Signpost for Sunday 14 May 2017 (5TH Sunday of Easter):m Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14.
We had a public lecture at Christ Church last Friday (and may we have many more such opportunities here in the north). I could tell by its weighty title “Understanding the concept of God: some alternatives to the personal omniGod” that it was going to be a bit beyond me, as it surely was. How many Signpost readers can put their hand on their heart and declare that they know the meaning of the word “euteleology”? Those who can impress me rather as Paul W. was impressed last week by the Jewish boys who memorised the whole of the Torah. So as an unscholarly (wo)man-in-the-pew, I am happy to learn from what all sorts of other people have commented on this week’s deeply theological Gospel passage and turn to the simple narrative of the Acts reading.
I’ve never given much thought to Stephen. He’s the man after whom the church behind the airport was named. He’s the man on whose Feast Day Good King Wenceslas set out to brave deep snow and the wind’s wild rage to bring food and wine to the poor wood-gatherer. More seriously he’s known as the first deacon, and, more seriously still, the first Christian martyr. But read the text again with a little more application, and he’s Christ-like. I can imagine a Bible study group being divided into teams and asked to list the number of similarities in Acts 6, 7 and 8:1-2 between the lives and more especially the deaths of Stephen and Jesus. Try it.
Today’s reading introduces Saul to the Christian story and we find it incomprehensible that God would choose such a misguided zealot to carry out his purposes. A human selection panel would certainly have found Stephen himself a more likely candidate. Saul was accorded the mountain-top experience to end them all, but as he journeyed that Damascus road just possibly he was pondering the holiness of Stephen’s death when … we all know what happened.
Saul’s experience was of God, a tremendous gift that few receive. A blinding conversion (literally), but not a magic trick. It had to be worked through for some weeks before he could become – well, before he could become Paul. And so it is, to one degree or another, for us lesser Christians.