A Parting of Minions

May 28, 2017

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.