Thursday, June 30, 2016

St. Barnabas (Mark 6:7-13)

“And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this feast of Saint Barnabas comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, Barnabas was an apostle, a sent one. Not one of the Apostles, mind you, the chosen Twelve whom Jesus sends out on vicarage in our text, but he was certainly a ‘little a’ apostle, one sent by Christ through the Church, sent far and wide, with one task and then another. In our Epistle lesson Barnabas is first sent to Antioch, to see the firstfruits of the Gospel among Gentiles. He is next sent to Tarsus to find the newly converted Saul. He is then sent to Jerusalem with an offering for the impoverished Church, and finally, no less than the Holy Spirit Himself speaks to send Barnabas with Saul on the latter’s first missionary journey. “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” A ‘little a’ apostle, a ‘sent one,’ does not go on his own volition, even if he is eager to go, even if he volunteered. A sent one never sends himself. Instead, by definition a sent one is sent by another, and when it comes to the messengers of the Word, the One who sends is Jesus Himself.

“And He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” Sent ones have little choice in where they are sent. Saul and Barnabas didn’t choose their missionary journey, even if they were eager to go; neither did the disciples have any choice when they first became apostles on their vicarage. Even today, a pastor is sent; he does not go freely on his own volition. He may choose not to go when a call is offered, but he cannot choose when a call might come or where it might lead him. His call is just that, a call; he can choose to remain at his current call when another call is offered, but he cannot choose whether that other call ever comes. “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Nor are the sent ones free to fend for themselves when they reach the place where they have been called. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” They are to be provided for by those who are grateful to have heard the Word. On the other hand, they are expressly forbidden to shop around for the place that will give them the best accommodations. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” Their task is not to make money or live comfortably, it is to preach.

Sent ones preach, and those to whom they are sent hear. Faithful preachers are to be heard by believing hearers. According to the Third Commandment, faithful preachers are to be listened to. “We should far and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Hearers owe faithful preachers attention and listening ears, for it is not the preachers, the sent ones, who are heard, but the One who sent them, God Himself. Preachers owe it to believing hearers to be faithful; they are held accountable to teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, as the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer teaches. “God’s Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it.” And when faithful preachers preach and believing hearers hear, the hearers support the physical needs of the one who is sent to them. Perhaps a congregation cannot support a sent one on their own, but if they have received the teaching Christ expects them to provide for the teacher as much as they are able. Reception of the Word a faithful preacher proclaims leads to provision for his needs.

Rejection of the Word a faithful preacher proclaims leads to the rejection of his needs. Faithless hearers starve faithful sent ones. Faithless hearers shut their doors, they shut their homes, they shut their hearts. Sent ones are called upon to be faithful, and when they are faithful, hearers are called upon to listen, as we confess in the Small Catechism. “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sin and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, eve in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord had dealt with us Himself.” Faithless sent ones should be removed, but faithless hearers so often cast out faithful preachers, they ‘vote with their wallet,’ they cut benefits and salaries for no fiscal reason, they finally seek for ways to cast out the one who was sent to them. Soon the sent one finds himself with only the little that Jesus sent him out with, expecting the hearers to provide. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey.” And with nothing, faithful sent ones are cast out, they are cast aside; perhaps not physically wounded, they are mentally abused and traumatized. They took little with them as Christ sent them out, and they have little left when faithless hearers are done with them.

Jesus has one piece of advice when faithful sent ones are rejected by faithless hearers. “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” When a sent one has been unfaithful, it is he that should be cast out by believing hearers; but when a sent one has been faithful and yet rejected, even the dust should not cling to his feet when he departs. “But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” Faithful preachers shake off the dust to call to repentance, as a declaration of the seriousness of rejecting the Word. Like God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, it is a fearful thing for God to leave you alone in your sin because you have rejected His Word. When the sent one moves on, there is no guarantee that God will send another; the passing rain shower of the Gospel may move to another place for years, decades, even generations! Heed the Word when a faithful preacher calls on you to repent, when you are called to turn away from your sin and believe the Gospel. Do not watch God’s messengers shake their feet, but hearken to faithful sent ones when they fulfill their task in accordance with the Word they were sent to preach.

For the power is in the Word, not in the sent one who bears it. Barnabas may have been a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” as Luke describes him, and he certainly was endowed with many gifts that qualified him for the task of representing the apostles in Antioch and accompanying Paul on his first missionary journey, but the power of his proclamation didn’t rest in himself, it rested in the Word. Neither did the disciples’ seeming success come from their own powers. “And [Jesus] called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits… So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” The power over sin, Satan, and even death belongs to Jesus Himself. He is the One who conquered, He is the One who triumphed, He is the One who seized the victory from all of our enemies. He is the One who paid the price, who gave up His life into death, who bore the sin of the world, even your sin, and mine. And when He rose victorious on Easter morning, He left that tomb with the keys of death and hell in His hands.

Jesus gives to His sent ones authority to exercise those keys for your good. They are to cast out demons with the power of the Word attached to water, setting you free from the choke-hold of Satan. They are to heal those sick with death by giving them the medicine of immortality, the power of the Word attached to bread and wine. And they are to comfort you when your sin is pointed out and you are driven to your knees in repentance with the power of His Words of forgiveness. That is where the power lies; in the Word, not the man, whether Barnabas or Paul or your own pastor. For the Word is Christ’s Word, and He has won the victory—for you! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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