What would you write in your finals days

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Theology in the Trenches

As I normally write my columns a month ahead, they do not necessarily line up seasonally as to when you read them. For example, by the time you read this, it will be February. But the reality is, I’m writing this the final day of the year and thus my thoughts flow random like and randomly you receive them. Today, as I made my way downstairs, wondering how the final day of the year would play out…a question began to form.

If it were the final day of writing to you, what would my words hold?

What prompted this thought was my reading about St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. When he woke that day, little did he know it would be his last.

Those who may not know, Stephen was stoned to death. He was discussing his faith openly to those who didn’t like what he had to say. That’s about it. What he said angered them and thus, they did away with him because they could.

“Stephen was a persuasive preacher with an impressive grasp on the Hebrew Scriptures (Acts 7). He had the faith to perform miracles, the sensitivity to care for poor widows, and the talent to manage community finances. But most important, he was highly regarded as a man ‘filled with the Spirit and wisdom’ (6:3). The Sanhedrin who did the condemning saw light shining through him, which the author of Acts interpreted as a sign of his holiness (6:15)” (Elliott, Kathryn. “Bringing Heaven to Earth.” The Word Among Us, Advent. 2019.)

“Stephen was unlike the other apostles, who were Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews. He was likely a Jew of the Diaspora—meaning that he spoke Greek. This made him a natural choice to help out the newly baptized Jews who had come to Jerusalem from Greek-speaking regions outside of Palestine. In the earliest days of the Church, the Greek-speaking believers tended to lead separate lives from the Hebrew-speaking majority—mostly due to language and cultural barriers” (Elliott).

Because of this gap in language, many Greek speaking widows were left out of the Jerusalem church’s distribution of alms at the end of the year. This problem was brought to the attention of the twelve apostles and they appointed Stephen to help “fill-the-gap” so to speak.

His stoning took place because of a courageous sermon he gave about the passing nature of the great Jewish Temple (Acts. 7:48-49). This sealed his fate.

When we think of Stephen, what is it we focus on? Do we focus on the great divide between Stephen and his accusers? Do we focus on who was right or who was wrong? In the end, Stephen, like Jesus, focused on something else. They both chose to focus on the persecutors by praying for them. Jesus and Stephen went a step further in prayer by asking that those who were doing the persecuting be forgiven. That was new to the thought process in that day…and perhaps just as rare today.

The words of Jesus we remember well, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). But most don’t remember that Stephen prayed likewise, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:60).

So what would my parting words be to all who read this if this were the final column? My words would come in the form of questions.

Do I persecute? Am I able to pray like Jesus for those who persecute to be forgiven? How am I called to proclaim the Gospel, and in what form has He gifted me to do that? Am I living surrounded by community which will help spur me on while reaching out? What stones have I thrown by way of mere murmuring that takes away life? Am I, like Jesus, praying upon bended knee within whatever garden He has placed me? Knowing that His Word brings life and Light to a world that would rather not hear, am I listening?

In the end, may our prayers be Christ like as we pray, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

And we are only able to pray as such because of Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Amen.

Kathleen Kjolhaug lives outside of Clear Brook, Minn., with her husband Pete and their six children. She can be reached by email at wemenews@gvtel.com.