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Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. AMEN. (Psalm 19:14)

Gentlemen,

As part of our lectionary reading for this evensong, we consider the founding of the church at Antioch. (And, yes, I realize it only showed ONE verse, and I DID read to the end!)

...and what an end it was – we'll get to that, though – Let's set the scene:

This church was reinforced by the scattering of the believers from Jerusalem, to the farthest reaches of the empire. Not an auspicious beginning – Stephen had been martyred and the people demoralized. One can imagine they fled, looking for safety, and wondering what God had in store for them.

Next, verse 21 is key - “and the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord

The Lord was with them. Enough said on that. If God is in the ministry, it thrives – if it is man's only, it withers.

We must keep this in mind - Many churches that we were a part of once are dying, because their mission is man's, not God's.

In the next verses, we consider the man sent to lead this new, growing church – Barnabas.

He was a native of the island of Cyprus, and was the one that introduced Paul to the apostles after his conversion on the road to Damascus. They were close ministry colleagues, often calling on each other when they needed help (Paul was asked to help by Barnabas in Antioch, then Barnabas went with Paul on missionary trips to Asia Minor and Cyprus.

His name is key here, and we see his gift in that name – In Greek, Barnabas means 'son of encouragement' and, so he was to that community in Antioch, as well as an encouragement to Paul in his ministry

verse 23 clarifies his role there:

when he came and had seen the grace of God (at Antioch), he [Barnabas] was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart, they should continue with the Lord.

Things started going so well that, as I mentioned earlier, he had to get Paul to come help him with managing that ministry – what a busy time that must have been! As we read in verses 27-30 (yes, the end of the chapter!) things went so well, that they were able to send money back to Jerusalem for a relief mission.

One more thing I wanted to mention Verse 26, at the end, describes Paul and Barnabas' actions in Antioch.

“So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

In Jerusalem at this time, the believers were called “People of the Way' and struggled under persecution...here, the number of people in Antioch that believed became a MOVEMENT – they had a name! Well, it was used as a disparaging name at first, but it was a term that lasted, as did the whole of Christ's church!

And we continue to this day. We have missions and churches here in the NorthEast that are moving forward, proclaiming the gospel, and doing His work, and we pray.

Things move slowly sometimes and it can be frustrating.

What I mean to do, gentlemen, is be as Barnabas was, to be an encourager. I know I am a new postulant, but wanted to lend my vision and excitement at what I am now involved with with all of you.

As Deacon Kalish mentioned in his sermon last night, every moment is a sacred thing. We need to see that and cherish it.

This includes all the ministries we work on, the not-so-fun things we need to do to witness and show service to the people of the world.

I don't have rose-colored glasses, (Just these)

We are in a challenging position – we have churches that are far flung, with some missions that are in places that may be hard ground, and others that are in more hospitable climes. But we persevere.

And what have we to offer?

Great people – dedicated clergy and laity that are willing to open their hearts to the people coming in the door.

A service based on beautiful language that sets it apart – note the clarity Mariah found.

It is a service that includes the hearer, who participates with the clergy in that critical remembrance time of the Eucharist.

It is the center of who we are and why we are here – He did something SO AMAZING for us, and ordered us to 'do this in remembrance of me.'

We must remember that He is always faithful, we need to be as well.

And what do we say to the one that complains how different we are, why do we do all those Christian calisthenics, or why all the books?

It's who we are.

We are different and we need to rejoice that we are holding fast. As I read recently on the internet, 'if the church takes in enough of the world, then there'll be no reason for the world to come to us.”

Too true – We have a world around us that is filled with broken and hurting people, ones that don't know what to do with no hope. They fear different things, so they want the church to become something familiar and comfy so they won't be afraid of it.

I would encourage us all to hold fast in this case as well. As in Antioch, we are Christians and as there, we are a separate movement, a different people that sees another set of possibilities and answers.

We are mocked for this difference, for what we believe – In some countries, Christians are killed for their beliefs. We see more and more of this, even here in America.

And still we need to hold fast.

Here's why – by so doing, we provide encouragement too. To the person that is desperate, and hurting, we come alongside, we pray for them, we provide comfort. As a dear friend once told me, the Christian act we do plants a seed in the heart of that one that act is done for.

And that seed, tended by the ministrations of the Holy Ghost, would move the bearer to wonder, and then come to belief.

And then they become someone to provide that same encouragement to another, and pretty soon, we've got another Antioch on your hands.

So be faithful and true, to He that sacrificed all for you. You might be the Barnabas someone else is looking for.

Let us pray.

Charlie Niemi

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