Friday, 27 December 2013

St Stephen

St Stephen, by Giotto (who else would have given him those eyes?)
And look at the stones... For more Christmassy Giottos have a look here
A little time left before this post is a day late! (I'm writing just before midnight). I think one of the last sermons I preached before leaving Anglican ministry was about St Stephen - don't worry, I'm not going to inflict it on you now (old sermons don't work, I think, and I haven't kept any!) but there are some things I can remember.

We read Stephen's short but dramatic story in Acts 6 & 7: the Apostles decide that it's not right that they should "neglect the word of God" to wait at tables, and so they select and ordain the seven first deacons, including Stephen, to do the waiting bit while they "devote themselves to prayer and serving the word".  (I have to confess that what looks like a split between practical service and the spirituality of the Word of God has always annoyed me just a tad... Maybe something to do with my pride? Or just that I'm rubbish at doing anything practical, as I was reminded when I was asked to cut a cake at our course staff party before Christmas. You've never seen so many crumbs...)

Stephen, who is full of the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power, a worker of signs and wonders - and whose face shines like an angel's when he speaks fearlessly of his faith in Christ; he is humble enough to accept the call of the Church to the ministry of a servant and make it apostolic too, through his faithfulness to God's gifts to him. Look - in Giotto's painting he holds the Gospel book (as a deacon should and would): he may wait at table but he's not neglecting the word of the Lord who said "I am among you as one who serves."  And is he not "devoted to prayer", every bit as much as the Apostles? He is given a vision of heaven opened, of Jesus at the right hand of the Father, and just like Jesus he prays for his torturers as he is stoned to death. The day after we celebrate Jesus' birth we are reminded of both the dignity and costliness of following him. 

St Stephen, you humble, challenge and inspire me. Pray for all who are entrusted with gifts and called to service, and long for the humility to carry it out with integrity and courage. 

And here is how Fra Angelico imagined Stephen's ordination (h/t to Once I Was A Clever Boy, where you can read about the painting):

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