Sermon- The Fountain of Encouragement

Did you know that in Medieval times in Europe that there was an explosion of pilgrimages? One of the most famous was “the Way”, a trail to the Cathedral in Spain, Santiago de la Compostela, to visit the relics of the Apostle James. By the way, this was the start of inns and motels, and also French restaurants for the public. Pilgrims need to eat and sleep! There is a great modern film called “The Way”. English majors know about the pilgrimages re-told in “Canterbury Tales”, by Chaucer, where common people are going to Canterbury to visit the relics of Thomas Beckett.

And most famously, there is the pilgrimage to the Fountain in Rome, that continuously sprays forth the “Waters of Encouragement”. Eventually this caused a great debate about encouragement. Is it never ending? Can it flow if there is no one there? Is it just water until a believer allows it to fall on their body?

Okay, I confess that I lied. All the others are true. But there is no “Fountain of Encouragement”. I would have gone there many times! But, let me ask you this, have you ever run into an individual that is a fountain of encouragement? Someone who lives a life exuding encouragement 24/7? And, have you ever met a person that does not want encouragement?

Can encouragement happen if the seeker is alone? No one around? Well, yes, I think encouragement can come from scripture, poetry and music, various things. I’m suggesting that it different when a “spirit of encouragement” is encountered from another human. Another truth I have discovered, if you ever feel discouraged, immediately encourage someone. Encouragement has reflective powers. Not loved? Learn to love someone. Unhappy? Learn to make someone happy!

I have been known to record poetry once in awhile. Sometimes I like to voice lyrics as poetry, not song. Often it has its own rhythum that it not like the song’s melody. So here is one…

Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, where the skies are not cloudy all day.

You didn’t think you knew any poetry.

Why is there no discouraging word? The range is a big place, empty except for deer and antelope. There are few people, because if there were more people, there would certainly be more discouraging words. We don’t have to practice to be bad! It’s a good thing to relay on scripture, poetry, books, and music, in the empty places, but better to receive encouragement from a person.

My sermon today is intended to direct us to be “vessels of encouragement.”

I want you to consider Barnabas, also known as the “son of encouragement.” He is one of the few characters in scripture that went through the process of a name change. Now, I’m a fan of genealogy, and when I see a name change in my family tree, it might be a case of starting a new life, by hiding the old life. Or possibly the change is by adding an adjective, like Eric, the Good, or Krum, the Horrible.

It is different in scripture, a name change is a huge blessing, and sets the individual on a completely new path. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Hoshea becomes Joshua,, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul, and Joseph becomes Barnabas.

Luke relates the relationship of Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas was well known to the Church leaders in Jerusalem. Luke wrote of the pair as

Barnabas and Saul” on four or five occasions. But then it changed to “Paul and Barnabas” until they went on their own ways. Notice first that Saul had turned into Paul, and then Luke switched the written relationship.

Saul came to Jerusalem, and Barnabas stepped in to recommend Saul. Barnabas was first a sponsor and took on the responsibility. The leaders were afraid of Saul. They knew of his past and his envolement in the death of Stephen. But Barnabas was full of encouragement of Paul, and related how much he has done, he showed them Saul’s steadfastness, he had been threatened with death. The apostles stepped in and they sent Saul to Tarsus.

From scripture in Acts…

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: 7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10 And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

Interesting that Paul used “blindness” the very thing that brought him to Jesus!

No doubt that Paul had tremendous gifts. The apostles finally recognized that Paul could be an asset. And when Barnabas wanted Saul/Paul to accompany him on a missionary trip they all agreed. Something happening on that first missionary trip. Saul became Paul. They separated to go their own ways. Paul was still polarizing, but yet, he was successful in planting churches.

He was the same man, filled with the presence of the Lord, educated, well-spoken, courageous, but something was different. He had traveled with Barnabas for a season. Could it be that Saul was impacted by the Son of Encouragement? Just as Barnabas used to be Joseph, now Saul became Paul.

It’s not often in Scripture that two people with name changes are working together. Pretty powerful stuff! My thought is that Barnabas was still a sponsor of Saul, but now he became a mentor while they were in Antioch. Not an official mentor, but a mentor in the style of Jesus.

And now about Barnabas, encourage by being a sponsor, encourage by being a mentor. Not by shaping people into your standards, but by modeling the standards given by the Lord.

So how can we become more like Barnabas? Or Batnabas?

There are some handouts near you, and I would like you to take the time to check the boxes that you practice often. Not perfectly, but regularly.

There are five basic areas, and at least three levels that are indicated. Pens are available. Go ahead and I will give a brief explanation of each. You may keep these as a reminder.

Ways to Become a Barnabas

1.) Reframe Words of Discouragement. Use words of discouragement as a trigger to generate encouragement.

Step one. Focus on a worthy individual that could use your encouragement, but not necessarily the individual that expressed discouragement.

Step two. Give encouragement to a stranger. (without judging merit)

Step three. Give encouragement to the one that made you angry.

2.) Encourage ‘Invisible’ Servants that surround you. If you are out in the world there may be daily interactions with public servants. Make an effort to recognize them, and see them as individuals

Step one. Vocalize your thankfulness for their willingness to do their job.

Step two. Be specific about how well they accomplish a task.

Step three. Make time to contact their supervisor with good comments.

3.) Encourage people you interact with on the phone. So much time is spent on the phone working out details, or retirement, medical records, financial problems and other issues.

Step one. When someone is clearly giving excellent advice even if the problem is not solved, give them encouragement.

Step two. If the problem is actually solved, let them know how important it was for you, and that their help blessed you.

Step three. Ask to speak to their supervisor, and share your praise of their employee.

4.) Create Acts of Thanksgiving that can be seen as Encouragement.

Step one . Often dinner at home receives a prayer of blessing in private.

Step two. Have dinner at home with a guest, and still offer a prayer blessing.

Step three. Have dinner in public, and give a prayer of blessing.

Step four. Have a prayer of blessing for breakfast and lunch.

Step five. Have a prayer of blessing for late night refrigerator snacks.

5.) See yourself as a Barnabas

Step one. Begin to see yourself as an unending vessel of encouragement

Step two. Continually reframe the “trigger feeling” of not being encouraged. If you are not encouraged, then turn around and encourage someone. Encouragement has “reflective power”.

Step three. Increase the effectiveness of encouragement with your friends in need, but keep yourself open to encouraging strangers. Ask G-d to help you see others as He sees—and loves them.

You may add your own categories and steps. There were 17 checkboxes, I have not yet checked all 17, I’m a work in progress. At our LiveWires luncheon we had three people who had checked at least ten boxes each as regular practices.

I believe in change, I believe it can be dramatic and quick, and I believe it can come in “steps”. It is all at the will of G-d.

Quick how many boxes? May this guide towards becoming Barnabas.

Shall we pray?

The LORD bless you, and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’

I like to end sermons with this Aaronic blessing. It is sometimes useful to look at the original Hebrew to understand the context of the translation. The following can also be said to be a “translation of intent.”

Adonai will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection, Adoni will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you, bringing order, and he will beautify you, Adoni will lift up his wholeness of being, and look upon you, and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete!

Amen