Sermon from May 22, 2011
(Easter 5 - Year A)
Acts 7: 55-60
St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
Last Thursday night, after I got home, I just could not go to sleep.
You see, last Thursday night, we had the service of Confirmation here at St. Alban’s.
And after witnessing this Confirmation liturgy, I was so pumped up that I had a hard time falling asleep.
At the Confirmation service, I was so energized because of what I had witnessed.
I saw, up close and personal, a total of 26 people stand before the bishop to make a commitment to their faith in Jesus Christ.
The bishop asked each one of these diverse and amazing individuals two questions:
“Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?”
And those being confirmed, received and reaffirmed responded in a loud voice:
Then, the bishop asked them one more question:
“Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”
And firmly and resolutely and with conviction, all of them responded:
“I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.”
I then presented each one of these interesting and committed people to the bishop, as they knelt at his feet, and as they committed their entire life to Jesus Christ.
In this day and age when the news media continually reports on the slow death of the Episcopal Church,
How could I sleep after seeing the first seven rows of this church packed with people who promise to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord?
How could I sleep after watching 26 people kneel before a bishop in historic succession to the original apostles, confessing their faith in Jesus Christ?
For as I presented each one of them for confirmation, reception and reaffirmation, I thought to myself:
You are the people whom I will die with for our faith.
Because faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior - is a faith worth dying for.
Maybe one of the reasons I could not fall asleep after Confirmation was because the kind of faith and commitment that I witnessed on Thursday night is so rarely displayed in American culture.
I don’t often read the Dear Abby column in the newspaper.
But a few weeks ago, the headline of her column did grab my eye.
The headline read:
“Open Minds are Useful when Discussing God with Kids.”
Evidently, a parent had asked Abby the question about what to do when your child begins to ask questions about God.
Abby’s response – which was then supported by several letters from other parents – was that we should not push our faith onto our kids.
According to Dear Abby and a host of American parents, open minds are needed because persuading our children or their friends regarding our Christian faith is not very “nice.”
According to Dear Abby and our American culture, our response to questions of faith has now devolved into an adolescent shrug of “whatever.”
Should you commit your life to Jesus Christ?
Should you follow Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?
This watered down religion of “whatever” is designed to make you a “nice person.”
In this view, faith is okay, just as long as it doesn’t make you into a fanatic or make you change your life too drastically.
Yet this American religion of “whatever” is not the commitment that 26 people signed up for last Thursday night when they stood before Bishop Payne and committed their entire life to Jesus Christ.
This watered down religion of “whatever” is not a faith worth dying for.
And this watered down religion of “whatever” is not the faith of the very first person who died for following Jesus Christ, the martyr named Stephen.
The story of Stephen is told in the history book of the early Church that is known as the Book of Acts.
We read a portion, the last verses of Stephen’s story, this morning in our reading from Acts.
When you go home today, take 10 minutes to read chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Acts and you will hear all of Stephen’s story.
Anyway, Stephen’s story begins when he is chosen as one of 7 men to help out the original twelve apostles of Jesus.
(Matthias has been chosen to “replace” Judas).
Stephen is one of these 7 new helpers, or deacons.
And Stephen is full of grace and power.
Like confused parents who write into Dear Abby, diverse folks then argue with Stephen, because Stephen believes that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Stephen could have avoided making any religious waves.
Stephen could have avoided the argument by just saying:
“You know, all religions are essentially the same.
Let’s just go along to get along and be nice.”
Stephen could have just responded:
But instead of saying “whatever,” Stephen stirs up the people, lashing back:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and in ears:
You are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors did.”
The people become enraged and the Book of Acts says that they “ground their teeth at Stephen.”
Because of Stephen’s commitment that Jesus is Savior and Lord, Stephen is dragged outside the city to be stoned to death.
As he is being pelted with stones, Stephen imitates the death of his Lord as he prays:
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And as Stephen dies from stoning, he proclaims his faith in the forgiving Savior, pleading:
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Therefore, Stephen becomes the first martyr of the faith, as he dies.
If Stephen were with us today, I believe that he also would not have been able to sleep last Thursday night.
I believe that Stephen would have been so energized by witnessing new brothers and sisters make their unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ.
And I also believe that Stephen would weep, he would weep when reading all the comments into Dear Abby about a watered-down faith of “niceness.”
I believe that Stephen would see parents and children and adults of all ages shrug “whatever” – and he would ask:
“I died for this?”
Stephen believed that we should all be ready to die for our commitment to Jesus Christ.
Stephen believed that our faith in Jesus is not a religion of indifferent niceness – but it is a faith worth dying for.
I have said this before, and I will say it again.
I believe that the greatest threat to the Christian faith in America is not arguments over human sexuality or church politics.
I believe that the greatest threat to Christianity in America is a collective shrug of “whatever.”
I am tired of hearing adults say:
“It really doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, just as long as you are a ‘nice person.’”
Yet Stephen was certainly not a very nice person, when he lashed out by saying:
“You stiff-necked people!”
Jesus Christ and Stephen did not die to make us nice people.
But Jesus Christ and Stephen died to show us that the only Way to an abundant life is by losing your life.
I am tired of hearing parents say:
“My child or teenager just really isn’t that interested in church or Sunday school or youth group.”
Yet the faith that Stephen died for, the faith that we promised to follow in Baptism, says that we will bring our children up into the full stature of Christ.
The faith that Jesus died for requires the 100% commitment of parents, and of all adults.
As you can tell, I am done with being nice about the watered-down religion of “niceness” and the indifferent religion of “whatever.”
Yet I am energized by the inspiring faith of the newest members of St. Alban’s.
I am energized by the faith of the first martyr, Stephen, who did not say “whatever,” but who had the commitment to lose his life, in order to save it.
I am energized by full commitment to Jesus Christ, who shows us that the way to an abundant life - is to be ready to die.
For I am convinced, I am 100% convinced, that neither death, nor life,
Nor anything else in all creation,
Will ever, ever, be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
And that for me - is a faith worth dying for.