Call to WorshipThe spirit of God calls us from many places; some of us come from busy homes with many people some of us live alone. We are a part of the family. This week has been different for each of us; some of us have had happy news we want to celebrate some of us have faced grief and need to cry. We are members of God’s family. Yet we all come to this same place; all of us seeking God’s presence in our lives all of us seeking God’s presence with each other. Together we become God’s family.(*written by Katherine Hawker, on her Liturgy Outside the Box website)
Opening Prayer for Mother’s DayGood and Gentle God,we pray in gratitude for our mothersand for all the women who have joined with youin the wonder of bringing forth new life.You who became human through a woman,grant to all mothers the courage they needto face the uncertain future that life with children always brings.
Give them the strength to live and to be loved in return,not perfectly, but humanly.Give them the faithful support of spouse, family and friendsas they care for the physical and spiritual growth of their children.Give them joy and delight in their childrento sustain them through the challenges of motherhood.Most of all, give them the wisdom to turn to you for helpwhen they need it most. And for each of us, Creator God, grant the same strength to live and love for you, and the wisdom to turn to you for help when we need it most. In Christ’s name. Amen.(*author unknown. Posted on Jesuit Resource website.)
New Testament Lesson Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)Gospel Lesson John 14:1-14 (NIV)Morning Message Two Choices
In Acts 6, we read the story of a complaint in the early church. Jesus had died and risen again for people of all nationalities and all walks of life. The Good News of salvation in Jesus was being preached to everyone. So, by this time there were Christians of both Jewish nationality and non-Jewish nationality. The problem was that the Jews in charge of food distribution to the widows in the community were giving preference to the Jewish widows and the widows who were not Jewish were being neglected.When the complaint reached the disciples, they decided they couldn’t do everything. They couldn’t preach the Gospel, spend time in prayer, tend to the spiritual needs of the people AND take care of every other area of ministry.So, they formed what we would call a Health and Welfare Committee.
And because this situation, and ongoing ministry, had to be handled with great care, with no one being neglected, the disciples chose people who met specific requirements. Verse 3 tells us those chosen were to be individuals known as men “full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom.”This is where we meet Stephen, the first Christian on record to be martyred for his faith. Stephen met all the requirements. In verse 5 he is described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 8 tells us he is “a man full of God’s grace and power who performed great wonders and signs among the people.”And very quickly, Stephen would prove to be a man who would not waver from his faith in Christ regardless of the consequences. In our Gospel reading Jesus says this, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” He tells his disciples he is leaving them, that he will send the Holy Spirit in his place and he will come back some day and get them. He tells them while he is gone, he will prepare an eternal home for them. He assures them he is the Way the Truth and the Life: the only way to God.Jesus’ words show that the way to eternal life, though unseen, is secure---as secure as your trust in Jesus. He has already prepared the way for you. The only issue that may still be unsettled is your willingness to believe.
But let’s consider the phrase “believe in me” for a minute. When Jesus told his disciples to believe in God and also in him, he was not talking about a mere belief in God’s existence. He was not talking about believing there is a higher power that had set the world in motion. The old man with the long white beard up there somewhere observing this whole crazy planet. As Scripture says, even the devil knows God exists. Besides, that kind of belief is not likely to result in the commitment Jesus asks of his followers.Jesus is talking about a belief in which a person places all their trust in God, of committing your life to God, and of consenting to God’s laws and commands. In everything.
Regardless of the outcome. Regardless of the challenges and ridicule you will most certainly face. Because if you don’t face any challenges as a Christian, if everything is going pretty smoothly, then you probably aren’t doing something right where your Christian walk is concerned.Jesus was talking ultimately about faith like Stephen had: unwavering, unafraid, a faith in which you do not back down from your belief in Christ even unto death. Tradition tells us that Stephen was stoned in AD 35, two years after Jesus’ death. (Side note: A young Pharisee named Saul witnessed this (Acts 7:58) and soon set out on his own crusade against the early church. Although very quickly he had his own conversion to the faith on the road to Damascus and became Paul the Apostle, who also died a martyr’s death.) After Stephen’s death, persecution against the church continued until the fourth century. Stephen, and many more believers, most certainly had the kind of belief that Jesus was talking about in John 14. These people consented to God’s will as Christ had done: even unto death.
