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Falling into the arms of God

by davesandel on April 20th, 2021

Tuesday, April 20, 2021         (today’s lectionary)

Falling into the arms of God

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors NOT prosecute, and even put to death?

Stephen was a young buck, ready to rock and roll his listeners out beneath his words and logic. He took no heed of their dangerous power to add or detract from his message or his life. He seems to have lost all respect for them.

You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.

Stephen didn’t paint the story of their wandering, their choosing between heaven and hell, their unwillingness to do anything with their sin except excuse it. But looking at Sister Wendy’s A Child’s Book of Prayer in Art, I’m struck by the nakedness and uncertainty of Charon crossing the River of Styx. Take a look. What do you see? How long will he paddle through the water before he picks a side, receiving God’s forgiveness or refusing it? How often am I in the same boat?

They were infuriated, they ground their teeth at him, they covered their ears and screamed, they rushed him, threw him out of the city and stoned him.

Methinks though doth protest too much, folks. But Stephen chose wisely, right? Since that day of confrontation, he has been considered the first Christian martyr.

The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul, who was consenting to his execution.

Stephen’s death, followed by Saul’s trip to Damascus, occasioned the conversion of Saul to Paul, of persecutor to evangelist. Young and fiery like Stephen, perhaps Saul realized he should be more circumspect in his sermons than Stephen had been. Maybe not, though, because Paul was also stoned, Paul was also thrown out of cities, Paul was nearly killed more than once.

Both of them, alive, nearly dead or altogether dead, fell entirely into the arms of God. For them there was no longer any other choice, and no retreat.

You are my rock and my fortress, a stronghold to give me safety.

Spiritual safety, of course. Not “happy” safety, but holy safety. Neither Stephen nor Paul ever used their happiness to measure whether they were acting within the will of God. We western men and women, caught in the web of our comfort culture, having learned to expect smooth sailing, mix up Jesus’ gospel with some “prosperity” gospel. But we fall down fast when the stones start sailing.

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord do not hold this sin against them,” and when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Jesus heard Stephen’s cry. Jesus’ comfort is for the ages, for eternity, beyond the confusion of time, beyond persecution, beyond even our never-ending doubt.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

(Acts 7, Psalm 31, John 6)

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