Earth stones. May 14th, 2017. Based on Acts 7.51-60.
A young child, barely two, wraps her small arms around the legs of her mother.
Her face hides behind the water blue cloth of her mother’s dress.
Her mother is barely 18.
A boy of nearly four sits near this mother’s feet, running his fingers through the dirt that surrounds the city square. A young man has just been dragged into the middle of the square.
Hundreds of people have stood by and watched.
His clothes hang from him like worn out rags, barely covering the blood coming from wounds freshly inflicted. Some skin on his face folds down onto one cheek, exposing raw flesh.
Dirt is in his fingernails, his teeth, his eyes and his skin.
The child remains behind her mother’s dress, but her mother’s eyes never leave the young man. It is her Stephen.
Married only a few years with such hopes as, leaving her parent’s home and building a new one on a small plot of land, just enough to grow olives and grain. A place for their daughter and son to work and play and grow. But now they will be alone and destitute. Stones are being passed around and are about to finish off her Stephen and she can only watch.
Like Stephen she too had hoped for a revival of their faith. The new Judaism, a place safe for her children and her children’s children. A place that was shared equally with all; Roman, Jew, Phoenician, Greek, Syrian, Samaritan and Egyptian. No more oppressors, no more imbalance of power. A real community! What an idiot she has been. Her hopes, her radical ideas, her faith in a new way has led to the torture and execution of her Stephen.
It should be her in the square. But the authorities, especially the traitor Saul wanted Stephen. His reign of terror has only just begun. How many more will be stoned simply because they believe in a better way?
From outside the square she watches as the stones begin to hurl from the hands of her people. She falls onto her knees and weeps between the faces of her two young children.
Who have we stoned in our lives because they did not fit into our way of thinking, our way of doing things?
How many rocks have left our hand, heading right for the heart of another human being? Our stones are often words, gossip, accusations that have the power to destroy people.
I wonder if we realize this when these stones come out of our mouths.
Imagine Stephen’s wife as she watched her husband stoned till he died.
What does it feel like to watch someone you care deeply for being demoralized by others, sometimes hurt beyond recovery.
We can cause a lot of damage with our stones.
Stephen’s wife never recovered from that day. She loved him so very, very much. Watching him die, slowly, painfully without a hand of love nearby or a gentle sound of caring for his ear, broke her soul, just as the stones broke Stephen’s body.
The stones we throw sometimes hit more than just the person were aiming at.
Scripture tell us Stephen is the first person to be martyred in the new faith. For the people of 1st century Palestine, it was the beginning of a tortuous legacy that continues today. This first stone raised in judgment began yet another reign of terror that has seen Christian persecute Christian as well as every other nation, race and community on our planet. One act of malice changed the face and hope of a new faith that had so much potential. Now, over two thousand years later we struggle to understand who we really are in this world, how we can help heal the brokenness that abounds and how can we better serve the God whose flame burns in each of us.
Today we understand our Earth and God to be imbued with the same Creating Spirit, the flame of life in each of us. All that is born from this Creating Spirit is sacred and each stone thrown in malice or judgment, hits the face of God and our Earth.
So many of our brothers and sisters have been bruised by the stones of ill treatment and persecution. Servants such as:
Dr. Martin Luther King.
the Dalai Lama and
Jesus of Nazareth, all have born the bruises from stones cast in hate, ignorance and intolerance.
Stephen is just one of the millions of unlucky servants whose altruistic sensibility got in the way of the current power and entitlement mindset of the day. Neither God or this awesome planet of ours condones this kind of sacrifice.
Their very nature as intertwined Creators does not justify or promote cruelty.
The stones we have today in our hands are new stones.
Stones of our earth that play no part in the evil we have used them for. They are not meant to bring down another, to divide or to wound in anyway. These stones are new words, a new language that speaks with kindness, tolerance and honesty.
Our God and our Earth live in these stones and in the hands that hold them.
They are pleading with us to see them not as moral weapons, but as a sign of hope.
These stones are a reminder of our legacy. Of Stephen and his family who wanted only a new community where all people could belong. Whose differences could teach and whose similarities could knit them together.
When one person puts down the stones, often others follow.
But sadly, it also works the other way.
It was so hard for the people of 1st century Palestine to accept a new way of seeing, that they murdered members of their community. Change is very difficult, but it is our legacy, one that we will not escape from.
The Christ we have each come to cherish in our own way wanted to revive a tired faith. Is our faith any less tired today? How would Jesus respond to the state our faith is in today? Would he throw stones at the people who are looking at renewal, innovation or change? If we are to practice the real traditions of our faith like love, mercy, justice, acceptance and self-giving, in what ways can we use these new stones to rebirth the things that are essential to our discipleship?
We have all suffered enough, our Earth, our God, every one of us.
Division, war, cruelty and inhumanity can become a thing of our past.
It may take an awfully long time to reach a place without these things, but do not doubt it for a moment; this is where we are heading.
A place where stones tell the story of how God so loved the Earth and all her Creatures that those who once sought to destroy it through ignorance and fear, learned through grace, acceptance and compassion, how to save it.