We have been following how Stephen, one of the first deacons, formed his faith statement as one of the early followers of Jesus. He was recognized as being full of wisdom and the Spirit of God so was chosen to help in the fair distribution of food for the widows. False charges against him bring him to trial at the Sanhedrin, the top Jewish body. He is accused of not honoring the Temple and the Mosaic Law. Perhaps it was seen as similar to the charges of misinformation and instigation of riots that many feel threatens the base of democracy today. Many people were very irate at Stephen even as we are upset with violence today.
Stephen presents a faith statement that we often let our eyes slide over as it all seems like ancient history. Stephen starts with Abraham, called by God to leave his country of birth, to birth a new nation, the people of Israel. We thought of our own “conversion stories.” Through generations from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph and eventually Moses, the nation grows. Even as God told Abraham, the family went into captivity in Egypt for 400 years and eventually were led to the Promised Land through Moses. Stephen has told the story accurately, highlighting historical facts known to all. Today Stephen’s speech comes to the point.
Moses went up Mt. Sinai to received the Mosaic Law but the people waiting at the base of the mountain, create a gold calf, an idol. Idolatry is the breaking of the first and most important commandment, love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. We know the second is like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The people turned to a golden calf, an idol, and could not wait for God to reveal his plan. Not only that but in the wilderness Moses was given the plans for the Tabernacle, the mobile worship center that went with the people until the permanent Temple was built under David and Solomon in Jerusalem. Stephen is saying that the present Jewish leaders have taken the Temple and objectified it and made it into idol. The Temple has become a Golden Calf. That’s it folks. His fate is determined and the crowd will stone him.
The question for us as we reflect on our faith history is to ponder if we have taken any aspect of our faith tradition and made it into an idol. On the larger scale we can clearly see all the denominational divisions and points of identity that we cling to and that divide people. On the personal level, it is good to periodically sit before the Lord in prayer and ask if there are ways we have made practice more important than presence? Have we created idols in our life that rival our love for God and demand devotion that robs the devotion of our souls for God? As we draw near to July 4th and rejoice at our freedoms that we are arguing about so much now, I might ask God if my values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have compromised my willingness to submit to his will. “Lord, if there are any idols in my heart, reveal them to me that I may repent and draw closer to thee. Forgive any ways that I may have become sloppy in my devotion to you. Thank you for forgiveness.” Blessings.