Feb4ThuFebruary 4, 2016
The days following the great Pentecost
Stephen, Servant of Tables
Before the Sanhedrin
Followers of Jesus
Wandering in the Way
RE: The cost of the way of Jesus
To my friends in the Wilderness,
Forgive my plain words. I haven’t the rhetoric of Peter or the charisma of Phillip. The twelve called upon me to wait tables, to feed the poor and hungry, so those gifted with words could do what I cannot.
Who would have thought that setting tables with bread would lead me here, before an angry mob gathering stones?
But here I am. And here you are, following Jesus into the wilderness, where there is no earthly comfort, no rest for the weary, no provisions for survival but that which comes from the very hand of God.
I was not given a road map when I first followed after Jesus. I imagine this is true for you too.
Then again, I should not be at all surprised that this is where the way of Jesus has led me and you. The people of God are no strangers to the wilderness. Our Lord himself was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit which gives us power to follow this strange way.
What is it you say about hind sight? She’s never there when you need her.
I suppose when the Sanhedrin charged me with blasphemy I could have spit in their eye. Or I could have gone the diplomatic route with something more like, “Brothers, I can see where your witnesses may have taken my words out of context. Firstly, we all know the law of Moses only charged blasphemy for using the unspeakable name which I have never uttered. Secondly, this business about speaking against the law and the temple has been blown out of proportion. Jesus Christ, my Lord, has not come to abolish but fulfill the law and as for this tearing down the temple business, we were of course speaking of the very body of our Lord. We have no plans to damage your property or holy things. So please take this lovely loaf of kalamata olive bread with my sincerest apologies for the misunderstanding and tell your mother I love the new table cloths.”
But then, I’m not skilled with rhetoric or charisma. I just feed the poor. Look where it got me.
That’s why I am writing you, friend. I know the wilderness can be a lonely place, but you are in good company. Look around. Over there is Abram. God never gave him a piece of promised land big enough for his left little toe. But the glory of God met with him in the space between security and recklessness.
Look to his right and you’ll see Joseph. Forsaken and forgotten by his own family – God’s people – Joseph found favor from God serving a foreign king in a foreign land. Joseph died in Egypt, with hardly a memory of the promised land to warm his cold body.
Let’s not forget the giant in the room, old Moses. Poor man, never could figure out if he was an insider or outsider in Israel. But in the wilderness on the far side of Wasteland Mountain, the Lord spoke! Spoke to Moses, who lay in the rejection pile of Israel AND Egypt. When the temple wasn’t so much as a blueprint and before the law was so much as a scratch on a tablet, the Lord spoke to Moses and called the ground HOLY.
The presence of God was not ashamed to tabernacle in the wilderness. Just ask Solomon over in the corner over there. When he offered to build God a temple, he got an ear full about the throne of heaven and the foot stool of the earth.
But listen to me rambling on about our story, as though you don’t know. Without this living and scandalous story how could you be standing here today on this deserted patch of life with your shoes in your hand.
It is a dangerous story. I tried to remind the Sanhedrin of our story and they’ve almost finished collecting their pile of stones… wait, no, they’ve found a few more.
I suppose there were alternative scenarios in which these accusations could have been forgiven, forgotten, even disputed or denied leading to a story that doesn't end in my death by internal bleeding. But our Lord never tried to defend himself standing before the cross. And I’ve walked in his way this far, I don’t think I’ll turn away now.
No, I will go the way of Jesus through the wilderness and into death. But you and I know that death is not the end of this journey.
Perhaps you are looking for a way out of the wilderness. Maybe you are begging God for an alternative scenario. The wilderness does have that effect on people. It makes us scrape and claw, barter and plead - anything to get to the smallest amount of earthly comfort, even the mere appearance of security.
I can’t even imagine the kinds of persecution Christians in your day and age will have to face. Are they still crucifying brothers and sisters upside down? Feeding them to wild animals? Are Christians still poor, despised and hated, without any political power or social influence? Is it worse than a simple table waiter like me can think up?
But surely you have the Comforter, the Advocate, that great and fiery Spirit who gives us a holy unrest that will not be settled until we will follow with reckless abandon. When the Spirit leads you in the way of Jesus, the path will most likely seem absurd – to the world, that is. It will most likely - at least for a glorious season here and there - lead you into that familiar wilderness where you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. You must follow Christ there, where there is nothing to provide for you but the hand of God.
Spare the pleading and begging; you’ll need your breath and your strength. There is no need to scrape and claw your way out; this will only lead to bloody hands and a frustrated soul. No, this is the place where you can finally find rest for that restless heart, because this is where you discover God is all and in all.
I will be brief. The first stone has been cast and I didn’t even know we had a sinless soul in the crowd today.
Follow Jesus in the power of the Spirit, even into the wilderness. Be amazed at the unlikely places and spaces where you are surrounded by the glory of the Lord. And then look down. It may not be pretty, but you and I - the people of God's story - we call this holy ground.
Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ,