“. . .they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. . .and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’” (Acts 11:22b-23, 26c)
Today is the Feast of St. Barnabas. In our Episcopal tradition, we have a book entitled Holy Men, Holy Women (note: formerly Lesser Feasts and Fasts), in which all the different feasts are listed–including a special Collect. What is a Collect, you may ask. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collect.
Barnabas was one of the apostles. He was NOT one of the original twelve disciples, but may have been among “the 70” referred to in the Gospels. However, Barnabas was a critical person in the early Jesus Movement; one of the things I love most about him is that he encouraged people.
This past week, I attended e-Formation 2016, a conference about all kinds of digital technology, at Virginia Theological Seminary. While I was there, I gathered with a small group. One woman among us has her own website, is involved in Christian formation, and is obviously a good (and scholarly) writer. Yet she was not as confident as she might have been in her own talents.
Another woman–whom I will call D.T.–spoke up. I paraphrase here what she said: “You should be more sure of yourself. You have lots of gifts and talents to offer God and the Church. I say be proud to those gifts. All of us have things to learn, but you are a gifted writer. Hold those gifts up and use them!” The woman to whom D.T. spoke was so grateful. It seemed like she even sat up straighter in her chair. We talked about how when we grew up, people (read: your mama) would say things like “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” So too often, we women hide in the shadows, thinking that to speak of our gifts is to brag or be self-centered. Instead, D.T. encouraged the other woman not to hide in the shadows, but to be proud of the gifts God has given her.
I kept turning this incident over in my mind, and comparing this kind and generous woman with the political leaders in the news right now. There is nasty partisanship, vicious name-calling, and racist comments. And between now and Election Day, I am pretty certain things will not get any better. I find I am having to avoid reading some folks’ comments on Facebook, or just read what I must read in the newspaper in order to stay current.
In contrast, here was one woman encouraging another (a total stranger) to be proud of the gifts and talents God has given her, and not to hide her light under the proverbial bushel (Luke 11:33). I was encouraged, myself, and D.T. wasn’t even talking to me!
The next morning, I found her when we were having coffee break, and told her I had decided she should be named Barnabas. She looked quizzical. I said, “That’s because Barnabas is known as The Encourager among the apostles. He supported and encouraged people in their Christian faith. You did that last night, and I just wanted to thank you. There is so much nastiness in the world right now. So I am so appreciative of people who build each other up, rather than to tear one another down.” She beamed with happiness. So I guess I, too, was a Barnabas.
Have YOU encouraged someone today? If not, I challenge you–and me–to do that with someone tomorrow. Every human being is broken. Every human being has a gift, or two, or three. Maybe your naming someone’s gifts to him or her would make that person stand up a little straighter, and multiply those gifts in some way because of your encouragement.
Could we not make the world a better place that way? Is this not one small way that we could help bring God’s reign to earth as it is in heaven–today?