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Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

Not Him! - March 24, 2019

Acts 9:22-30 A couple of weeks ago, we heard the early part of Saul’s story. He was a Pharisee dead-set on stopping all the Christ-followers. He was willing to settle for imprisonment but really would have rathered death—just to be sure they were really out of the picture. But then he had this profound experience with Jesus and he does a complete 180 and a few days later he shows up in the temple preaching all about Jesus.

And, as he gets rolling in his preaching he incites the Jews he was just a part of. So now he’s the one who has to hide out and get away. So he escapes from Damascus to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he seeks out the disciples, only they don’t want anything to

do with him. Which, go figure, the last time they’d seen or heard of Saul he was out to kill them. I’m not sure I’d want to be spending any time with the guy who’d rather I was dead than that I talked about a man named Jesus either.
The reality was Saul couldn’t break through on his own. He’d caused too much harm. He wasn’t to be trusted. What if he were faking? What if it were only a trap? A ploy?
But then we meet Barnabas. We don’t know much about him, but we do know a little. He’s a Levite, which means he was a priest. He was from Cyprus, which is an island in the Mediterranean between modern-day Israel and Turkey. His name was actually Joseph and he had a bit of property he sold and then gave the cash to the disciples. And his demeanor was such that the disciples nick-named him Barnabas meaning “son of encouragement”.
So, this encourager comes alongside Saul in Jerusalem when no one else would and tells the disciples they can trust him. He testifies to the story of Saul’s conversion and the power of his preaching and because of Barnabas, not Saul, the disciples are willing to take the risk and let Saul in.
And at this stage in the game, nearly 2000 years later, this might seem like all that big of a deal. It was forever ago and it was just two guys…except that they formed a friendship that allowed them to travel together and start churches together. And Saul becomes this profoundly important figure for the whole church and that might never have happened without Barnabas. The disciples could have forever thought he wasn’t trustworthy and it wasn’t worth the risk. They could have kept him locked out. And Saul could have gone rogue, sharing without their support, but he needed their knowledge, their faith, their connection to Jesus to grow in his ability to share the gospel. And I think he needed the power of acceptance despite a past that didn’t fit with their expectations in order to be able to be a bridge builder.
A big part of Paul’s ministry, remember that’s what he came to be called, a big part of Paul’s ministry was working with different people. He crossed cultural lines. He was a Jew who grew up in Tarsus, a Roman city, not just occupied by Rome, but a genuine Roman city. He became a Christian and he could speak to all sides. He understood the concerns of the Jews and the customs of the Gentiles. And I think this experience came to mean something significant in how important it was to be open to others and the powerful work of God in their lives.
And, for us, I think it’s more than a great story about Saul/Paul. I think it’s an example of who we are meant to be. We are meant to be Barnabas, maybe not for every single person who walks through the door. But to know some people won’t be easily accepted in our church or our community. They may not fit. They may have a past that’s disdainful. They may have a story that’s hard to swallow. They might just not fit the mold of our church culture. They may represent the hardest people in our own lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in God’s family.
In acting like Barnabas, we are called to move outside ourselves to see people and the place they hold in God’s kingdom. Lots of people have a story of not being accepted in church. Too many people have a story of not being accepted in a church. Some people for how they dressed. Some for how they smelled. Some for showing up drunk. Some for their reputation in town. Some for being divorced. Some for smoking. Some for swearing. Some for being too casual. Some for being a member of a gang. Some for being too charismatic, some for not being charismatic enough. Some for their tattoos. Some for the color of their hair. Some for the gender of their spouse. Some for the type of work they do. Some for a criminal record. Some because they went to that church. Some because they were baptized as infants instead of adults. Let’s be real, there are lots of reasons people have been excluded from the church.
And the reality is, that’s not what church is about!!!!! Now, some people need extra boundaries. I get that. In one ministry we worked with a registered offender. We didn’t give carte blanche access to everywhere and everyone, we set some rules and structure so everyone could have success.
The point of church…of being together as followers of Christ…is to offer grace to one another…to grow closer to God. And you may think I haven’t grown close enough, or that, that person is still too stuck in their sin. But if we’re sinners where do we need to be the most?!?! In Christian community where we can experience God’s amazing love and goodness!!! It feels so simple and yet clearly the church has failed, far too many times. Our job is to share grace and love, forgiveness and hospitality. Even to the noisy people. To the squirrely ones. To the “weird” ones. To the broken ones. To the convicted ones. If the church can’t be a place of grace….then what on earth are we doing?!!?!?!
We won’t be perfect. We won’t always get it right. We’re human. And there are people that rub us the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a seat at Go’s table. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t find welcome sitting right next to you!
And for me, in many ways, it boils down to this. We may know something about people. We may even know a lot of somethings about people, but what we don’t know, what we will never know is how God is working on them at this moment. Think about that. We may know a lot about a person, but what we don’t know is where God is working on them. We may see that they’re snide or jealous or greedy. But we don’t see all the other stuff God is doing. We may have no idea about the abuse that they endured as a child and how God needs to help heal that wound before other work is needed.
We have no idea where someone is in their journey with God. But we do know this: WE ALL NEED GRACE! And the church—as the body of Christ—disciples gathered together or on our own, should be the first to offer it!

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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