We are drawing very near to the beginning of a New Year. What resolutions or sacrifices will you make in 2014? The gospel for this day speaks of "killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent." Saint Stephen is recognized as the first martyr of Christianity; he was stoned to death because he fiercely denounced the Jewish authorities for their part in the crucifixion of Jesus. His sacrifice was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee who later became an apostle and one of the great missionaries of the church (see the story in Acts 7:54-8:1).
I write this while deployed as a chaplain to Kandahar, Afghanistan, a land of rocky landscapes and twisty roads, and a culture with equaled unrest. I wonder, how do we humans make the uninhabitable suitable? How do we till rocky hearts to receive the infant child of Bethlehem? What sacrifices do we make to honor God, and bring blessings upon ourselves and others? The answer, in part, lies in sifting out our sometimes stony compassion, leveling our self-pride, and laying down instead an unwavering course of service and justice.
As you prepare for the New Year, may God bless you as you make your paths straight through self-sacrifice and service to others. Amen.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the opportunity to lay down our lives, in the spirit of Saint Stephen, as a witness to your saving grace and in service to our neighbor. May you strengthen our faith this coming year to make straight our paths. In your most merciful name we pray. Amen.
Matthew 23:34-39 (NRSV)
34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town,
35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
37 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
38 See, your house is left to you, desolate.
39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"