Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sermon: Feast of St. Barnabas

11 June 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 6:7-13 (Isa 42:5-12, Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When we think of the Apostles, we usually think of our Blessed Lord’s inner circle of 12 men. We then subtract one for Judas, but we add one back for Matthias. St. Paul gets to be the 13th apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles, one who was born in an untimely fashion.

And then there is the Apostle Barnabas.

St. Luke, in the Book of Acts uses the word “apostle” to describe this preacher of the Gospel. St. Barnabas made quite an impression on Luke the Evangelist, for St. Luke describes Barnabas as a “good man” who was full of the Holy Spirit. And through him, many were converted to the Christian faith.

Barnabas, a former Levite Jew, proclaimed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as an associate of both Paul and Mark. He preached in Antioch, where the Christians were first called Christians. He stood firm for Christian liberty in the face of the Judaizers who tried to supplant the Gospel with the Law. Tradition tells us he may have been the first Bishop of Milan, the place where St. Ambrose preached and where St. Augustine became a Christian. Tradition also teaches us that St. Barnabas’s preaching resulted in the conversion of Clement, who went on to be one of the earliest bishops of Rome. And tradition tells us St. Barnabas gave his life for the faith in his native Cyprus.

It seems wherever this Barnabas went, a train of conversions to the faith followed. That’s the miracle of the Christian faith – it is spread by preaching. And, as Paul taught us, preaching requires a preacher, and a preacher cannot preach unless he is sent.

And this is how it is that St. Barnabas is numbered among the apostles. Just as the Twelve were given authority from Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, so too was Barnabas. For just as our Lord sent out the Twelve in our Gospel, so too did he send Barnabas. The word “apostle” simply means a “sent one.” And it was the will of God that this “good man” who was filled with the Holy Spirit was indeed “sent out” on a mission.

And his mission is the same as the Twelve, and is the same as all preachers today: to proclaim Christ crucified, to preach Good News to those who repent, to preach a warning to the hard of heart, to reiterate and repeat the words of the holy prophets concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, to loosen the chains of those who confess, to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to consecrate and distribute the Lord’s Supper to them that believe on His name, and to faithfully teach the doctrine of Christ and His Church unto the salvation of those who hear, whose hearts are turned, and whose faith is kindled and nurtured by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Like the Twelve, Barnabas went out among the other preachers, casting out demons, not relying on money or worldly means of power, living and serving among the people he was sent to preach to, proclaiming repentance, blessing those who receive the Word and shaking the dust from their feet to those who reject the Word of God.

In short, Barnabas and all the apostles simply continued the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. More accurately, our Lord Jesus Christ continued His work of redemption and reconciliation through those whom he sent forth, those whom he “apostled,” and those He continues to send, those who are sent and armed with the authority of the Holy Spirit.

For in the end, though Barnabas would lay down his life for the sake of our Lord and for the sake of the Gospel, it is not even the “good man” Barnabas who saves us. Rather it is the God Man Jesus, who was proclaimed by Barnabas, who brings us into communion with the Father and redeems our life from the pit.

And though Barnabas waged battle against the Judaizers who tried to impose circumcision as an act of obedience that merits salvation before God by keeping the law, it was not Barnabas’s being right that was important, but rather in our Lord’s being righteous, a righteousness proclaimed rightly by St. Barnabas, which is the very essence of the Christian faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord has given the Church examples of saints for us to emulate, to keep us in line, to show us in word and in deed what is important. Barnabas was given a task to do in the kingdom, and though His diligence in that task, the Lord blessed the Church by bringing more people into the Church to the glory of God alone. St. Barnabas didn’t need a slick marketing campaign, a catchy jingle, or the latest polls and trends. St. Barnabas did not rely on his rhetoric, his cleverness as a teacher, or his skills as a preacher. St. Barnabas didn’t water down the Gospel in order to win converts from among those who were offended and scandalized by the Christian faith.

The simple reality is that St. Barnabas preached. St. Barnabas was sent out, placed under the Church’s authority to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and He was given the Holy Spirit to do it. And by God’s grace, the Church grew. The Gospel was rightly proclaimed and the sacraments were properly administered. What a gracious example for us to follow, dear brothers and sisters! Putting no faith in himself, but rather only in the Word of God, St. Barnabas and those who supported his ministry were a lifeline to those who were lost, a ray of light and hope and life and forgiveness in a dark and dismal world of sin and death.

That is the miracle of the Gospel. That is the power of preaching. That is the godly work of the Church – to the praise and glory of the one true God, to whom we sing:

For Barnabas we praise You,
Who kept Your law of love.
And, leaving earthly treasures,
Sought riches from above.
O Christ, our Lord and Savior,
Let gifts of grace descend,
That Your true consolation
May through the world extend.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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