Tag Archives: Saint Stephen

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

A Cornerstone Chosen and Precious

What is the foundation of the Early Church? A better question is: Who is the foundation of that Church? There was question in the minds of some of the apostles who that was. After the resurrection it was settled for them. It was Jesus. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner”,

and

“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.   (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Jesus was the problem for the leaders of Judaism during the time of his earthly ministry and following his resurrection. Even though he had performed countless miracles the leaders just could not accept him as Messiah. He did not fit their expectations. In fact, Jesus’s ministry was such an affront to their faith that they had to destroy him and remove all evidence that he actually existed.

Stephen had been appointed by the apostles to serve as a deacon in the Church. He was so filled with the Holy Spirit and so anointed by God that his ministry made the risen Christ ever more real. The leaders simply could not stand his presence:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.   (Acts 7:55-57)

Jesus was the very foundation and cornerstone of the Church. However, to acknowledge that he was meant that the leaders of Judaism had to admit that they totally misunderstood what Judaism was all about.

What about our churches today? Is Jesus our chosen and precious cornerstone? If he is not then our church is dead. What evidence do we see that demonstrates Jesus is the firm foundation of our faith and of our churches?

Jesus told his disciple Philip:

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.   (John 14:12-14)

Do we see that glory of God the Father in our churches? Do we see the miracles that apostles were accomplishing in the name of Jesus? The deacons were doing a similar ministry if Stephen is an example. God is no respecter of persons. Jesus said that all we have to do is believe in him and use his name.

Is Jesus a stone that makes us stumble or is he our cornerstone? The problem with Judaism in Jesus’s day was that the leaders had too narrow an understanding of it and their vision was severely limited. How do we see our church? Are we limiting what God can do through our unbelief?

God is calling us to a live and dynamic church where the Spirit of God is in operation. He is calling each one of us to do the greater works about which Jesus spoke. Jesus was teaching the  disciple Philip about these works. Philip was skeptical at first. History has shown, however, that he stepped up the plate when he became a powerful apostle of Christ.

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Filed under Easter, homily, Jesus, Peter, Philip, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

Saint Stephen

Vittore_Carpaccio_circaXXThe_Sermon_of_St._Stephen_in_Jerusalem_circa_1514First Martyr for the Faith

For those who refuse to change the truth of God is unbearable. This has always been true and is still true today. Let us look at some examples. God sent Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim to warn the nation of impending doom if the people did not repent. This is how the people in authority responded to his prophecy:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.   (Jeremiah 26:7-9)

The messenger of God is often rejected because the message of God is rejected. It is not just that the message of the prophet was rejected because God was rejected.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus was crucified because the Jewish leaders could not bear His message. They rejected Him because they also rejected God the Father. They rejected His plan for their nation and the whole world. They wanted a different message and a different Messiah.

In today’s Epistle lesson we have the example of Stephen:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.   (Acts 6:8-11)

Stephen was not only a servant of the Church as a deacon, he was a powerful purveyor of the Gospel. The leaders could not withstand the message of Stephen which was by the Holy Spirit. Thus they rejected Stephen. Stephen became the first martyr for the Faith. He was an innocent man full of God’s grace and power, yet he was stoned to death in the name of religion.

People have a certain concept of God. When challenged by God’s truth they often will do anything , including destroying the messenger of God, to keep from hearing and complying with His Word. How far are we willing to go today to reject the Word of God. The Word was made flesh for us and died on the cross as payment for our sins. Are we to reject such a great salvation? Are we to reject healings? Are we to reject prophecy in our day? Some of our religions do not allow for these things and that is because these religions do not allow for God’s truth. Church doctrine does not take the place of the truths of God.

Where do we stand today? Are we open to God. Are we seeking his revelation in our lives. Is His Word all important to us? If it is then we will be persecuted for it, even within the Church. When that occurs will we still hold on to the truth at all costs? Lastly, will we follow the example of Stephen and forgive our persecutors? We will if we have received the implanted Word which is able to save our souls.

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