Summary: Stephen’s martyrdom as a Thanksgiving sermon
God’s Story: Experiencing Biblical Community
A 4 year old boy was asked to return thanks before Thanksgiving dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking the Lord for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked the Lord for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his Aunts and Uncles. Then he began to thank the Lord for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the cool whip. Then he paused, and everyone waited….and waited.
After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, “If I thank the Lord for the broccoli, won’t He know that I’m lying?”
Gene Perrett suggests that we have more things to be thankful about than we realize. For example:
1. "Be grateful for automatic dishwashers. They make it possible for mother to get out of the kitchen before the kids come back for between-meal snacks.
2. "Be grateful for husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house. They usually make them big enough to call in professionals who’ll do it right.
3. "Be grateful for children who put away their things & clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy to have around that you hate to see them go home to their own parents.
4. "Be grateful for teenagers. They give parents an opportunity to learn a second language.
5. "And at Thanksgiving, be grateful for smoke alarms. They let you know when the turkey’s done."
Last week in my family group, we celebrated thanksgiving together with a wonderful feast. After dinner, I asked this question: “When did God become really real to you?” The normal way to phrase that question is, “When did you become a Christian?”, which is an excellent question, and which will usually result in an incredible story of how God began to work in someone’s life, but I’ve never been accused of being normal, so sometimes I like to phrase it a little differently: “when did God really become real to you?” For almost the next hour, we went around our circle sharing stories of faith, examples of God’s goodness and faithfulness, testimonies of God doing incredible, amazing things – and we were moved. I don’t at all mind sharing that at the end, my spirit was full of gratitude and thanks to God for all He has done in the lives of people I love.
As I read Scripture, I find that the Israelites were pretty good at looking back at their history and praising God for His faithfulness – at reciting together all that God had done. We see part of that in our passage this morning. I wonder if we shouldn’t make that more of a priority for thanksgiving – to retell the story of what God has done in our lives, leading into our expression of thanks.
Our text for this morning is certainly an unusual one for thanksgiving – it is the story of the martyrdom of Stephen. The story begins in Acts 6:8, and continues to the end of chapter 7. In the middle of that narrative, we read of Stephen reciting the history of Israel – he starts with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, spends a little time on Joseph, then a fair bit of time on Moses, and gets as far as David and Solomon before really making his point. The entire speech is too long to read this morning, so I’m going to begin at 6:8, skip over most of the Stephen’s defense, and then read the end of chapter 7. read 6:8-7:1; then 7:48-60.
Sometimes, things don’t always go the way we think they should. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, doing great things for the Kingdom of God, giving a great testimony about who God is and who Jesus is before the Jewish leaders. And he loses his life – he is martyred for the cause of Jesus.
Maybe that story seems a little incongruent with the theme of today – thanksgiving. At least on the surface, but let me point out several things that might help make the connection.
1. Obedience to God provokes opposition:
The central theme of our faith is that Jesus is Lord, which means He is in control, He is the boss of our lives, we seek to live in obedience to Him and not in pursuit of the desires of our flesh. And in one way, I can sum up Stephen’s defense to the Sanhedrin by saying that he declared that God is not limited or fixed to certain places – God is not contained in a box that we manage – and that Jesus is Lord over all. Stephen was obedient to God in making this declaration, and he paid for that obedience with his life.