December 26 ~ •The Story of Stephen the Deacon: And the Eloquent History of the Israelite Nation, 2018•

Burghes of Calais sculpture by Auguste Rodin

•The Story of Stephen the Deacon:
And the Eloquent History Lesson of the Israelite Nation, 2018•

Friday Night Prelude  Joy (Living Room Session) – Page CXVI [The Autumn Film]

WELCOME and happy Sabbath. I am here to interrupt this program to bring you late-breaking news, the first recorded believer in Jesus to be killed because of his faith. For our worship experience this evening, I will use Biblical storying, an inductive method of orally communicating Bible stories directly from scripture memorization with minimal explanation. We will walk slowly with purpose through general Biblical, historical, cultural, and symbolic clues revealing the incredible significance and vastness of God’s mighty creativity. It is so interesting, that it should be told now! In a frenzy of deep sorrow, we will shake Myrtle, Palm and Willow branches toward the altar, as if to remind God of his promises.

CAFE QUESTIONS: Did you come here to see an angel? Did you come here for forgiveness? Do we still have Jesus or have we lost him? What’s the worst name you’ve ever been called? Have you ever been in a rock fight? Can you hit a target? Are you big on free speech, censorship, or a strong press? Have you ever been questioned about your faith and the actions you take? When was the last time you needed to take a firm and uncompromising stand for Jesus?

MUSIC & HYMNS: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine” lyrics by Fanny Crosby.

PSALM RESPONSIVE READING @ Psalm 80:14-19, and Psalm 2:1-7, (NLT)

SCRIPTURE @ Matthew 24:27-31, and @ John 1:51, (NLT)

NARRATE the BACKGROUND @ Exodus 2:11-15a and 3:1-10, and @ Acts 5:12,17-20,41-42, and @ Acts 6:1-7 (NLT)

In those days after Pentecost, God’s message of life continued to spread, and the number of believers continued to grow in Jerusalem. As the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek speaking believers complained about the Hebrew speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the distribution of food. Sounds like a legitimate concern to me. So, Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, was chosen as a deacon of the early church for the purpose of tending to the physical needs of widows.

You may have heard part of Stephen’s speech of how the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, how God raised up Moses, and how the people rejected Moses and God, intended to illustrate their ingratitude and disobedience at Acts 7:23-43. But by Acts 7:51-53, Stephen is no longer the defendant on trial, but God’s prophetic attorney presenting God’s covenant lawsuit against the Sanhedrin.

NARRATE the STORY @ Acts 6:8-15 and @ Acts 7:1-3,30,33-35,37,39,48-60 (NLT), twice.

This is the story we have, and that’s the way the story goes. Let us spend some time to WONDER and DIALOGUE about this story, and bring any questions or observations we have to the table. Questions may not necessarily be answered, but will be voiced and raise interest. Note: stoning was the penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14). Note: Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks  (Exodus 34:22), and is also known as the Feast of Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26).  The feast then became a fitting symbol for the first spiritual harvest of the Christian Church (Acts 2:1-4), when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and 3,000 people were baptized on a single day (Acts 2:41).  Note: the founding of the Hebrew nation occurred in Mesopotamia, not Jerusalem (Acts 7:2-5). God’s liberation of His people occurred at locations outside Palestine – in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the Sinai wilderness – not in Jerusalem (Acts 7:9-36). The Law was given in the desert, not Jerusalem (Acts 7:38). God doesn’t only live in a Temple (Acts 7:39-50).  Stephen’s explicit condemnation of the Sanhedrin for the idolatrous reverence of the temple (Acts 7:48) reveals that he understood that Jesus’ death signified the end of the entire temple order and that Israel’s theocracy was coming to an end, meaning that the world’s salvation would no longer be mediated through national Israel as promised to Abraham (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 12:18), but through the followers of Jesus, Jew and Gentile, who were now expected to leave Jerusalem and witness to the world (Acts 1:8).

Let us get into CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Look for Jesus in everyone. Discover Jesus in their story.

What do we know about the Council or Sanhedrin? (It was the highest ruling body and supreme court of the Jews made up of 71 members, including priests, elders, and scribes. Allowed by Rome to oversee religious, civil, and criminal issues in Judea. Politically could appoint kings and high priests. Judicially could judge traitorous priests, false prophets, rebel leaders, and rebellious tribes. Religiously could ordain certain services and had it’s own police force. Prevented by Rome from exercising capital punishment.) What was the Sanhedrin seeing as they starred at Stephen? How might the Sanhedrin feel to see the face of an angel? How might the priests and rulers feel to be called, “stiff necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears, you are just like your fathers?” Hit him hard. I got him, I got him. I’m highly suspect of feelings.

