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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen


St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11, 2023

“That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends”

HUMANKIND learned justice and equal treatment from Moses. The age-old tactic of escalation by one party against another who offended him was tempered through the books of Moses, by God’s edict that you only may claim equal harm to redress any wrongdoing. Kill my goat, and you must give me one of yours.

Break my arm, I get to break your arm. And eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This ended escalation, the means used to drive away enemies in fear through the use of superior strength, or a violent temper. But when Jesus came, He showed us the heart of His Father. We learned how God’s heart is toward wrongdoing. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matt 5:43

Thus, we are taught mercy over indignant justice. You’d better not argue that we want a God who rights every wrong with full and eternal punishment, or equal harm. Those who argue for such an angry and vengeful God forget the score He has to settle with them, with all of us. Scream for the guillotine one day, and you will cry for mercy yourself the next. Man is a bloodthirsty animal at times. And notice Christ’s prescription for you on how to treat your enemy. He certainly wants you to forgive your enemy – it’s in the fabric of His prayer – but He even goes farther than that by admonishing us to regard our enemies with love. What more godlike attitude is there? And once you can love your enemies, you will cease to have enemies – in your own heart and mind, at any rate – and begin only to have friends.

Only friends, ideally, I say quickly after that, though not in all cases. Jesus certainly loved His enemies, and even forgave them from His cross. But He would not have called them His friends. His death was a sacrifice offered to bring all people into harmony with God and with each other: He couldn’t have done more to achieve that end. Full reconciliation, however, requires cooperation on both sides. The best you can do with an unrepentant and recalcitrant enemy is to protect yourself and learn to love them, from a safe distance, with God’s love. But do lock the doors.

St. Paul wrote: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Cor 5:17-19

Such was the character of St. Barnabas. Our whole bank of knowledge on this early Christian saint comes from the Acts of the Apostles. His given name was Joseph, of the tribe of Levi, born on the island of Cyprus, and he brought support money for the church at Jerusalem, laying it at the Apostles’ feet. So, they nicknamed him Barnabas, or ‘Son of Encouragement.’ It stuck. Later, the newly converted Saul was presented to the Church at Jerusalem. But Saul was greatly feared for his earlier persecutions of Christians, and Barnabas intervened for him and told the Apostles the story of Saul’s vision of Jesus. So they became partners, preaching in the City of David, with so much success that they were in danger themselves. Later, in the Syrian city of Antioch, Saul, now called Paul, and Joseph, now called Barnabas, were commissioned by the Church to a mission voyage west. Antioch had become an exciting center of Christian ministry, eventually to be regarded a patriarchal city and an early school of theology. It’s the place where Jesus’ followers were first called Christians.

Barnabas took with them his cousin, John Mark, author of the Gospel of St. Mark, and also a Cyprian, who did great missionary work with them on Cyprus. But when they set about to invading Asia Minor with the Gospel, John Mark’s fear drove him back to the ship and he returned to Jerusalem, abandoning the mission. Paul and Barnabas carried on and fulfilled their first voyage.

But when Barnabas tried to include John Mark again, Paul refused his partnership, citing his desertion of the last time. The rift caused Paul to take another partner, Silas, and it was years until the two former missionaries were reconciled. Barnabas, according to tradition, preached at the great Egyptian city of Alexandria, and even at Rome. But it is said he died by the hands of his native islanders, stoned to death on Cyprus, in the year 61 AD. Thus, his color is red, for martyrdom. Some believe he was accorded the title Apostle by the early church, as was Paul. He truly was a son of encouragement.

It's easy, in peacetime, to admonish others to reconcile and be at peace. Ironically, the name Antioch, that city that sent Paul and Barnabas west with the Gospel, means ‘resisting and holding out against.’ I’m sure those early Christians felt great opposition from the pagan population there.

But there is a time for everything. In the best passage King Solomon ever wrote, he says:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Eccl 3

This is not our home. Earth will someday be fair and bright, and the babies will safely play with poisonous snakes, lions lie with lambs, and such. But that will be the earth under new management. Today, it’s tenuous, even dangerous, to bring out all your pearls and truths and sacred ideals in public, for there are enemies of these things. And though we should love these enemies, and can by God’s grace find love in our hearts for them, we may not be able fully to trust them except to trust them to act badly and to resist and hold out against us. Everywhere that Jesus went, it was the religious constabulary that came out to oppose Him, judge His miracles, pick at every word He spoke, and build a case against Him from nothing. Mankind has learned nothing much since then.

But there is a time for every purpose. We need to read such times wisely. For us, the Christians – so named out of opposition and resistance – it is a time to be reborn, a time to build up, a time to embrace, a time to speak, a time to love, and I pray, a time of peace. The sufferings of this life are unavoidable. That’s this earth, which is not our home. We’ve become aliens in our native planet, because a new passport was issued to us at Baptism. If we can reconcile a former friend, lost to us by mishap or disagreement, we’ve saved a relationship. If we can reconcile a former enemy, we have an ally in whose soul we might plant the seed of truth.

Jesus took the Apostles that heavy evening, after the meal and new Sacrament, and gave them the new commandment: His commandment. “Love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends… Henceforth I call you not servants: but I have called you friends. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” Jn 15

It’s the new gold standard for Christians toward one another. We may not all agree in every point, but our passports say Heaven, and we’re going to a much better place. While still here, on planet earth, we are reconcilers with anyone that loves God. We mind our fences, watch our words with those who take offence easily, protect our loved ones, but yet shine in place with the light of the good news.

Shine, like a city on a hill.

Shine, like a candle in the dark.

Shine, for it’s the time for us to shine.

Shine with the love of all people everywhere, under every flag, for God so loved the world, and that was everybody.


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