Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday in Pentecost, Proper 14: The first martyr

Opening Sentence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3

Collect of the Day
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 105:1-22

Lessons: Judges 14:1-19Acts 6:15-7:16John 4:27-42

Naturalists might try to explain away the giftedness of Stephen. They might say he was just a better debater than his detractors. But Stephen was a man so filled with the Holy Spirit that signs and wonders accompanied his words. He spoke the truth because the Holy Spirit spoke through him, and people heard and believed. But this upset a lot of people. For Stephen’s opponents, their livelihood depended on the perpetuation of a lie. They were intimidated by Stephen and felt threatened by his words and the signs which accompanied them. He spoke the truth so convincingly, yet with such genuine humility, that his opponents just couldn’t stand it.

You know what happens next. Unable to withstand Stephen’s proclamation of the truth, his opponents trump up a bunch of lies about him and drag him before the council. But this only gives Stephen yet another opportunity to preach the Word. He rehearses the whole history of Israel, reminding the people of their heritage and of their hope for a promised Deliverer. But he also reminds them of the dark side of their history; of their stubbornness, their rejection of the prophets, and finally their rejection of the Righteous One himself. In a ringing indictment, Stephen declares, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” He indicts his accusers with their own words: the words of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and of all the prophets of old; the words they held to be the very Word of God. Had not God himself said of the Israelites that they were a stiff-necked people, stubborn, unwilling to accept the messengers he sent?

This, of course, is not the way to win friends and influence people. But Stephen isn’t finished yet. He sees a vision of heaven opened and of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This is more than Stephen’s enemies can stand. But their rage is not really directed at Stephen. They’re not angry with him. They’re angry with God. Stephen knows this. That’s why he is able to face death unafraid, knowing, having already beheld that wondrous vision of Christ in glory, that he will be vindicated and share in the glory. But it’s also the reason he has pity on those who murder him, praying with his dying breath that God will not hold their sin against them.

In his death, just as in his life, Stephen models the perfect Christ-likeness that Peter speaks of: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).


For All the Saints