Sunday, 30 April 2017

April 30, 2017

Death of Stephen - Easter 3

The Death of Stephen – Easter 3

April 30, 2017

Acts 6:1-15, 7:54-60


I played intramural sports in college; basketball in winter, softball in spring and football in the fall.  I liked football the best.  The league had a number of different teams. Some were dorm teams.  I was on a dorm team.  It also had fraternity teams.  (I shouldn’t probably share this, but the frat teams had the biggest jerks on them.  Just my opinion.  Maybe I should let it go.)  There was also one other team, the Vets’ Club team.


The Vets’ Club team was different.   For one thing, the guys were older.  They had served at least two years in the military.  They also didn’t seem to care if they won or they lost.  They liked being together.  They seemed to like playing the game.  But winning didn’t seem to matter.


I understand that better now.  Most of them had served in Viet Nam.  Life and its priorities could never be the same after that experience.  Most of the things that were major issues for other students just did not matter to them. 


I’ve dealt with a lot of veterans over the years.  I remember one man in his eighties who was still suffering from the effects of mustard gas he’d breathed in WWI.  I remember a WWII veteran whose was left for dead after the rest of his unit was killed in a battle in the South Pacific.  He owed his life to an alert medic.  I heard a Korean War veteran tell about almost freezing to death in North Korean.  I’ve talked to Viet Nam vets who can’t get the images of jungles and rice patties out of their memories.  Now there are vets who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who can’t unsee the things they have seen and undo the things they had to do.  After experiences like that, some things other people think are important just don’t seem to matter.


But military battles aren’t the only battles that change perspectives on life.  Battles with health will do that.  Loss of loved ones, parents, husband and wives, especially children, will do that.  Broken relationships and betrayal by friends will do that.  After the battles of life, things that seemed so important just don’t seem to matter anymore.


The death of Jesus was traumatic for his followers.  His torture and crucifixion devastated them.  But then Jesus was raised from the dead.  He defeated death and the tomb.  The resurrection turned a world of darkness into a world of light. The future seemed so bright.


After Jesus returned to the heavenly kingdom, his followers went to work spreading the good news.  They gained new followers and their numbers grew.  The disciples needed help and in our lesson today, they chose some men to be servant leaders.  One of them was Stephen.


Not everyone wanted to hear the message about Jesus.  Not everyone wanted the message about Jesus shared.  The opposition to the new Christians grew and became more violent.  Christians were being threatened.


Stephen would not back down.  In the face of threats, he became even more bold in proclaiming the forgiveness and life God gives through Jesus.  In our lesson today, Stephen is killed for sharing the Gospel.  The threat of death did not matter to him.  He was willing to die for his faith in Jesus.


But would others?  Would other Christians, in the face of violence and even death, be willing to risk their health and lives in order for others to hear the Good News of Jesus?  They did.  The Gospel mattered to them.  The promise of forgiveness and life mattered to them.  The love God shows through Jesus mattered to them.


Today we’re receiving New Members.  That might not seem like a big deal, but it is.  Today the New Members of Peace will be telling us and the world that Jesus matters to them.  They will be bold enough to say they want to be members of his Church.  They will proclaim that they want to live in the gift of grace they have received in their baptism.  They join us in our mission of remembering, celebrating and sharing God’s love.


When Jesus matters to us, it means people matter to us.  As Christians we care about the needs of others.  We want them to know the freedom from the past that comes with forgiveness.  We want them to know the freedom from worry and fear that comes with the promise of eternal life.  We want them to know that joy of knowing we are now and will always be in God’s loving care.  We want to share the love of God with others even when it may not be easy or popular.


The guys in the Vet’s club were different and now I really understand their perspective that the outcome of a football game is not really that important.


We need to know what really matters in life.  Battles can help change our perspective.  Faith in Jesus is even more powerful at reminding us what really matters.


After the death of Stephen, Christian needed to decide whether living in and sharing the Gospel really mattered.  Every day we need to decide whether living in and sharing the Gospel really matters.


And if we wonder whether we and all people really matter to God, all we need to do is look at the cross and remember Jesus.  AMEN