Stephen Deacon and Martyr

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Centuries before Boxing Day ever existed, and the shop-til-you-drop, three-ring-circus, mass hysteria consumerism dominated humankind; Christians remembered—and some still remember—Stephen on December 26.

You can read about him and his martyrdom in The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7:60. Long story short, he was stoned to death based on false charges of blasphemy. His final words were similar to those of Jesus on the cross; words of forgiveness and love for his executioners spoken as a prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Today as I remember Stephen and his martyrdom, I’m also mindful of my sisters and brothers in Christ particularly in Muslim-majority and communist nations. They are far too often persecuted and falsely charged of blasphemy and imprisoned or worse, wrongfully executed for their faith.

So, in solidarity with these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to pray with me today the following prayers in remembrance of Stephen and those imprisoned or on death-row solely because they are faithful Christians.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 54)

Lord Jesus, you experienced in person torture and death as a prisoner of conscience. You were beaten and flogged and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Be with them in their fear and loneliness, in the agony of physical and mental torture, and in the face of execution and death. Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains. Be merciful to the oppressor and the torturer, and place a new heart within them. Forgive all injustice in our lives, and transform us to be instruments of your peace, for by your wounds we are healed. Amen.

(Amnesty International, Prayer for Prisoners, Prayers for Peace)

Daily Prompt at Daily Post @ WordPress.com

The Daily Post at WordPress.com asks the following Daily Prompt question: Do you have a favourite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/daily-prompt-quote/

This is a tough question, since I have many favourite quotes. Plus I think as we journey through life, we hopefully keep growing and maturing in many and various ways—hence there are favourite quotes that we identify with in each stage of life.

At this stage in my life, there are a couple of quotes that are meaningful—especially in light of the increasing conflicts, wars, violence and hatred among various nations, religions, and civilizations. They are, the words of Jesus’ ‘higher way’ of all-encompassing love, and a related quote from Lutheran pastor and World War II prisoner in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Rev. Martin Niemoeller.

Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Martin Niemoeller said: “It took me a long time to understand that God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of God’s enemies.”

Both quotes point humankind to a reality above and beyond hatred, violence, war and conflict; where peace-shalom and non-violence prevail. A dream that we need to keep dreaming; a vision that we need to keep seeing; until, by the grace of God, it becomes reality.

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On loving our enemies

Today, I read an insightful devotion in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Night Prayer. I think it speaks to the world today—especially in light of the controversy in the U.S.A. around building an Islamic centre [some have called it a mosque] near the former twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and the proposed Koran burning by a Christian pastor in Florida. I’ve been following news coverage of these issues on the internet and have been dismayed by the number of angry people—Christian, Muslim, and others—who have threatened violent means of dealing with these issues and speak words of hatred toward one another. Instead of hatred and violence towards our neighbours and yes, even our enemies, the following words of wisdom make for a better way to live and work for a peaceful world where true religious freedom is respected in every nation.

 

   We are called to bless even our enemies. How much more should we pray a blessing on others in the Body of Christ!—especially those we disagree with, or who hold a different view from our own.

   If we ask a blessing on them it is up to God to decide what He can and cannot bless in what they are and what they are doing.

   We are not asked to understand each other first. If there are some elements in the church who really aggravate us it may be more useful to pray a blessing on them than to interact with a critical spirit. As we pray we begin to realize just how much God cares about them.

   We can pray blessings on non-Christian folk, too. It is like pouring glitter over a home-made Christmas card—wherever the glue-stick has prepared the card the glitter will stick, the rest only rolls off, and even a little of the glitter can be enough to spell out a clear message.