Easter 5A Sunday May 18, 2014. St Petri
LOUD MOUTHS TO LISTENERS Acts 7:55-60
55But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
In Year 8 my best friend’s dad was a junior football coach. My best friend and i did not play on the same team, and so, when my team played his team we came across his Dad.
His Dad’s name was Ian and Ian was a really good bloke. But because of how he coached his young chargers during the game, he got the name “Ian the Mouth”. The reason he got the name “The mouth” was because he used a megaphone from the sideline to constantly instruct his players!
It was really annoying! Not just for the opposition team and supporters, but for his own players and supporters. I know this because my best friend would tell me. After all, the cause of the annoyance for all was his Dad!
There is not too many more annoying people to be around than a loud mouth. Like when you go for a quiet meal at a fine establishment ready to taste good culinary delights, and there s a table next to you with one person loudly dominating the conversation so that the whole room can hear him (usually a him!). This happens more frequently and more intensely with each glass of beer or wine, I notice!
There is not too much more of a sense of shame one feels when you yourself may have been the loud mouth in a situation – trying to dominate other people ’s input, getting your own way and generally being dismissive of others and unaware of their needs and their dignity – a cause for self-reflection and repentance before the Lord so that forgiveness comes and shame is removed and we learn the way of Jesus again…
Can’t Hear You! Well in this account of Stephen, the proto- martyr, being martyred there two moments of loud shouting and they are very different.
With such anger and stiff-necked resistance to the Word of Jesus being proclaimed by this man Stephen, the religious leaders covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him” and killed him. it feels like we are one of the Ukrainian cities at the moment. People rushing at each other with nothing but blood and death to get rid of this voice, this challenge this threat…. Won’t Listen! Stephen knows what this loud mouth behaviour is all about. He told them that their refusal to hear the Good News about Jesus was not new. They were just like their ancestors’ refusal to listen to Moses out in that desert, or, worse, their refusal to keep God’s law – even in the very moment when the Lord was giving this precious gift to them on Mt Sinai. Sure, they possessed God’s law. But did they really hear it and did they know the heart of the God who gave them his way for living? Stephen says no. One after another before this angry loud mouth moment, Stephen pulls up one indisputable loud mouth resistant story after another.
As you read through Stephen’s sermon leading up to this intense end, you can feel the anger rising in the group as he goes on pressing his point home. Those resisting the gospel of God in Jesus are indeed a stiff-necked people, loud, proud and very unattractive.
And here they are now, after the God of the Old Testament has done something completely new and completely loving and gracious and almighty in the death and resurrection of Jesus, not being willing to listen to the Holy Spirit of Jesus. They are once again to be found in opposition to God.
No Spirit (Empty Lungs) Ironically, they who are stoning Stephen are the ones out of whom the Wind of the Spirit has been knocked. They are breathless now. They are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, they are lifeless without God. They can only destroy life now, not assist it or bring it.
Friends, the Spirit calls us to ask ourselves, where am I stiff-necked and resistant to the Lord’s voice today? Where am I attempting to dominate, have control and gain power to overrule, over power and silence? What am I afraid of at the moment and how am I trying to distance myself from that person, that things, that challenging voice? Where I am talking so loud and why am I talking so loud as to drown out other voices or his voice?
A Louder Cry (from Empty Lungs!) And after that self-reflection and that conversation between Christian firends or marriage partners or parent and children, or colleagues, we listen to a louder, longer listing, deeply compassionate and clear voice of God…
Stephen draws the deepest breath he can and announces the Gospel so loud that, even over the shouting and rock-throwing, they heard it: He calls upon God to forgive these stiff-necked loudmouth people. He is just like his Saviour, Jesus. His very presence and his loud cry for mercy on them brings Jesus right into the situation and shows everyone that Jesus gave his spirit into God’s hands and asked forgiveness for his executioners.
Stephen, the gospel person here in this moment shouts forgiveness so loud that it cancels out their opposition to God, inviting them even in that dire emergency to repent and trust in Jesus.
