Today we focus once again on the life and witness of Stephen in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and see what it might mean for us as individuals and as a church.
Today we will look at his trial and ultimately his death as we continue to explore what his vocation meant to him and the early church and what we can learn from it. His trial, more specifically his own speech to the Sanhedrin can be found in Acts 7:1-53 here we find an eloquent and incredible speech detailing the acts of God through Abraham, Moses, David and of course Jesus himself.
I would like however to focus on the last few verse of the chapter Acts 7:54-60 where we see the stoning and death of Stephen. Here we see in this moment of faith in God, Stephen look up to the heavens:
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God
When his final moments come we hear these words “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and then “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” These echo the worlds of Jesus upon the cross, but there is more than that to Stephen, his whole life and mission seems to echo that of Christ. He is the essence of what it means to be like Jesus.
When I was a teenager there was a movement which used the phrase WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do” we wore wrist bands that had those letters on and we were to ask ourselves at each important decision what Jesus would have done in our place. It had its flaws but when I look at Stephen I see someone who truly lived his life like Jesus in order to tell others of his saving power and grace.
As we look out at the hurting world around us we too have a vocation to bring that news of Christ’s saving power and grace. In words of kindness, in phone calls to the house bound in acts of community support in prayer for one another. Also as we come out of this lockdown very gradually we will need to be the people of hope to those around us. I can’t think of a better example than Stephen.
If of course Stephen is a bit of a tough act to follow and you feel a struggle to live up to his example there is someone else in the passage that you will have heard of, we read “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In Chapter 8 we read a bit more about him in verse 3 it says: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
This of course is Saul of Tarsus who become St Paul after a vision on the Damascus Road, the author of much of the New Testament. St Paul proves God can use us all so wherever you are between Stephen and Saul do not worry, God has something for you, and for us together as a church.
And so I sign off with Kate Barclay Wilkinson’s Victorian hymn which prays the prayer that we each may be more like Jesus:
May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.
May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His pow’r.
May the peace of Christ my Savior
Rule my life in every thing,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.
May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.
May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.
Your friend and Vicar