Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

Faith's Price

October 5:

Faith's Price
Call:       Acts 6: 8-15
Read:   From Acts 7: 48-53
Text:       Acts 7: 54-60
Closing:    Romans 5: 1-5

                Faith's Price

On occasion, I have explained a decision or an action
By telling people
That my favorite NT character (other than Christ, of course)
    Is Stephen.

The typical response I get is:
    "And, Jim, do you remember what happened to Stephen?"

Yes, I do.
And yet I still admire him and I still relate to him

I admire his commitment to Christ
I admire his willingness to share Christ's story
I admire his willingness to share that story
    In addition to his work as one of the food administrators
And I admire Stephen for standing up for his beliefs
    Despite the obvious price he had to pay.

I relate to him
    Not in terms of getting stoned
        Neither stoned with thrown rocks as he was
        Nor stoned in the more modern connotation

I relate to him
because there are times that I have spoken out
    despite knowing that it would make me unpopular
even with some in authority

On some of those occasions my speaking out made a difference
On some, I simply paid the price
On none, however - unlike Stephen - did I feel the risk of death

Today, you and I share the honor and challenge of Stephen's story
    a story which we need to experience rather than just read.
a story that we need to feel rather than hear.

So I am going to ask us to put ourselves in the position
    Of the Sanhedrin or council before whom Stephen was taken
I want us to hear this story as if
we are that ruling council of important, powerful people
        Interested in preserving the status quo.

Stephen has been brought before us
    Charged by (what we know today) are false witnesses
Who accused him of having   "insulted Moses and God"

Those witnesses testified that he
        "Never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law"
They allege that he had said,
    "Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place
    and alter the customary practices Moses gave us."

And so - in the words recorded in Acts 7:1 -
 we inquire of the young man before us,
"Are these accusations true?

And aware of our importance and our power
    I want us   to fold our arms in front of our chests
    I want us   to pull our shoulders back
And     I want us   to imagine ourselves asking Stephen in a deep voice that conveys gravitas,
        "Are these accusations true?"

Having already having had to deal with and admonish
    Peter and John and other of Christ's apostles.
What are we hoping Stephen's answer to be?

How about,  A bowed head, humble response like.
    "Yes, but I am sorry and I will stop.  It won't happen again."

That would please us
    For such a response would make us believe that
        The admonition we gave to Peter and John
        And the whipping we gave to all the disciples
        Was at last having some impact
In shutting up and getting rid of those who thought Jesus was the messiah or a prophet like Moses.

Our second choice would be a simple
"No the accusations are not true."
We could then hear the testimony
    And make a decision that would dispose of the case.

The one thing that we don't want to hear is
    Any more of the ridiculous stuff we heard from Peter
    Or any bold, confrontational statements like,
        "Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah promised by God"
    or  "you killed the messiah that God sent"
    or  "Nothing that you do or say will have an impact on me
            Because I can't stop talking about Jesus."

We have had enough of that stuff
    And we are done listening to it.

we are important, powerful people
        Interested in preserving the status quo.

And Jesus Christ is not the status quo.

Well,       what do we hear?

First a polite, non-confrontational - even gracious - response
    "Brothers and Fathers, listen to me.
    Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham ..."

Stephen follows up this reference to Abraham
By reminding us
    Of Abraham's obedience to God
          And how when God told Abraham to leave home, he did
    Of God's promise to, or covenant with, Abraham
        A promise of land and descendents and
        A covenant confirmed through circumcision.

Stephen recalled God's ominous promise that Abraham' people
    Would live,     and be enslaved,    in a foreign land
        A process which began with Joseph
        And which ended when freed through Moses

And he also recalled the struggles
Moses had with the Israelite people
Who originally rejected him as their leader
About whom they complained and whined
        And in whose absence they built and worshipped
            A calf they had made from gold

So far, none of us have trouble with Stephen's words.

But then he subtly begins to set the stage
for a change to a more challenging tone.
He starts by reminding us that Moses had promised that,
"God will raise up for you, a prophet like me, from your own people."   [Acts 7:37 (from Deut 18:15)]

And he continued to set the stage, by pointing out first that:
    God had been with us even before the temple
"The tent of testimony was with the ancestors in the wilderness ...
Moses built it ...
(and) our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua's leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled."

And second, that the tent was with David
Until David decided that God needed a house
and     until Solomon built that house or temple,

At this point we important and powerful people
    Who are about to decide his fate
    Have simply been nodding our heads in agreement.

But now Stephen transitions toward his conclusions
    That Jesus is the promised messiah and "prophet like Moses"
    That Jesus is   the central symbol of Jewish faith and life
        Succeeding  Moses, the temple, the torah
and any other institution  [NIB 125]
    That we - not he - are the ones who have insulted Moses by rejecting what he really taught,
    And that we - not he - are in danger of repeating Israel's wilderness sin and are thus perilously close to being sent into spiritual exile  [NIB 129]

He does so gently at first by quoting Isaiah (in Acts 7:48-50)
"God does not live in homes built by human hands."

And then by verbally kicking us in the chest,
    And telling us exactly what we don't want to hear,
    Beginning with the verses that made up our R/Reading
        [Acts 7: 51-53]

But he wasn't done  [Acts 7: 54-56]

Having enraged us with his accusations
He goes even one step further and offends us by saying
    that he can see
"God's majesty"   and Jesus "standing at God's right side."

We don't want to hear anything more - ever again [57-60]

For Stephen,    death was faith's price
    He loved Christ so much
that he was willing to pay that price.

Most of us (as the Sanhedrin and as ourselves),
Would rather cover our ears than listen to Stephen's warnings
Most of us, (again as the Sanhedrin and sadly also as ourselves)
    Would rather give priority to things other than to God
Most of us, (as ourselves)
are not willing to even pay the price of
inviting others to worship with us or greeting those who do.

As the song goes,   "When will we ever learn?"
    I pray that our look at the early church might be
        The answer to the song's question
        Or at least a part of that answer.

And I pray that you and I will move toward a willingness
    To pay whatever price our faith requires of us.