Isn’t that who we are and what we do? We are not loud for ourselves but for others. We have no need to protect ourselves for we are loved and we are free and we are his. We can get loud for others – get loud in the practice the words of forgiveness – God’s forgiveness for stiff-necked enemies and those following along the loud-mouth way. Hearing Jesus Friends, Stephen could not have done such a generous thing except that he listened to Jesus. He noticed how Jesus went to his death. He noted how gracious it was of God, to offer his Son and give his Spirit to the very people who had disappointed him. Stephen believed, and it was counted unto him as righteousness. Stephen’s martyrdom didn’t save him, hearing Jesus did.
(Not Drowning) Kneeling Stephen kneels as the rocks hit him and the end is near – living breathing demonstration of the love of Christians even for their enemies.
Stephen didn’t try to prove what a man he was by standing as long as he could. He was content, in that moment, to suffer while being conscious of God—to borrow from the Second Reading for Easter 4 (I know that was last Sunday! But listen):
19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
Stephen is us. We have noticed Jesus. He has given himself for us and to us and we are community kneeling before him with ears wide open for his voice.
In the face of anger and dislike and gossip and hurt Jesus is with us. As the rocks are thrown and the words hurt, we kneel and somehow in the holy Spirit’s indwelling power, we pray not fight. We seek the wellbeing of the other more than our own. We give up ourselves and place the outcome in Jesus’ hands and in that is wonderful freedom.
And now we are his people. Once were not but now we are. We exist to be Stephens for this community. We exist to declare the mighty acts of him who called you out of this loudmouth darkness to his listening light.
What a community to be part of – a mercy community that speaks the truth, prays for enemies, loves those accusing, gives up our own wellbeing and status and place for others in the spirit of the risen Jesus and the first martyr, Stephen, who offers to give us everything we need to move from being loudmouths to listeners of his.
Friends, once we were loudmouths, but now we are listeners—and that brings God’s peace. Because, just as Christ suffered for us, we follow in his steps.
Read through the Acts 7 in quite deliberately imagining the scene and placing your self in the moment. Take note of what you find yourself being most attentive to and what questions this event raises for you…
Then read the build up to this intense end – Acts chapter 7 – Stephen’s speech before the ruling authorities. How does this speech strike you and why do you think it eventually ends up with this violent reaction from the Sanhedrin?
I notes those two references to “Loud Voices” – one from the Sanhedrin in their rush to execute Stephen and silence his voice…and one from Stephen as he asks the Lord to receive him in his death and forgive those throwing the stones. We reflected on the Sanhedrin’s loud voice. They were “loudmouths because they stopped listening. Stephen called this lack of listening to the gospel of Jesus being “stiff-necked”.
Talk about how you might be a little stiff-necked in relation to another person, a present situation, a particular voice challenging you at the moment and how now or in the past you have plugged your ears to God and become stiff-necked on following his lead. be specific and share these stories as brothers and sisters in already forgiven in Christ.
We also asked the question about why we become a little more “loud-mouthed” sometimes – Is it because we are scared of change and challenge? Is is because we are just a little too prideful or self-orientated? Is it because we have other more easy voices to listen to – voices that tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear? Maybe all of these? Reflect on this together…
Then we turned to Stephen’s voice – that voice of humble prayer in the face of suffering and brought to mind the second reading from last week again –
19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-25)
Have you been “aware of God” as you have endured pain and suffering and have you been affirmed in this – that this awareness of and trust in the Lord in suffering gets his great stamp of approval? How have you been aware of the Lord in your suffering and how has this helped?
Stephen brings us straight back to Jesus on that cross as he prays the same prayers Jesus prayed in his suffering for us. We noted that Stephen was just like his Saviour in this suffering and dying. Reflect on the grace of Stephen in this situation and the grace of Jesus in his suffering for us and talk about how we might live out this grace in our suffering and in our relationships…
We noted that just our very presence in tough situations and the way we pray and speak and trust the Lord on the inside and the outside is what the Lord calls us to be and do. We are a community who prays with people and for people in suffering. Ho do you think we do this at St Petri and how do you think you can be ore of this among the people you live and relate?
If there is anyone with a particular struggle of following the call of Jesus in their life at the moment pray a prayer of thanks for the Lord’s forgiveness for all our sin and pray that he would give us all the things we need to follow.
If there are people suffering then pray for them by name in the group. Thanks the Lord for Stephen and all those who have paved the way of faith in Jesus before us and their great example to us and commit the group the Lord for his purposes.