St. Barnabas and the Imagination of the Saints

There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:32-37

Today is known in some parts of the church as the feast day of St. Barnabas, who pretty much shows up in the story of the apostles to emphasize that real people sold away their stuff and gave it to the early church.

Money, it turns out, is a thing. Even in the very beginning the work of the early church needed support to care for its own members and care for others in the community who had been left out or shut out from opportunity, employment, and plenty. And rather than having a general sense that the gospel message inspired people to give of themselves to its work, we get a real flesh and blood Cypriot to show us.

A part of the Episcopal Café series, Fearless Fundraising, gets pretty intense about some of the challenges that church communities are looking towards, including a reduction in giving close to beyond 70% for their regular giving, faithful but short-sighted insistence on ministry expenses, and no plan to bridge the gap between the two.

J and I have to think about this a lot: one of us is in a professional degree., and the other is, well, a pastor. Things will get better in time, but money is probably a bit more of our weekly conversation than we would both prefer right now. At the same time, we’ve had a commitment to not reduce, but actually steadily increase our giving to church, school, social services, monastic community, etc. I know, hooray us. But hey, it feels like an accomplishment in the midst of hard work.

The reason why, at least for me, is imagination. I’m thankful for the funds that support me in my ministry, and allow me to both work and thrive, and for our family to have the things we need. At the end of a long day, I have done what I can to do the Church’s work in the world, and I am happy. I am also tired. I know that I can not imagine all the needs in the world, all the possibilities for service, all the gifts and skills waiting to be supported and shared. I do have faith that in the space between us there is that wisdom and imagination in God’s Spirit: living in this body of Christ (or community, or school, or service). So I take what I can and lay it at the feet of the saints and wait, and watch, and wonder at what will come to be.