Thursday, December 26, 2013

Second Day of Christmas 2013 The Feast of Stephen

Stephen was remembered in the book of Acts as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit," and again, "full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people"

But the religious authorities didn't see it. The began to argue with him, saying he was blaspheming against God.

Now, this was when the Church was new, still a Jewish sect. Paul had not yet met Jesus on the road to Damascus, was still called Saul, was not even thinking about talking to Gentiles about Jesus. So I think we can assume Stephen, like all the first disciples, was Jewish. In answer to the charge of blasphemy, he gives a long speech, recounting the history of Israel, from Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to David, recounting the ways the people God had chosen had always wrestled with God, had killed the prophets, and that the ones arguing with him now were following in their footsteps, not paying attention to the movement of their God but opposing God.

This didn't set well with the religious authorities. It seldom does.

So they killed Stephen. We remember him as the first Christian martyr.

But reading over his story again just now, it strikes me as more than just remembering the first Christian martyr and the problematic (to understate) blaming of the Jews for not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. It seems to me, here as we slip into the third day of Christmas, that the Feast of Stephen might be best observed as a day for looking at our own religious authorities, our own places in religious hierarchy, at our own resistance to the prophetic voices among us, at our own idolatries that keep us from seeing the new thing(s) God is doing among us.

I've always found the juxtaposition of following our celebration of a meek baby in a manger with a remembrance of a stoning---the cost of discipleship, the consequence of loving that baby---and I still think that is a true piece of the story, one of the more genius juxtapositions of the church calendar.

But having re-read the story of Stephen, I realized it's really so much more than just remembering the cost of discipleship---Stephen's story is a reminder to not be so rigid, to not condemn every new thing, to be open to the spirit and the prophetic voices among us.

God is always moving, always doing new things. The church is always resistant---even the "church" before the church. It seems the best way to remember Stephen is watch for the things that offend us and look for the movement of the Spirit within it.

1 comment:

  1. Stephan's recap of salvation history is the basis for his accusation. I picture those listening nodding their heads in agreement as he did, until he abruptly accuses them! It wasn't just anything that offended them, it was the actual outworking of the plan of God. If things offend us in the Church, it might be because of the movement of the Spirit or it might be indigestion. Like Stephan, knowing how God's plan has unfolded in history will guide our discernment.