Sermon Delivered by The Rt. Rev. Michael Maxwell


Words recorded in our Epistle reading for this morning, Acts chapter 11: verses 22 to 24…

News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

My friends in Christ, as I begin this message, I first of all wish to thank Almighty God for enabling us all to be here, whether in-person or online, to witness and share in this moment in time with our dear brother, Canon Garth. But I must confess that I am still amazed, and yet humbled, by the fact that I have been the one chosen to deliver the Sermon at this Service of Ordination for one to become a Bishop within the Church of God and the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston. Apparently, it was Canon Garth’s idea who, while in a conversation with the Archbishop, initiated this request for me to fulfil such a role and I wish to thank both these gentlemen for extending this invitation for me to share in such a capacity; even though I really wondered why me, why choose this baby Bishop within the CPWI (the Church in the Province of the West Indies). But God is working His purpose out and this is a conversation I will certainly have with Canon Garth after he becomes Bishop.

I had the pleasure of meeting Canon Garth and his family in October 2019, when he and his lovely wife, Denise, were gracious and lovely hosts to my late wife, Dawn, and me, at their residence at UTC on the occasion of the Service of Recognition for Archbishop Howard. We had a wonderful time together, and for this I am thankful to him. My brother, I wish to express my gratitude to you for allowing me to share in this special day with you; and it is truly a joy to be here as we have gathered in this beautiful Parish Church of Kingston.

Now, we have gathered for such a significant occasion on the Feast Day of St. Barnabas; and very interestingly, this Feast Day has fallen this year just as we closed off our Whitsuntide focus on God’s gracious gift and outpouring of His Holy Spirit that brought the Church into being. As we know, within the liturgical practice of our Christian tradition, our Church, in its wisdom, has set aside special days during its Christian Year, not only to observe major Feast Days such as Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost to commemorate God’s mighty acts of salvation in history, but to also celebrate the lives of noble men and women who dedicated their lives to His service and have gone before us with a great sign of faith. The Church has given us these Saint Days, not just to thank God for their lives, their witness and service but that they can be influencers for us, inspiring us to live faithfully as children and servants of God. Well on this 11th day of June, the Church calls us to consider the apostle Barnabas of whom Luke the evangelist, within his record of the Acts of the Apostles, gives us a fairly good grasp of this Saint’s character and the role he played in the development of the Christian Church of his day.

My brother Garth, as your ordination to the episcopal office, as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, falls on such a Feast Day, I wish to commend St. Barnabas, and his model of ministry to you for your attention and inspiration as you continue to respond to God’s call and now, specifically, to this call of episcopal ministry. Even though St. Barnabas was not himself a Bishop (although there are some traditions that suggest he was the first Bishop of Milan), his ontological and functional disposition can easily be commended to you and to all of us as Bishops or simply ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is, today, recognized by the Church as a shining example for us of liveliness and zeal, portraying many positive characteristics and qualities, reinventing himself on a number of occasions, so that the newly formed Christian Church could grow and thrive.

In the second lesson for today’s service, we are told in Acts 11:24 that Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” It is worth noting that Barnabas is the only person in the Acts of the Apostles to be described as “a good man.” Being called “good” was rare. Even Jesus, when he was called “Good Teacher…” by the man who asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” And yet, Barnabas was called “good,” not because he did not sin, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and Barnabas would have sinned from time to time.

But, he was a good man, and not a perfect man but a good man…because, from Luke’s observance of him, he sought to live life in obedience to God, to be guided by God’s Holy Spirit and held fast to the faith that was passed on to him by Jesus and the apostles; a man who tried to do what is right; a man who tried to live a life of loving God and loving his fellowmen and women; a man whose goodness was not just in words but in actions and sought the best interest of others outside of himself; he was a generous man who exhibited the fruit of the Spirit – of love and joy and peace and patience and gentleness and faithfulness and compassion and goodness and self-control. His goodness and compassion, in particular, remind us of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who saw a fellow man suffering along the street and did something about relieving his suffering.

