December 26, 2020
Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-60
Certified Lay Servant
Prospect United Methodist Church
Acts 7:51-6051 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
The Stoning of Stephen54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[a] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then 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. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then 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.[b]
DevotionStephen’s words and his sacrifice are central to the Scripture readings for today. What a powerful witness Stephen was! Yet, the religious leaders, after first listening to false witnesses (see Acts 6:8-15), and then to Stephen’s testimony (Acts 1:1-50), did not like what Stephen was saying to them. Stephen’s words challenged the Sanhedrin to the point that they became furious, covered their ears, and yelled at the top of their voices.
The response of the religious authorities reminds me of the way children might respond to hearing words they do not want to hear. Have we not all seen children put their hands over their ears and loudly chant “la, la, la,” as if they cannot hear what is being said? Just as the children’s actions do not change what is said, the Sanhedrin’s actions do not change the truth of Stephen’s words to them.
Stephen wanted the Sanhedrin to listen, just as God wants us to listen with hearts and minds open to His will. Even though we may not cover our ears and chant “la, la,” to drown out God, we may let distractions and personal goals keep us from listening. Do we really listen to God’s voice; or, do we stay focused on our own thoughts, caught up in our own agenda? If we let them, the distractions and noises of our daily lives will keep us from hearing God’s voice. Habits, that start slowly, can consume more and more of the time and energy that we devote to daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation. These habits may not be bad in and of themselves, but they can gradually replace the time we intentionally listen if we let them.
Sometimes, we are like the Sanhedrin or the chanting children. When God, or a person through God’s guidance, tells us something we do not want to hear, we may close our ears. Perhaps, during this last week of 2020, we need to reflect on the times we have resisted a nudge or call to love and serve God and our neighbor more. Did we resist or delay action because the mission was not a personal preference? Did we anticipate the work would make us uncomfortable? Did we avoid an act of service because it was not something we had done before? Are we too comfortable with the way things are? Are we too complacent, and too satisfied, with our lives? Maybe we felt Jesus calling us to devote ourselves, more and more fully, to His work; but, we admit we want to keep some control of our lives, to be able to say no because the cost is too great.
Perhaps there is an area of mission or witness that we, as individuals or as part of the Church, should undertake. God wants us to listen, to have an ongoing relationship with Him through his son Jesus, whose birth we have just celebrated. Let us remove our hands from our ears and stop the noises in our lives. Let us listen and obey.