Letting Go of Our Stones
(preached at First Baptist Church, Edmonton, Alberta, on April 22, 2015)
Today, we enter into the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. The first – but not the last. Long before the likes of ISIS and long after, we will continue to hear the stories of brave men and women who were killed – often brutally – because of their faith in Jesus of Nazareth. From our earliest years of Sunday School, we are taught to stand up for our faith and to boldly declare the name of Jesus, regardless of the consequences – whether they be ridicule, ostracism, or even death. We in the First World have sometimes cheapened the idea of martyrdom, misapplying the word “persecution” to ourselves who have so many rights but perhaps not all of them. But most of all, we have a rich history of outstanding saints who stood firm to the end – whether that end came by stone or lion or fire or machete.
As we enter into the story of Stephen, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t get killed by the government. This time at least, the Romans weren’t the ones doing the persecuting. Stephen got killed by the religious officials in the name of the very God he was proclaiming. One commentator writes this:
The people who kill Stephen are neither the local hooligans nor the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to a cross. They are…upstanding members of religious communities: regular members of synagogues, elders, religious professionals, priests. They are guardians of vital traditions. (source: Matt Skinner)
Two groups of people – brothers, Stephen will call them – who each claim to worship the same God, but one ends up dead at the hands of the others. Christians, Jews and Muslims – three cousins, all with a faith grounded in the God who appeared to Abraham – have repeated this story over and over again, killing each other in the name of the God we each profess to worship.
Lord, have mercy. How did this happen? And why does it keep happening?