Sermon for the Feast of St. Barnabasadmin | 11 June 2012
“I have called you friends.”
In the quiet beauty of an evening in June, we meet to celebrate the Feast of St. Barnabas, the Apostle. Barnabas means ‘son of consolation’ or ‘encouragement’. I can think of no greater encouragement or consolation for us in difficult times than to be reminded that Christ has made us his friends! At the same time, it must be admitted, we are most confused about the power and form of friendship in our contemporary world. What does Jesus mean to say that “I have called you friends”?
He is speaking to us about the divine charity which is the formative and foundational principle of our lives in faith, a life that binds us in the bonds of charity, the bonds of heavenly love, the basis of all and every form of true friendship. He is talking about nothing less than the dynamic of charity that makes us one in Christ and without which we have no life and no community and certainly no church.
How wonderful, too, that this gospel is accompanied by the lesson from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles which reminds us that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch, where Barnabas had been sent from Jerusalem. How wonderful, indeed! To think of being Christians precisely in terms of being made the friends of Christ, and, by holy and theological extension, the friends of God. That is the meaning of Christ’s friendship with us. He has gathered us into his fellowship with the Father and the Holy Ghost.
How wonderful, too, that Barnabas is the figure responsible for Saul’s coming to Antioch from Tarsus, not so long after his conversion, we may reasonably presume, a conversion which focuses on the proclamation of Saul, who will become Paul, on Jesus as the Son of God! This only heightens the wonder of our being made the friends of God in Jesus Christ.
Aristotle, the great Greek Philosopher of the ancient world, “the master of those who know”, as Dante styled him, wrote learnedly and deeply about the power and the nature of friendship. He observed, however, that there could be no friendship between God and man, the distance was too great, the difference between God and man too much to be overcome. We could never bridge the gap between God and man ourselves.
But the point here is that God has made us his friends. “You have not chosen me,” he says, “I have chosen you.” It is the divine charity which is the bond of all true friendship. This is, dare I say, not exactly like being ‘a friend’ on Facebook, but something deeper and more profound. It is not that the difference between God and man has been obliterated; it is preserved within the unity of Christ who gathers us into the divine community of love, the Trinity.
God establishes us as his friends. How? Well, our Gospel reading is very direct. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In other words, the friendship between God and man is accomplished in and through the sacrifice of Christ for us.
Barnabas is the figure who occasions these remembrances in his commemoration through the readings that are appointed to be read on his feast day. To be a Christian is to know that we have been made the friends of God through Jesus Christ. It is our encouragement and our consolation.
“I have called you friends.”
Fr. David Curry
Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11th, 2012