Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Acts 15:36-40

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra on their 1st missionary journey—Jacob Jordaens, 1593-1678

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer
A Message on Acts 15:36-40
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 10, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Acts 15:36-40 (NRSV)

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39 The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord.

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To start off with today let us come together and say the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer together.

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Today we continue our sermon series on the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer by exploring the second line of the prayer, “Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.” Or, to phrase it in modern English, “Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.”

My version is something like, “Give me the work that you want me to do, and connect me with the people you want me to work with.”

Now this can be an uncomfortable prayer if you pray it earnestly, which I hope you do. I have often said that it is very, very rare for God to lead us to the easy places. I think there is a reason for that, too. We don’t spiritually grow in the easy places. It’s only in those difficult, uncomfortable situations, those places that really stretch our faith, that we spiritually grow.

I’m not sure where it came from, but there seems to be a myth that if we follow Jesus, if we are nice to others and obey the 10 commandments and stuff like that, then God will reward us by making our lives easier, more comfortable, and, if you believe in the “Prosperity Gospel” (and I pray that you don’t), financially blessed.

But that is a myth. God doesn’t work that way. And how do we know? Just look at Jesus’ followers in the Bible.

In the scripture we read today from the book of Acts we find Paul preparing to go on what is known as his second missionary journey. He had already completed one (called, of course, his first missionary journey) in which he went with Barnabas as well as John, also called Mark, which we call John Mark.

But while on this first missionary journey John Mark left Paul and Barnabas when they were in the area of Pamphylia and went back to Jerusalem. We don’t know why (although there is plenty of speculation), but John Mark left and went back to Jerusalem.

It is thought Paul’s first missionary journey lasted two to three years, the last part of it minus John Mark, then Paul and Barnabus returned to Jerusalem.

The scripture we read today happens after that as Paul is preparing for his second missionary journey. He wants Barnabas to go with him, and Barnabas is willing to, but he wants John Mark to go as well. And there’s the problem.

Paul doesn’t want John Mark going with them. In the scripture we read today from the NRSV translation we find that Paul feels that John Mark “deserted” them by leaving during their first journey. Other translations use words like “departed” and even “withdrawn.” John Mark left, and went back to Jerusalem.

Apparently Paul still has a problem with John Mark’s decision to leave them, and puts his foot down in spite of Barnabas’ pleas and refuses to let John Mark go on the trip. The scriptures tell us “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company.”

Wow! Okay, now let me get this straight. These are both followers of Jesus Christ, people who have traveled all over their known world starting churches and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and the power of his redeeming grace, and even performing miracles, and now they get into a tiff over who can come with them?

Yep, that’s the case. It gets to the point where Barnabas says, “Oh yeah? Well, if you are gonna be a stubborn-head and won’t let John Mark go then you go on your own, buddy. I’ll go with John Mark and we’ll do our own thing! So there!” (Or something similar to that, I imagine.)

It almost sounds like a couple of elementary kids arguing on the playground instead of the leaders of the Christian movement as it began.

So that’s what happens. They go their separate ways. Barnabas and John Mark get on a boat and travel northwest to the island of Cyprus, while and Paul, who chooses Silas to go with him, heads north overland to Syria and Cilicia, located in present day Turkey.

The good news is that they later reconciled, so they didn’t stay mad at each other the rest of their lives. (Again, kind of like elementary kids.)

Now I bring this scripture up today because it brings us back to the second line of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.” Or my version, “Give me the work that you want me to do, and connect me with the people you want me to work with.”

Just as we have a false expectation of our lives being worry free after deciding to follow Jesus, I think that we also have an expectation that God will call us to work all by ourselves for his kingdom, or that if he does want us to work with others that those people will be just like us. And yes, that sometimes does happen, but my experience is more often than not God places people into our lives who we are to work with but that… well… we may not like them very well.

I thought about that this past week as I read about what was happening in our nation’s capital. (I refused to watch the national TV news. It offends my journalism degree.)

The two parties are supposed to work together to represent the American people, right? The Democrats and Republicans, even though they may disagree on many things, are supposed to work together and compromise with each other so that our country as a whole benefits, right? That isn’t happening and hasn’t happened in a while.

What if we as Christians behave in the same manner? Think God will be pleased? Hmmmmm. I think that answer would be “no.”

Back to the scripture we read today, it’s interesting that the writer of Acts, who we believe to be Luke, includes this disagreement in his writing. It’s almost like airing the apostles’ dirty laundry, isn’t it? Why not just skip it or edit it out?

Here’s what I think. I think the fact that the disagreement is included proves that it really happened.

Think about it: If you were going to make up a religion, if you were going to fictionalize a religion, everybody would agree with everything, right? You would only have one story line and everyone would agree with it. You wouldn’t have four different gospels that have differences between them, and you wouldn’t have the leaders of that religion disagreeing with each other.

But Luke does include this disagreement. And I think that proves that it is the truth, that it really happened.

So what can we learn from this? How can we apply this to our lives today?

I think it shows us that sometimes God may change the people he wants us to work with.

Years ago I was watching a broadcast on TV of a Madea play featuring Tyler Perry. In the play Madea was consoling a young man named Sonny whose girlfriend had broken up with him. Madea tells the young man that sometimes it’s best to let people go. He says, “Some people’ll come in your life for a lifetime, and some’ll come for a season. You got to know which is which.”

I remember when I heard that it really struck me as sort of profound. (You can tell I’m a deep thinker when the things I think are profound are things that Madea says.) And I still think there is a lot of truth in that.

I believe that sometimes God puts people in our lives for a lifetime, and sometimes it’s for a season. And we need to seek God’s guidance to discern which is which.

Paul and Barnabas were together for a season. They separated and Paul set out with Silas while Barnabas and John Mark go off together in a different direction. But by doing this, they double their efforts. Instead of two people going out, four people went out. The Good News was multiplied.

We are called to go out as well. Maybe not to Cyprus or Turkey (although you can never tell…), but we are all called to go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ. That goes for every Christian. Not just preachers, but every Christian. If we call ourselves Christians, then we are to share the Good News. No exceptions.

Wesley’s prayer asks God “place me with whom thou will.” Are you willing to pray that same prayer? Are you willing to be “placed” with whom God wants you to work with, even if it’s someone you may not like?

That’s my challenge to you this week. Be willing to let God place you with individuals to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Whether it’s for a lifetime or a season, be willing to say, “Yes, Lord, send me.” Be willing to work with others for the Kingdom of God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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