Reading: Acts 7:44-53

Reflection: Last year we visited Stephen’s story a few times. We learned how he was chosen to be one of the deacons who were appointed to distribute food so that the apostles could focus on teaching and prayer. We learned how he was arrested, tried and executed by stoning, making him the first Christian martyr. Today we listen to a small section of the sermon Stephen preached at his trial. These words were responsible for his death. Stephen did not “sugar coat” his confrontation with the religious leaders, and his challenge made them angry, resulting in the sentence of death.

But, of course, this sequence of events was an important part of Paul’s journey to faith. Stephen’s witness (which is what the word “martyr” means) sowed a seed into Paul’s heart, it seems, which finally bore fruit on the road to Damascus. In this section of Stephen’s sermon, the focus is on David’s desire to build God a Temple. Although the Temple was finally built, Stephen reminds the religious leaders that God needs no Temple. The reason Stephen points this out is that he had been accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the Temple, and he was addressing the idolatry which had arisen around the building.

Today, Stephen’s declaration that heaven is God’s throne and earth is God’s footstool is a reminder that God does not fit into our boxes of nationality, religiosity, or locality.  How can you open your heart to embrace the world as God’s home, and all people – especially the ones you struggle to love – as loved by God?

Practice for Today: One of the reasons we are called to pray for the nations of the earth is because it reminds us that God loves, and is concerned for, all people. This is the Good News of Epiphany, and the truth that all Christ-followers must embrace.

Today, offer prayers for all the suffering and rejected people of the earth.

Prayer for Today: God of the nations, may your grace and love bring healing to all people who are rejected and suffering. f