaching and evangelism, leading by God's grace to the growth of the Church there. A shared ministry, involving all in the exercise of their gifts, is God's way of growing his Church. As a footnote, even their subsequent disagreement and parting of ways furthered the spread of the faith. God works through the bad as well as the good.

Through those three verses from Acts we discover three aspects of Barnabas, his generosity, his work of reconciliation and his shared ministry of teaching and evangelism, each helping us to get to know him better and inspiring us in our own discipleship. In the Gospel for St. Barnabas' Day from St. John 15 Jesus calls us 'friends'. Barnabas was a friend of Jesus and of many others. Friendship is a special quality that binds the church together. Let us ask God to help us to grow in friendship, with one another as with St. Barnabas.

Let us pray.

O Lord God Almighty, who didst endue thy Holy Apostle Barnabas with singular gifts of thy Holy Ghost: Leave us not, we beseech thee, destitute of thy manifold gifts, nor yet of grace to use them alway to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at webmaster@stmatthewsoxhey.org.uk Last updated 12/06/2005 09:30 Author: David Shepherd