Being a Barnabas

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Acts 9:26-31, Acts 15:36-39

I am blessed with good friends. I have a special group of friends who have been meeting three times a year for almost twenty years  to study the texts we will use for preaching. During those times together we not only engage in Bible Study, prayer and discussion, we also share meals together, we share our joys, we share our struggles —some related to the church—others are our own personal struggles. Most of us in the group of five met in seminary.

I am blessed indeed. These are dear and long friendships.

One of my dear friends, John who has seen me through thick and thin, suggested that as a group we write sermons on friendship and put the collection in a book. He claims there is a market for it in his congregation. I don’t know… but here goes one of my attempts – for my friend John!

Interesting thing as I think about my friendship with John on Rally Day is to realize that our friendship likely began in Sunday School—even before we knew each other. His grandmother belonged to my home church. John claims that it is likely we were placed next to each other in the cribs during Sunday School and Worship when his family visited Jacksonville.

Who knew back then what God may have been doing? Over the years his grandmother kept track of my life as I grew up in the church. When she discovered that I was going to seminary and John was going to seminary— I understand she wanted to arrange for us to be roommates. Which she did without me knowing about it. And I am blessed.

As I thought about friendship for a long time, I was led to the story of Barnabas as the kind of friend I would want to have. If I could choose one friend from the Bible I think I’d choose Barnabas.  And if I could be a friend, I would want to be a friend like Barnabas. His friendship is a means of God’s grace in so many ways.

You know, if you listened to me read the Scripture, you know that Barnabas was not always known as Barnabas. He grew up being known as Joseph. Nothing wrong with that name in my opinion! I like the name Joseph! But as the Apostles got to know him, they thought he needed a new name to more accurately describe their experience of him. So the name they gave him: “Son of Encouragement”: Barnabas.

They gave him that name after first meeting him in the early church. He was one of the ones who when the church was in need—when people were in need—volunteered to do his part by selling off some land in order to give it to the apostles for the needs of the suffering Christians. No one came begging or pleading for funds. There were no capital campaigns. He gave because he heard of a need and that was enough for him.

Something about Joseph was uplifting and encouraging. So they gave him the name Barnabas. And it stuck. No one called him Joseph anymore. From there on out it was Barnabas—the son of encouragement.  Somewhere I heard that his name could also mean “good neighbor”… and I would like to think it could mean, “good friend”—for they all go together for me.

Read his story and you’ll discover that this is exactly the kind of friend we could all use.

He was a friend that stood by you and stood up for you through thick and thin. Luke includes quite a few stories of Barnabas that tells us the kind of companion and friend he was to those who knew him.

When Saul the Jewish hit man converted to Paul the Christian witness, it was Barnabas who stood by his side and vouched for him when everyone else was skeptical. No one else was ready to accept Paul or his incredible story. Could be a trick for all they knew.

But Barnabas put his name and reputation on the line for Paul. He stood up for Paul when no one else would.  What a friend to have in Barnabas! Sort of reminds you of Jesus.

From there on, for a long time, the two names were said together as they went out spreading the gospel into the Jewish and Gentile world.  It was Barnabas and Paul did this or Paul and Barnabas did that. It was the two of them working together for the gospel.

They went through thick and thin together—like the time they were mistaken for the gods Zeus and Hermes because of miracles they worked in one town. I bet they laughed over that as they retold the story to their friends. ‘Imagine US being mistaken for gods!’

There was also the time they both went to that contentious Jerusalem council meeting to help present the case of what God had been doing among the Gentiles – where it was agreed that Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised. A tense meeting. No laughing matter.  But they were there together… friends they were.

But their friendship was strained when the time came for them to go out again. They were ready to return and visit the churches… and Barnabas wanted to take his cousin John Mark with them. This was a touchy subject for Paul. John Mark had quit on them once before and Paul apparently didn’t like quitters. But Barnabas didn’t give up on people so easily. It was a hard discussion. Especially when you are friends. They agreed to part ways. Paul and Silas set out their way and Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance—and they went to Cyprus.

Maybe Barnabas knew that John Mark needed him more than Paul. Needed encouragement more than Paul. So he befriended him and lived up to his name as the son of encouragement.

Barnabas is the kind of person I’d love to call my friend. Barnabas is the kind of friend I’d like to be. Maybe I could make that my middle name—I don’t have one you know. “Joseph Barnabas Welker”… JBW-  I don’t know about that. Well, maybe not.

