Forming Faith Blog

Barnabas and Saul (May 12, 2019)

A girl pointing across a lake. Barnabas and Saul were called by God to go out into the world.

In the Narrative Lectionary, the end is nigh. The main lectionary ends with Pentecost, a mere five weeks away (or four, depending on how you want to count it). The season of Easter (after Easter Sunday itself) teaches us about the origins of the Church as we know it, starting with the Great Commission. This week, we are moving beyond Peter’s boundary-breaking vision to the calling and sending of Barnabas and Saul (Paul).

[A Note on Saul and Paul]

A brief aside: It is a common teaching that Saul is the name of the unconverted enemy of the Church, while Paul is that man as a follower and apostle of Jesus. That’s not true and isn’t borne out by the text. This man was both a Jew and a Roman citizen, so he had both a Jewish name (Saul) and a Roman name (Paul). The name “change” in the text doesn’t happen until Paul starts as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 13:9), probably why he starts using his “gentile” name. Off my soapbox and onto the actual discussion.

Barnabas and Saul

Our passage today starts with Barnabas and Saul worshipping in Antioch with other church leaders, namely prophets and teachers (five of which are named). Barnabas, it seems, was Saul’s “sponsor” in the church (Acts 9:27). The Holy Spirit announced (to all of them, it seems) that God has called Barnabas and Saul to a special mission. It is not stated in so many words, but they have been called by God to spread the good news of Jesus outside of Palestine (to the ends of the earth). The second part of the day’s reading gives an amusing account of mistaken identity at of one of their stops (amusing if you leave out Paul being stoned almost to death in Acts 14:19).

Called, Sent, Spread

A reflection, teaching, or sermon on this passage can go oh so many ways. You can tell the story of Barnabas and Paul’s adventure in Lystra (a great move for involving all ages in this exciting story). Or, you can focus on B & P being set apart for a specific calling, and how God also calls us to specific missions. But I’m looking at this passage as an extension of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. And, that scares me.

Evangelize

God sent Barnabas and Saul to spread the good news (evangelize). As an introvert, and someone who grew up in traditions that don’t focus on evangelization, the idea of talking to people about Jesus is terrifying. Yes, this is coming from someone in a form of Christian ministry, but I write and manage a business directed at those already in ministry from behind a computer screen. I don’t even have many friends (none local) who aren’t active members (or ministry leaders) in a church, so “bring-a-friend Sunday” doesn’t work for me.

Set Apart

One way out of this uncomfortable situation is to limit the scope of God’s call. Out of the church leaders in Antioch, we only hear of our two brave heroes being sent out as evangelists, while others are called to different work (see 1 Corinthians 12:28). Even the Great Commission is given to the Eleven, not all of Jesus’ disciples. Is this commission only for church leadership? That would definitely water down the message and allow me to escape.

Different Calls

It is most certainly true, and well-attested in Scripture that God calls each person to unique vocations, both long term and temporary. God has called me to start a faith formation publishing company. But this is not directly the work of evangelism, bringing the good news of God’s love in Jesus to those who need to hear it most. Too many of us, as we go about our vocations, direct them only within the church. It shouldn’t be a surprise that church attendance is declining across the board.

Sent Out

We are all called by God to do work out in the world. What this work looks like is different from person to person. However, we can’t neglect the sometimes-scary call to do the work of our calling out in the world. The who, what, why, how, and when of evangelism depends on your tradition’s theology. But the call is there. What are the adventures your calling has brought you to, as Barnabas and Paul had in Lystra and elsewhere?

Misunderstandings

Our work out in the world is bound to cause misunderstandings, though you probably won’t be mistaken for a Greek god. This is especially true if we use our church jargon, but that’s another post. Misunderstanding is demonstrated in our free activity this week, “Picture This.” This is a fun activity from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) curriculum. The activity could be used in multiple settings, though it probably wouldn’t work well for our youngest disciples.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

The season of Easter is here! However, it’s not too late to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials and start using them!

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched. Check out the announcement blog post for more details. All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence. The 2018-2019 Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence are still available to download, too.