What do we know about Stephen? Stephen has turned the tables on the council, in effect putting them on trial for rejecting Jesus. It is heart breaking to see leaders far from eternity. What else might Stephen be thinking? He’s in the fight of his life, walking through the valley of death. I wish I hadn’t seen that. Stephen breaks away from his narrative, his body language is changing as he gazes up, standing serene and collected, losing himself in Christ. God is with him there in spirit. How might Stephen feel to see heaven open? What was the meaning of Stephen’s vision?

Burghes of Calais sculpture by Auguste Rodin

Burghes of Calais sculpture by Auguste Rodin

SCULPTURE
Burghes of Calais sculpture by Auguste Rodin

What did we learn about GOD in this story?
He is omnipresent. God is light, is clothed in light and dispels darkness. God desires his people to be holy, consuming the dross, scattering the darkness. We worship only one God who will lead us into heaven. There is only one mediator between God and man. God has given dominion, a kingdom, to the Son of Man that will never cease. In Jesus dwells all the fullness of God who abides with me, who strengthens me. I belong to God and I am special in his sight.

What aspects of this story or character, foreshadow the GOOD NEWS, especially in relation to what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and through his resurrection. Look for negative things being lifted and positive things being given, then merge the two ideas into one thought when possible.
• This is what God offers. God comes to me with a good gift, a wonderful new relationship. He waits on me to receive. He throws his arms around me, saying, “I love you, and I can’t let you go.”
• The spiritual principle of forgiveness frees me into a better place.
• For Jesus to die for many and the enemy, he fell to the ground and died (outside the Holy City.)
• Jesus carried human nature into heaven.

CLOSING PRAYER by Stephen @ Acts 7:60, New Living Translation (NLT)
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Storying EVALUATION: 1.Inductive teaching present 2.Biblical answers validated 3.Did we see Jesus 4.Clear questions 5.Logical flow of story 6.Affirmations given 7.Low participants encouraged 8.Who did most of the talking?

Our goal is to seriously APPLY this story to our life. Our CHALLENGE is to write a prayer, a poem, a song, short story, or create and photograph something that EXPRESSes our response and share. You get to hear what God has placed on my heart. Some lines of light and verse as you embark on this night.

Gamaliel’s Poem
Take care of what you are planning to do
sometime ago there was a fellow
who pretended to be someone great
but he was killed and all his followers
went their various ways
the whole movement came to nothing
and after him came another at the time of the census
he got people to follow him
but he was killed, too
and all his followers were scattered
so my advice is, to leave them alone
let them go
if they are planning these things on their own
it will soon be overthrown
but if it’s from God, you will not overthrow
you may find yourself fighting against God

– Acts 5:33-39

DRAWING
“Burghers of Calais,” with black litho crayon on 11×14 Rives by Arches lightweight creme paper, after Auguste Rodin.

“Burghes of Calais”after Rodin | 2014 | 11″x14” | black litho crayon on Arches cream paper

BODY PRAYER:
All my pain is valuable.
I couldn’t skip a beating.
I honor every breath given,
and every breath extended.
When death closes my eyes
in the absence of my mortal body
I will lay wait for the presence
of my glorified body.

I wait.
I wait for peace.
I wait for what Jesus promised.
I wait in my schedules, in my agendas, in my life’s routine.
I wait and I extend my hope to believe
that God will deliver me
and I will be made new.
And all creation will be renewed.

POEM
“Stephen”
Home is on my mind today
coming home is on my mind
men we can climb a high ladder
but when we come down windshield shatters
back to back stone faced and silent
been deceived and bitten by the serpent
clothed in skin and banished from the garden
goat’s blood doesn’t clean our conscience
not a drop of blood of the lamb for it
not a word, no, not even a nod
that lets me know that we don’t know God

don’t abuse when I refuse
if in the course of using force
I should break a technicality
brings about brutality
on urban thug mentality
heavy dreads
anger fed
body bled
you can tread me over
as much as you feel led
standing on my head still

all my funky feelings
funneling into Stephen
speaking to Sanhedrin
satanic in their fury
grief too intense for me
peace too far, too far to see
sticks and stones may break my bones
strangled in a choke hold

“I can’t breathe”
seven times, seven times
seven times seventy

short sighted mortals
Jesus is mine, Jesus is yours
Jesus still ours
I got visual confirmation standing in the clouds
He is the Son that belongs to man
ivory palaces and many mansions
may mercy triumph bala

~ §tacy §weeney
(Poem Published on WordPress, 2015/03/13)