Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Faith and Violence

Act 7:54  When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55  But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56  "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 57  But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58  Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59  While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60  Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

Like Jesus, Stephen was offering an opportunity for spiritual renewal within the faith of the people of Israel. But the guardians of the faith refused to listen to him: “they covered their ears and ...rushed together against him”. Tragically this difference of opinion led to Steven’s death.

This seems to be a recurring pattern in human history. All too often differences of religious belief result in violence, bloodshed, and even death. A close study of each of these Abrahamic religions will show that at their core they teach love and respect. However, followers of these faiths have perverted their beliefs into the language of war. Christians lead crusades against infidels and heretics, Muslims declare jihad against the kafir, and Jews persecute the pagan gentiles  who are called acum.

When you and I are tempted to insult someone of a different faith, let us remember St. Stephen, who was killed because he dared to believe something different.  I follow the Jesus-way of peace, which includes giving space to other people to practice their faith in ways that are different from mine. Today’s challenge for Jesus-followers is to commit ourselves to respecting Muslim and Jew, Heretic, Agnostic and Atheist, as part of our human family.

Are you afraid of what's going on
Right before our very eyes, people losing their lives
It's not a matter of right or wrong
Everyone who's alive has the right to survive
We're all in this together, my friend
Our indifference must end

We're calling out to you, wherever you may be
Everybody take responsibility
This world was made for you and it was made for me
All of us are part of the human family

Fourth Sunday after Trinity
35 The Cost of Servanthood
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 219.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

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