Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Parting of Minions

How many of you have seen Star Wars?  No, not the last one.   I mean the first one “A New Hope”, not that we called it “A New Hope” we just called it Star Wars. 

And if you are interested it was released 40 years ago this weekend, May 25th 1977.  I don’t know where I was forty years ago last weekend or 40 years ago next weekend.  But I do know where I was forty years ago this weekend.  I was watching Star Wars a New Hope for the first of many times. 

And Star Wars is rife with Minions.  From those everybody loved, like C3PO and R2-D2 to those everybody hated, like the storm troopers and Jar Jar Binks.

For the most part we think of minions as loyal to a fault, that’s all part of being a minion.  But sometimes even minions come to a parting of ways.  For example.  (Video Clip of R2D2 and C3PO)

That’s right, sometimes Minions just walk away, but that doesn’t always spell the end of the journey.  In the case of C3PO it didn’t, they still had to make another dozen movies.

This is week four of our “Minions: Playing Second fiddle for God” series.  And we have discovered the importance of those who are willing to play second fiddle.  Remember it was Leonard Bernstein, who when asked what was the most difficult instrument to play, replied without hesitation:  “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

 In the scripture we read this morning we see a parting of Minions. 

Let’s go back to the story, this is the beginning of Paul’s second journey from Jerusalem through Asia to Europe.  And he is pulling his team together and casting the vision for the trip and we pick up the story in Acts 15:37-39  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.  Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.

Like in the Star Wars clip this parting was not a happy event, the bible says that their disagreement was so sharp that they separated, and that seemed to signal the end of their relationship.

But just like in Star Wars this wasn’t the end of the story.

Later, when Paul was writing his letter to Philemon he would refer to Mark as his co-worker and in his letter to Timothy we read 2 Timothy 4:11  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.

Interesting.  So how do we get from A. to B.?   From the spot where Paul basically fired John Mark to the place where he refers to him as his co-worker and even asks for Mark’s assistance? 

The answer is found in another minion, Barnabas. And we going to dig a little deeper into that in just a few minutes.

We are told that John Mark or Mark as we often refer to him was Barnabas’ cousin, but we don’t know a whole lot more than that about Mark.

And we discover in Acts chapter 12 that Mark’s mother’s name was Mary and that the early church gathered in her home.  From that we’ve had speculation that it was her home that Jesus and the 12 met in for the Last Supper and that was where Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection, but it’s just speculation.

Early Church tradition has ascribed the second Gospel to Mark, but the author never identifies himself. 

And so, on that day, in Antioch, when Paul threw a hissy fit and fired Mark and alienated Barnabas, there was the potential for everything to get derailed.  

And there was the potential for Mark to have gone home pouting and saying “I’m done.”  For Barnabas to have given up on Paul and the church because his feelings got hurt.  And for Paul to have said “I’m not going to have anything else to do with those losers.”

And maybe we wouldn’t have blamed them.  But if that is what happened then Christianity today would look very different than it does.

Back in January I preached a series based on the fact that this year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  

And from our western view we see two branches of Christianity, the Catholic Church and the Protestant church.  And we think that before the reformation there was only the Catholic church. 

But 501 years ago, there wasn’t just one church there were basically three churches.

There was the Catholic church, and really it was Paul who was responsible for spreading the gospel into Europe.  Without Paul, there would have been no church in Rome.

But there was also the Eastern Orthodox Church. Today we see them primarily in the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. 

Many scholars would point to the birth place of the Orthodox church as Cyprus and the father of that church as Barnabas.  Remember what we read earlier?  Acts 15:39  Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.

If there hadn’t been a disagreement, if Barnabas and Mark had of stayed with Paul I wonder. . .

But there wasn’t just the Catholic, or Western Church and the Orthodox or Eastern Church.

As many of you know on Tuesday I’m heading to Egypt to preach and work with the pastors of the Wesleyan Church in Egypt, a work that is about a hundred years old.

