Nobody said being a Christian was going to be easy. In the First Lesson for Easter 5, Year A (Acts 7:55-60) we see Stephen paying a pretty hefty price for his faithfulness to God. This poor guy gets stoned to death just for doing the right thing. But, hey! Righteousness, we’re told, is its own reward. If you think you can escape the problems of this world through your obedience to God, you’re kidding yourself and you’re turning God’s favor into some kind of transaction. The problems of this world will always find you. Those problems, however, will take on a different and less frightening look when they’re encountered with a clear conscience and the knowledge that you’ve done what God has called you to do.
Stephen, our hero this week, is described as being full of the Holy Spirit. He’s tasked with helping to create the loving community. He’s one of the first deacons, and his job is to make sure the widows and orphans of the community are taken care of and that the charity done for them is done without partiality. He’s pretty good at this job, and most folks like and respect him. He really knows his scriptures, and when he get5s into theological debates with non-Christians, he speaks logically and intelligently. Unfortunately, some bad guys get jealous of his popularity and accuse him of blasphemy. He defends himself with great verbal skill and speaks God’s truth to the powerful priests—even when he knows this won’t go down well with them. Righteous to the end, he even forgives the guys who are throwing rocks at him!
In the old Lutheran Book of Worship collect series, the Prayer of the Day for Easter 5 asks God to help us love what God commands and desire what God promises. God has called us to create the loving community—a pretty tricky ask when we’re all sheltering in place during a quarantine. Nevertheless, like Stephen, folks at Faith Lutheran of Philadelphia are finding ways to connect and be the body of Christ with and for one another. Some who read this message do so because a church member has copied it out and mailed it to members without internet access. Some of our members are doing the grocery shopping for elderly homebound members. Some are planting a garden of vegetables to donate to our Lutheran food bank. Some are gathering as a family, reading the weekly lessons, and watching the sermonette video, creating their own mini-church. Some are doing Bible study on Zoom. Some will soon gather—properly masked, of course—to make meals for neighborhood shut-ins. In these ways and more—and in spite of the pandemic—God’s people are doing their best to make Christ known.
During this crisis many people are willing to put themselves out for love of their neighbors. You don’t have to be a martyr like Stephen, but I think it’s important to remember that the word “martyr” literally means a witness. So keep looking for ways in which you can be part of the loving community. We’re all called to witness so the world can see the unconquerable love of Jesus Christ.
God’s peace and blessings to you all—and stay safe!