Order of Service
|Prelude||Chris Tou, piano|
|Confession & Forgiveness||Pastor Linda|
|Gathering Song||As the Sun With Longer Journey|
Chris Tou, piano
Prayer of the Day
|Scripture||Acts 6:1 – 7:2a; 44-60||Pastor Linda|
|Hymn||I Received The Living God|
Chris Tou, piano
|Statement of Faith||Pastor Linda|
|Prayers of Intercession||Christy Wetzig|
|Closing Hymn||That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright|
Chris Tou, piano
|Postlude||Chris Tou, piano|
Confession & Forgiveness
P: In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
P: Trusting in the promise of God’s word, we admit the sin that confronts and confounds us.
Silence for reflection and self-examination.
P: Most faithful God,
C: We confess that we have failed to walk in the way of your Son. We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have shut our eyes to the suffering of your people and of your world. We have closed our minds to the possibilities of life and the mysteries of faith.
Call us out, gracious God, and grant us life.
P: We who were once far off have been brought near to God through the cross of Jesus. May almighty God grant you grace to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Amen.
Gathering Song – As the Sun with Longer Journey
As the sun with longer journey melths the winter’s snow and ice,
with its slowly growing radiance warms the seed beneath the earth,
may the sun of Christ’s uprising gently bring our hearts to life.
Through the days of waiting, watching, in the desert of our sin,
searching on the far horizon for a sign of cloud or wind,
we await the healing waters of our Savior’s victory.
Praise be given to the maker of the seasons’ yearly round:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- Source, Sustainer, Lord of life,
as the ever turning ages roll to their eternal rest.
Text: John Patrick Earls
Music: Carl F. Schalk
P: The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.
Prayer of the Day
Open our eyes, Lord, especially if they are half shut because we are tired of looking, or half open because we fear we see too much, or bleared with tears because yesterday and today and tomorrow are filled with the same pain. Open our eyes, Lord, to gently scan the life we lead, the home we have, the world we inhabit, and so to find, among the gremlins and the greyness, signs of hope and beauty and love. Show us the world as in your sight and grant us grace to heal. Amen
1 Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done | marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy arm have | won the victory.
2 O Lord, you have made | known your victory,
you have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
3 You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the | house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen the victory | of our God.
4 Shout with joy to the Lord, | all you lands;
lift up your voice, re-|joice and sing.
5 Sing to the Lord | with the harp,
with the harp and the | voice of song.
6 With trumpets and the sound | of the horn
shout with joy before the | king, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and | all that fills it,
the world and those who | dwell therein.
8 Let the rivers | clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to | judge the earth.
9 The Lord will judge the | world with righteousness
and the peo-|ples with equity.
Today we leave the gospels and change gears a little bit, but not by much.
In the next few weeks we will be reading from the Acts of the Apostles – which is volume two of the set written by the author of Luke. Chapter 1 of Acts begins with Luke’s address to the same nobleman or patron to whom he wrote the gospel of Luke: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen… While staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth.”
Today we skip over the story of the Holy Spirit coming among them – we’ll pick it up for Pentecost – but instead we find the disciples in Jerusalem, following step one of their instructions. Peter has experienced a transformation and has become the rock, the leader of the seedling movement of witnesses. They are in the beginning stages of forming the body of Christ, a communion of fellowship in his name.
The end of chapters 2 and 4 are nearly identical: “Awe came upon everyone, because many signs and wonders were being done by the apostles.The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number.”
It sounds too good to be true – well, at least too good to last.
As we know from history, claiming allegiance to Jesus’ way – living into an alternative kingdom – is never done without risk. Continuing to preach the message of Jesus raised the hackles of the establishment. The chief priests and Pharisees and scribes who had had Jesus killed are still hot under the collar. They thought this nonsense about the Messiah had been laid to rest, but here is this group acting and speaking in Jesus’ name. It was risky business the apostles were about. They were compelled by the Spirit and the force of Christ’s love to share their good news, anyway – to care for one another and the least and lowest, anyway – to tell what they believed to be true of God in Jesus in spite of the risk. This might tell us something about God’s love. It isn’t a cozy hug. It isn’t a ‘keep you safe, hot coca and slippers’ kind of love. God never promised you a rose garden. (You have to be at least as old as I am to know that reference). The risk warns us that it is worth paying attention, pulling up your socks, and trusting that you are part of God’s will, part of the glorious works that will be achieved – thorns and all.
Sure enough, the disciples were arrested and brought before the high priest and council. The Sanhedrin was enraged and wanted to kill them. However, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time.
35Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37After him another man rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them — and you may even be found to be fighting against God!”
A wise man. The disciples were off the hook temporarily and were released. But even without the controversy and agitation of the religious elite, there was trouble. It may be one of the encouraging parts of this awful story – that even in the first rendering of Christ’s community, even with this communal, all-in practice of koinonia, there was grumbling and conflict. The encouraging bit is that God always finds a way forward…in spite of our efforts, our actions, our failings.
