Stephen, Full of Grace and Power

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)

In the sixth and seventh chapters of Acts, it becomes even more clear that the “service” that Stephen and the first deacons performed in the community was as much to do with preaching as with physical works of mercy. The Greek-speaking followers of the Way were being neglected in the table fellowship, which included opening the Scriptures to understand how Jesus fit into God’s plan of salvation.

Stephen is hauled before the council on trumped-up charges because of his preaching, not because he distributed food to widows. In the reading appointed for today, Stephen is just getting started rehearsing the history of God’s saving presence with Israel; he’s laying the groundwork for the big finish to his sermon, naming Jesus as the promised Messiah, which won’t come until Monday. And you thought the sermons in your parish were too long!

Stephen is a preacher warming up to his subject, building up his argument, bringing us along with him until we are ready to hear a new word, until we are ready in fact to meet the Word himself.

There’s a reason deacons promise at ordination “to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them” (BCP 543). The nourishment we receive from our daily prayer and study of the Scriptures we offer back to “those among whom we live, and work, and worship” so that all will be fed by Jesus, the true Bread of Life.

So stick with Stephen for the next few days — the grace and power that shine through him and his preaching are meant to show you the glory of Jesus, “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

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