Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
Jan. 15, 2023
Acts 9:23-30 Note: The Saul in this passage is the Apostle Paul, one of the most important Christians who ever lived! Saul was a Pharisee and a fierce persecutor of the first Christians. Then he had a miraculous experience on the road to Damascus – Jesus spoke to him and said, “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s heart was changed and he quickly began telling everyone about it. Let’s pick up the story at vs. 22.
Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists, but they were attempting to kill him. When the brothers and sisters learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
I want to talk to you briefly this morning on the subject, On Being an Ally.
Saul was a fierce persecutor of the church. Earlier in the Book of Acts we see him give permission for the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church. Saul’s reputation was widely known, including by the disciples in Jerusalem – so much so that they were afraid of him. They probably thought it was a trap – “He’s going to come in here and suddenly pull out a weapon.”
Saul needed an ally, and God found one in Barnabas. Barnabas stood up for Saul. He told Saul’s story to them, when they were too afraid to hear it directly from him. And they trusted Barnabas enough to then agree to meet with Saul.
And these were very important meetings, weren’t they? Saul had become a passionate follower of Jesus, and who better to tell him about Jesus than the original disciples in Jerusalem? But Saul needed an ally for that to happen. Barnabas was the ally he needed.
The name Barnabas has a beautiful meaning. It means, Son of Encouragement. Barnabas lived up to his name.
The story shows the importance of having an ally and being an ally.
Years later Saul, now named Paul, does the same thing for an escaped slave named Onesimus. Paul writes a persuasive letter to his owner, Philemon.
He says, “I could compel you to do what is right and grant Onesimus his freedom, but I’d rather you not do it under compulsion, but rather voluntarily. Receive him as a beloved brother in Christ,” for that is what he is.
Onesimus needed an ally, and he had one in Paul.
Do you know who else was an amazing ally in the Bible? Jesus! Jesus was an incredible ally to many, many folks. Who was he especially an ally to? The poor, the outcasts, the lepers, the tax collectors, and the notorious sinners! All the people that most people would have nothing to do with!
“Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, I’d like to have dinner with you tonight.”
The religious folk said, “Who is this man who eats and drinks with sinners?”
The answer? He was their ally!
He wanted them to know that they matter. He wanted them to know that God loves them as much as God loves the super religious folks.
Allies stand up for those who are being pushed down.
They come alongside those who are walking alone.
They embrace those who are being rejected.
Bullying is an example of the importance of allies. I read of a study that asked those who’d been bullied what was the worst part of it, what hurt them the most? Was it the specific act of bullying? Words that were said? Do you know what they said hurt them the most? The silence of those who witnessed the bullying. It was the fact that they suffered alone and no one stood up for them. They needed an ally, but no one stepped up.
This church announced itself to be an ally to the LGBTQ community when we put those small rainbow symbols on our signs. Those small symbols send a big message. The handicapped symbols send a big message, too. All are welcome and we’re doing our best to make sure everyone can get inside comfortably.
Our Town Library saw some allying this week. A local pastor booked a room for a children’s story time. But the books he chose to read were specifically not affirming of LGBTQ folks, especially the “T” (Trans) part of that and the “Q” part, meaning Questioning. So folks showed up to protest as a way of saying, “We’re allies of our LGBTQ friends.” Years ago I probably thought that protest like that weren’t worth a lot, but when you look at it from the perspective of those who are being put down, rejected, or bullied, I now think those protests mean a lot. They send a message – You’re not alone. You have allies!
When it comes to racism, one of the trickiest moments is when we hear racist comments or a racist joke. I just tend to say, “I’m not comfortable with that.”
It can feel like a negative thing to do, but you can reframe it into a very positive thing to do . You’re being an ally for people of color!
Let me close with this:
An ally is not a noun.
It isn’t an identity, a label, or something to claim.
Being an ally is taking action, making a stand;
It’s doing something to make a difference by standing up against oppression and marginalization.
You are an ally when someone recognizes you as an ally.
Think about it.