06 May 2009

Paul and Barnabas

The Deliverance of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas (Claude-Guy Halle)

Patrick Comerford

6 May 2009, 5 p.m.: The Eucharist

Acts 12: 24 – 13: 5a; Psalm 67; John 12: 44-50.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our ministry and mission, we all hope that what we say will be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that we will not fall back on or rely on our own whims or current fashions. We will constantly pray, I hope, that we will work with and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the Church prays we will be empowered with at our ordination.

This is exactly what happens to Saul and Barnabas in the story we have read in the Acts of the Apostles this afternoon.

These two companions arrive in Jerusalem at a time of great persecution at the hands of Herod Agrippa I, who favoured Pharisaism. At Herod’s hands, James the brother of John has been martyred, Peter was arrested and kept in chains before escaping and making his way to Caesarea, and Rhoda and her friends were probably typical of the Christians in Jerusalem, locking themselves away and hiding in fear.

When Paul and Barnabas arrive in Jerusalem, they arrive to a Church that is persecuted and suffering, but a Church that is full of prayer and hope, and a Church that is continuing to gather disciples, even from among Herod’s own inner circle, and places far away in North Africa.

The word of God was continuing to advance and to gain adherents, as we are told.

It is never our own efforts, our own sermons, or own teaching that gathers people into the Church. It helps, but we must always rely on the Holy Spirit, and give the glory to God.

And when Paul and Silas move on to Antioch – Antioch where the name Christian is first used – the members of the Church there lay hands on Paul and Barnabas, it is not to make them apostles. Paul later tells the Galatians that he received his commission as an apostle not human authority but from divine commissioning (see Galatians 1: 1). Instead, after prayer and fasting, they lay hands on Paul and Barnabas to bless them for their new work.

When you have hands laid on you at your ordination by your ordaining bishop, iy will happen long after you first felt called by God to share in the ministry and mission of the Church.

Hopefully, it will take place after a retreat, in an atmosphere akin to prayer and fasting. Your call has come from God, but the Church needs to set you apart for the work you are called to.

In a similar vein, Christ reminds the disciples in our Gospel reading that he has done and said what he has been commanded to do and say by the Father (John 12: 49).

When you speak in mission and ministry, it must never be in your own name, but as the Father tells you, in the name of Christ, and as the Spirit gifts you.

Just as Christ reminded his disciples that it should be for them too. Just as it was with Paul and Barnabas.

And now may all our thought, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Community Eucharist on 6 May 2009.

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