Barnabas was a good man because he was full of the Holy Spirit, and full of faith, in the God whom he loved to serve. Being full of faith meant that Barnabas had a deep faith in God…and in His Son Jesus Christ. He recognized that Jesus was his Lord and Savior and lived a life in obedience to him and to the gospel. That faith enabled him to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to fill his life. God has offered all of us the gift of His Holy Spirit; however, it is only when we submit our lives to be guided by the Holy Spirit that the goodness of God radiates through our lives. Goodness comes as a result of the workings of the Holy Spirit within us; and I believe that this is why Barnabas was referred to as “good;” a character or virtue that only the Holy Spirit can bring forth.  Thus, when Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, writes that Barnabas was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” he was stating that Barnabas had tremendous faith in God, unwavering faith in God. It is through this steadfast faith that the Holy Spirit became strong and alive and powerful in Barnabas’ heart and soul, causing him to exercise goodness, which brought out so much good in his life which others had the blessing to experience. And these blessings of good can be seen in his qualities, in his character, and in the things that he said and did for the building up of the Church, throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

Now Barnabas was first introduced to us by Luke in the closing verses of chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles where the evangelist informs us that Barnabas, whose original name was Joseph, was a Levite (from which tribe the Temple priests came) and a native of Cyprus; and that he got the name Barnabas from the apostles which means “son of encouragement” or “…of consolation.” It is believed that he was so nicknamed, not simply because of his generosity in selling the land he possessed and contributing all of the proceeds to the early Church in support of, and provide hope and relief to, the less fortunate among them; but that the apostles generally recognized the level of his obedience and response towards God and the goodwill he exhibited to all men.

They identified him as one who had the gift of encouragement, and he exercised it remarkably well; and that’s certainly one of the reasons I believe Luke describes Barnabas as a good man. For we are told in our Epistle reading of how, when news came to the church in Jerusalem that the church in Antioch was growing by leaps and bounds, that “…the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord… [the very apostles] sent Barnabas to Antioch.” I believe they sent him, because by that time, they recognized him to be one they could trust to be led by, and obedient to, the promptings of the Holy Spirit to inspire this young church to stay the course in their new found faith, one who would fully dedicate himself to God’s mission in providing the teaching and encouragement needed for their faith development and maturation; and he did not disappoint them as that is exactly what he did, for we are told by Luke that “When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all [he encouraged and spurred them on] to remain faithful to the Lord with

steadfast devotion…” He built on the foundation and missionary efforts of those men from Cyprus and Cyrene who planted the church community in Antioch by offering that new church the encouragement they needed to continue being unwavering in the faith; to persevere in being devoted and faithful to God. He encouraged and supported them in how they were, and what they were doing. He himself living by God’s grace and love, rather than by rules, was able to

see the grace of God at work in their lives and rejoiced. He rejoiced at what God was doing in Antioch, and joined in with God and His missionary activity by encouraging the people to remain constant in their faithfulness to the Lord. No doubt that new church community faced the challenges of living the new way of life that would have been counter-culture to the secularized, multicultural, pluralistic capital of Syria, the city of Antioch, in which they lived; and he Barnabas provided them with the inspiration and teachings to do so and in doing so a great number of others were brought to the Lord as well.

My brother Garth, as Bishops, we are also called to be discerners of God’s grace at work in the lives of people, recognizing that no one is to be considered outside of God’s grace nor questioned regarding the activity of God in their lives; and we are to rejoice and join in God’s missionary work in their lives by being their encouragers, influencers and supporters, providing the means whereby their lives and relationship with God are further strengthened and affirmed and they are assured of God’s acceptance of and great love for them and the direction He offers for the enrichment of their lives. We are, as Paul would say concerning those with specialized ministries, to be those who equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ, that they may be united in the faith and grow to maturity and not to be tossed to and fro and blown about with every wind of doctrine. As you well know, Bishops are to be the primary guardians and defenders of the apostolic faith that has been handed down to us through the ages and we are to be teachers and encouragers of the faithful that they will be strengthened in and hold fast to such a faith even in the midst of the pressures of a secularized society.

