Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts together be acceptable in thy sight our Lord and Redeemer. Amen
New Testament Lesson:
Acts 14: 21-28 New International Version
They preached the good news in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Paul and Barnabas appointed eldersfor them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.
On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
This is the word of the Lord.
I don’t know about you—but I have a clear memory from my school days about returning to school each fall. One of the first assignments was to write an essay titled “What I did on my summer vacation.” I grew up in Indiana and most of my friends and I had been no farther than to visit our grandparents. So I hated that assignment. But there were always two or three who had been to what I considered glamorous places like the beach or the mountains. Their essays always sounded so exciting!
Our scripture reading is a little like those exciting reports from school years ago—What Paul and Barnabas did on their first missionary journey. As you recall, Paul had been converted from a zealot Jew to a faithful Christian. God called him to preach to the Gentiles—all people who are not Jewish. The world at that time was filled predominantly with Gentiles who were spread throughout what we call Southwestern Asia and Southeastern Europe. Paul took his call seriously and was determined to spread the gospel far and wide. In his lifetime he made four major journeys throughout this part of the world preaching, teaching, establishing churches and encouraging church leaders. Our scripture today is a report of his first trip.
I would like to read an abridged version of the scripture again and I invite you to listen to two things—what Paul and Barnabas did and where they went. There’s a map on the front of your bulletin if you’d like to follow along with their travels—or you might want to write a few notes about what they did.
They preached the good news in Derbe. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them.
The Kirk’s youth have been a little like Paul and Barnabas—and like Abraham—this summer—going lots of places and doing lots things. You can read about the five youth summer trips in your bulletin and throughout the service you have heard a little bit about each adventure. Many of the youth and adults who went on the trips are wearing their t-shirts and sitting in the choir loft today.
I’d like to spend a few minutes comparing what Paul and Barnabas did with what our youth have done.
Acts tell us that first of all Paul preached the good news. Our youth have done that in many ways—but most of all with hammers, shovels, screwdrivers and with only their hands. Once again our ASP youth and adults made homes warmer, safer and drier for families in Appalachia who cannot afford the repairs. Two crews installed tin roofs on homes with miserable leaks. The foundation under a mobile home had to be reconstructed which required the crew to dig footers while lying on their stomachs! Other crews repaired flooring, created a second safe exit, and constructed a room addition for a family that did not have enough sleeping space for their children.
And not to be outdone by the high school counterparts, the Kirk middle schoolers at Summer in the City “preached” in some amazing ways as well. They packed 1300 dozen eggs at the Food Bank. They gleaned 550 lbs of tomatoes and 620 lbs of eggplant. This meant that families who don’t often eat fresh vegetables, had eggplant and tomatoes for dinner that night. Our Summer in the City youth also sorted clothes at North Raleigh Ministries thrift shop, weeded the garden at the Interfaith Food Shuttle, organized canned goods at Catholic Parish Outreach, packed school supplies at Loaves and Fishes, and washed cars at Wheels for Hope.
You’ve heard the quote attributed to St. Francis that says, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” Our youth and adults did just that.
Our scripture also tells us that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the disciples. I’m confident one of the ways they did that was by developing friendships and fostering a sense of community.
When we do youth group planning we sometimes talk about doing more with Cary Presbyterian since they are our closest Presbyterian neighbors. However we’ve been remiss in actually doing that—until this summer. Our youth and adults at Massanetta Springs Middle School Conference shared a cabin with the youth and adults from Cary Pres. Living together for four days turned out to be an amazing avenue for forming new friendships and developing a stronger sense of community. Our youth at Triennium and Montreat also spent time with their peers from other churches in our Presbytery. All these events were just what was needed to strengthen our bonds with other disciples.
Some of the strongest friendships among our own youth also develop during summer trips. There is nothing to compare with the fun of shared adventures, the camaraderie of daily worship, or the memories of group laughter to strengthen friendships that will last throughout the year—and often for many years to come. There is no doubt that no matter the trip, it plays a key role in strengthening friendship and faith all our youth.
We also read that Paul and Barnabas encouraged everyone on their travels to remaintrue to their faith. I don’t know exactly how they did that—but I’m certain it involved talking and an intimate sharing of their lives of faith. One of the hallmarks of Montreat, Massanetta, Summer in the City, and Triennium is small groups. These are groups of the same 12-25 people that meet once or twice a day to share with each other about their faith. They enjoy fellowship, explore the Bible passages read in worship; ask questions and seek answers. This can be one of the most faith-filled times on these trips.
Paul and Barnabas mentioned hardships and we all know they can crop up anytime—like when the Kirk van broke down on the shoulder of I-77 going to ASP. When that happened every youth did what they could to provide encouragement—some offered suggestions, some sat quietly so we could make phone calls, and they all safely followed instructions. And then there was the group at the airport at 5:45 a.m. to fly to Triennium—that required a lot of encouragement—especially for Stephanie who hates early mornings!
Throughout all the trips there were lots of “you can do its,” and “Good job” or “just a little longer and we can have a break.” Encouraging words from Paul and Barnabas helped their congregations through hardships the same way our youth helped each other on hot days in the sun, through difficult tasks, and through tedious jobs like supper clean up!
Paul and Barnabas preached and worshipped and boy did our groups worship, too! At Triennium and Montreat it was every day—and with hundreds or thousands of others right along with us. If you’ve never been in an auditorium with that many youth you’re missing some real joy and excitement that worship in other settings just cannot duplicate. It is quite an event to share hymns and praise with that many faithful people all in the same place at the same time. It is dynamic, uplifting, loud, and truly an experience not to forget. Sharing prayer and communion in those settings is also an awesome and spirit-filled experience.
And finally we’re told that at the end of their journey, Paul and Barnabas called their home congregation together to share their stories and we’re doing that, too. We want you to know how our faith grew, how we encouraged each other, and how our friendships are stronger. We also want to say thank you to all the adults who volunteered part of their summer to make these trips possible. And we especially want to say thank you to the congregation for providing resources to go on these amazing, life-changing trips.
So—you’ve heard the story of Paul and Barnabas and you’ve heard our stories. How did you spend your summer vacation? Have you taken a trip—or is yours still to come? How did you spend it? Did you share your faith, encourage those you visited or those who visited you? Did you help others? Did you worship?
If you did all these things, great—keep up the good work—plan your next trip to include preaching, teaching, sharing and caring. If your summer vacation didn’t include these elements, then I encourage you to plan your next trip to include ways to share God’s love, to build your own faith and then to come home and tell us all about how you spent your summer vacation!