But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God." And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.
Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you." If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way."
Jesus speaks of going away, of returning to the Father. He directs his mind toward the cross, resurrection and ascension. After his sacrifice he will be with the Father and the Spirit, in heaven. Earlier, Philip requested, "Show us the Father and that will be enough for us;" and earlier still, Thomas argued with Jesus: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" In one sense, we cannot follow Jesus into the realm of God. Yet in some real way we must walk in his footsteps, for he said "I am going to prepare a place for you … I am the way."
One way to follow Jesus into his life with God is to grow in mindfulness, let our spirit become more aware within us. Here is where the temple of God is to be found; here is the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rests, written in our hearts. Here is where we hear God's word, the "commandment" that requires our full response. This transcendent God speaks with us and calls us "friends." But only by faith can we know that way, and faith means a surrender in love to the unknown. This unknown aspect of faith becomes all the more mysterious and undecipherable because it is not a quality of an object but the love of a person. That person is God, Father, Son and Spirit.
Like Paul and Barnabas the door is opened for us to move out from old securities and live among people who may seem outside the range of God's grace but are not really so. From the word of God, we get strength and wisdom. Ideals take on the force of a divine commandment as they are spoken anew by God.
Following such apostolic ideals would ask a lot from us. As Paul said to the Christians of Pisidia, "We must undergo many trials to enter the reign of God." But along with the call to be brave, we are also called by Jesus to peace. And peace means forgiving others, accepting differences, building bridges. His words remain, "Peace is my gift to you. Do not be distressed or fearful."
What a fine description of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in the Acts, this morning. Visiting churches that were struggling in a pagan world, we are told that they put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. In the gospel Jesus is described as doing something very similar. He turns to his disciples who are distressed at the prospect of his immanent departure, or death, and he says to them, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.' There is a time when, as disciples, we need to be challenged, but there is also a time when, as disciples, we need to be encouraged. Jesus and Paul knew how to give encouragement when encouragement was needed. The risen Lord continues his work of giving encouragement to disciples today. Getting discouraged about how we are doing as disciples of the Lord can be a very life-draining business; it can drag us down. Such discouragement does not come from the Lord. The Lord is much more about putting fresh heart into us, what the gospel calls a 'peace the world cannot give.' Every so often when we are feeling somewhat discouraged about ourselves, and how we are doing, it can be good to turn to the Lord and to invite him to put fresh heart into us so that we can be joyful and energetic in the living of our faith. The Lord puts fresh heart into us through the Holy Spirit. That is why one of the names given to the Holy Spirit is 'Comforter'/'Consoler' and why we can turn to the Holy Spirit and pray, 'Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour thy dew.'