Thinking ahead to Sunday's sermon (Easter 5)
Bishop Paul Marshall
[Posted on Bakery, the interactive list of the Diocese of Bethlehem, House of Bread]
We are very used to hearing two parts of Stephen's story: the early verses of Acts 6, where he is among those at the first ordination service, and the last verses of Acts 7, where he is murdered, with Saul of Tarsus looking on.
It might be useful to read all the verses in the middle. What gets Stephen into trouble is his doing "wonders and signs," and the church is growing. He is hauled into court for what he is saying, giving witness to Christ. His testimony fills Acts 7, but before he gives it, his interlocutors saw that "his face was like the face of an angel." When I think of the kinds of angels in the scriptures, I wonder whether he looked like the angels who guarded the Garden of Eden, the angels in Isaiah 6, or the angels who say "fear not" in Luke's Christmas and Easter stories. In any event, his affect was striking enough to be noticed and remembered. When you recall the faces of the most holy people you have known personally, what do you see? When I read the text a few moments ago, I thought of ABBA's hit, "Angel Eyes," not useful in itself, but it got me thinking these thoughts. As we used to say in Latin 2, whatever works is good.
Well, back to the story. In response to the charges that he is preaching about Jesus who is coming to destroy the temple, Stephen tells the whole story of Israel in what must be called unflattering terms, asking them most forcefully to repent.
His asking them to change is when they drag him out and murder him.
The story functions to model the ancient message, to remember Stephen, and to introduce Saul of Tarsus. I wonder if it doesn't also remind us of the human tendency to reject pretty strongly those who ask us to change, as individuals and as a people. Even good news can be a threat.
Two possible homiletical extractions:
--When it is our turn to witness, we need to be prepared for resistance or even rejection, and be prepared to face it, remaining in character.
--when we see angel eyes, it may be a clue to lower our own resistances and prepare to receive a gift.
I would be interested in your thoughts about this passage and its context.