But in Egypt the Wesleyan church is just a baby church because the Coptic church dates itself back to AD 49, 19 years after the resurrection of Christ.  And they claim that the one who brought the good news to Egypt was none other than Mark himself, as a matter of fact his head is still believed to be in Alexandria. 

And while the ladies are thinking “That’s gross”, the guys are thinking, “That’s kind of cool.”

The Coptic church even point back to Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 19:19  In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and there will be a monument to the LORD at its border.

So, if there hadn’t been a disagreement, if Barnabas and Mark had of stayed with Paul, I wonder. . .

I think the reason that the entire story didn’t go south at the point was because of Barnabas, listen to how he is introduced back in Acts 4:36  For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.

Years ago I preached an entire message on Barnabas, I’m not going to do that today.

So what can we learn from our minions today?

A Good Start Doesn’t Guarantee a Good Ending  How often do we make predictions about people based on how they start the journey?  They just seem to have it all going for them, they were voted most likely to succeed and everybody knew they were going places, and then they didn’t.

You’ve watched enough of the Olympics to know that just because you are first out of the blocks doesn't mean that you will be first across the finish line.  As a matter of fact just because you are first out of the blocks doesn’t even mean you will make it to the finish line.

John Mark had a lot going for him.  While scripture doesn’t spell it out tradition fills in some of the blanks about Mark.

In Luke’s gospel we read, Luke 10:1  The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.  Tradition tells us that while Mark wasn’t a part of the 12, that is he wasn’t one of the Apostles, that he was a part of the 72. 

Then there is a weird little story in the book of Mark, not found anywhere else.  It happened right after Jesus had been arrested in the garden, let’s pick up the narrative in Mark 14:50-52  Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.  One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked.

The theory put forth from some commentators is that the young man was Mark, that the Last Supper had happened in the upper room over his mother’s home, this goes back to the reference in Acts 12.  So, after supper was over,  young Mark followed Jesus and the 12 to the garden, and the rest as they say is history. 

But it’s just a theory, but it makes sense.  In an embarrassing kind of way.

And apparently, Paul saw something in this young man to recruit him as an assistant on his journey and all seemed to work out until we read in Acts 13:13 Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.  

Luke doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t tell us why Mark left, we are just told that he left.  Some have said he was home sick, other have speculated that when he got to Paphos, which is in Turkey that he got cold feet, but we don’t know. 

And while Mark’s departure didn’t seem to bother Barnabas it really bugged Paul, enough that when Barnabas suggested taking Mark along for their next journey it drove a wedge into their friendship.

Paul saw Mark as a quitter, and I’m sure he would have agreed with Evangelist Billy Sunday who said Stopping at third adds no more to the score than striking out it doesn't matter how well you start if you fail to finish.”

Through the years, I’ve seen folks who have started out so well in their Christian faith only to falter and fall. 

Peter, who really should have had a little more grace than most on this subject wrote in 2 Peter 2:20-22  And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.  It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life.  They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.”  Hmmm, I wonder what he really thought?

Through the years my prayer has been, “Lord let me finish well.”

 But, the next thing we discover in this story is that Falling Doesn’t Guarantee Failure  In Paul’s mind if Mark had failed him once and disappointed him once, he was bound to do it again. 

But that isn’t grace.   Grace is illustrated better when Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys of the Kingdom, even after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. 

When you fall, and if you are a people and most of you look like you are people, you will fall at some point, you will have one of two options.  You can stay down or you can get up.  It’s that simple. 

When we were pastoring in Truro, late in the last century, I was rushing out the back door of the parsonage one morning and didn’t realize that there was frost on the steps.  My feet went in the air and down I came.  It’s like the guy who was asked “Did you miss the steps?”  “Nope hit every one of them.”

And as I was laying in the snow, with my wounded pride, hurting so bad my first thought seriously was “Maybe I can just stay here.” 

Maybe you've been there, physically or spiritually, you’ve fallen and you don’t think you can get up, or maybe more to the point, you don’t want to get up.

