Planting Seed

By Ed Little

A Reading from Acts 13:1-12

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a childhood friend of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. And they had John also to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now listen — the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he fumbled about for someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Meditation

Is Canterbury Cathedral our “mother church”? Or Christ Church, Philadelphia? Or Rome,  or Jerusalem? Luke makes the case that our “mother church” is Antioch: it was from Antioch that, for the first time, Christian missionaries were intentionally dispatched. As today’s passage begins, prophets and teachers have assembled in Antioch, a diverse community of Jewish and Gentile Christians fasting and praying. “The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then … they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” And off Barnabas and Saul went. First stop, Cyprus.

They had no idea that this moment would change the course of history. How could they? Their job was to light the fire; the Spirit’s job was to make it grow. Saul, Barnabas, and future companions would eventually travel from Cyprus to Asia Minor to Greece to Rome, the Gospel spreading in concentric circles until those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) would submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And it all began in a prayer meeting in Antioch!

Saul and Barnabas’ ministry in Cyprus was not especially successful (at first). They preached in a few synagogues, confronted a false prophet, and won — as far as we can tell — only one convert, Sergius Paulus. But the pattern was set. The Church was to be outward-looking and outward-bound. “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it,” Archbishop William Temple is credited with saying. Antioch is the proof and the encouragement. With one act of obedience — with unimpressive results! — powerful Christian faith would eventually be woven deeply into the people and land of Cyprus, and beyond.

How can we be Antiochian Christians today? How is the Holy Spirit setting us apart for the work to which he has called us?

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, N.J.
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