Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
There are some struggles in the early church and yet good things are happening. It is obvious that the early church understood that the life of Jesus and the life that Jesus gives is meant to to burst beyond the allegiances of nation, ethnicity, or social grouping and create a community of the wealthy and poor, Hebrew and Hellenist. These Hellenist newcomer/outsiders are really included in the community we notice. When the vulnerable Hellenists advocate for more, the Hebrew apostles place Hellenists in charge of the feeding ministry. They are included in the leadership and given the power to make important decisions, not just given a token place at the table. So the apostles exercise good planning, sound decision making and good leadership.
Then the Holy Spirit rushes in and mixes things up. Stephen was ordained by the apostles for the ministry of feeding the hungry, but Stephen begins preaching authoritatively and healing powerfully. This is not what the apostles planned for or intended. (Are there hints of control-issues here? Perhaps the apostles thought that as those who had actually lived with Jesus were the only ones prepared to preach and teach and Stephen, a recent convert, was just not worthy of the ministry of preaching). ‘The best laid plans of mice and men/often go awry,’ wrote the poet Robert Burns. We laugh at it because we experience its truth. But we also find it frustrating and even frightening when the plans that have gone awry are ours.
Part of the story of Acts is the story of the Apostles best laid plans going awry. Which leads me to ponder a very different way of think about church, about being member of the gathered believers in Christ. To be baptized into this body is to regularly submit to having the Holy Spirit lead us awry. Perhaps, I’m wondering, church isn’t so much about comfort, as discomfort, not so much about security as learning to enjoy the ride of the chaotic urging of the Holy Spirit? The history of church doesn’t often tell this story. Church has often resisted the insistent call of the Holy Spirit to shatter assumptions and systems that enslave and oppress. In our own nation, much of the church resisted the civil rights movement. Still today churches resist the Spirit empowered equality of women (not letting them lead or preach).
Acts tells us a shocking story. The Holy Spirit was moving, tearing down the best laid plans and building new communities. As we will see, those apostles that could not ride this chaotic wave of the coming Kingdom were soon replaced with those who could ride that wave.
So, what do you think? Church as a place where we come to allow our comfort to be challenged and even shattered in the hopes of something new?