Archive for the ‘Acts 6’ Tag

Second Day of Christmas: Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (December 26)   5 comments

Above:  St. Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

The First Christian Martyr

DECEMBER 26, 2019

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The readings for the Feast of St. Stephen remind us of the grim reality that suffering for the sake of righteousness is frequently a risk.  We read of one of the many difficulties of the faithful prophet Jeremiah, a man who spoke truth to power when that power was dependent upon hostile foreigners.  The historical record tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt chose both the King of Judah and his regnal name, Jehoiakim.  Matthew 23, set in the Passion Narrative, reminds us of some of the prophets and teachers, whom God had sent and authorities at Jerusalem had martyred.  Contrary to the wishes of the author of Psalm 31, God does not always deliver the faithful from enemy hands.

St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was probably a Hellenized Jew.  As a deacon, his job in the Church was, in the words of Acts 6:2,

to wait on tables.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The deacons were to provide social services while the Apostles preached and taught.  St. Stephen also debated and preached, however.  His speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:1-53) led to his execution (without a trial) by stoning.  St. Stephen, like Jesus before him, prayed for God to forgive his executioners (Acts 7:60), who, in their minds, were correct to execute him for blasphemy, a capital offense in the Law of Moses.  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, was prominent in the killing of St. Stephen.  The Apostle recalled the death of St. Stephen and his role in it in Acts 22:20.

Religion, by itself, is generally morally neutral; one can be a moral atheist just as easily as one can be a moral or immoral adherent.  Good religion and bad religion certainly exist.  The test, in moral terms, yet not theological ones, is what kind of adherents they create and nurture.  Regardless of the name of a religion or the content of its tenets, does the reality of living it make one a loving, merciful human being or a judgmental person who might be quick to execute dissenters or consent to that?  This question is always a relevant one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen,

who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ,

who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

Psalm 31 or 31:1-15

Acts 6:8-7:2a; 51c-60

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 139

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/feast-of-st-stephen-deacon-and-martyr-december-26/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/the-first-christian-martyr/

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Devotion for December 26, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Murder of Zechariah

Above:  The Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

Image in the Public Domain

Two Stonings

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 4:17-24

Psalm 148

Acts 6:1-7; 7:51-60

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Psalm 148 is a song of praise to God, especially in nature.  The text begins with references to the created order then moves along to people in social and political contexts.  Finally we read:

[The LORD] has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Verse 15, The Revised English Bible (1989)

In the context of this day’s pericopes Psalm 148 functions as a counterpoint to the other readings.  In them holy men of God died for the sake of righteousness.  Zechariah, a priest and the son of Jehoida, also a priest, died because of his condemnation of idolatry.  Zechariah said:

Thus God said:  Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD when you cannot succeed?  Since you have forsaken the LORD, He has forsaken you.

–2 Chronicles 24:20b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

His punishment was execution by stoning at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Similar in tone and content is the story of St. Stephen, one of the first seven Christian deacons and the first Christian martyr.  The diaconate came to exist because it was necessary.  Apostles perceived the need to divide labor:

It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.

–Acts 6:2b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

So the deacons fed the hungry widows.  St. Stephen died by stoning not because of his participation in an ancient Means on Wheels program but because of his preaching.  He, like Zechariah son of Jehoida, accused his audience of having abandoned God.

These two stories end differently, though.  The dying words of Zechariah son of Jehoida were:

May the LORD see this and exact the penalty.

–2 Chronicles 24:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The interpretation of subsequent events in that book is that God avenged the priest (24:24).  King Jehoash/Joash of Israel (reigned 836-798 B.C.E.) died after becoming wounded in a devastating Aramean invasion.  His servants murdered him on his bed.

In contrast, St. Stephen prayed for his killers:

Lord, do not hold this sin against them.

–Acts 7:60b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The text does not indicate what effects, if any, that had on any of his executioners.  We do know, however, that Saul of Tarsus, who approved of the execution, went on to become St. Paul the Apostle.  One need not stray from the proverbial path of reasonableness to say that St. Paul, pondering his past and God’s grace, to say that he regretted having ever approved of St. Stephen’s death.

The use of violence to rid oneself of an inconvenient person is sinful.  To commit violence for this purpose in the name of God, presumably to affirm one’s righteousness in the process, is ironic, for that violence belies the claim of righteousness.  Furthermore, there are only victims in violent acts.  The person who commits violence harms himself or herself, at least spiritually, if in no other way.  Violence might be necessary or preferable to any alternative sometimes, but nobody should ever celebrate it or turn to it as a first resort.

Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  May we pursue peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, not revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/two-stonings/

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Devotion for December 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

St. Stephen

Above:  St. Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

Unrighteous Violence

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2017

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The Collect:

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light

into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace.

Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

Psalm 148

Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-60

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Let kings and all commoners,

princes and rulers over all the whole earth,

youths and girls,

old and young together,

let them praise the name of the LORD,

for his name is high above all others,

and his majesty above earth and heaven.

He has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Psalm 148:11-14, Revised English Bible (1989)

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The Psalm for today stands in dissonance with the other two readings.  Jeremiah preached the word of God–a word just in case people might repent–and they did not repent.  In fact, some tried to have him executed.  Centuries later, others succeeded in putting St. Stephen, who had also said much which certain people did not want to hear, to death.

The context of Jeremiah’s troubles (as 2 Kings 23:31-37) explains it, was the reign of King Jehoiakim, son of the great King Josiah.  Josiah had died in 609 B.C.E., losing his life to Neco, Pharaoh of Egypt, in battle.  Neco had appointed the next monarch, Jehoahaz, elder son of Josiah.  Jehoahaz had reigned for a mere three months before Neco imprisoned him.  Then the Egyptian ruler chose Eliakim as his Judean vassal and renamed him “Jehoiakim.”  The new vassal did his lord’s bidding, collecting the required tribute of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold.  (A talent was seventy-five pounds.)  Jeremiah’s message from God had a political tint for people living in a vassal state without the separation of religion and government.  King Jehoiakim tried to have the prophet killed, but one Ahikam son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 26:24) protected the holy man.

St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, had no such protector.  He was one of the original seven deacons, whose job descriptions entailed providing social services primarily.  Yet St. Stephen’s preaching, not his delivering of meals to widows, led to his death.  The crucifixion of Jesus was a recent event, so anyone who spoke as boldly as St. Stephen regarding Christ did took great risks.  For speaking the truth he suffered the Law of Moses-dictated death of a blasphemer.  His execution had a veneer of righteousness.  Some of his accusers believed him to have committed blasphemy, but sincerity did not excuse error.

Often we humans resort to violence to rid ourselves of inconvenient people who have merely spoken the truth.  We wish to defend our concepts of our own righteousness, but animosity and violence reveal the truth of our lack of righteousness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF TE WHITI O RONGOMAI, MAORI PROPHET

THE FEAST OF THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/unrighteous-violence/

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