Saturday, 29 April 2017

Am I brave enough? sermon for 30th April

 Acts 6:1- 7:2, 7:44-60 

Today we have had a very long reading, the first part explaining the way that the early church, (I mean, really, early – like newborn, early!) the early church was struggling with how to manage her affairs.

As soon as the word began to spread groups sprang up, depending where they had come from; what their original faith or practice had been, how they understood life, all these things influenced how they subsequently lived out life as a Christian.
Suddenly, things which had been good and holy practices were being abandoned; widows were being neglected, priorities shifted and others began to notice.
And there were complaints.

At this point I feel I need to pause a moment – what goes around comes around and there is nothing new under the sun – sigh!
Here we are, and still we complain about each other; we notice when someone is unkind, yet we do not necessarily time a moment to check our own behaviour first.
Is it comforting, that the problems we experience now in the church and in the community, are pretty much the exact same problems that these folks were experiencing too? I’m not sure if it’s comforting or depressing to be truthful.

Before we think about Stephen, I’d just like to take a moment to hear again verse 2: the twelve called together the whole community and said – it is not right for us to neglect God’s word and wait on tables…
Pardon me if I am wrong, but didn’t Jesus say that he came not to be served but to serve?!
I’m not sure that serving the WORD and prayer are much help to a starving widow who has been passed over because she has no one to speak up for her.
What would Jesus be doing?
Who would Jesus be with?
Already – they were losing sight of Jesus’ message. And, yet. The word of God continued to spread and the disciples increased.
The swift answer to this early problem, was to choose some good and faithful ones to serve the people and ensure that all were cared for.

Of these seven chosen ones, we are told that one of them, Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit – he was full of grace and power and was blessed to be able to do great wonders and signs among the people.
Of course, as is often the case, especially it seems in the bible, his goodness caused others to feel uncomfortable, and anger begins to rise up against him.
Yet, he persisted and withstood their anger. Which just made them madder!!
None of us likes to be told we’ve got it wrong; especially when they may be right; especially when we do not wish to change our behaviours…
Nowadays of course, if someone makes us uncomfortable we are not so likely to send them into the streets and stone them – we have other ways of hurling stones: insults and ostracising; excluding, tormenting, we may not kill them, but we can make them as dead to us.

The dictionary definition of martyrdom is:
“A person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle or cause”
By this definition it is clear that he was indeed martyred; but not before this incredible speech, which we have heard only an extract from today.
And, if we were thinking that Stephen spoke too much, or too directly, this is where he really did it! pointing out the errors; accusing them of putting Jesus to death; calling them names; criticising their religion, their history, their ancestors… that’ll do it!

What do we think about martyrdom now though?
In the 21st century?
We do hear of people being put to death, murdered in the news. Who can forget the image of the hostages held by ISIS being killed in the desert?
They however, did not go willingly for a cause, but died at the hands of terrorists.
So, where else might we find it now? Or is it an old-fashioned idea?

How would we act if we were really, challenged to stand up and be counted? If it became a life or death choice?
I cannot say I have the answer to this one; I do not know even if I would be brave enough to stand up, speak out, defend the helpless.

And so, we get to the title of today’s sermon. am I brave enough? Because this story of Stephen’s witness and death has disturbed me; it has caused me to question my own faith, my own strength, my own determination to keep the faith.

I am not very brave. I don’t like to put myself forward. I do not know, if I was called upon, if I would be able to stand and be counted; and that makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe you too feel the same?
We are so blessed in our community.
We have good friends and neighbours; we look out for each other; we help each other out.
We are never challenged – I mean, really, challenged on a regular basis, to move out of our comfort and into the unknown.
I’m afraid I do not have a quick answer either!
And maybe that it alright. Maybe sometimes we simply don’t have the answers – can’t have the answers because at this point, we do not need them.
Maybe sometimes we just have to wait, and keep the faith, and try our best to simply be in the moment.

We may go through life never challenged to stand up; never asked to speak out; never moved beyond that which is comfortable.
But, here in our comfortable existence we do have some responsibility. We need to remember Jesus teaching about justice and righteousness. We need to follow Jesus’ lead and help the weak and the disadvantaged; we need to follow Jesus lead and act when we witness injustice. We need to give of our time and talents, of our own resources to help those who have none; we need to be brave!!

The examples I used with the children – being kind; caring for the earth; clearing up after ourselves; protecting those who do not fit in… are simple enough, but they are not just for the children, they are for all of us!

It takes courage to be different. It takes strength to go against the crowd. It takes a gritty determination to do the right thing, because you believe with all your heart it is the right thing to do. 

I cannot answer the question for you; only you can do that: are you brave enough? Are we brave enough? Am I brave enough for Jesus? 

Leafy path at the Bield (c) JRen2016

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