Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; I Peter 2:2-10; John 14: 1-14
“When times are tough, the tough get going.”
These are tough times we live in. St. Stephen lived in tough times, too. The Jesus movement was challenging the ancient faith of Israel, challenging the traditionalists of his day. The disciples were guiding the people of God in a new direction. The authorities thought that by crucifying the leader they would kill the movement. Instead, his followers (disciples), became the new leaders (apostles). Stephen, elected to serve the widows and the poor, was “filled with the Holy Spirit”. So, he, too, needed to be removed. Just as Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”, so Stephen cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” I think to love like Jesus includes to forgive like Jesus. To forgive is one of the most difficult acts of love. It needs to be included in the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). To forgive one needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, and like Stephen.
One of the most unheralded miracles of the late 20th century is how Germany and Japan became our allies in spite of World War II and all the horribleness it included. How our nation, led by warriors, was able to form bonds of friendship with the warriors of Germany and Japan amazes me. Embracing forgiveness is powerful.
Our reading from I Peter speaks about “the priesthood of all believers”. This is the keystone of the 16th century Reformation. It declares that we are all priests as we exercise God’s love each and every day, love of neighbor and love of self. We address the newly baptized in our liturgy, “We welcome you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood” (BCP, p. 308). This is a high standard, yet as the saying goes, “our reach must exceed our grasp”. This standard invites us of the current day Jesus movement to stretch our love to be like the love of Jesus, to be like the love of Stephen.
There are times when we experience the uneasiness of Philip standing before the Risen Jesus, and say, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied”. We constantly reach for more clarity and more assurance as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. As St. Paul wrote to the people of faith in Corinth about acting in love, “… now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” As we sing, “Day by day, of thee three things I pray, to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day” (Hymn 654).
On our earthly pilgrimage, even in tough times, we strive to act in love, and love includes the most challenging act of forgiving. In forgiving we place our small “s” spirit into the hands of the Great Spirit, the Holy Spirit; our spirit becomes one with the Great Spirit of God. In acts of forgiveness, our priesthood is incorporated into the priesthood of Jesus who is the way, who is the truth, and who is the life for today and all the days to come.
As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we, like Stephen, will be guides for our descendants who follow in the Jesus movement.
Rejoice and Be Safe.