By David Baumann

A Reading from Acts 7:44-8:1a

44 “Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46 who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

51 ”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.”

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 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.

1 And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Meditation

In C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, there is an encounter between an apostate Anglican bishop, a nearly insubstantial visitor from hell to the outskirts of heaven, and a former pupil of his named Dick. Dick is a figure blindingly bright with the solid glory of a saved person. He has been sent to call the bishop to repent so that he might find his own salvation. It is heart-rending to read Dick’s plain-spoken truth to the bishop, as the bishop resists every invitation and rejects every evident truth with skills practiced over a lifetime of smug word-shuffling.

People give many arguments against believing in God or accepting Jesus as Lord, but at the heart of them all there is only one (from which they usually hide): “I don’t want to.” So with the ghost-bishop, and so with Stephen’s hearers in today’s lesson. After a lengthy biblical recitation, Stephen sums up his argument before the Sanhedrin by exclaiming, “You stiff-necked people… you always resist the Holy Spirit… Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” He is impassioned, but he is saying nothing more than what is repeated over and over again in Scripture. And his hearers “ground their teeth,” “stopped their ears,” and then killed him in defiance of the law they claimed to defend. By so doing, they proved Stephen right with an ironic obviousness, though they themselves were blind and deaf to it. Even Saul, self-described as being “faultless” in observance of the law (Phil. 3:6), “approved of his execution.”

Hopefully there is much in us that is like Dick and like Stephen, but tragically there is also much in us that “doesn’t want to hear” true things about our failures as disciples. Let us open our hearts to the truth that will set us free.

David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Western Louisiana
The Diocese of Cochin (Church of South India)