May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Sticks and Stones”
The word of the risen Christ spread quickly. The disciples needed help in caring for the widows and orphans. They choose Stephen. He is full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He not only helped in the distribution for the needy, he continued to proclaim the faith that was in him. He told of the resurrected Christ. He told that Jesus was the Righteous One and that He would come again. He told that the temple would be destroyed. For this, Stephen was stoned to death.
Stoning is not something that is common in our lives. Or is it? Is my life full of sticks and stones? Am I stuck in the mud? Not, “am I a stick in the mud?” a pejorative on all things old-fashioned. Not am I a stick, but am I stuck, stuck in the mud. It is a struggle when you are stuck in the mud. You might recall a time after a season of much rain, when the ground was softer than soft. And if the wheels of the car or truck left the pavement, if you were driving across the field, even for a tractor, the mud was it. Down you sank. That’s as far as you could go. It, and you, were stuck.
Other times you may have been standing on the side of the road. It’s been raining and there’s a puddle. You are where you are supposed to be, minding your own business. But a car comes by and splat! Their tires spin up mud on you. You and your clothes are covered with mud spots.
The prodigal son was stuck in the mud of the pigsty. He was not only stuck in the mud hole in the ground. He was stuck in the mud of his disobedience, the mire of his rebellion, and the muck of his foolish self-centeredness. He was stuck in mud of his own making. What mud am I stuck in? Is it mud of my own making? What mud have others splatted and sprayed onto me?
There’s not just mud. There are stones, too. That mud from others doesn’t just land on our clothes. It lands on our hearts. The longer it lays there, the harder, and drier, and crustier it gets. And not the mud only. It overtakes our hearts. They harden and petrify until they are stone hard. The smudge is now a grudge. The legitimate feelings of wounds and hurts have been infected with bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. Such a stone-hard heart is no trivial matter. “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5).
But God does not leave us with muddy garments and stony hearts. In Holy Baptism He has removed our hearts of stone. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:25-36). In that same Baptism, Christ Himself washes us. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Cleansed by Christ, and living in Himself, we can come boldly in prayer to the throne of grace, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22).
As the religious leaders were hurling stones at Stephen to kill him, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” His words were very like the words his Lord spoke on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” Stephen’s words were like Christ’s words because Christ was living in him. The forgiveness which Christ obtained by His death and resurrection created new life in Stephen. The new life of Christ in Stephen gave birth to a fountain of forgiveness. Forgiveness begets life, and life begets forgiveness.
In His death Christ opened an ocean of mercy for the whole world. We who have received that mercy, who live in His mercy, cannot help but to be merciful and forgiving towards others. Christ forgives so we forgive. The smudge does not become a grudge. He has forgiven us and removed our hearts of stone. Forgiveness begets life. And living as His people with His heart, we forgive others. Life begets forgiveness. The resurrection of Christ which is our resurrection, is for the Last Day, but it is not only for the Last Day. The resurrection of Christ is for today and for every day, that we may live to forgive as His chosen and redeemed people.
For Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ shall come again. Amen.
S. D. G.