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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

“The Story We’re In” (Acts 1:1-11)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

(Worshiping by streaming due to “stay-at-home” order/COVD-19)

The ascension jesus Royalty Free Vector Image - VectorStock

            Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and rose from the grave.  No one witnessed the resurrection.  Very early on the Sunday morning after Passover, some of his female followers made there way to the tomb to discover it empty.  An earthquake occurred as an angel rolled aside the great stone sealing the tomb.  Ignoring the trembling Roman soldiers, he reassured these women that Jesus had been resurrected (Matthew 28:2-5). 

            Spectacular as this encounter was, the women did not actually see the resurrection.  No one did.  They arrived, and the tomb was already empty.  Before the women came, the guards had no idea anything might have changed.  But it had. 

            The gospels each offer their own vantagepoint on the resurrection.  Only one of the gospel writers offers a sequel.  Luke, who wrote the third Gospel is the author of Acts.  Both the gospel and Acts are written as a remembrance sent to a friend named Theophilus. 

            Acts begins, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles” (Acts 1:1-2).  With these opening remarks, Luke signals that a new chapter is beginning in the story of God’s salvation of the earth and all people from sin, death, and destruction.  The most celebrated holidays of contemporary Christianity are Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and Easter, the resurrection.  Neither is mentioned in these two verses opening Acts. 

            Luke will not overlook these seminal events, and, in fact, Luke’s gospel is the primary scripture source for most of our Christmas hymns.  But, when he summarizes the story in just a few line and signals where the story is headed, he refers back to Jesus’ teachings, describes the ascension, and anticipates Pentecost. 

            To prevent any confusion, Jesus appeared to the disciples, numbering about 120 (Acts 1:5), including the women, the 12, and his own brothers who became his followers after he was raised.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul reports that the resurrected Jesus appeared before a gathering of 500 believers (15:6).  In these numerous appearances, called ‘proofs’ by Luke, Jesus taught about life in His kingdom.  Jesus’ resurrection was fully embodied; when he was with his disciples, he ate and, at times, invited them to touch him (Acts 1:3). 

When we are raised, we don’t know if we will need to eat or not; but we know Jesus most definitely did take in food, and do other things that indicate his raised body was indeed flesh, but flesh of a different nature than before the resurrection.  We believe, our resurrected bodies will be like his. 

He told the disciples they were to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.  He wasn’t specific about this promise and they really didn’t understand what he meant, as their follow-up question shows.  He was talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit, but they asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (1:6)?

Why is that the wrong question?  First, in asking it, they forget that he has already said they would not know the times, so they needed to be ready all the time.  Second, the question reveals a serious distance between what God cares about and what was on the minds of these followers of Jesus.  God is God of the entire world.  Everyone everywhere is mercilessly enslaved to sin, powerless to break free.  The disciples asked about Israel when God had laid out before them the world.  Jesus had not come to make Israel the leading military power in the ancient near east.  He came to save the world.

This dissonance leads to a third indication of misunderstanding.  For Israel to be restored in the sense the disciples asked about, it would mean Rome had to be thrown out of the nation, probably by force, and the Herod dynasty would need to be deposed and replaced by a descendant of David.  The disciples assumed Jesus’ next move was to assume the throne.  Not only did they lack his global vision, they also failed to understand the thoroughly different nature of his kingdom. 

What happened next would set the course for the age of the church – the age in which we now live.  Noting that their question revealed how distant the disciples’ mindset was from Jesus’ agenda, it is worth a moment’s pause for us to examine our own perspective.  Are we, like they, asking the wrong questions?

As followers of Jesus, are we concerned about the salvation of the world and the expansion of God’s kingdom?  Or do we give our attention to more parochial concerns?  If we are driven by our desire for greatness of Hillside church, our priorities are in the wrong place.  If nationalism or patriotism are what motivates us, we are way off track.  Nationalism and patriotism are stumbling blocks that make it hard for us to see the Kingdom of God because we get locked in our heads the untruth that America is in some way God’s chosen nation.  It’s not!  The movement in Acts, as we will shortly see is outward, with a heavenly pull.  No nation – not Israel, not Rome, not America – serves God’s purposes.  So, if nationalistic fervor is what propels us in life, we’re headed in the wrong direction. 

To be the people of God, we must guard against seeking the grandeur of our church; rather as a church, we seek to expand the kingdom.  We guard against tying our hopes to any nation; instead, we hear God calling us to spread the Gospel in America because like every individual and every people, America needs the salvation only Jesus offers.   Is now the time?  Is now our time?  These were the wrong questions for the disciples.  We don’t want to get stuck on the wrong questions.

Jesus repeated what he had told them in his sermon on the Mount of Olives before he was crucified.  “It is not for you to know the times the Father has set” (1:7).  Then Jesus anticipates Pentecost and gives the Great Commission.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and empowered in that way, fueled by enduring love, endless mercy, compassion, and deep wellsprings of grace, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).  There’s no room to worry about God’s long-term plans for Israel.  They will be Spirit-filled.  Spirit-filled they will then head out, East, West, South, and North.  They will keep moving, talking to whomever they meet about the love of God revealed in Jesus.  They will baptize whoever is willing.  And they won’t stop.

I’ve mentioned several ideas that might seem hard to grasp if thought of as theological doctrines: resurrection, Great Commission, Pentecost. However, we can make sense of this by seeing these as moments in a story – a story we’re in.  The resurrected Jesus assures that when we die, we will, like him, will be resurrected.  Our raised bodies are heavenly bodies destined to live in love and joy with God forever. 

