Barnabas: Second Chair Living
A Summer Family Reunion: Lessons From Our Faith Ancestors
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Shortly after seminary, Ann Marie and I lived for about four and half years in Paducah, Kentucky where I served Immanuel Baptist Church. The house that we bought when we moved to Paducah was right down the street from the home of Paducah native Alben Barkley. When we moved there, the name Alben Barkley meant absolutely nothing to me and it may not register with you either. Over time, however, I would learn that Alben Barkley had been Vice President of the United States when he served alongside Harry Truman from 1949 until 1953.
Barkley is regarded by at least some historians as a bit of a transformational figure as it relates to the office of Vice President. You see, Truman wanted Barkley to be a significant part of his leadership team at a time when Vice Presidents were not always regarded as being all that important. In turn, Truman put Barkley on the National Security council, had him come to Cabinet Meetings, and gave the office of Vice President a seal and a flag. Furthermore, Truman also raised the salary for the job. In Barkley, Truman saw someone who was not there to only break a tie in the Senate or the person waiting in the wings if something happened to him as President. Instead, for Truman, Barkley in the Second Chair in Washington, was an important part of the daily work of leading the country. (“The Vice Presidents That Time Forgot”, Tony Horwitz, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2012)
The famous American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked what tis he hardest instrument to play. His response unexpected but perfect. Bernstein sad that the hardest instrument to master is second fiddle.
Most of us understand this perspective in one way or another. For some, we understand it from the perspective of never wanting to be someone in the spotlight and as people who quite frankly always prefer to hide in the shadows while downplaying our significance, importance or value. For others of us, we understand it from the perspective of being a people who have never achieved what we had hoped that we would. We had always hope to be the important and the leader. But, we have always sat in a second chair and we struggle to appreciate our significance or worth. For others, we are in a lead position and yet we too need to reevaluate the second chair because we need to discover a new appreciation for those behind the scenes or second in command folks who have and continue to play a key role in helping us to be who we are. We may stand on our own two feet, but, we never reach places of achievement only with our own two feet.
Thankfully, God and scripture, provide us with the person of Barnabas to help us with all of these perspectives related to Second Chair living. And, this morning, I invite us to consider his story, as the last character we will meet in this Summer Family Reunion that we have had this year as we have been reintroduced ourselves and each other to characters from both the Old and the New Testament who are our spiritual ancestors.
I don’t mind telling you that Barnabas is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. And I am fond of him for a number of reasons. While we don’t know a lot about Barnabas’ background before the establishment of the early church, we do know a great deal about Barnabas’ involvement in the development of the early church. First, we know that he was a part of the church in Antioch. Second, we know that Barnabas had some means for he owned land that he could and did sell for a profit. Third, we know that Barnabas shared that money with the church in Antioch and is thus someone always remembered for his generosity and for a willingness to lead by example. Fourth, we know that Barnabas was set aside alongside Paul as one of the first two people commissioned by the church to go as missionaries, establishing early churches and spreading the gospel. Fifth, we know that after lots of success together that Paul and Barnabas agreed to go their separate ways. They both continued the work of spreading the gospel and starting churches but they reach a point where they both did the work with others rather than together as Paul eventually partnered with Silas and Barnabas with John Mark. Finally, we feel like we know that while Barnabas ultimately may have taken on a primary leadership role that most of his life and a place where he was very useful and invaluable was in his second chair beside Paul.