Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
I have always had a fascination with the names of people mentioned, especially, in the New Testament. It is something about the rootedness of the writings in a time and place, telling us, now, that there were real people meeting, worshipping, praying and fasting much as we do today – although I have to admit fasting is not part of my spiritual discipline.
As we meet each week to worship, pray and meet one another in a fellowship deeper and richer than other types of ‘meeting’ it also, in this instance, puts Saul/Paul among a group of prophets and teachers whose names echo from the Gospels, We are warned by commentators not to speculate too much that this is Simon of Cyrene and his son listed! We are also warned that this was not ordination as such with the laying on of hands but a blessing on Barnabas and Saul for the work they were doing on behalf of the community at Antioch. Paul was not a lone agent and we know from his undisputed letters that he was always in the company of others. This is about the community of faith as much as about Paul’s journeys as we call them.
So Saul/Paul is sent out with Barnabas, whose name is ‘son of encouragement’. Not only is the community sending these people out but they are sent with prayer, blessing and encouragement. How often do we encourage one another in the Church? Are we content to meet worship and pray but hold back from encouraging each other in how we seek to serve God in our various callings during the week? Encourage people to think about how they serve God in their daily living? Encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone to seek what God would have them be? And above all how do we pray for each other and bless each other, especially in the work they do on our faith communities behalf?
Gracious God, we need encouragement for this day’s activities, those mundane tasks of living and the other things on our ‘to do’ list. As we ask your blessing on this day may we find an opportunity to encourage someone else in what they have to do, so that together, in community, we can show your Kingdom values in our lives and living, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen
The Rev’d Hilary Collinson is the Minister of the Tees and Swale Pastorate in North Yorkshire