[I had originally planned to preach this sermon this past Wednesday at Vespers. BUT, since no one showed up, y'all get it today instead.]
"Divine Love, Human Care, Apostolic Encouragement"
Feast of St. Barnabas, Apostle (Transferred)
June 14, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
I have come to really admire the work done by LCMS World Relief/Human Care, especially under the exemplary leadership of Pastor Matthew Harrison. With the Holy Spirit's blessing his efforts, he has shown that it is possible to show mercy on those who are in desperate need, all the while remaining true to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The work this branch of our Synod does is done under the banner of "Divine Love—Human Care." You see these words on the World Relief/Human Care poster on the bulletin board in our hallway, the one with the mosaic of Jesus on it, a mosaic comprised of examples of divine love carried out in terms of human care. The Church has been about the task of human care since her inception at Pentecost. We read in Acts of the daily distribution of food that took place, the distribution which was carried out by the Church. In Acts chapter four we hear of the offerings given to the Church for the distribution, offerings given with cheerful hearts, moved by the Holy Spirit and acting out of divine love and human care. We hear of the donation made by the one whom we commemorate this evening, St. Barnabas, Apostle:
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. [Acts 4:32-37]
There is little doubt that Barnabas' gift was encouraging to the Apostles. This man formerly named Joses they named the Son of Encouragement. In our text Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch and encouraged them who had received the grace of God, encouraging them to continue with the Lord. "And a great many people were added to the Lord" (v. 24b); that is, they became members of the Church. He encouraged young St. Mark, who had fled St. Paul once before, to remain committed to the mission of the Church. Paul and Barnabas disagreed; so they parted ways, with Barnabas taking Mark with him and Paul taking Silas. Barnabas' encouragement bore fruit, for Paul would later ask for Mark, calling him useful for the ministry. Back in our text, a prophet named Agabus, by the Holy Spirit declared that a famine would sweep the land, which occurred during the reign of Claudius Caesar. "Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (vv. 29-30). Barnabas showed himself to be the apostle of divine love and human care, and example that we would be blessed to follow.
Yet when we are asked to give to those in need, how do we react? Do we give willingly or grudgingly? We have been encouraged from time to time to give until it hurts, but we have shown ourselves to have low thresholds of pain. Often we look to give only if there is something we can get back in return, even if it is a document for income tax purposes. When we give, we expect to take. We have a hard time simply giving out of Christian charity. When we give, it is as if the love of Christ is not in us, for we grumble and grouse and are not humble in heart. Organizations that solicit donations essentially promise to place their benefactors' names in lights, if the gift is large enough. We want recognition. We do not act out of divine love and human care but out of self-serving and ego-feeding motives. We do well to heed the words of St. Paul, who initially was a partner with Barnabas: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…he who gives, with liberality…he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (Rom. 12:6,8). And again Paul writes,
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written:
"He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever."
Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! [2 Cor. 9:6-15]
Thanks be to God for His divine love and divine care for us, His people, a love and a caring so great and so vast and so deep that He gave His only Son over to death for us. Our heavenly Father saw our great need to be delivered from eternal condemnation. He has seen our desperate state. He has beheld our great need to be forgiven, rescued from the pangs of the unholy triad of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Even as Barnabas' love and compassion moved him to found the church at Cyprus, our Lord has been so moved to bring us into the Church on earth, that we would be fed, for we hunger and thirst for righteousness, drawing us to Himself by being lifted up on the cross. Tradition holds that Barnabas was martyred at Salamis, Cyprus, in A.D. 61; Scripture tells us that Christ was crucified atop Golgotha on the first Good Friday. Barnabas was martyred for the sake of the Gospel; Christ was crucified for your sake and for the life of the world.
Now is Christ arisen and ascended into heaven and has given His bride, the Church, the task of carrying out His divine love through expressions of human care. She does so globally through synodical boards such as LCMS World Relief/Human Care, inviting us to join their endeavors of giving to those in the greatest of needs, including those affected by the earthquakes in Indonesia. The Church acts locally through our food pantry. You see, divine love and human care does not see skin color and income levels; it sees neighbors in need of God's mercy. That we are agents of God's mercy as He has blessed our endeavors, let us be encouraged by the examples of love and compassion shown by our Lord and by the apostle, St. Barnabas, and let us thank God for these examples of divine love and human care, that we too would be blessed to serve as examples of God's love and mercy.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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