Give us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.from the Post-Communion Prayer, page 365 in the Book of Common Prayer
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of thy faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of thy Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.A prayer for the Feast of St. Barnabas
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.Acts 11:19-24
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
It’s become something of an annual event for me. Every year around this time, I think about the biblical character, Barnabas. His feast day was observed last week. If the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, was a movie, he would be supporting actor at best. Cameo perhaps. He maybe gets fifteen minutes of biblical fame.
One of the intriguing things about him was that his community changed his name. Originally named Joseph, his name was changed to Barnabas, which literally means “son of encouragement.” I find myself wondering what it was about him that prompted that change. I wondered about the nature of a community that knew his gifts well enough to change his name to fit those discerned gifts. I wondered how the communities in which I’m involved (family, church, work) would change my name, and whether I’d be happy with the shift.
How did he exhibit compelling encouragement? Think about the heart of that word: courage, a word which pops up in the prayer at the end of the eucharist. The word suggests not only bravery and valor. It suggests heart (as in the French word for heart, coeur). So what was the character of Barnabas’ courage?
A couple things. First of all, it took courage for any of the early Christians to be part of the community, when association with the way of Jesus involved persecution. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. That early church growth came at great cost. It took courage for Barnabas to take the lead in broadening the nature of the community, helping facilitate the inclusion of Gentiles who had formerly been excluded. That kind of change has never been easy. He is noted for his generosity, which in a world of scarcity takes courage. And my imagination tells me that it took all kinds of courage to introduce Paul to the church and to accompany him around the Mediterranean rim. Paul had many gifts, but I would think twice about having him as traveling partner. Imagine him going through security at an airport, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting. In short, I bet he was hard to get along with, witness the fact that he often parted ways with companions. For these and other reasons, Barnabas was seen as someone who demonstrated encouragement.
Think about that word today. Who has been an encouraging presence in your life? (I happen to be married to such a person, and she brings along with her a father who might well be Barnabas reincarnated.) Who has helped you move forward with both bravery and heart? Who has treated you with generosity, with an inclusive spirit, with an openness to difference? Lord knows, life throws us all kinds of occasions that summon those qualities. That kind of encouragement can come through the people we know. It can come from those we love but see no longer, the great cloud of witnesses who have been lights in their generations. It can come from those we never knew, whose stories and written reflections travel across the centuries. Where are you finding encouragement? If you’re having trouble answering that, if you’re discouraged, ask God to send encouragement. Apparently, it’s one of the things that the Holy Spirit does best.
Once you’ve identified sources of encouragement in your life, those who may have helped you move forward, think about ways you can be an encouraging presence to someone in your sphere of influence today, this week. It may be a grand and gracious and generous act. It might be a simple smile or expression of gratitude. Maybe it’s just a well-timed compliment. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone to encourage, ask God to show you who that person might be.
As we see Barnabas in others may we be Barnabas for others.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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