This week’s scripture references many personalities, some
familiar and some not so familiar. I had this image from the
classic ‘60s film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Paul
Newman and Robert Redford, who play the famous outlaws.
The two are perched on a high cliff looking out over a valley
thinking they have surely lost the chasing posse by now. Then
they notice five horse riders emerging from a dust cloud in hot
pursuit of them. And in a line we hear again and again in the
movie, a perplexed Butch Cassidy asks, “Who are those guys?”
This week we’ll discover who a few of them are.
I am writing this meditation in a season of mistrust. Today’s
passage brings us to what must have been a similar time,
although on a smaller scale. In walks Stephen, a well-schooled
and credentialed member of the new church in Jerusalem. What
does he encounter? He faces division: two separate factions,
each with an establishment mentality. Who is this man who has
taken such effort to explain God’s covenants with the chosen
people? Where is Stephen in today’s context? Where do we look
to find people “filled with the Holy Spirit”? The crowd so blatantly
opposes the truth that they cover their ears.
Even when confronted by the onslaught of the screaming
crowd, Stephen keeps a laser focus on Jesus. Under attack he
willingly gives his spirit over to the Lord. He rejoices in God’s
glory. Abiding in his Savior, he becomes the Way. And while
they stone him, Stephen might well have said, “Father, forgive
them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Who is Stephen? Stephen is one who, even in the face of
death, stood with forgiving love for those who hated him. May
we be so faithful to the way of Christ.
Dear God, fill us with the spirit of Stephen. Amen.
Since the beginning, Israel’s faith has turned to God in situations of extreme trouble. In such turning, Israel has found God utterly reliable and able to rescue. Today’s psalm reading sounds those ancient cadences of reliability. The sermon in Acts 7 takes up those ancient cadences and places them on the lips and in the mouth of Stephen. Stephen’s preaching evokes hostility in his listeners. In the end, however, it is Stephen who knows the joy and well- being of life as a gift from God. Both the Gospel and epistle readings turn the faith of the psalm and drama of Stephen’s ending toward the concrete reality of the church. They tilt toward the need of a domesticated church to reengage its peculiar identity and its unusual mode of being. The language of “place” serves the practice of risky obedience.
• Read Acts 7:55-60. When have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s nudge telling you, “This is wrong”? What did you do?
• Read 1 Peter 2:2-10. How will we continue to drink of pure spiritual milk so we can repeatedly be called out of darkness into God’s light?
• Read Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16. What would it mean for you to
say to God, “My times are in your hand”?
• Read John 14:1-14. What tough faith questions have you asked Jesus? What was his response?
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