A sermon preached by the Vicar of the Close, Canon Nigel Davies
Monday 26 April 2021, 17.30
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“The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company;”
There are very few people who have not had the experience of a significant disagreement with a friend. It can happen at any age – when we are younger, the fallings out may well be sharp, but often temporary and we soon fall back into friendship. It is more likely that in our adult life, a disagreement can be so fundamental that it causes an irrevocable rift and results in the friendship ending abruptly, never to be rekindled. Such things are the stuff of life and the stuff of fiction. I am sure that you have already begun to allow you mind to wander to such an event in your life, or in the life of a family member or acquaintance, and I’ve only been preaching for about a minute!!
Let me call you back into the present, so that we can look at the past – the disagreement between Paul and Barnabus, that led them to go their separate ways. Mark was the cause of the disagreement. Mark, who became the Evangelist, was Barnabus’ cousin and had accompanied Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey but went home early. It would seem that he was unreliable, which is why Paul, who had no time for unreliable half-hearted people, refused to allow Mark to accompany him on his Second Missionary Journey, choosing Silas instead and parting company with Barnabus leaving him to go off with his cousin Mark, to Cyprus.
Barnabus is described as a ‘good man’, certainly he would appear to be an understanding man, someone who was the kind of person that saw the good in others and was prepared to invest the time in nurturing them. This approached to Mark worked, because although he doesn’t appear in the Acts of the Apostles again, he is written about in Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossi and in Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul describing him as a ‘trusted assistant’.
He went on to be the trusted assistant of Peter, indeed his co-worker, who Peter refers to as ‘my son Mark’ in his first letter. Mark is identified by Papias, an early second century writer, who tells us that Mark was the "interpreter" of Peter, and that he wrote down ("but not in order") the stories that he had heard Peter tell, when he preached about the life and teachings of Jesus. Mark became the first Gospel writer, giving us a fast-paced account of Jesus life even giving himself a walk on part, or I should I say a quick exit stage left, as he is thought to be the young man who escaped from the garden of Gethsemane in only his birthday suit, avoiding apprehension by the Temple Guards.
After acting as Peter’s scribe, he left Rome when Peter was martyred and went off to preach in Alexandria where he too was martyred. The life of this unreliable young man ended well, and we are indebted to him for his Gospel account of Jesus.
What is there that we can take from his story, on this his Feast Day? Although none of us have written a Gospel, we may well have had a faith journey similar to that of Mark and we may have benefited from the understanding and nurturing of a good ‘man or woman’.
We may well have had an interest in the faith at an early age, indeed even attended church semi-regularly, but when we moved from home to university; into the armed force for national service (there will be people that old who are watching); perhaps moved for a job; had romantic entanglements which drew us away from home; or just getting on with the business of life - our Christian Commitment waned, our interest lapsed and we drifted without a real commitment, feeling rather embarrassed about our involvement with Christianity – just like it would seem Mark did.
Without Barnabus, Mark might have slipped into obscurity and been lost to Christianity. It was fortunate that this ‘good man’ stuck by Mark, continued to nurture him, never it would seem giving up on him. We too may have known the influence of such a person in our lives – a parent, a friend, a parish priest, or perhaps a Christian Youth Worker, who stuck with us, gently supported us – not in a fussy, intrusive, or embarrassing way, rather through the way they lived out their faith, discreetly, gently supporting and encouraging us until we came to a point in our lives, where we were able to commit to our faith, as it began to make sense and gave us an understanding of, and purpose in life.
It is very unlikely that we would have reach such a point in our lives if we had been rejected as Paul rejected Mark. It is through the gentle offices of a faithful Christian looking out for us, that we are likely to make the connection. In it’s infancy, the early church had much to thank Paul for because of his tireless missionary work, but Christianity has perhaps even more cause to be thankful for Barnabus, who stuck with Mark, helping him through his struggle with faith, so that he became Mark the Evangelist, whose life we Commemorate today.
I wonder if while you have been listening to me you have been able to identify not just that time in your life, when you had a significant falling out with a friend, but more importantly you have been able to identified a person who stood by you, believed in you, supported you, nurtured you, in your journey to maturity in faith, who deserves your heart-felt ‘thank you’. Perhaps we can be such a person to one of our own friends and acquaintances helping and supporting them in their faith journey.