Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him;
So what have we (hopefully) experienced in Sunday’s worship and in the subsequent days?
First, I hope that we have experienced a resurgence of God-thought. The danger revealed in this story is that any and everyone can grow lethargic about believing in God. God can so easily become the cosmic butler who waits quietly out of the way, until we have need of God. God can so easily become a word we use to give ultimate importance to our own priorities, assumptions and ideologies. God can shelter us from the pain and injustice in the world around us (that we perhaps unwittingly participate in) and God can support and empower violent, vengeful, cruel or uncaring actions that really have nothing to do with God or God’s mission on earth. So I hope that you have been encourage to think a bit about God.
Second, I hope that we have experienced the disturbing presence of Jesus. Luke tells us that throughout his life, Jesus disturbed the people and the systems of society that created and accepted poverty, cruelty, bigotry and ignorance. His life was not a sacrifice to God’s wrath, it was the perfect expression of God’s love and justice. When ‘faithful’ people had grown complacent or comfortable, Jesus shattered that with a reminding of God’s call to go into the world, among lonely, broken, hurting people as the loving presence of God. His death was not to satisfy an angry God, but to show that faithfulness and allegiance to the passionate life of God, even to the point when it costs us something, when it causes death, is not defeat, but victory, not an end, but a new beginning.
And so, finally, I hope we have experienced the insistent call of a passionate life. I hope that we have been grasped by something. Paul Tillich says that faith is an act of a finite being who is grasped by and turned to the infinite. I hope that we have perhaps briefly understood that ‘life’ is not what we make of it, but instead what God pulls us to when we give ourselves passionately to one another, passionately to the weak, the suffering, the ignored, the hated. This is ultimately the story of Stephen. He is grasped, as he serves the vulnerable, the hungry, the tolerated by a God who loves passionately all people. While there is risk, Stephen does die, he has experienced eternal life by allowing this insistent God to pull into a life of ecstatic service of others and advocacy for others. He does not merely get through the days he is given, but makes each moment a Spirit filled celebration of love, solidarity, community and sharing.