Scripture Reading – Acts 6:1 – 7:2a; 44-60
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prokorus, Nickanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them, blessing them for their task.
7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9But some of those who belonged to the synagogue stood up and argued with Stephen. 10They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; and they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
The high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied:
Well, Steven replied with one of the longest speeches in the New Testament. The result should stand, perhaps, as a warning to pastors not to preach so long. Stephen did not answer the charges, but instead recounted the history of Israel – to the teachers of Israel – with special emphasis on their doubt, their divorce from (and headstrong disobedience to) the will of God. This was received by the Sanhedrin as we might expect. He ends with this:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Well, 54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven… 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
The word of the Lord. …..thanks be to God
Even the apostles couldn’t do everything. And even within an ideal community of sharing all things in common, not all things can be shared in common… because not all people have the same gifts and needs. So, Stephen becomes a kind of subversive refectory worker, equalizing food distributions between the Greek and Jewish widows in his day job – and doing signs and wonders when the dishes are washed and he can get out of the kitchen.
It’s the signs and wonders that get him into trouble – that, and that he can’t seem to stay quiet. His powerful witness provokes the already irritated religious elite so much that he is killed in an impulsive act of mob violence. Stoning was the preferred Jewish method of execution, but the Jews were not allowed to put people to death under the terms of their occupation by Rome. That’s why Jesus was passed back and forth between Herod and Pilate with the crowd controlling matters from the sidelines by threatening to riot and revolt. The Jews weren’t allowed to kill outright. So, in his stoning, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr, and he comes not from those on the frontline preaching the word, but from those back in the kitchen feeding the hungry.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus was all about feeding people and eating with the wrong sort of people. Improper table fellowship was one of the most persistent criticisms against him. And serving God through caring for the poor, for sojourning immigrants, for widows, for children left at the border is not something we should expect (or hope) to get away from. In Luke’s theology, ordinary becomes extraordinary. Regular people do highly irregular things when God gets involved, and salvation has more to do with this life than the next. God’s care, in Luke, is evident for living people who hunger and thirst and struggle and grieve. This world matters – if not ultimately, at least certainly while you are living it!
Luke fashions the telling of Stephen’s involvement in a way that reveals the mission and ministry and the risk of the church; showing the cruciform nature of Christian discipleship. Stephen’s story is a mini-series redo. In his serving, in his teaching, in the way he interprets scripture – opening it up to new vision – in the forgiveness and mercy he calls down on his enemies, Stephen reflects Jesus’ model. Faith, community, serving in Christ’s name is a commitment that comes with risks and consequences – occasionally, like the martyrs of every age, including the risk of death.
We are formed in the image of God, we say; Luke says that image also reflects the image of the cross, of Jesus broken by the sin of the world. Scriptural echoes in today’s story remind us that suffering has always been a consequence of the calling for God’s people, because suffering is a side effect of love. As Stephen prays for his enemies and forgives his attackers, “Lord, do not hold this against them,” we hear the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
One of the points to ponder about the kingdom of God is that ordinary, unknown people keep popping up as main characters for a moment or two. That might worry us if we think that staying in the background might keep us safe, might let us pass by un-noticed, unscathed.
Stephen wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the gospels. He might have been part of the crowd, but from the little we know, these seven kitchen workers joined the group of disciples after the resurrection and Pentecost, like us. Along with the others, his name is Greek, indicating that he was one of the Hellenists – Jews from the diaspora who spoke Greek, not Aramaic. This new community formed in Jesus’ name was a lumpy amalgamation, not a smooth mixture despite their sharing of resources and holding all things in common. Cultural and social differences created tensions. But Stephen shows up, hears the story, is given a way to serve, gets caught on fire by the Spirit of God, and dies for his faith.
Aside from being commemorated as the first Christian martyr and getting a prize spot of Feast Days – the day after Christmas – Stephen is an unknown character. He did his bit. It had life and death consequences. He was included in the story. Becoming a martyr shouldn’t be a career choice, but it happened – it happens. The language of the reading today, the social dynamics of insider/outsider, cultural differences creating conflict, willful misunderstanding and false accusations, mob violence leading to impulsive killing of the innocent… sounds eerily familiar – ancient ways that have not gone away. Our nation is a lumpy amalgamation – where cultural, racial, language differences are still sharp points of conflict, inciting violence, mob mentality, the death of innocents. The disregard of the value of lives, bodies because of skin color or sexual, gender, religious, language differences is still a sin, a divorce from the way and love of God (who created all of our bodies and distinctions as signs and wonders of divine love).