Hebrews 11:33-40 describes these folks as people who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
That’s what Jesus meant when he said “Believe in God. Believe also in Me.” Place your trust in me no matter what. Put me first. Make me, and only me the Lord of your life. Have faith that I will take care of you. Live a sacrificial life for me. Because I’ll be with you every step of the way AND we will share a beautiful eternity together. And this life, though it seems long and painful at times, is only a drop in the bucket compared to what is yet to come.That’s the kind of belief in Christ that Stephen and many others had in the early church. And truly, Christians are being brutally persecuted in countries around the world even today. This kind of belief, this kind of faith, is only possible when you fully trust in Jesus and all he has promised in Scripture.
That’s the first lesson in the story of Stephen.But there’s a second lesson that I think we miss in this passage and that is the lesson we learn from the people who killed him.If you look at the things that led up to Stephen being stoned to death, you’ll see beginning in Acts 6:9 that opposition arose from members of the Synagogue of Freedmen, AKA the Synagogue of Former Slaves. If you remember your Old Testament, you’ll remember that the Jewish nation, AKA the Israelites, were a nation of former slaves, thus the name of the synagogue. They were a nation oppressed by Pharaoh in Egypt, and led to freedom by a man named Moses hundreds of years prior to this.The members of this synagogue didn’t like the followers of Jesus. In particular, they didn’t like Stephen.
Maybe it was because as verse 10 tells us “they couldn’t stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” The wisdom and voice of the Holy Spirit in compelling and undeniable in the hearts of both believers and unbelievers.When they couldn’t out-argue Stephen, they brought false charges against him. And in Acts 7 when asked if the charges were true in front of the Jewish leaders, Stephen launched into a dissertation of the history of their people all the way back to their father Abraham. As he worked his way through Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, Stephen’s main point was that as often as God had rescued them, they just as often failed God as his chosen people. Time and time again they fell into sin. But God always rescued and forgave them.
Time and time again, they had failed to see that salvation was always about their faith in God and never about their meaningless sacrifices and traditions.Stephen ends by saying this in Acts 7:51-53, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?
They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”The blood of the Messiah is on your hands. You’re just like your ancestors. And with this, the Jewish leaders had had enough and Stephen was stoned to death.What does this have to do with you and me? What do we learn from this?Here’s the thing: Stephen confronted the Jewish leaders with the truth. He was falsely accused of speaking lies against the synagogue and the Law. But given his day in court, Stephen spoke the truth. And the truth was that they were just like their ancestors.
And while the truth may indeed set us free, it is just as likely to make some people angry, and that’s exactly what happened here.That’s our second lesson: Two Choices. When faced with the truth about the sin in our life we have two choices: we can repent and turn back to God or we can harden our heart against God.If we face the truth and turn to God with a repentant heart, the Bible tells us he is faithful and just to forgive us.If we chose to turn away from the truth we are confronted with, our hearts will become hardened like those who killed Stephen, or like the Pharaoh in Egypt. For the Pharaoh, each plague left him with an even harder heart, and the end result was personal and national devastation.For us, the more we reject God and his commands, the more we turn away from his will for our lives, the harder our hearts will be, too, resulting in a life of frustration, anger, and bitterness.Friends, we may never face persecution and martyrdom like Stephen did. I pray not. But we face challenges and temptations every day. Daily we make choices that either honor God’s commands or they don’t. Sometimes we know God is asking us to do something, or asking us to sacrifice something for him.
And just like the people who stoned Stephen, just like Pharaoh, sometimes we fail God, too. It is then that we also have two choices: we can turn to him for forgiveness, or we can walk away with a hardened heart. I pray that we all are challenged by the story of Stephen to continually turn to God and live a life believing in Christ, a life where we trust him for everything, each step of the way.
As a response to the Word, and as a reminder of your faith, I invite you to join me now in the Apostle’s Creed. The Apostle’s CreedI believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;* the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic** church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Lord’s PrayerLeader: And now, with the confidence of children of God, let’s close together with the prayer Christ taught us:All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is inheaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. Commission & Benediction (inspired by Deut. 30:15-20, Matt. 5: 37)God has placed before you life & death, blessings & curses. Therefore choose life, follow God’s way. Go now, and be a people of reconciliation and integrity. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” “no”.
And in all the paths you walk may God hold you steady and close. May Christ Jesus bless you and every place you enter. And may the Spirit give you length of days and fullness of life.