A Daily Dose of Good News
Friday, May 8, 2020
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham[b] became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. (Acts 6:15-7:16)
God of Blessing Here Too
Perhaps its fitting that on the day after the governor has announced
Restaurants and bars will be reopening within a week or so
Our reading today is the first sermon delivered
By a waiter-turned-lay-preacher named Stephen …
His first sermon which also tragically turns out to be his last.
At the request of the 12 disciples now apostles
Stephen was among seven waiters
Selected to widen the bandwidth of preachers
Spreading the gospel after Jesus ascension into heaven.
Remember our Daily Dose of Good News yesterday
Told the story of God starting the family of faith with the promise of blessing.
And how God-ordained blessing is not preferential
Focused on a privileged few
But rather iterative
Repeating itself into the blessing of another
And another and another and the next.
How God chose to bless Abram and Sarai
With a family and a land
So that God might bless the rest of the world through them.
And now in our Daily Dose of Good News today,
Stephen reminds us that God’s family of faith … like all families …
Is not the source nor perfect purveyor of blessing
But rather a conduit of God’s blessings when faithful to God.
And when God’s family is not faith, God blesses still.
With persecution on the rise
By non-believing Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah
Against believing Jews who did accept Jesus as Messiah
Stephen preached the truth as he believed it.
In the trial for his preaching, Stephen recounted the history of faith from the time of Abraham
Up to Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish leaders.
And soon some of those same leaders
Would arrange to have Stephen stoned to death
For preaching against them the way he did.
That’s the Bible story for this Sunday though.
Today we have that part of the faith history
That recounts the way God’s family treated one of its sons Joseph
With jealousy and evil rather than blessing.
Resenting his position as Jacob’s favorite child
Even though he was the youngest,
Joseph’s oldest brothers sold him off into slavery.
Yet God turns even that loveless act and suffering into blessing.
To be sure, God did not orchestrate the loveless act and suffering by Jacob’s brothers
In order to offer blessing.
God never creates suffering in order orchestrate an opportunity for blessing.
The cross of Jesus shows us that the God of the universe enters into suffering
In order to reveal the blessing that exists beyond.
In this case, God took the brothers’ loveless acts against Joseph
And transformed them into blessing.
Because Joseph had been sold to the Egyptians
He was there to bless his family during a famine
When they were on the verge of starving to death.
Likewise, God has not sent this COVID virus
To teach us a lesson or create an opportunity for blessing.
This COVID virus is an experience of our vulnerable human condition
A condition into which God join us in Christ Jesus
And by his Spirit raises up the blessing of brave medical professionals
Prayer partners and persons doing their part
To shelter, wash hands, wear masks six feet apart from each other.
Ours is a God with the promise of blessing … even and especially in times like this.