May 14, 2017
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Our Scripture lessons this week all speak of martyrdom and death and what lies ahead for the believer who dies for Christ’s sake.
So let me write to you about church meetings and committee work. (!)
Maybe you have attended a few church meetings in your time, and have found them to be tedious or full of meanness or completely pointless. And maybe they were ! All of the above !
Stephen was one of the first “deacons” in the history of the Christian faith. The “deacon” thing started when two groups of Christians began to be suspicious and quarrelsome against each other over the way the church’s food and money were being divided up for sharing: one group said that their relatives were being neglected, while the other group said No, they’re not. So “The Twelve,” the original group of Jesus’ disciples (minus Judas Iscariot, plus Matthias) issued a committee decision: they established another committee called “deacons,” whose job it would be to make sure that the food and money were divided up fairly among everybody who needed help. Gee, doesn’t that sound like an inspiring task ! And soooo spiritual, too ! (Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6)
In our Bethel church, we have a Constitution and a set of By-laws which were developed here a few decades ago to try to help the church’s work proceed fairly and smoothly, to make it possible for the membership to accomplish what they believe to be the right tasks for Christ’s sake. Every time we hold an official meeting, we try to follow the guidelines we find in our Constitution and By-laws. Sometimes we forget or overlook some of those guidelines; other times we stay on course and do it by the book. And Yes, sometimes tedium and meanness and pointlessness rear their ugly heads in meetings even while we are trying to do things by the book. It could kill your spirit if you let it.
Stephen was one of those first Christians who was appointed to be a deacon. If you try, you can imagine him sitting with a group of deacons counting money, sorting figs and loaves of bread, or interviewing needy people to figure out who should get what… really inspiring, spiritual stuff.
Before you snicker too much, though, remember that Stephen was the first Christian to follow Jesus... to die for his faith.
Deacon Stephen was not helpless. In addition to having the presence and support of numerous fellow Christians, Stephen also had his spiritual life united with Jesus Christ, and he was armed with plenty of biblical background to be able to understand where he stood in God’s great story of salvation.
Stephen was appointed by a committee to do committee work, but when the devil was ready to throw rocks at him, all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
Stephen was fully prepared to give an account of the hope he had in Jesus Christ: Acts chapter 7 is the speech Stephen gave on that day, in which he explained to his accusers how God used the Hebrews’ difficult history of rebelling against God to lead up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And then Stephen, who had disciplined himself against the tedious, mean, and pointless realities of working for Christ in this wicked world, 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 !” (Acts 7:55-56)
– while they were killing him.
May we all find such glory as we do Christ’s work.