One of the signs of God’s goodness and grace is so often offered through the gift of friends like Barnabas, don’t you think? Where would we be without such friends God has given to us?

I look over my life and realize that God has moved powerfully through the friendships I have been offered. Sometimes, I don’t know how we’d make it through life without our friends who encourage us and help us.

Melinda Kramer learned this the hard way. Melinda and her husband Paul went through the indescribable nightmare of the sudden and tragic death  of their young adult daughter, Katrina. She wrote a book about her difficult journey in hopes of helping others. She shared this quote:

   “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.” (a quote by John Collins, a nineteenth century English critic.)

   Melinda said,

  “During times of grief it will be your true friends that come forth with the help and support most needed.”

    She went on to describe a couple of such friends including my sister Marty.

“Marty has been a close friend since we were in high school together. We were also college roommates. Our parents were friends before us. We have both settled back in our hometown and live close enough to see each other regularly. In many ways, we are very much alike. We love to laugh, are not afraid of tears, work hard, put family first and communicate openly and honestly. We value that which we share in common, respect the ways in which we differ and enjoy the fun and comfort of a long friendship. I think Marty saved my life.

She will be surprised to hear that… Marty was just being her usual self. She was being herself at a time when I could not recognize anything of myself in me.

When confusion and fear blurred my thinking, worry and pain restricted my heart and exhaustion and panic hindered my forward motion, Marty invited me to Starbucks.

I was meeting depression for the first time; it was destroying my daughter and empowering me. Unselfishly putting her own agenda on hold, disregarding the late hour, Marty would call me with a cheerful, ‘Meet me at Starbucks. I can be right there.” Often I would oblige with a somewhat robotic obedience, slipping away from the house with a supportive nudge from my husband.

Always I would find the meeting with my friend revitalizing and renewing.

I could talk knowing she would listen without judgment. My concerns could be voiced, met with hope and encouragement. Most importantly, Marty called again and again, giving me a routine that I could count on when nothing else made sense… I seemed unable to call her myself, but neither was I willing to refuse her invitation. And so, in this subtle way, during the battle, I was strengthened and fortified.”[1]

Sounds like a Barnabas to me.

When our daughter Anna was diagnosed with lymphoma,  Sharon and I experienced this first hand.  When the news broke-I’ll never forget my friend Ted, a minister who is a friend since seminary, calling me almost immediately and taking me to lunch to Camille’s across the street.

I’ll never forget my friend John, my old Church crib buddy, calling and offering the help of one of the most compassionate surgeons I’ve ever experienced—who has become a good friend. Sylvia became a friend as she opened her heart, her knowledge and her wisdom to help us navigate this journey. In this case, our crisis brought forth a gift I will always treasure: a new friend for the journey.

Old friends and new—like Bob and Anna and Kat and Kim in Chapel Hill visited with Anna every time she had chemo treatment. Interesting thing, we all met in church, in several congregations to be precise. Church is a great place to find the best friends.

I cannot tell you how much your friendship meant during those first days and months in this church. Every act of friendship was a source of renewal and revival for us.

Sounds like Barnabas to me. Everyone needs a Barnabas.

This week in the office, Indy Kidenwold brought two new refugees from Ethiopia to meet with Annette Homiller. Annette is coordinating the gifts you are sharing with them. I am thinking, these are Barnabas people. Indy and Annette and so many of you have helped strangers make the transition. Many have become our friends.

Everyone needs a Barnabas. Sounds like Barnabas to me.

On this Rally Day, I am hoping that every Sunday School Class, small group and youth meeting might provide a place where friendships are formed. Long after the lessons are taught, long after the books are read, the friendships will remain as one of the greatest gifts we can offer one another.

Everyone needs a Barnabas. One of the greatest gifts we can offer someone is to be a Barnabas.

Today, I invite you to give thanks to God for the Barnabas people in your lives.

Treasure them. Thank them. Write them a note. Give them a call. Text them. Facebook them. They may not even know it. You’ll make their day. I promise you, you’ll make their day.

And when God gives you the opportunity to be a Barnabas. Grab it. Take it from me. You will be a gift of God to that person. They will never forget what you have done for them and what God has done through you. No matter what your name, you will be remembered in your life as a son or a daughter of encouragement. You will be known as a great friend. 

You will be a Barnabas- a gift of God’s grace indeed. Amen. 

Letting Go by Holding Tight by Melinda Kramer  pp.42-46


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