St Stephen's Day

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Sermon: 

I wonder have you seen the film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?”

In it, a group of hard up British pensioners decide to spend their retirement at a hotel in India, where the cost of living and healthcare is cheaper.

Various escapades ensue, and the young Indian man who runs the hotel develops a saying:

“It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright yet, then it’s not yet the end.”

Today, the 26th December,  the Church celebrates St Stephen’s Day, and reads the account in Acts 7, of the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

The main thing that struck about this was what a horrible, way to die! And as mentioned in Acts, such senseless violence had been going on for generations before Stephen, with the murder of God’s messengers the prophets, and ultimately of course, of Jesus, the Son of God.

Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel chapter 10, is similarly dark, with Jesus sending out his disciples and predicting that they will be handed over to councils, flogged, dragged before governors and kings. That brother will betray brother to death, parents rise up against children and children against their parents.

Yesterday was Christmas Day, celebrating the wondrous incarnation of God into the world. Many of us enjoyed Christmas services, get togethers, special dinners, and presents. And now, just a day later, these readings seem a bit of a downer, threatening to burst that Christmas bubble of peace and goodwill to all…

The violence reflected here has continued to happen, throughout history to the present day. At times Christians have been the ones persecuted, and at other times they have been the aggressors.

People around the world today are persecuted and even killed for their religious beliefs, or because of their ethnicity or their sexuality, or for being brave enough to take a stand against injustice. Although much of the physical violence happens in far off countries, it happens here in the UK too.

And of course there’s that other devastating form of persecution, the so called ‘trolling’ on social media. Such bullying and online abuse can cause severe anxiety, depression and even suicide. And some of this is perpetrated in the name of Christianity…

In our country most Christians have it easier than Stephen, and are unlikely to be killed for their beliefs. But if brave enough to stand up for what is good, to witness to Christ in a society where there are still blocked ears and closed hearts - they may risk persecution.

So where is the Christian witness and hope in all of this bad news?

It is exactly where Stephen found it, as he was about to die - “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God!”

And it’s in Jesus, saying: “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…it will be given to you…for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of the Father speaking through you.”

So the challenge of St Stephen to the Church is at once simple but very difficult - to have the courage to bear witness, to Christ, to be Christ’s body here and now, even when it’s daunting and uncomfortable.

To cling on to the Christian hope that there will be a time when suffering will cease, when heaven will be opened to us, and God’s glory will be revealed. To know and remember that there is still, despite all the bad news, the deeper truth of God’s love, peace and goodwill.

And so we come back to the great wisdom of the manager of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, something that St Stephen knew in the depths of his soul:

“It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright yet, then it’s not yet the end.”

Questions:

  • Can you see any parallels between the story of Stephen and the story of Jesus?
  • How can you bear witness for Christ in the world?


Page last updated: 20th December 2021 11:48 AM
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