Well, it's been a long time since I posted anything here. I don't think I've gone this long between posts since I started blogging 9 years ago way back in 2002. I even missed my blogiversary on May 5th. With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, my blog has been sadly neglected, but don't worry, this is not one of those "goodbye cruel blogging world" posts. I hate those.
What's prompted me to post is that today I've just been thinking about the stoning of the disciple Stephen (Acts 7), which Carol preached about this morning.
Stephen was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus when those in power took exception and ultimately stoned him to death. Despite facing his death at their hands, Stephen asks God to forgive those who are attacking him. It is a tremendous testament to his faith that he was willing to be stoned for Jesus. (I know that's a bad play on words, but I can't resist a provocative title.)
The following video reenacts the events of that fateful day.
While Stephen's faith is overwhelming, and his forgiving grace is second to none, the parts of this story that stand out to me are the actions of the crowd.
It is easy for us to sit in judgement of those in the crowd and wonder how they could be so foolish to be caught up in a fit of blood thirsty rage that they stone Stephen to death. But what stands out to me is that they attack him in God's name. Stephen is put to death because his faith differed from theirs and they thought he was blaspheming God.
The crowd attacked and killed Stephen in the name of God. Tragically, this happens far too often in our history - even in our Christian history. We are far too willing to say we are putting on the armor of God and then wage battle with others.
The hymn says "They will know we are Christians by our love", but for many people they know we are Christians because of our hate - especially for those who are different than us.
That's not the type of faith that Jesus calls for us to have. We are not supposed to defend our beliefs with our fists; we are called to defend our beliefs on our knees in prayer and in sacrifice for one another.
That is not to say that we should not take action. We definitely should. But our actions should involve excessive grace - not violence.
In recent days we have witnessed the death of Osama bin Laden, and I have struggled to reconcile my feelings about his death.
On the one hand, I am relieved that he is no longer alive. He is responsible for the deaths of thousands, and to my knowledge never expressed repentance for his treacherous actions. I am hopeful that his death will allow us to bring our troops home and out of harm's way. I am hopeful that his death will mark the end of our nation's perpetual war.
I am also thankful that the "boogie man" in my 10-year old son Jake's life is no longer able to give him nightmares. Jake was 8 months old on 9-11 and has never known life without that fear.
However, I must admit that part of me is troubled by the joy I feel in my heart from the death of another human being -- even someone as despicable as Osama bin Laden. Vengeance is a powerful thing. It is seductive, and it is dangerous. I want no part of it.
Lord, help me to be more like Stephen. I pray that my enemies' hearts will be turned towards you, and I ask your forgiveness for those who have killed or sown seeds of hate in your name. Please forgive us all. Amen.