Week of Oct. 14: Be passionate about hearing, speaking the truth

10/7/2012

By VICKY and The REV. JOHN BRANTLEY
Lesson for week of Oct. 14
Scripture: Acts 7:1-8:1a
 Open my eyes that I may see You more than myself. Open my ears that I may hear Your voice over my own. Open my mind and heart that I might know my sinfulness and stand in your grace. Reveal the weakness of our strength and make us to stand firm in your truth. Amen.
 Adrian Rogers, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, told about a man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocketknife. Asked why he hadn't cut off the lion's head, the man replied: "Someone had already done that."  Being courageous is not something to take lightly.  True courage is something we cannot feign.  When we face what seem to be insurmountable obstacles, it is often difficult to stand firm and do the right thing and persevere.  Stephen, the church’s first martyr, had the courage to face his accusers and not waver in his witness for Christ despite the threat of death.
Opposing the Holy Spirit
Stephen speaks up boldly to name our stubbornness and to remove our excuse of ignorance.   We are responsible for what we are not willing to hear.  As Jesus preached, he often said, “Let those who have ears, hear.”  Many times we want to be able to shut our ears and our eyes to what we become aware because we recognize that situations call out to us to take a stand for what is right.  It is much easier to plead ignorance than it is to defend what is good and just.  We do not always like what we hear from God. Stephen models standing in God’s Word, and he calls others to join him in faith.  General Sherman said, “I would define true courage to be a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.” 
 Although we usually object to change, it is the constant in our human experience. While we amend the resolutions in the United Methodist Church at every General Conference, the core articles of our faith remain unchanged. Stephen shows us that our faith stands firm no matter how relationships, environments and times change. Do not let ever changing hearts replace God’s unshakeable truth.
 Knowing and Accountability
We may not know all things, but we know enough to know better.  Most people try to “do the right thing,” most of the time. Surprisingly, that is not the hardest part of what to do.  Ben Kingsley stated the hard part in a fine movie entitled “The Confession.” Kingsley said, “It’s not hard to do the right thing; in fact it’s easy. What’s hard is knowing what the right thing to do is. Once you know that, and believe it, doing the right thing is easy.”  This was an emotionally powerful movie about the death of Kingsley’s child, in his arms, while waiting interminably in multiple hospital emergency rooms for treatment, and how he struggled to deal with this enormous loss. If we are Christians, the right action is spelled out clearly in the pages of the gospel.  Stephen reminds us that we are the ones who have received the truth in Jesus Christ and are continually guided by the Holy Spirit. His caution is not to live as though we are lost with no GPS and no spiritual compass.  We cannot use the excuse that we don’t know better. We have been shown the way. His example encourages us to stand up for one another. For example, it is healthy for members of the body of Christ to call out those who are not keeping the Three Simple Rules - Do good, Do no harm, Keep the ordinances of God.  Too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship, out of love for one another, demands accountability.
Be Passionate about Hearing the Truth
Stubbornness is not a gift of the Spirit.  Puritan preacher David Brooks wrote,
“He who stands upon his own strength will never stand.”  Stephen stood by himself but he was not alone.  The scene of the crowd of seemingly Godly people covering their ears and rushing in to remove the threatening menace that Stephen is perceived to be is an action repeated throughout the church today.  The church’s purpose is to be the living Christ’s presence in the world and not a political interest group. The church’s work is to make disciples, not dues-paying club members. The church’s calling is to be a life-long witness to the power of God’s grace and not to be politically correct. The pews and windows have our names on them, but the house and its contents are not ours. The Holy Spirit drives us out of the house and into the world to encounter people who are so certain about their correctness that they only hear their own voice even if they have exchanged God’s word for their own.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous for the statement “Christ bids us come and die.” It’s not a particularly uplifting Joel-Osteen-style of understanding the Gospel. Up With People likely would not adopt this as their mission statement. Still, it stares us in the face. Bonhoeffer is speaking of dying to self as well as the knowledge that where God calls the believer to stand might be a dangerous place. His own life would reflect this reality.  We are called daily to take a stand.  Be passionate about hearing and speaking the truth.
 Take Action: How will your Sunday school class make sure that the voice of Christ is heard more clearly than your own voices?
 “Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with one accord, with us the work to share, with us reproach to dare, with us the cross to bear, for Christ our Lord.”  Hymn # 568 The United Methodist Hymnal
 
 


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