Your mother ever give you poems when you were growing up?  My mom was forever giving me poems she had found that she thought might help me at some point.  And those were the days before the internet and email.  One she gave me is probably familiar to some of you: 
Two frogs fell into a can of cream.
Or so I've heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what's the use?” croaked No. 1.
“Tis fate; no help's around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff,
Dog paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face, 
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I'll swim awhile at least,” he said -
Or so I've heard he said;
“It really wouldn't help the world,
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam.
Not once he stopped to mutter.
But kicked and kicked and swam and kicked.
Then hopped out via butter.

When you fall, you can choose to stay down, or you can choose to get up.  But either way it will be your choice. 

We don’t know why Mark went back to Jerusalem.  At that point Paul gave up on Mark, but Barnabas didn’t give up on Mark and more importantly Mark didn’t give up on Mark.

It was Richard Nixon who said   “Defeat doesn’t finish a man—quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.”

When I was a teenager we had horses and our folks had us in riding lessons and the lesson that our instructor drilled into us over and over again was “Every time you fall, you will get back on a better rider.”  That was only partly true, you’d get back on a better rider if you learned from your fall.

So when you fall, not if you fall but when you fall, get up, brush yourself off and get back into the game.  Because the next thing we learn is found in  Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

There’s Always a Plan “B”

I don't think that it was necessarily God’s will that for there to be such a sharp disagreement that it damaged the relationship between these three men.  But God was able to use it. 

I think that when Paul cast the vision for the trip that they were all on board and that they thought the trip was a great idea and was in God’s will.  For them it was all Plan “A” but they all seemed to have a different idea of what Plan “A” might be. 

For Paul, it included Barnabas but not Mark.  For Barnabas and Mark they were convinced that they both belonged on the team. 

And maybe their Plan “A” wasn’t God’s Plan “A”.  Maybe God had an entirely different plan that was only revealed because of the disagreement. 

Because Mark and Barnabas didn’t go on the journey Paul recruited Timothy to join him and Timothy went on to become the pastor of the church of Ephesus and because of that we have the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy.

If you’ve been reading through the book of Acts you’ll notice that Luke has been writing in the third person narrative, that is he using the words “he” “they” and “them”

But there is a shift to the first person narrative in Acts 16:10  So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.  That is where Luke joined the team.  He’s no longer reporting what others have been telling him, now he’s writing as a participant in the adventure.

If Barnabas and Mark had still been on the trip would there have been room for Luke who would go on to write the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts?  I wonder

This is the last we see of Mark in the book of Acts but when the Apostle Peter closes his first letter he writes:  1 Peter 5:13  Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Most bible scholars feel that this was the same Mark who Paul fired, and that makes sense seeing that when Peter was rescued from prison in Acts chapter 12 the first place he goes is to the home of John Mark’s mother, Mary.

Because John Mark had his employment opportunities expanded did that allow him to become Peter’s assistant for a while instead of Paul’s?  The Gospel of Mark was the first gospel written and it is considered by most scholars to be Peter’s account, that Mark was simply writing down the stories that Peter told of his time with Jesus.

I wonder if the Gospel of Mark would have been written if Mark had of actually joined the journey with Paul?

When I was in Bible college someone told me that our view of life is sometimes like looking at the back of a tapestry or needlepoint.  That looking at it from the back it can be a little confusing, but the other side, the side that God sees makes perfect sense.

I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey.  But I want to assure you that falling isn’t failure and that failure isn’t final.

The decision that Mark made to walk away from Paul and Barnabas resulted in Paul refusing to offer Mark a second chance down the road.

Mark was hurt, Paul was angry and Barnabas was disappointed.  It had all the ingredients of a ministry train wreck, they didn’t have trains back then so a ministry ship wreck.  I’m sure all who were involved wondered if anything good could come out of what had happened.

And at the end of the story we had the Western Church, the Eastern Church and the Coptic Church, 1 and 2 Timothy and the Gospel of Mark.


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