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June 2010 Parish Letter

June 1, 2010

“Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Barnabas]

Following Christ leads to generosity. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord gives various exhortations and commands about giving. It is part of the life that He lays out for His disciples. Jesus’ instructions on giving include a famous statement: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”(Lk 6:38)

But Jesus’ teaching about giving also addresses the motivation of the giver: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”(Mt 6:1-2) Jesus’ words indicate that humbleness and selflessness will be driving the giving. Christ’s followers who give to the needy and poor do so with every attempt not to draw attention to themselves. Their actions aren’t for show or for fame; they are done simply because they are good to do.

What Jesus taught concerning giving is epitomized in the actions of St. Barnabas, whose festival day is June 11. Barnabas is one of the second generation of apostles, a believer from the earliest days of the Church. Barnabas is matter-of-factly introduced in the Acts of the Apostles: “There was not a needy person among [the believers], for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”(Ac 4:34-37).

The man sells a field and gives the money to help the poorer Christians in Jerusalem. The record reads much like an entry in the parish council’s minutes. But beginning with that gift, Barnabas enters into great service in the Church. He who was dedicated to service to the Temple as a Levite becomes a servant of Christ. Important among Barnabas’ work was his assistance to St. Paul following the Damascus Road experience: “And when [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of the Lord.”(Ac 9:26-27) What Barnabas did for Paul would be his modus operandi—helping where he could to further the mission of Christ.

Barnabas’ service to Christ would also include assistance in expanding the Church. As many people of Antioch were brought to faith, Barnabas was sent by the apostles to look in on what was happening: “The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. And when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”(Ac 11:22-24) When the Antioch church collected money to help the Jerusalem believers, it was Barnabas who served as courier: “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”(Ac 11:27-30) Later, Barnabas would be involved in assisting the missionary work to the Gentiles that originated at Antioch.

What is seen in Barnabas’ life is a dedication to service. He works, but his efforts are never to achieve his own fame. His name is listed in the Acts of the Apostles, but usually in connection with other people. Barnabas is the messenger, the assistant, the helper, the “second chair”. But in this way, Barnabas lives up to his name—“son of encouragement”. There isn’t the glory-seeking that Jesus warns against, but the virtuous selflessness that the Lord wants to see. That makes Barnabas a great example for us to follow.

This example is referred to in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel. . . .” What Barnabas exemplifies is a pattern for our parish. And this month, there will be an opportunity for us to follow it. Barnabas himself gave to the Jerusalem church and was involved in collecting funds in Antioch for the support of the Jerusalem church. Later in June (and early July), our parish will be gathering funds for the support of our Synod, even the planting of national and international mission congregations. But we won’t be blowing trumpets while giving!

Going forward, our parish will be seeking to find ways to be of service to those around us. That effort will also be a way to follow Barnabas’ example. Being a parish dedicated to giving generously of our lives and substance for charitable efforts and proclamation of the Gospel is part of our identity that Christ has given to us. Perhaps it will be shown by helping donors to Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries or as messengers of hope to those suffering around us. Maybe we will be “sons of encouragement” to those who want to maintain the Lutheran confession of faith in our area. However our parish will show its identity, it must be in Barnabas’ manner: not seeking our own renown, but giving generously of what we have. For that is good to do, as our Lord states and as His disciples have exemplified.


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