Sermon Prep for Acts 6:1 – 7:2a, 44-60 (Sunday April 18, 2021)
In our scripture for the week, we hear the story of the calling of Stephen, and in the process, are faced with the reality that we have been stoning our leaders since the very beginning of the early Church. What is it about our human nature that makes us want to see our leaders fall from grace? And why do we try to hold back those who are most gifted for the call?
Because that is what happens to Stephen in 6:11 – threaten by the Spirit and gifts that Stephen has, haters start false gossip accusing him of blasphemy. Even though he withstands the initial attacks to gain position on Council, it is not long before he is being stoned to death, like many prophets before (the scripture says).
As I read this initially, I immediately thoughts of the current internet controversy happening around the prophecy of DMX or Lil Nas X – brothers in our midst who clearly exhibit the gifts of prophecy, who at the same time are criticized for earthly failings (addictions, lifestyle choices, etc.) I remember the fall from grace of Rob Bell, progressive Christianity’s golden child, because he stood a little too far out on the side of love. Everywhere we look, we can see our prophets being stoned.
I am drawn to consider the spectrum to which this occurs in our world. On one side – there is an extreme that goes to the greatest of lengths to protect our religious leaders. From the coverups of the corruption with Catholics priests, to the continued support for pastors like Jerry Falwell. For a group of our leaders, there seems to be no consequence for any sort of less-than-holy action. And then there is the other end of the spectrum – where pastors like Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Sarah Bessey are crucified for just for speaking their personal truths. (Sidebar: pick up the book, it’s amazing.)
It is quite a spectrum, isn’t it??
And the message of Acts 6 and 7 is that really, all of us are just a stones throw away (pun intended) from the criticism of folks who might be willing to spread lies just because they are jealous of our gifts. As they were of Stephen’s. And how do you preach that to a congregation? Haters gonna hate.
Maybe it’s by challenging our congregations to find grace for overworked pastors during pandemics. Maybe it’s calling out the hypocrisy that safeguards some pastors while scapegoating others. Maybe it’s a sermon about how jealousy harms the body of Christ. Maybe it’s just a gentle reminder that none of us are perfect – that each of us has gifts and a call for ministry, and each of us will fall short in our own ways. What is the stoning that is happening (or being hidden) in your own church context? That’s where to start with the story of Stephen.
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