Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

Unwavering

Listen to the Sermon or the Entire Service

June 9th:

Potsdam and WS
Call:    Acts 6: 1-7
Text:    Acts 6: 8-15;   7: 51-60
Read: NONE (Children's Sunday)

I love what I do.
I love trying to bring the scriptures alive
I love reflecting with you on what they are saying to us

I suspect that my excitement and love show through.

But this morning I come before you
with some disappointment   and with some regret.

I am disappointed and I regret that I don't have the entire hour
   To present this morning's scriptural story of Stephen
and to reflect on it with you

What I would like to do is

   Take the first fifteen minutes of our service
      To look at the portion of it that called us to worship
         The selection of the deacons
            Stephen and Phillip
            And five otherwise unknown men
      To see what this represents in terms of change within
the church
   to see whether those of us so comfortable
with the present and the past
   might come to understand
that change is sometimes necessary
in order to better serve in the future.

   That portion of Stephen's story has a lot to say on the subject
For in it both the apostles and those with a complaint
Had an unwavering commitment
to Christ and to Christ's church
   to work things out
instead of whining or walking out.

Then I would say a prayer and we would sing a hymn.
That would complete the first quarter and lead us to the second.

I would want to use that second quarter
To look at the message in the first fifty verses of chap 7
the portion of Stephen's speech that that we will not hear today
      Because I have omitted them
in the interest of time and focus

   And we would consider what Stephen said
about Moses & other OT figures
whose stories he was unwaveringly committed to tell - even though differing with the establishment

   I would close that section with another prayer
   And we would sing another hymn as we moved
to the third quarter

In that quarter of our time together I would look at the
unwavering, untactful, and uncompromising address
Stephen made to the Jewish council

An address in which he calls the council and their ancestors
"stiff necked people"
   And accuses them of being
"uncircumcised in heart and ears
In other words, not really Jewish
   In the way they listened
And   In the way they felt.

   An address that took courage - a great deal of courage
      For Stephen knew
      That the council had previously demanded
that Peter and John stop preaching about JC
      and that the council had had the disciples flogged
         when they did continue to so preach

   We would take note that often we need to stand up for God
      Even if doing so  requires a willingness to sacrifice
         In Stephen's case, it required sacrificing his life.

   And we would say another prayer and sing another hymn.

Finally, in the concluding quarter of our service
   We would look at the impact Stephen's death had on Christ's church
   We would see that his execution - really his lynching
      Did not shut the church down
      But rather helped to spread the word about Christ

   For the fleeing and persecuted believers
took Christ's story with them as they sought refuge
   And the man who held the cloaks of Stephen's attackers
Was prepared to be converted later on Damascus Rd
By Stephen's prayer that
the cloak holder and the others
be forgiven.

   In that last quarter
We would see how the stoning of Stephen
      Marked the turning point
in which the church moved out from Jerusalem
         To share with the world
      Just as Christ himself had commissioned them to do

   And we would see God's unwavering presence
      Even when things seemed most bleak for the followers

   At the end of our hour, we would close our service
not only with a prayer and a hymn
      But also with our offerings
   Which hopefully we would then see   as a willing sacrifice
      Offered with unwavering love
      In the manner of the sacrifice that Stephen made.

Then you and I would,
like the fleeing believers
and like the soon to be converted Saul/Paul
Go out into the world
   Prepared to sacrifice ourselves for Jesus Christ.

[In Potsdam] we don't have anything close to that full hour
in fact, because of our opportunity to have the children share
we don't even have time for a full length sermon

But we do have time to hear Luke tell the story
   Of this man Stephen
Selected as a deacon;      Evolved as a witness
And Sacrificed as a follower     [Acts 6: 8-15; 7: 51-60]

We've heard the story and the introductory summary
   Now, its time for us to give it some thought
I think our reflecting on it will be of more value
Than even devoting a full hour to it in our worship service

My disappointment and my regrets now seem unnecessary
[West Stockholm, only]

That's where I will be ending this reflection in Potsdam

But,     while, of course,    we too don't have a full hour

We do have more time
than I will have
when I take the six mile jaunt back down Route 11
to lead worship.
       For the Potsdam congregation today celebrates Children's Day
      by having the Sunday School do much of its service.

And I am grateful for that time you and I have
for it gives me a chance
To try to show the relevance of Stephen's story for us.

I am grateful because, aside from Christ himself,
Stephen is my favorite the NT character
and   is one of my role models.

Of course, as I identify him as one of my role models,
   You will want to ask me
   "Jim, do you remember what happened to Stephen?
They dragged him out of town and stoned him to death"

Yes, I do remember.
I am fully conscious of an ending I would prefer to avoid.

Further, I acknowledge that on occasion I have irritated people
with my questions, my comments, or my observations
   even - perhaps especially -
   when I was right
   and when my point of view carried the day.

I vividly recall one occasion about ten years ago
It took place at a local pastors group meeting at annual conference
   When a speaker came in to ask us to do something

   She rambled on with no doubt that we would agree.
   I thought what she wanted was not only silly, but offensive.

   When I - with much greater tact than Stephen -
told her so, she dismissed me
      "Well, there is one person who doesn't agree"
      in a tone so arrogant that I still remember it.

   I spoke up again, telling her
      "No, there are a lot more than one.
I was just the one willing to speak up."

When we took a vote, her proposal lost by a count of  83 - 4.

Stephen showed us that
At times we have to take a risk of losing
   social status, friendships, or even employment
   to do something right   and to not do something wrong.

But the times I most think of Stephen
   Are when I fail to do as he would have done.

That happened to me the other day while traveling to Syracuse.
   On my way, I stopped at McDonalds in Central Square
      To use the rest room and get some coffee

As I was drying my hands,
   A young man (late teens, early twenties)
      Emerged from the stall, walked right past the sinks,
      And returned to work in the kitchen.
   I almost stopped him and said
   "There is a reason that the sign says
'Employees must wash their hands.'"

But I didn't.

And then I almost told the similarly aged woman who took my coffee order so she could in turn tell the manager.

But again, I didn't.

I am glad that I have not heard of any disease breaking out among
   Patrons of the Central Square McDonalds.
But I remain disappointed in myself
that I took the easy way out
   And failed to say anything.

That day:   I couldn't have looked Stephen in the eye
That day:   I certainly would not have been willing to face Christ
   For instead of having the courage to do what was right
   I acted like a coward.

Just because you and I are not apt to stand before any tribunal
   And defend our sharing the story and message of Jesus Christ
Does not mean that Stephen's story has no meaning for us.
   Both when he inspires us to act in unwavering faith
   And when our decisions do not reflect that faith.

I pray that you and I do
   Much more of the former than of the latter.