4th Sunday of Easter
St Barbara’s 12.05.19
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Today we continue our series on the book of Acts, and the work of Paul and Barnabas in telling people about Jesus. Last week, we thought about how they had been prayed for and sent out by the church in Antioch, and they landed in Cyprus. This week our reading explores how they got on when they landed in southern Turkey.
Its a story that shows us that everything we do should point to Jesus.
People were getting very excited. Paul and Barnabas had just prayed for a man who had been unable to walk from birth, and he had suddenly jumped to his feet. The crowd was flabbergasted, amazed. They had seen something wonderful, incredible, but they then jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Rather than seeing Paul and Barnabas as ordinary people enabled by God to do something remarkable, instead they saw Paul and Barnabas as gods, people to be worshipped. This fitted in with their own local beliefs – a belief that one day the greek gods Zeus and Hermes would visit their town – and immediately they latched on to this. Rather than properly listening to Barnabas and Paul, they jumped quickly to their own conclusions.
Our culture may not be too different. We are often tempted to turn people into things they are not. When politicians become the leaders of their parties or indeed the leaders of their countries, it is tempting to build them up, put them on a pedastal, hail their virtues, and then when they inevitably fall short of the expectations aroused, they are brought crashing down. Think Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, even Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May.
Or think of famous sports players or pop stars. We build them up, idolise them even. We may follow their every instagram message, be one of their tens of millions of twitter followers, celebrate everything they do. And then when they fail, we are quick to turn on them.
It is good to have people we admire, respect, look up to, people who through their example inspire us to live better lives. But we need to beware that such respect doesn’t become “hero-worship”. It is only in as much as their example helps us to be more like Jesus that their example is worth following.
It is worth taking a moment to think of someone that you really respect and admire, whether someone famous or someone who may be a family member or a friend or colleague. Remind yourself that they are only human, they are not perfect. And then ask, what I can learn from them that can help me to become more like Jesus?
When Paul and Barnabas discovered that the crowd had got the wrong end of the stick and were beginning to worship them, how did they react?
Were they flattered, a little pleased? After all, the last few places they had been too, they had had to flee for their lives from angry mobs. A little bit of worship from adoring crowds was infinitely preferable, surely? And once they got the opportunity, maybe after a few days of being feasted and feted, of eating all the choice foods set before them, having their every need met, maybe after a few days of that, they then would get round to gently suggesting that maybe the crowds wanted to worship God as well. But no need to rush. Any little misunderstandings could be sorted out over time.
Is that how they reacted? I think I may have been tempted, especially as telling people about Jesus tended to provoke some pretty hostile reactions, and wasn’t it easier to just lay low for a while?
But that’s not how Paul and Barnabas react. They are horrified that the crowd have got the wrong idea. They rush out into the crowd, shouting for them to stop. They tear their clothes, as a sign of how desperately they want people to stop and listen to them.
“Why are you doing this?” they shout. “We are only human like you.” Immediately you can hear the disappointment in the crowd, the excitement turning to disillusionment, to anger. Some refuse to believe them – still wanting to carry on with their worship of them.
But for Paul and Barnabas they know what their calling is. They know that in everything they do, they need to point people to the living God, to Jesus, not to themselves.
That is our calling too – to point people to Jesus in everything we do, even when it may be tempting to encourage people to look at us and praise us instead.
In the way we talk to people at the end of church services, in the way we say hello to people in the street, in the way we work alongside our colleagues at work or are good neighbours to those in our community, in the way we offer comfort and support to those going through difficult times, do we point to Jesus?
I wonder, what are the things that you do that can help point others to Jesus, either through the words that you say or the things that you do? Like Barnabas and Paul, the most important thing we can do is point people in the direction of the living God.