Stephen, Full of Grace and PowerFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is Born!
“That boy is so hard-headed he wouldn’t even notice a rock hitting him between the eyes.” My grandmother had a way with words, but I’ve known people like this; so set in their ways that not even plain evidence would move them to change their ways. They were frozen in their thinking.
But that kind of attitude can create some real problems for people, especially when they ignore clear communication from God Himself!
Look at our lesson today from Acts 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60. We’ll just quote St. Stephen’s speech:
And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.’ Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.
“But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Of course, this is early in the existence of the Church and St. Stephen is the first deacon as well as the Church’s first martyr for the Faith. But notice what he calls these religious leaders: stiff-necked!
There is a prayer that we say often even during the Divine Liturgy ‘ “Let us bow our heads to the Lord” and the people respond “To You, O Lord.” Someone who is stiff-necked can’t or won’t bow their heads.
First, because they think so highly of their own righteousness that they see no need to make such a show of humility and obedience. Second, because to do such a thing as bow their heads will communicate their own insufficiency to those around them. And finally, because to bow the head would be to confess they don’t know everything. And for someone who is stiff-necked, they can’t allow for that impression even in their own hearts. This spiritual illness of being stiff-necked meant the death of Stephen, but that was only physical death. The real consequence was that those stiff-necked people were already spiritually dead and didn’t even know it!
Today, are you stiff-necked? Where in your life have you “got it all figured out” to the point that you are deaf to God’s gentle voice of correction? Where is there a deficit of humility that would not allow you to “bow” your head to the Lord? It’s time to keep those neck muscles limber and able to bow by being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord of Mercy, I am so stubborn at times. I trust my own judgement too often, and I fail to stop and consider my life with humility and love. Forgive me, Lord. And please help me to focus on You in a more attentive way in the New Year. Amen
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