by David Gentiles

Saul is the golden boy. On his way up the ladder. Studied at the best graduate school. Excellent family pedigree. From a big city far away (and when you're from out of town, and you're a consultant, you're automatically smarter). He's one of the elite leaders of national politics and social policy. He's like the young politician whom all of the elder statespersons are watching - Will he be one of the leaders of our party someday? Let's groom him.

He's passionate by nature. And his turn comes. Stephen, one of the seven men chosen by the Jesus people to be administrators of the money and goods the community is gathering and distributing. And as he does this work, amazing miracles happen. People's lives are transformed. It's not just that Stephen is good at administration; Jesus' presence is flowing through him. And ... the word gets back to the ruling party.

And they don't like it.

They look for an opportunity to shut down this movement, and so they arrest Stephen. And Saul is so in the room. All about this. Jesus' people are a cancer that must be cut out. A threat to national security. Whatever means are necessary to stomp them out are appropriate. (It reminds me of that hilarious line from the movie The Blues Brothers: "Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of The Blues Brothers has been approved.")

Stephen confronts the court and tells them that the very thing they're trying to keep safe, totally missed the point. "Jesus was the hope of the nation, not a threat to it - and you, court judges, congressional leaders, president and cabinet, executed him. How can you live with yourselves?"

So, they kill him. They take him outside the city and pick up rocks and throw them at Stephen until he dies. That's an incredibly barbaric, violent, personal thing to do. It's not like dropping a missile from thousands of feet in the air, or even shooting at someone hundreds of feet away. These men are furious.They're standing close enough to hear bones crack, and see skin open and blood splatter on the ground. And they are satisfied.

That's about them, of course. And about Saul, who's there, "approving the execution," and holding the coats of the men who carry out the execution.

The problem is that Stephen begs God to forgive these men. He quotes Jesus: "Don't hold this against them. They don't know what they're doing."

But Saul thinks he knows. He volunteers to lead squads of Temple soldiers into the city and stamp out these traitorous heretics. And he does. And puts Jesus people in prison, and separate families, and take their money and property. He's going to wipe them out.

And so the question is ... What do you want to wipe out? What do you consider to be something that must be eradicated and punished? An enemy? Terrorists? Traitors? Heretics? Non-believers? Homosexuals, or straight people, or black people, or white people, or poor people, or rich people? Democrats? Republicans? Family members? Jerks?

Guess what: Stephen is a mirror for Saul. Both of them are devoted to their faith. Both of them are leaders within their faith. Both of them are passionate and dedicated, and willing to do the difficult thing if it's necessary. But, as David Gentiles has observed, Saul is willing to kill for his faith - but Stephen, like Jesus, is willing to die for his faith.

Saul takes off to the city of Damascus, to wipe out the cell of Jesus people who've relocated there.

We'll see how that goes.

Listen to the Service

Today's Program

Gathering Our Spirit to God's Spirit

The Living Room is set up with the cross in the center of the room. Chairs are in the round, but facing away from the center. Yes, worship is backwards again! On the walls around the room are banners with slogans like "I know I'm right" and "Why don't they shut up?" Even the Journey banner is defaced to reflect this attitude of willful blindness to God.

  • “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson
  • A Journeyer steps up to light the lamp and another rings the bell
  • David (E) and Leslie (L) make announcements

Worshiping with Our Children

  • A Journeyer leads our children in talking about how easy it is to get all mad and judgmental when somebody at school or on the playground is not playing fair or is being mean. It can make us so mad that we forget that we too can be mean or judgmental to others, and we need to stop and ask God to help us see people the way God sees them—as beloved children of God.

From Our Spirit to God's Spirit

"The feeling of offendedness is invigorating. It might even be an effective way to bend a population toward a tyrant's will. But we must never settle for it. We must not confuse an accelerated pulse for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We must interrogate our offendedness, hold it open for question. Complaining about Harry Potter or getting worked up over The Golden Compass or pitting ticket sales of the Narnia films against Brokeback Mountain is a much less complicated call than that whole business about loving neighbors, to say nothing about loving enemies. If we're more opposed, for instance to what we take to be "bad language" and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of live-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack. We have yet to understand the nature of real perversion. We aren't as deeply acquainted with our religion as we might think." 

  • A Journeyer reads Matthew 7:1-5 (New Living Translation)
  • Renee leads the community in singing "Let the River Flow"
  • A Journeyer reads the story of Saul from Acts 6-9

Telling The Story and Our Story

  • Rick talks

Giving -- To Help God Do God's Work in This World

  • Julie leads an offertory prayer exercise
  • Robert plays viola as the community comes forward to put their offerings/prayer requests/strips of cloth in the basket suspended from the cross 

Go Out to Serve with Vision and Reflection

  • David leads the community in reading together Acts 2:46-47 (New Living Translation)

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those whose lives were being transformed.

  • David dismisses
  • “Man in the Mirror” plays again as folks depart