“WHAT IS YOUR NICKNAME?”

Message from Reverend David Melville

Francis Asbury United Methodist Church

Baton Rouge, LA

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called

Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement),

sold a field he owned and brought

the money and put

it at the

apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37

 

And thus we meet a man remembered for two thousand years as an encourager.  We know practically zilch about Barnabas, but he is known to us as an encourager.  This morning I ask you to add that reputation to your resume’ as well.  We just buried an encourager on Wednesday … Melanie’s and my daughter-in-law, Amy’s  grandmother, Helen Moore.  She was an encourager to the end.  Even her memorial service was encouraging! We all left feeling we could approach aging and the inevitable mystery of death because of the way she had.  We weren’t depressed; we were encouraged.

Spoiler alert:  our closing hymn is going to be “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Once again, ancient Biblical references and city names so often confuse and get in the way.   Think of it this way:  “There is a salve in Baton Rouge.”  Be an encourager, be a salve, be a booster for your fellow disciples day-to-day, and be remembered as one over an entire lifetime.

What a great description to be remembered for:  an “encourager!”  What a great thing to be said about a Christian:  “He or she is such a ‘Barnabas.’”  Barnabas stands alone in the crowd of early church leaders with that particular nickname, and I wouldn’t mind that being said about me.  How about you?  Wouldn’t you like to be remembered as an encourager?  You can be.

I

What made Barnabas an encourager?  As I said, we don’t know much about him, but we do know he was generous.  We read earlier that Barnabas “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” [Acts 4:37] This is not the socialistic language found elsewhere in Scripture about selling everything and giving it to the poor, and thereby becoming poor yourself.  No,  this is simply being generous in spreading your wealth around rather than being stingy and thereby brightening someone’s or some program’s or some organization’s day.

We can’t be all things to all people; we can’t meet every need or solve every problem; but we can encourage others as they – and we — work on this thing called life. We can encourage and affirm those who are doing the hard work and who are doing the heavy lifting. Behind every great achievement are those who cheered from the sideline with their generosity of time, spirit or possessions.  With each great advancement or accomplishment, follow the money.  Follow the material support.  Someone was showing their support in that way. Someone had to give what others needed.  Encouragement takes many forms, but it invariably involves generosity.  When Barnabas gave the proceeds from the selling of that field, it evidently meant something.  He didn’t give everything, but he gave more than he had to, and he gave more than most.  He did not hoard; he encouraged by putting his money where his mouth was.

Have you ever been around someone who cheered you on with “I’m with you, big guy;” or “I’m right behind you, little buddy;” “You can do it;” but they don’t back up their words by giving what is within their power to give?  Their encouragement is hollow, and won’t be remembered.  We all have something to give beyond words, and encouragement starts with a spirit of generosity. Giving without worrying about the bottom line; not worrying if you will see any return on your investment, or if the recipient of your encouragement will succeed.  Sometimes we must give simply to show our tangible support because, without it, discouragement and defeat will show up.

II

Do you know what else Barnabas did early on that evidently was crucial, and helped earn his reputation as an encourager?  He stood up for Saul.  As encouragers, we stand up for someone or some cause.  By standing up we stick our neck out rather than keeping it safely out of the way by sitting or lying down.  Sometimes when we stick our neck out it’s going to get chopped off figuratively or literally.  But sometimes we’re going to make a difference for someone who is going to make a difference.

Acts 9: 17-19 describes how  Ananias was brave enough to walk up to a blind Saul and explain to him that the scales were about to fall from his eyes, that he would see again, that he was to be baptized and begin carrying Jesus to the Gentiles … the same Jesus Saul had just three days before been persecuting others for following.  Ananias couldn’t predict Saul’s reaction once he regained his sight; he may have vented his wrath about falling from his horse, being humiliated before his troops and being blinded for three days … he may have taken it out on poor Ananias and clocked him.   Hindsight is neat and clean and easy. We know what happened.  Saul immediately obeyed and changed his name to Paul faster than Bruce Jenner changed his name from Bruce to Caitlyn.   But Ananias didn’t have the luxury of hindsight.  He didn’t know how Saul would react once he could see again, and could kick the dog, even though it wasn’t the dog who had done this to him; it was God.

We know that Ananias’ obedience had a happy ending, and more people are familiar with and remember that happy ending than remembering another happy ending: what the encourager nicknamed Barnabas did shortly thereafter. It’s kind of hidden away in  Acts 9: 26-27:  “When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples (he’s revved up and ready to go),  but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.  He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”  So often we assume that a great, influential person in history started off “easy peasy.”  But more often than not, it took someone interceding, encouraging, recommending and saying, “Hey, give this fellow a chance. I believe in him.”  Evidently, that’s what Barnabas did for Saul.  The original apostles … those who had walked with Jesus … trusted Barnabas, and now they transferred that trust to Paul.  Barnabas stood up for Paul, risking his own reputation in the process.  Ah, but the reputation Barnabas now has and will have forever.

There was another story which did not have a totally happy ending: Barnabas had been travelling with Paul on his missionary journeys to the Gentiles; he had been faithfully assisting Paul, and serving him, but when Barnabas wanted his friend — it may have been his cousin – John Mark to accompany them,  because John Mark had disappointed Paul in the past, Paul said no.  Paul could be prickly and stubborn.  Now Barnabas could have said, O.K., John Mark, you will just have to wait and cool your heels … “curb your enthusiasm …” but he probably sensed that it would discourage and hurt the new missionary’s feelings, so he responded instead, “O.K. you and I will make our own missionary journey. Paul can go his separate way.”  Barnabas stood up for John Mark in a very special way. Who knows?  Barnabas may have had his own doubts about John Mark.  He had to have had respect by now for Paul’s opinions.  But he put aside his questions and stood up for his friend.  That’s what encouragers do. Barnabas had once championed Saul; now he would champion John Mark. You can’t help but be encouraged when someone believes in you.  Paul and John Mark and who knows how many others were different were stronger and were better followers of Jesus because of another follower of Jesus:  Barnabas.  Scripture suggests that Barnabas was not as scholarly or eloquent as Paul, but he did have the gifts of encouragement and affirmation, which sometimes are all that is needed.

This coming week, encourage someone during what may be difficult or important to them.  Help them out financially, materially, or with your attention and time. Be a good listener. Be a salve … a smooth, comforting ointment.   Give someone a compliment rather than just assuming they know what you are thinking.  Say “thank you.”  Say “I love you.”  Say “I believe in you.”  “Like” them on Facebook; why, go ahead and send them a heart instead of just a thumbs up!

Why do we do or say these things?  Why should we encourage and embolden someone this week in our midst?   For the same reason, we love:  because God loved us first.  For the same reason, we forgive:  because God has forgiven us.  We encourage others because we are encouraged by God; we are lifted up on eagle’s wings, and we must do likewise for others. We should want to do likewise. All of us need a little tenderness.   We all could use a little confidence, a little affirmation, a little encouragement. Be a “Barnabas” this week!

CLOSING HYMN

THERE IS A BALM IN GILEAD

THERE IS A SALVE IN BATON ROUGE