sexta-feira, 1 de maio de 2015

STEPHEN, WHERE ARE YOU?


While they were stoning him,
Stephen prayed,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell on his knees and cried out,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Acts 7:69-70 – (read 7:55-8.1) - NIV


The members of the Synagogue of Free Men stoned Stephen to death. Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses and against God, because he spoke of God in a different way than in what they did in their synagogue tradition. The faith of the members of the Free Men Synagogue was based on a structure of religious practices and a system of fixed beliefs that dated back for centuries. Any change would be a threat. They thought the preaching of the “Jesus Way” was a threat to their customs, and any danger should be removed. It was better to destroy the heretic, Stephen, than to examine their own values. They were not as "free" as they professed to be. They were afraid of change and to really examine what was being presented. Fear dragged them into the path of persecution and violence.

Stephen was not afraid of change, or of death. His life had been radically transformed, and Jesus was his life. He represented danger to those who thought differently.

Persecution happens when people feel real or imagined threats. King Saul felt threatened by the young David and persecuted him. Herod, after the birth of a new king was announced by the wise men, ordered the killing of all male children under the age of two. The Roman Empire persecuted Christians because they did not recognize Caesar as Lord, in contrast to “harmless” Christians who today make patriotism a part of their faith.

After three centuries Christians were no longer a persecuted minority. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and it became the “in” thing to be a Christian. Non-Christians and even alternate forms of Christianity were then denounced and persecuted by the “legal” Christians.

We now live in a society in which a majority professes the Christian faith, in one way or another. Being a Christian is not an act of courage. Even so, we continue to admire Stephen. He is a hero of our Christian tradition. He had the courage to be different, to face danger and to live his convictions without considering the cost. But, do we have the same admiration for the "Stephens" of today that go against our established traditions?

We condemn Stephen's persecutors, but to what extent are we like to them today? To what extent do we close ourselves off to those who pose a threat to our system of values? How do we treat disadvantaged minorities? What is our attitude towards those who are different from us in their sexual orientation and who practice religions different from ours?

Saul is another figure in the narration of Stephen's death. Saul did not throw any stones, but took care of the coats of the stoners. He consented to their acts and had a passive participation. Similar to Saul, to what extent do we participate in a social system of injustice that affects large segments of society? Perhaps a majority of us takes care of the coats of political exploiters. We vote for corrupt people and do not require a decent performance of our representatives who are bought out by a wealthy minority. We remain passive and let things go on as usual.

We think of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in an exotic way with signs and wonders. But Stephen is an example of fullness in the biblical sense. He is an example that we avoid imitating. Stephens are hard to find today. The "Stephens" of history are rare. If they would show up today we know what their fate would be.

Stephen, where are you today? We need you!!!


ACTS 7:55-8:1 – NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV)

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

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