Why have such a sombre passage that of recording the first Christian
martyr be placed in our liturgy straight after the joys of celebrating the
birth of Jesus Christ ? Surely this dampens the joy our feelings.
Its rather like the excitement of the small child having a present they
wanted only to find no batteries had be bought for it and no shops open
completely deflated or looking forward to joining all the family only to find
Omicron had prevented this from happening physically
I Without being born you cannot die so birth and death are explicitly
entwined. Lets follow Jesus journey by firstly by looking at baby Jesus
in the crib.
Here is God in human form. For me this makes Christianity more
connectable that my God lived as a human , knows a humans pleasures
and disappointments having lived an earthly life gives me more
confidence that he knows situations I’ve gone through He’s one of us.
As Bishop Jack said God took himself out of heaven to live a life not with
the rich but with the poor and humble unlike any other Religions’ God.
And why? Because all Gods other prophet messengers telling of a more
just way of life and obedience to Him had been rejected.
This baby grows becomes a man realises his mission is to show by His
compassionate example the way to live for all v - including the outcast
in society an inclusive religion.
Secondly lets look up above the high altar there on the cross the Son
of God is shown dying for us as St. John says ‘ for God so loved the
world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but may have eternal life.
Thirdly lets look below onto the high alter and see the silver cross
signifying that Jesus is alive in heaven and reminding us that he at
Pentecost sent his Holy spirit to help us all
Stephen a man full of faith and the Holy spirit. His martyrdom parallels
Jesus ‘ death . As a deacon in the early Jerusalem church he was
responsible for helping to deliver food to the poor.
Like Jesus he preached quite often against the ruling religious figures in
no uncertain words calling them stiff necked , uncircumcised in heart and
ears ,forever opposing the Holy spirit pointing out Stephen, though was
filled with the Holy spirit, He further inflamed their passion by recounting
a vision of God and Jesus standing at his right hand side blasphemy.
This caused a lynch like mob to stone him to death. Also like Jesus he
called out in a loud voice Lord do not hold this sin against them. This
forgiveness in sharp contrast to our old testament reading where the
prophet Zechariah also being stoned to death his last words were ‘May
the Lord see and avenge. Jesus despite being crucified had compassion
on his executers.
Stephen shows the early church and us today that Christians bring the
message of Christmas to our schools, work places and community at
We in this place have made a start on looking after our own. This I can
testify to as the number of well wishes that Kath and I have had,
including card, phone calls , prayers and meals.
We must continue advertising , to the wider Cleveleys community, our
wonderful inclusive church. Christmas goes beyond the crib.
As a Church Jesus continually requires us to use our ears and eyes to
listen to and to see calls for help. It might be for the church in this place
for those calling for help in the community via the food bank for those
businesses hit by COVID variants . All of which might mean real
sacrificial giving of time , resources , emotional energy. It might mean
prayerfully challenging our assumptions or of getting beneath the real
causes of those asking for help.
At one time or another we all need help it might be that standing up for
what we believe others might ridicule us; it might be we find it hard to
take our mission to the people of Cleveleys for fear of receiving little
attention. Indeed our gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples to
beware of the establishment figures and their power bases. They
generally don’t like their status quo challenged. Even though this might
put some people off being a Christian there is hope the light of the
gospel brings with it the Spirit of God. The Spirit will help and speak
through you the one who endures to the end will be saved. Following
Jesus’ way can be costly but the Holy spirit in our hearts given by God
will speak through us . At times of stress , when I’m in conflict when I
need to make an important decision or simply prior to starting
preparation for a sermon I will say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help
me its the collect for the 19th Sunday after trinity and goes like this
O God Forasmuch as without thee I am not able to please thee.
Mercifully grant , that the Holy spirit may in all things direct and rule my
heart, through Jesus Christ my Lord Amen