If you have a message
Let’s pray…Rev. Stuart Buisch
Paul and Barnabas are on a journey to talk about Jesus. They were sent out by the Spirit in agreement with the church in Antioch. Paul begins the presentation at the synagogue, where they were asked to speak, naming the group he is in the midst of – Fellow Israelites and Godfearing Gentiles. He traces some Israeli history and lands with the King – David whose heir will be a savior for the people. He then moves the presentation to a broader sweep that this savior is for us – all of us. He talks about Jesus’ death and resurrection and encourages his listeners that this message is for them. They are received so well that the synagogue folk ask him to come back and tell more next week. When they return everyone from the city gathered and the Jews are jealous. Paul pivots to the Gentiles who are happy to hear this good news.
Paul sees a connection with Jewish faith and the Christian following of Jesus. David was chosen as king after Saul because God said that David was ‘a man who shared my desires.’ His heir not only shared God’s desires, he was God’s beloved son. But those in his day within Judaism did not share Christ’s vision. He was tried falsely, crucified and buried. The Jewish leaders thought it was over but for Paul it had just begun. Jesus broke the power of death, whether understood as decay or unforgiveness, Jesus changed that world. The power of sin is death and Jesus was not overcome by that power in the final act of his life. He ascended and never decayed.
Paul concedes that Moses’ law names the sins and wrong but Christ’s work in life, death and resurrection offers a way out, forgiveness, life that is free here from guilt and life to come that has no decay for the soul. Paul warns his listeners to not simply pass his words by but to take them to heart. He knew his words would bear one of two responses: faith or scoffing. I would say that those responses still happen today. John Mark left Paul and Barnabas. It is easy to miss it as you read this chapter. No explanation is given but the topic will come up later with Paul and Barnabas. It is great fun to wonder what happened to Mark. Did he have doubts, was it too much to be going around with no income, no certain place to stay and wonder if people would believe what one knew to be true? T
he Synagogue rulers asked if they had a message, words of encouragement. Paul’s words don’t seem to fill that bill. He seems rather to point out that the Jews killed Jesus which was prophesied in the very books that they read each week at synagogue. How easy it must be to hear familiar texts and just phase out of listening or simply hear what we want to listen to. Begin to picture the scene from our memory of the first time a scripture was read or a time when a preacher from the past made that story come alive and that familiarity welcomes you back to its memory.
Unlike the jealous response of the Jews, the Gentile worshipers rejoiced with the truth of the gospel and honored those words. Maybe because these words weren’t familiar, they could be believed. Certainly, the idea that words and promises that were for a select group-Israel, that has now been expanded to everyone, could make some listen more closely.
I can’t even imagine the situation Paul and Barnabas found themselves in managing a debate/argument about religious issues in the middle of their words of encouragement. I am not sure how I would deal with people arguing with me in the middle of a sermon. Paul stayed cool and displayed no defensiveness. If there are people who don’t want faith, that’s ok, others will.
So let’s look at Paul’s response: First, Paul had the information. Whether he studied it or just simply knew all of his review of Israeli history, it was impressive looking at parts he recalls and noticing the parts he leaves out. Was he taking the major themes of Judaism: Moses, Judges, King all leading to the Messiah? Words are promised by God through the Holy Spirit in a moment of need, it is possible all of this discourse came out of God through the lips of Paul. So that begs the question – do we trust God enough to have the courage to open our mouths and the humility to let it flow however it goes? God was at work both with the Jews and the Gentiles in the known world that Paul and Barnabas would explore proclaiming the truth of Christ.
Second, Paul knew that what he wanted his hearers to hear was the experience of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ. But he wanted them not simply to hear but also to believe that those words were for them. He wanted them to have faith so that they could thrive and be alive.
Third, the response of the Gentiles faith, continues to be a challenge to each of us. When we hear from God, in our prayers, in our worship, in our private reading and yes, in our listening to the news – can we hear what God is saying to us for these days?
At the end of this account of a day with Paul and Barnabas one could have a negative evaluation of the situation. You could think that being sent away is a bad thing. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet towards those who rejected Christ and rejoiced with those who found the truth and went on to the next opportunity to share the Jesus story and offer life to the listeners. As a minister and a Christian, I am often interested in the response Christian teaching gets from different individuals. No matter what the reaction I try to keep praying for the next time someone asks me if I have something to say.
Creator of the universe, let your glory be seen in our dealing with this pandemic…
Suffering Savior, strengthen us to have solidarity with those whose suffering is overwhelming...
Breath of God, blow through our fear and strengthen our sails to glorify you…