When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.
Reflection Some of you will be reading this Devotion first thing, after you get out of bed. Nothing says ‘Good Morning’ like a stoning! We could be forgiven for ‘covering our ears’ to this passage, ahead of whatever our day holds.
Can we be forgiven for covering our ears to the Good News that Stephen has shared (if we can say that being called ‘stiff-necked people’ constitutes Good News!)?
I think God understands why we sometimes cover our ears.
Didn’t Jesus say: ‘I came to bring fire to the earth’?
Didn’t he understand that not all good news sounds like good news?
So, we cover our ears singing “la la la”.
I hope I’m being fair in saying that Stephen’s rant is pretty heavy! His Good News of Christ, is wrapped in a lengthy ‘attack’ before the Sanhedrin. I paraphrase: ‘Christ is the fulfilment of God’s promises recalled in the journey of faith and the prophets of the Jewish people, and just as you ignored them you are also responsible for his death!’
No great surprise they covered their ears and rushed against him.
Was it his delivery and approach or the truth of his words?
What of God’s Good News do we close our ears to, perhaps because it sounds controversial, too hard or those sharing the message appear too challenging?
It has taken decades to accept evidence of the damage of smoking and that climate change is real.
Centuries of ongoing struggle for equality for all minorities in society. We are only just starting to admit that endlessly increasing profits and growth is unsustainable – something many voices have been decried for mentioning (Donella H. Meadows et al, ‘The Limits of Growth, 1972).
As Christians, we will rightly test the voices and views around us against the gospel and the Spirit’s call, but that process of inspiration and learning begins with uncovered ears.
Where we listen. Where we are open to the ‘other’. Where we remain intrigued by other ways of life – the Spirit is breathing Good News to us. Thanks be to God!
Prayer Loving God, you know us. You know what makes us fearful and what causes us to close our ears.
Inspire us and strength us, we pray, to remain open to glimpses of your Good News surprising us and challenging us throughout the day. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC).