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Proclaiming Life Anyway

Easter 5, Common Lectionary Year A

Acts 7:55-60 (6:1-7:60)

©2017 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

We are a community of faith
known to be on the progressive, questioning
end of the Christian spectrum
– we believe that each of us is on a journey of faith
that is as full of questions and doubts
as it is of certainties.
We are a congregation which explores Scripture,
not as the inerrant Word of God,
but rather as a compilation
of thousands of years of human testimony
to faithful success, and failure;
– some weeks we hear words bright with
grace and truth, promise and hope.
and some weeks we hear the tragic, ugly
human failure to live faithfully
in relationship to God,
and to one another.

This is one of those weeks.

There is nothing we can or should do
to smooth over, or justify or sanctify
any bigotry
that leads to casting out,
condemnation,
or the murder
of a human being simply because he worships God differently than those who hold the stones.
Not then, not now,
not ever.
Neither should we be satisfied with
any preacher who asks us to ignore the ugliness,
and focus only on Stephen as the pious, heaven gazing exemplar of “a good death.”
Stephen deserves better.

Now, given the day in the cultural calendar,
I seriously considered laying this difficult, uncomfortable text aside for another day.
I would have, but for a second email I received on Thursday from one of my Doctor of Ministry colleagues from Minneapolis.

The story I’m about to tell you is not easy;

Eleven days earlier, she had asked me, along with others, to keep prayer vigil for a fellow minister,
a Mother whose 20 year old son had fallen into the Mississippi river, and was missing.
For 11 days I added my prayers to countless others
for this young man, and his mother.
Each dawn brought a dimmer light,
less hope that he would be found alive.
Eleven days later, on Thursday, the news came.

“We have found him.
Please pray now for our grieving.”

Now my colleague also included a note from the young man’s now grieving mother:
“Each day that he was missing,
and as our hope waned that we would see him alive in the flesh again,
I found myself writing, writing,
for him, for me,
for all of you who have walked the river banks,
and those of you who have walked the valley at a distance with us.
Writing his life, his quirks, his character, his passions, his faith in God (so rare, so wise!), his poetry and music, his love for the river that took his life.
All of this, I write because it is the only way I can proclaim his life anyway.”
This is perhaps the hardest midrash I’ve ever done.
My heart is aching for another mother
who must bury her child,
for this clergywoman whose ministry
makes her grief so public.
As I wept while reading the email,
there, side by side on the screen
online Bible open to Acts,
is Stephen,
his stone-crushed body,
another young adult, taken too soon,
too brutally, from yet another mother.

“Mind that gap.” (A Midrash method… what’s not in the text that can give insight)

What of Stephen’s mother?

What would she want us to know about her son?

The ugliness of his death?
The senselessness of it?
Would she join those strong grieving mothers
who turn their grief to marching, appealing, writing, chanting,
for the end to war so other children can simply grow up?
for gun control so that another mother’s child will not be shot on a playground?
for lives, black, red, gay, trans children’s lives to matter?
for an end to gang and drug violence?
for policing that fosters community, not fear?
for there not to be a price for their children’s faith?

Would she also want us to know about his life?
That he, her Stephen, was full of zeal for God!
That, ever gentle as a boy, he had grown
a man-sized heart for the wellbeing of others.
That he was one of those old souls,
with a sharp eye to injustice,
and a quick hand to help,
and a mind and soul tuned to the hymn of the universe?
Would she want us to hear her,
through her tears, proclaim his life anyway?
Someone told Luke about Stephen.
Oh, plenty told of the horror of his violent death;
but who told Luke about that “grace” and “wisdom”?
May we be forgiven for imagining that perhaps
it was his mother,
saying to Luke,
“Write this down!
Write so that everyone will know
that in those last awful moments,
when he looked heavenward and saw his Jesus,
standing, alert and waiting,
that was so typical of the way of his living!
He lived for Jesus and his Way.
It filled his every waking moment.

Write it, so that when you tell of his praying to God to receive his spirit,
you show everyone it was second nature to him to speak with God, to trust God for everything, including his life!

Write, to proclaim that when he begged God to forgive them, those who stoned him,
that came from a heart too big to hate.

Write, so that when you tell of his dying,
you proclaim life anyway!”

+++

This text,… it is about life anyway.
About the way of living God’s Dream,
so that every breath we take counts.
Life anyway is living now
so that the manner of our dying is somehow the same.

Life anyway, living God’s Dream,
is about living
openly, wisely, fully,
in the face of all closedminded stupidity.
Living generously, humbly, mercifully
in the face of all selfishness, pride and blame.
Living truthfully and justly
in the face of all lies and discrimination and injustice.

Living anyway is to live, day by day until our death,
to bless God’s Name, to cling to Christ, and listen for the Spirit’s breath.

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