As the Suffragan Bishop with responsibility to the capital city of Jamaica, this Kingston region is to be for you as Antioch was for Barnabas. This is to be your base where you are to be as Barnabas was, sent to a region to which you are very familiar, to discern where the grace of God has already been at work by way of the foundation that was laid before through the ministry of the former Suffragan Bishops, such as Bishop Thompson and Bishop Spence. Now you are called to build on this foundation with encouragement and support and influence that will enable those who have already committed themselves to Christ and His Church to stay the course, to remain steadfast in their faith and calling as His disciples. Now this encouragement is to be offered on two levels, to the clergy and to the laity under your charge. And so as an overseer of this region, my brother, be a Barnabas in recognizing God’s grace and mercy at work in their lives; be a Barnabas in encouraging both your clergy and your laity to persevere in their devotion to and love of God and not to lose heart, be a Barnabas in supporting all God’s people in their work and ministry and their faith and spiritual development. Be there to help them and inspire them when the going gets rough that they will be strong enough to still keep going. We are certainly going through some rough times even now during this COVID period, so from the get go that’s going to be very important from your first day in taking office. Be a Barnabas to those who may be tired or frustrated and need to be further equipped and inspired to face the new normal, the technological challenges of doing ministry within today’s context. Be a Barnabas to those who have become weak in their Christian and spiritual lives, encouraging them, consoling them, and supporting them, but also be a Barnabas to those who are strong as well and encourage them to help others who are weak.

But, besides being good in terms of an influencer and encourager, Barnabas also seemed good at being opened to collaborative engagement when it came to ministry, that of team work, shared ministry, recruiting for ministry and recognizing and affirming and deploying the gifts of others in the fulfilment of God’s missionary action plan of establishing His Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy. Luke informs us in Acts, chapter 9, for example, that when Saul came to Christ and tried to meet with the apostles in Jerusalem, that no one would have anything to do with him, he was pretty much avoided and ostracized and it was Barnabas who had the courage to first engage Paul, to test his calling by hearing his testimony and to determine if he was for real…if he had truly been converted and how God may have been calling him to ministry. The rest of the apostles were afraid to accept Paul, and understandably so since he was a proud Pharisee who persecuted Christians prior to his conversion. However, when Barnabas realized he was for real, Barnabas presented Paul as one who was truly called to be a co-worker and apostle; and as William Barclay says, Barnabas took Paul by the hand and stood sponsor for him, enabling Paul to join the ranks and have a more active ministry by assuring the other apostles that he was now one of them. It was Barnabas who told them that Paul had seen the Lord, that the risen Christ stopped him in his tracks on the road to Damascus and conversed with him; and from that moment, Paul went about preaching the gospel boldly in Damascus in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). So, as far as Barnabas was concerned, they need not be afraid anymore, but rather, they were all to accept God’s calling in Paul’s life to be an apostle, to be a colleague in ministry and to determine where God would have the church to deploy him in the spreading of the gospel.

But it was the way in which Paul boldly preached the gospel in Damascus and later in Jerusalem before he headed over to Tarsus that I am convinced that caused Barnabas to recruit Paul again when “…a great many people were brought to the Lord” as we heard in our passage this morning. Barnabas realized that he needed help with the people so that they could become learned and faithful disciples of Christ; and he was well aware that Paul had the calling, the knowledge and the skill set to minister effectively to Gentiles, to the Greeks there in Antioch. Barnabas realized they needed instruction, they needed the level of teaching that Paul was efficient and effective in offering; and that having Paul as a companion in discipling the new converts would truly be an asset. And so in today’s passage, we are told that he reached out to his colleague Paul, that “…Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. …[and] for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:25-26). Barnabas saw Paul’s potential for the mission of the gospel, and he capitalized on it, engaging in shared ministry, for the sake of Christ and His Church. Yes, Barnabas was a good teacher but he knew Paul had a particular skill set that would be supportive of the ministry he had started in Antioch; and that a collaborative approach was certainly what was needed to bear greater fruit in God’s mission there in Antioch.

My brother, Garth, as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, despite all the gifts and theological knowledge you may bring to the fore as you exercise your ministry within this part of God’s mission field, you will not be able, or are expected, to ‘go it alone.’ A critical part of your calling will be that of discerning the gifts of your clergy, inclusive of your fellow Bishops, and that of your laity, to assist you in growing and developing the level of ministry that is required for the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church. You will need to be a Barnabas in how you recruit and affirm others for ministry, assessing their true sense of calling and enabling their ministries to be recognized and accepted by the Church. Do not choose persons simply according to whom you like or who like you, or what persons have said about them or even those who everyone expects you to choose. [Please do not think I am saying not to choose any of these persons – that’s not what I am saying]. But as part of your selection process, choose persons who demonstrate a true sense of God’s Spirit directing their lives and who have the gifts and skills for the ministry which you have entrusted to their care and that will further the mission of God in this Kingston region. Do not be fearful of having people who have the suitable gifts for ministry all because they may have said or done hurtful or wrong things toward you in the past; maybe even during the elective process. Don’t seek to avoid them, or not to use them, in your ministry; for I can tell you for a fact, my brother, that when I was selected as the Bishop of Barbados, all were not in favor of my selection, and that is to be expected. But God has enabled me to realize that while I may have my choice of persons to serve in certain areas of ministry, God has his choices as well, and God’s choices are always better and more productive, whether we feel comfortable with the choice or not. And so as Bishops, we are called to be a Barnabas…to choose persons who will enable the Church to grow and to thrive. We are to choose persons who have the gifts that could be put to good use for the cause of the gospel, that would complement yours in God’s mission, even if their gifts in a particular area are better suited than yours. For because you are about to be consecrated a Bishop in God’s Church, in a few minutes, it does not mean you currently have or will receive all the gifts or that yours are better than everyone else’s. I am sure it didn’t happen when you were ordained a priest and it will not happen when you are ordained a Bishop either.

