Lectionary Year A
April 28, 2002
Step VI - Contemporary Address
(JFC) A sermon from this passage might assist and inspire people in the pews prepare
responsibly to die as Christians whose death can witness to the resurrection believed in.
B. Describing the Audience
(JFC) This sermon could well fit in the congregation where I worship and am in the
process of becoming its Parish Associate. They are having a seminar in three parts this month and next on Death and Dying; 1) on wills and bequests, 2) on living wills, organ donations, etc., and 3) on planning funerals. This sermon could well fit in with this class.
C. Contemporary Address
(JFC) Sermon, entitled for this working draft, "Dying a Good Death"
Let's say you are planning your own death. Well, Stephen did it. He had only a few seconds to make his plans. You probably have at least a week or a month or a year or more. Seneca, the first century CE philosopher, noted, "The final hour when we cease to exist does not itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way." On our way, let's use Stephen's example to plan our deaths. Okay? Okay. First, of course, we start with God's part in our deaths. God is our God of life, of death and of resurrection, we often pray at funerals, recall. So, we consider God, first.
A. The text for this week names all three persons of the Christian God-head, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Both Baptism and the Lord's Supper are celebrated in the names of the Triune Persons of the Godhead. Sometimes it takes all three to reveal what God is up to.
B. Acts 7:55-60 declares that Stephen believes in a Forgiving Christ. He asks, as if it were necessary, for Christ to forgive those who take his life. Wonder what survivors of the tragedies of 9/11 are expecting, yea, even asking Christ to do with their wrong doers? We can plan our deaths with an emphasis on Christ's passion and death ransoming our lives eternity.
A. Next, we consider Stephen himself. Stephen died, although some translations say he fell asleep. Well, that idiom means what he did after being stoned - he died. We all will die, of course. Sometimes funeral services begin quoting Jesus' saying "All who live and believe in me will never die." Then, we admit, "Yet, (naming the deceased) died." Death is reality. We all die. Stephen did and so shall we. Therefore, Stephen's method of dying might provide for us a good, decent and orderly way to prepare for our death.
B. Then, with his last breaths, Stephen asked for forgiveness of the wrong-doers who perpetrated his death. Wonder what prayers of this nature we need to pray before we die. We do want to die in the kind of peace Stephen appears to have experienced at his death. Joseph Addison exclaimed once, "See in what peace a Christian can die." The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible paints a picture with these descriptive words, "the crazed mob's frenzy contrasts with the prophet's (Stephen's) calm confidence." We, too, can die in such peace, surely.
A. The self-righteous people in the city cast out Stephen. They objected to his witness of a Risen Christ. They were severely angry with him. They growled and ground their teeth at him. Perhaps they feared his witness/stories of a Risen Christ. Did they think ridding their time and place of the messenger would also rid them of the Message of the Gospel which tells of Christ's resurrection? We will die far from alone, surely. The Church stands for fellowship in times of life and of death, celebrated, both.
B. They stoned Stephen to death. They did wrong. Still, God made it alright in raising Stephen from death to life, to life everlasting. God promises to do the same thing for us, regardless of the mistakes we make, the wrongs we do, the things we forget to do, etc. Also, God leads the believers from Jerusalem throughout Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth from this point, beginning in the next chapter and even until today from which we go out into the world where we live and witness to a living Christ.
So, when we die, how shall we do it? Shall we use Stephen's model? Shall we realize God is with us through life, death and resurrection? Shall we recognize death as a doorway through which God leads us to LIFE everlasting? Shall we find forgiven sinners there with us, forgiven sinners, in heaven when we arrive? We can hope so, we can pray so, we can believe so.
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