Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Judges 17:1-13, Acts 7:44-8:1a, John 5:19-29
Jazz musicians say the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do. In other words, a saxophone player improvising a riff is set apart by thoughtfully rejecting expectations and embracing alternative blank spaces.
The earliest Christians skipped a lot of notes.
Saint Stephen is widely recognized as Christianity’s first martyr. When he confronted the religious leaders of the Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem, Stephen reminded them how Israel had rejected the numerous prophets God had sent. He concluded by claiming Jesus was the latest, last, and worst example. The outraged leaders rushed him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him. Stephen’s last words were: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
What notes did Stephen skip? The ones that might have soothed the ears of the temple leaders. Though the tales provided a familiar framework, the unfamiliar presentation turned the Jewish people from the heroes of their own story into the villains. Jazz can elicit many emotions, including anger, but its message is for those who have ears to hear.
He also skipped notes of violence. Neither Stephen nor any apostles responded to violence or threats with anything but prayer, forgiveness, and further conviction to spread the gospel. This absence of retaliation was undoubtedly as conspicuous as entire bars of musical silence. We don’t have to build an argument for general pacifism to see that when the first Christians were about the business of representing Christ, they did so without violence or even the implication of it.
We are a culture accustomed to violence. The more closely we associate the church with government, the more blurred the line between the business of the world and the business of Christ becomes. But defending a nation or a home is not the same as defending the faith. Violence was not an option Christ chose; at the very least it should not be our first. We always have the option to strike a violent chord, but when we claim to be about the Lord’s work, it matters which end of the spear we are on.
Comfort: We follow the Prince of Peace.
Challenge: This week seek out news and media about non-violent solutions to issues which have traditionally involved violence.
Prayer: Lord of Love, may there be peace in my mind, peace in my heart, peace in my hands, and peace on my lips. Amen.
Discussion: Do you have any personal experiences with the transformative power of preaching the Gospel through peaceful means?
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