Being a believer that Jesus is the Christ (God's chosen one) has always it seems been a bit of a risky business. I wonder if in his final moments, Stephen reflected upon the words we find in our Psalm today: ‘My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine upon your servant, and save me for your mercy’s sake.’
As this thought rolls around the vast empty open spaces of my mind it is joined by the words of 1 Peter 2 as I think of the rejection of Jesus and how he was put to death for speaking God's words and opposing the views of fallen and flawed and hardhearted religious people. For Jesus came to this earth not to bring religion but relationship and it is amazing to me that people could be so cruel, so blind, so awful to others in the name of religion then - and worse still, having apparently learned nothing, today!
And yet there is for Stephen, and for the many martyrs of the Christian faith, a promise that accompanies the oh so familiar words of John 14. Familiar because so often they are used in the funeral service - hopeful and comforting in that Jesus has gone before us and promises a place with him - that he will 'take us to Himself so that where He is, we will be also'.
Words of hope for those we love but see no longer. That having defeated death on the cross all will be resurrected (of course there's also a judging - never quite so popular) and so we work in this life looking at the physical and spiritual building that we undertake - upwards to God, outwards into the world - and keeping it straight and true by using the Christ as the 'topmost cornerstone' - our reference point and our datum. May we always remember the words of 1 Peter in all our doings:
'Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.'
May God help us to live our lives as one who looks to Jesus, the Christ, and keep His words and treasures His promises - May our thoughts, actions and desires be in line with His - May the way we relate to others show His love - May the words of our lips proclaim his acceptance, love and life - May mercy always be the hallmark of our lives. Amen.
your wounds declare your love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life:
give us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father.
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he 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!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they 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. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed,
‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
Then 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.
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me. Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me, for you are my rock and my stronghold; guide me, and lead me for your name’s sake. Take me out of the net that they have laid secretly for me, for you are my strength. Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
‘My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine upon your servant, and save me for your mercy’s sake.’
1 Peter 2.2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.'
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.