Monthly Archives: August 2012

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).

Saint Mary the Virgin

The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s
but he entrusted the earth to its peoples. (Psalm 115:16)

The readings and canticles for this morning, the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, give us glimpses into the lives of several people who were trusting and became trustworthy.

In the Old Testament reading, Hannah, formerly childless, sings to God after giving her son Samuel to serve in the Temple. She sings of God’s power: “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap” (1 Sam. 2:8). She trusts that “he will guard the feet of his faithful ones,” and she entrusts her son to his service.

We respond with Canticle 16, appointed for Major Feasts like today, which is a song about another son. Zecharaiah sings to God in joy that he has witnessed a miracle — the birth of a son to his wife Elizabeth — and that his son, John the Baptist, will have a special part to play in announcing the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah trusts in God’s promise “to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The Gospel reading recounts Jesus’ first sign, or demonstration of his power, at a wedding in Cana. His mother Mary nudges him into action, forcing his hand when he is reluctant to intervene. “There’s no wine,” she says. “So what?” he says. “Do what he tells you,” she says to the servants. Put on the spot, Jesus performs his first miracle. Mary trusts that the time is right for her son to step onto a larger stage, even though he was just coming to a wedding with his friends.

In Canticle 21, the Te Deum, we get another glimpse of the larger stage on which God is acting.

You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free,
you did not shun the Virgin’s womb.

God’s purposes will be fulfilled with and through the “peoples of the earth,” people like Hannah and Zechariah, like Mary and like us, people who trust in his direction and become trustworthy by participating in his work.