Great Joy…as They Read Let us pray…. Rev. Stuart Buisch
Probably one of the harder things to do when decisions are made is distributing the information. Those at the meeting made the decision, heard the answer that they voted on but what do they tell others. So, send a letter. Problem solved right? Not so fast.
We are here together with me writing or speaking about the letter that was written. I will say some things, someone else will say something different. If I like buildings, only the part of the letter about buildings will be heard fully and with attention. Each listener hears differently. Having said that, a letter is safer than a live message. We have no doubt that all played the game gossip or actually told someone something important with our own emphasis but we hear back from someone else that they never heard that part of the message or that the message was totally different. With a letter at least everyone is looking at the same words. The apostles and elders wrote a letter to the new Gentile churches.
However, the early church led by God’s Spirit displayed great wisdom. They sent a document and also a team to affirm the meaning of the document. Interpretation was limited to the team that was sent and those listening heard and could ask questions.
This clarified that those who had come earlier and caused confusion were not endorsed by the church in Judea. Then they affirmed the confirmation that Judas and Silas were endorsed by the church and could be trusted. They affirmed that the decision about to be told came from God’s Spirit and their discussion. This was not a human endeavor. God worked with the church to solve a tricky situation. Essentially after this letter Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians could do things differently and still be in communion with each other. Ground breaking and culture crushing. A Jewish tradition was right for Jews who follow Jesus and the absence of that same tradition, even though Jesus was a Jew, among the Gentiles was permissible.
Not surprisingly the two sent, Judas and Silas, spent a great deal of time talking about the decision and affirming the new place for Gentiles in the church. Resolution was found and they returned to Jerusalem and the church there. Paul and Barnabas stayed with the new believers in Antioch. After a passing of time they decided they needed to go back to each of the churches they had formed on their first journey. A turn comes about in our account.
Barnabas, the one who stood up for Paul when he first converted, was now wanting to get Mark again to go along. Mark had deserted them at one point in their first journey. Vs 39 describes the discussion between Paul and Barnabas as a ‘sharp disagreement’. Don’t you love it? The full church has just modeled reconciliation between two differing positions and resolved a conflict. Now two key players in that church, leaders, get so heated that they part ways. We could get upset by this. We could call them hypocrites. We could just be sad. We could stop being around people like that. But wait, that is what a church is made of. Life is made of differing views. There are hard nosed individuals who know what they know and have no intention of changing. Then there are those people of grace – I hope all of us have known people like that- who never give up. They are quick to forgive youthful disruptions. They long to see Christ in all others. They look long and hard to see someone through a difficult time. Times that require prayer and fasting. But they do it. Paul, no surprise, is the hard nosed one. It may be true that he thought he had a network of churches to establish and
was unwilling to have half-hearted workers at his side. Barnabas, on the other hand, looked with hope at young Mark. Perhaps Barnabas believed that Mark would be different on the second run. No matter, the sharp disagreement unfolded and they split. Mayhem! Earthquake! Chaos!
No doubt there were people who watched, listened or heard later about the disruption who were afraid this Christian endeavor was on its way down.
But God! Indeed, But God!
God was at work in these two and instead of one team returning to the route, two teams went out. Later Paul would write in a letter that Mark would be helpful to him. Paul changed too. In another letter Paul would rejoice because Christ was preached for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of ways but Christ was preached and that was good. I don’t know if it is true but there was a story in Scotland that a man went into a pub and asked how to follow Jesus. One of the patrons answered the question and the man’s life was changed.
God is at work in the church today. At work in the ways we expect and in many ways we couldn’t even imagine on a good day. We can think this whole Christianity thing is something we are responsible for and there is a germ of truth to that. However, God is much more interested in the church, in the people in God’s image and in the work of kindness, justice and compassion exhibited in Christ. But God’s interest isn’t intellectual or philosophical. God is at work. Watch, Pray and join in. In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
Author of Life, pulse your forgiveness and grace through our frail and not so frail selves…
Redeemer of all, open our eyes to the salvation you offer to all…
Wind of God, refresh the sails of our souls as we wait for you…