Homily for May 8

Stoning of Stephen by Peter Webb

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

The story of the death of Stephen, the first martyr,
may at first seem out of place in the Easter season
until we remember that this took place around 36. A.D.,
only 2-3 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That quickly, that soon, that early in the history of Christianity
do we find believers being persecuted for their faith
and in many instances,
being put to death for preaching the gospel.

Such a story might put us in mind of  those epic movies
where Christians are tortured in the Roman arena
and thrown to the lions to be devoured by them.

Or perhaps it will put us in mind of the 21 young Christian men
put to death on a beach, in Libya – just last year -
in a manner too gruesome to mention with youngsters present.

They were put to death for what they believed
and what they believed
is what you and I will profess that we believe
in just a few minutes when we recite the Creed.
These men died
 for the faith, for the Creed we profess every Sunday.

Like Stephen, their last words were words of faith.
As the executioners began their work,
the 21 men cried out, in unison,
Ya Rabbi Yasou!’” (O My Lord Jesus!)
Jesus was the last word on their lips, 
the last thought in their minds,
the last breath in their lungs,
 the last beat of their hearts.

And they were not alone.

According to watchdog groups,
there are 200 million Christians in the world today
living under the threat of physical violence, arrest,
imprisonment, torture - and death.

Because of the great scale of this persecution
and because its victims tend to be among the poor
 (who are already marginalized for other reasons),
anti-Christian persecution deserves to rank
as one of the greatest human rights issues of the day.

But as we know, other rights issues
get far more notice from the media - and from us -
than the plight of our brothers and sisters in Christ
around the world.

And to put this in some perspective, 200 million people
equals about 60% of the population of the United States.

It’s unlikely, however, that any of us will ever have to face
deciding between our life and our faith.
(And I hope and pray
that’s not just whistling in the dark on my part…)

But our brothers and sisters who do live with such persecution
set the standard, set the bar for us
and remind us of what our faith in Jesus asks of us.
Even if the ultimate sacrifice will never be required of us,
what sacrifices will we face,
indeed, what sacrifices are being asked of us even now?           

What Stephen did, what modern day martyrs are doing,
is to stand by their faith:
in the face of threat and danger,
in the face of embarrassment and humiliation,
in the face of going along to get along,
in the face of being ostracized
in the face of acknowledging to others
that our faith in Christ is more valuable to us
than most of what the world around us deems important.

Our persecuted brothers and sisters live, for the most part,
in foreign lands and they speak languages we don’t understand.

• Perhaps we can’t even imagine being asked
to put our lives on the line for the sake of our faith.

• Perhaps we too easily forget that he who gave his life for us
now asks, in different ways, for us to surrender
and allow our faith to shape and form our choices,
our decisions and our values and priorities.

- Perhaps Jesus, for whom others around the world
lay down their lives,
perhaps Jesus is asking us to consider how our faith informs
our daily living,
how we raise our children,
how we spend and invest our money,
what sides we take in politics,
how we resolve family problems,
how we seek and live the truth.

Stephen gave his life for the gospel and the name of Jesus
over 2,000 years ago.
Others are giving their lives for the gospel and Jesus’ name
even as we sit here today
in the safety and comfort of our church.

What are we willing to give, to surrender, to hand over
for the sake of the gospel and our Savior’s name,
in our lives, our families, in our work and our choices?

While denying their faith
might have saved those 21 young men in Libya,
they chose instead to cry out their savior’s name:
 Ya Rabbi Yasou!’” (O My Lord Jesus!)

Were they crazy? 
Were they religious fanatics? 
Were they deluded?

No.  They were saints, faithful to what they said they believed,
faithful to what we say we believe.

In the gospel today, at the Last Supper,
Jesus prays not only for his friends
but also for those who will believe in him
through their word…

The question for us is this:
Who will come to know Jesus
through our words? through our lives?
Who will come to believe in Jesus
through our faith, our fidelity, our loyalty to Christ?
Who will come to believe on the strength of our faith?

As he gave his life on the Cross,
so does Jesus share his life with us here,
at the table of his Supper, in his Body and Blood
given to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

May the food he offers us nurture a deeper faith in us
that we might surrender in faith to the message of the gospel
and to the name of our Savior:
 Ya Rabbi Yasou!’” (O My Lord Jesus!)

Icon of the 21 Martyrs in Libya by Tony Rezk


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