So, my brother, be a Barnabas in how you recruit others for, and affirm them in, ministry; how you share your ministry with your fellow Bishops within this Diocese and even across the Province; and also be a Barnabas in the teaching of your flock. Find ways and persons who are skilled in teaching and make instruction an important ministry among your people. When Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch, as we heard in our passage, for a year or so, it was strictly about intentional discipleship and faith development, seeking to nourish the Church with the Word through the teaching they offered. And as they fed the people with solid teaching, the church community grew both spiritually and numerically, so that when challenged by others concerning their faith, they were able to respond boldly (as should every Anglican within our Church today). I am sure that you and I know of that need for our Anglican brothers and sisters to have that kind of boldness when it comes to us growing and being confident in our knowledge of God’s Word and ability to share and defend our faith. I am sure you are aware of the need for there to be more teaching within our congregations in order for that to take place. For too long this has been the lament, that there is insufficient teaching within our churches; and since being here, I have also learned it is the same in this Diocese – the concern of not enough teaching and intentional discipleship. As Bishops, we are to draw on all the resources we have, not only clergy, but also our trained Lay Readers and Church Army Officers and Catechists, to further edify our people and strengthen them in their faith as we continue to respond to the call for intentional discipleship. Certainly, Barnabas recognized the need to strengthen the intentional discipleship within the church of Antioch to ensure that those who already were brought to faith, and those who were joining, were sufficiently nurtured and encouraged to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; and so he reached out to one who was more than gifted in that area, as he called on Paul to assist him in the teaching ministry, to powerfully share the gospel and enable the new church to be strengthened in their devotion and witness. Likewise, be also mindful of this as you are called to oversee the teaching ministry of churches under your jurisdiction.

Being a Barnabas is also about being a missionary, for he indeed was a missionary. He and Paul had a lot in common and would share missionary trips together, first in Antioch to carry famine relief to the Church in Jerusalem; and then when they returned, the Church in Antioch, after much prayer and fasting, commissioned and sent them on a missionary journey to carry on the Good News of Christ to the rest of the Gentile world, to modern day Asia Minor (Acts 13—14), beginning at Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. It is interesting to note that, although Cyprus was Barnabas’ home turf, he lets Paul take the lead in rescuing a proconsul from the clutches of a magician (Acts 13:8-10). Barnabas was contented to watch his protégé become the most significant evangelist in history, even though they would eventually go their separate ways on missionary trips over a disagreement concerning Mark, who had left the mission to return to Jerusalem.

My brother, Garth, be a Barnabas in being a missionary Bishop in your ministry. And being a missionary Bishop does not mean that of regularly finding yourself going overseas to conferences or to do a mission in a country other than your own, for your mission field is very much all around you here in Kingston where there are, no doubt, persons who have both physical and spiritual needs to be met by the churches under your watch within this region. You are to be like Barnabas, leading the Church into mission as you encourage, guide, facilitate, and oversee the parishes and congregations in social action and outreach for transformational development and the addressing of issues pertaining to social and economic justice. There are many even now with physical needs to be met as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact heavily and wreak havoc on our economies, along with the current war in Ukraine. I’m sure right here in Kingston, as in other parts of Jamaica and throughout our Province, there are many more today who are suffering from a shortage of income, a shortage of food, who are homeless, who are out of work, who are suffering mentally, who are victims of domestic and elder abuse and to whom God is calling the churches in this region, under your watch brother Garth, to engage in an intense outreach and relief programme to respond aptly to those in need, to offer some level of aid, some level of assistance, to relieve their plight. As Bishop, and like Barnabas, you are to be the channel through which such aid is to be made possible, whether you work simply through your churches within this capital or your reach beyond, to other regions or social agencies, to exercise your role in the public square to address the social and physical needs of the communities within Kingston.