Mostly, the story of Stephen is here to teach us about being “the church” – the community that enacts the work of Christ in the world…. it is a mission dropping us in the deep, way over our heads. Stephen shows that the impossible ethic of love is possible, although costly. He didn’t set out to die, he was fulfilling his vocation of serving in the kitchen in Jerusalem – making sure the rations were distributed fairly. It was just an ordinary job. He, an ordinary person doing an ordinary job. That is the life of the church. That is the life of the church living the ethic of love in our daily lives. There are lots of ordinary jobs represented among us. There are just as many extraordinary people – ordinary people who might one day trip over the stumbling block that is Christ, and rise up, bruised but inspired, set on fire by the Spirit of God.
Through us, the ripples of small, ordinary and unknown become amplified in ways that might be invisible to us, but together are overwhelmingly wonderful – as they are orchestrated and seen by God.
One does not need to be divine to do what Jesus did. In the simple act of feeding widows, Stephen does the work of Jesus and opens himself to the realm of God. The church is not an hour a week commitment: it is a living. Your mission, child of God, is to live it: to follow Christ into the world in your ordinary, everyday life; to imagine the realm and the pleasure of God; to take up the task that is yours to do, to be love incarnate for those who need its life-givingness and hope…. to care… for the world, its impoverished, its isolated, its biodiversity, its suffering, its joyful, amazing creative life-force. To see this all as God’s work, God’s doing, God’s concern – and to share in that love, no matter what the cost to you.
It may be minimal, or it may cost you your life – but if it is the work of God, it will be all and it will be enough. Sometimes that is a word of grace – that what you do and who you are is enough, it is God’s love enacted through you, and you are adequate for the job. Like Stephen in the kitchen, or in the street doing signs and wonders, you have been given what you have to give, and in the ripples of life, what you do is enough…it spreads out all around you in ways you can’t imagine. All that is asked of you – of any follower of Christ – is the witness of your life. Live it with joy and in hope and in the solace of the saints who have gone before. Be the love of God, and all shall be well. In God’s watchful love, all manner of things shall be well.
Hymn – I Received the Living God
I received the living God,
and my heart is full of joy.
I received the living God,
and my heart is full of joy.
Jesus said: I am the bread
kneaded long to give you life;
you who will partake of me
need not ever fear to die.
Jesus said: I am the way,
and my Father longs for you;
so I come to bring you home
to be one with us anew.
Jesus said: I am the truth;
come and follow close to me.
You will know me in your heart,
and my word shall make you free.
Jesus said: I am the life,
far from whom no thing can grow,
but receive this living bread,
and my Spirit you shall know.
Text & Tune: Anonymous
Statement of Faith
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and Savior.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen
~ Julian of Norwich
Prayers of Intercession
Trusting that God wants to hear the desires of our hearts, let’s approach God’s throne together. I’ll end each prayer with “Lord, in your mercy,” and I invite you to respond: “Hear our prayer.”
Dear God, we come before you again, and the world doesn’t seem any better than it was last week. Still, we come before you again, lifting up the needs of the world up to you, who grieves each sparrow that falls, and rejoices when love is shared in the world. Help the church, your body on this earth, do your work. Give us eyes to see injustice. Give us lips to speak the truth in love. Give us hands to bind up wounds. And let our feet spread your good news of mercy wherever we go. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Dear God, thank you for those who stand up for peace and justice in our community and the world. We ask that their voices be heard and that laws would be changed, armies would stand down, prisoners would be freed, weapons would be dropped, forgotten, as love conquers the world, the kind of love that casts out all fear. We pray that compassion would take the place of suspicion. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of mercy, the earth groans under the weight of our greed and selfishness and willful ignorance. How long must it suffer from our sin? Teach us humans the meaning of “enough,” and help us take care of each bit of earth we touch. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of mercy, we bring to you those who are sick, those in pain, those whose minds and hearts grieve, those who are weary of doing good. Especially we think of Selma and her family and Carl. Be the rest they need for their souls. In this silence we name before you those for whom we’re especially burdened….
God of mercy, we also speak to you in this silence that which we don’t speak to anyone else, knowing you listen with love and compassion to our deepest secrets….
Gather all the prayers of all the people to your bosom, O Lord. Amen.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
Hymn – That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright
That Easter day with joy was bright;
the sun shone out with fairer light
when, to their longing eyes restored,
the apostles saw their risen Lord!
O Jesus, king of gentleness,
with constant love our hearts possess;
to you our lips will ever raise
the tribute of our grateful praise.
O Christ, you are the Lord of all
in this our Easter festival,
for you will be our strength and shield
from ev’ry weapon death can wield.
All praise, O risen Lord, we give
to you, once dead, but now alive!
To God the Father equal praise,
and God the Spirit, now we raise!
Text: Latin hymn; tr. John Mason Neale
Music: European tune, adapt. Michael Praetorius
Go into this week with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And trust that the Spirit of God goes with you. Amen