+Acts 6:8-10 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Stephen… when I think of him, images of his brutal death and his place as a martyr fill my mind. We remember Stephen as the early deacon in Jerusalem who faced punishment for perceived blasphemy. But this Lenten season, I encountered Stephen again in a new way. He speaks boldly to his community. He trusts the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen him as he shares his vision.
Stephen begins by reviewing history. He tells the story of our ancestors and past leaders. Then, Stephen offers up a new perspective about God, Christ and the kingdom. While he honors Moses and the scriptures that presently mark his community, he also proclaims that God is still speaking. God will do a new thing in the future. The leaders of the day punish him for this proclamation.
Isn’t this still true today, even now? There are those who will say that the Bible is only literally true. We should take scripture exactly as it’s written and close the book.
But what if God is still shaping and creating and nudging the world forward in new ways? For example, Christ’s ministry included drastic acts of inclusion. Imagine the shock of bystanders in Matthew 8 when Jesus reaches out to touch the man with leprosy to heal him.
Today, we do not see lepers on the streets begging for mercy, but is God still revealing new communities that long for compassion and justice around us? And, if we speak out about these new frontiers for justice- do we risk judgment from our peers?
I’m looking at Stephen in a new way this Lenten season… I’m listening carefully to his voice, and I’m praying for the strength of the Holy Spirit, so that I too can speak up about the new ways God might be nudging us into the future.