But there are also persons in the Kingston communities who also need to hear and experience the good news of God’s love and forgiveness and saving grace that will enable them to develop that spiritual growth and connection with God, and who require guidance to live a more meaningful, righteous and peaceful life with themselves and those around them. They need to see Christians, led by their Bishop and priests, who not only talk the talk but walk the talk of being children of God; Christians who demonstrate being filled with the Holy Spirit and of faith by the love they show to others. Be a Barnabas, be a Bishop who is always led by the Spirit to engage and participate in the Missio Dei, God’s mission and purpose of righteousness and love; and lead the churches, under your watch, beyond the walls of just being concerned with self and attendance, maintenance of church schools and buildings and preserving traditions, to that of being a church that equally focuses on getting in, and reaching out, to the community, sharing the gospel, giving hope to and caring for all God’s people. Be a Barnabas, a missionary Bishop that inspires and encourages your churches to embrace change and to take risks and to seek justice and love mercy and to proclaim the good news that ‘the kingdom of heaven is being established as they share God’s love and presence to all and sundry.’

My brothers and sisters, the role our brother Garth is called to by Almighty God will not be easy; and so I am asking each of you within the hearing of my voice to also answer God’s call and to support brother Garth as he takes note of Barnabas’ example to promote God’s work here and further afield. We are God’s people and we are to remain strong and steadfast in doing His work. Although I have spent much time exhorting Canon Garth as he is about to be ordained and consecrated as a bishop, please continue to be mindful that you, as the people of God, also have a part to play in God working His purpose out within this capital and Diocese. You too have to live lives which exemplify goodness and being full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. It is not only left to soon-to-be Bishop Garth, but to all clergy and laity alike. You have your part to live out, your supporting role to play. You would realize in the same text for today, that ordinary folks, each Christian believer, was involved in witnessing for Jesus. These Christians, whose names are not even mentioned in the Bible, who fled from the persecution in Jerusalem and made their homes in places like Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, did not forget to witness for Christ…they continued to engage in mission and ministry, communicating the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, to their new friends, and neighbors, and with whoever they encountered in their daily lives. In essence, every one of us, clergy and laity alike, who are followers of Christ, who are Christians, are called to be engaged, along with our Bishops, in the work of mission and ministry. We all have a responsibility in sharing the good news of Christ. It is not left up for the Bishop to be a Barnabas. As the people of God, some of you, the laity in particular, will meet many more people in your daily lives than your clergy will ever meet, and you are to enable them to know you are Christians by your love. Barnabas and the church in his time demonstrated to us what it means to have “the hand of the Lord with them.” It was a church that recognized the need for all to serve so as to enable it to grow. It was a church where God’s grace and love and forgiveness were celebrated and people rejoiced at what God was doing and how they treated each other. It was a church that was devoted to teaching and studying God’s word so that persons could live by example to that Word. It was a church where its leadership exercised goodness, faithfulness, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, even though they were not perfect. It was a church where people were generous, recognizing the need to give to the success of the church, its ministry, and to help those in need. Your church and my church, and the Church in the Province of the West Indies, and God’s Church, need to exemplify that model of being Church. So, do not leave everything to Bishop Garth, or the other Bishops for that matter. Bishop Garth is only one person and cannot do it all on his own; and within this Diocese, you are called to be a Church where every member is a minister to exercise the concept of Total Ministry.

My brother Garth, as you become a fellow Bishop within the Church of God, once again, I encourage you to be a Barnabas – be a good man, a generous man with your time, talents and resources, be full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, be dependable and trustworthy, be a discerner of God’s grace at work in the lives of His people, be an influencer for good, an encourager or mentor of the faithful and the ministers within the church, a consoler of those who are in need of support, a promoter of collaborative engagement and an efficient human resource manager, a teacher and a missionary. As you are ordained this day as a Bishop in the Church of God, be assured of my prayerful support and, on behalf of the Diocese of Barbados, I wish God’s continual blessing as you begin your episcopal ministry in this city of Kingston, and in this Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and the Province of the West Indies, as a whole.

May God bless you, strengthen you and keep you as you respond to His call today, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.