Before that time comes, we, like the disciples in Acts 1, are sent out in the Great Commission.  No matter who you are or who I am, once we give our lives to Jesus, we have a life mission.  We are to love others in his name, with grace, and we are to tell others about the salvation he gives.  Pentecost, which we’ll look at next week, is the story of the Holy Spirit filling believers, encouraging us, and enabling us to know God, and empowering us to share our testimony. 

We know the story is in a new phase in verse 9.  “As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  This is the Ascension.  Jesus’ physical, touchable body rose.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking he rose up into the atmosphere and is out there in space somewhere beyond the reaches of our solar system.  It says he was taken on a cloud out of sight because that’s the language Luke had to describe the indescribable.  Jesus didn’t rise into the sky the way a plan does.  He traveled to another realm, outside the confines of our physical universe.  Heaven is a physical place.  It is a place, but one that operates by different physical laws – a world we really don’t have words to depict.  Luke did the best he could.

Also, this departure did not produce what we might think it would in the disciples.  They weren’t sad and did not grieve Jesus’ departure.  In Luke 24:52, it says they had “great joy.”  Somehow, they understood that for the mission to go forward, Jesus had to depart.  His ascension sets up one more point of doctrine that again, we treat as a key story point: The Second Coming. 

To review, the ascension shows, that resurrection is embodied and heaven is a physical place, even if very different than here.  The ascension signals that the age of the church has begun and we have an outward, inviting mission.  The ascension marks our lives with anticipation.  We long for the departed Jesus to return even as we celebrate our relationship with God in the present Holy Spirit. 

The rest of Acts amplifies the commission to Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth.  Peter will enter the home of a Gentile in order to baptize him into Christ.  The disciples will broker peace between Hebrew and Hellenist Jewish widows.  Philip will baptize an Ethiopian Jewish proselyte who will in turn carry the Gospel to Africa.  Paul will take numerous journeys to Greek and Latin speaking cities in order to preach Jesus and lead people to him.  Through prayerful discernment, the original disciples, themselves all Jews, will conclude that gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. 

What questions are we asking God?  Are we asking about our church, our town, or our individual lives?  Or, are we asking him to help us grow in faith and expand our witness to the Gospel of Jesus?

In what ways are we removing obstacles to faith so that people who don’t currently know Jesus can become his followers?  How are we embodying his love?  To whom are we reaching out.  The story of Jesus is the story of the salvation of the world.  This is the story we are in, each and every one of us.


Monday, May 18, 2020

"Sharing the Gospel in our Town" (Acts 17:22-31)

Acts 17:22-31 homily - YouTube

Sunday, May 17, 2020
*This message will be broadcast by Facebook and Instagram Live and posted to Youtube, but will not be preached to a live audience.  We – America, the world – are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis which is causing people all over the world to avoid gathering in groups of larger than 10, and diligently maintain “social distance.”  It’s an effort to curb the rapid, worldwide spread of the Corona virus which can be deadly.

            “Can the Gospel hold its own in the sophisticated, intellectual environment of a university town?”[i]  Our church is planted in Chapel Hill, home of the flagship school in North Carolina’s system of public institutions of higher learning.  Our home, Hillside Church’s home, is the home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.  By faith, we believe we have inherited the commission the resurrected Jesus gave his disciples whom he told, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 
Chapel Hill, North Carolina is quite far from Jerusalem.  Our home is one of the far ends of the earth.  God has planted us here to speak our testimony that Jesus is Lord, that in him the Kingdom of God has come near, and that all people can receive forgiveness of sins and have life in his name.  Does this message, this good news, hold up especially in a center of erudite learning like Chapel Hill?
Paul preached the Gospel first to Jews and then to Greeks in Thessalonica.  Some heard him and believed in Jesus.  Many others violently opposed his message.  Before harm came to him, the Thessalonian believers hurried him out of town and escorted him to Beroea.  He preached Jesus there and it started well; however, the Thessalonians who were angry with Paul followed him.  They stirred up trouble in Beroea.  The believers again had to hurry Paul out of town. 
He was ushered to Athens, where once again, he preached Jesus and the resurrection.  Athens was a very different city.  By the first century AD, Athens, once the crown jewel of Greece was well past its prime.[ii]  Still, philosophy reigned in the public thought of the citizenry as the city proudly stood on its fading glory.  The Athenians didn’t beat Paul up like his opponents in Thessalonica and Beroea.  They questioned him.  
When Paul preached the resurrection of Jesus, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers became confused.  They thought Jesus was one god and resurrection the name of another.  They did not know the one, Jesus, and they rejected the god ‘Resurrection.’  They called Paul a ‘babbler.’  But, these particular Athenians, like gadflies buzzing around campus, found themselves addicted to hearing new ideas that they might adopt the new or topple it.  Thus, the opening question.  Could the Gospel hold up in this intellectual environment?
At UNC this question about the Gospel’s staying power has been answered in different ways.  For several generations, there has been a street preacher who daily takes up his post in the “pit,” an area on campus surrounded by restaurants and the bookstore.  It’s where students hang out.  The Pit Preacher at UNC scorches passersby with damning threats of hellfire if they don’t repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.  With invectives laced with scripture references and ominous warnings, he uses confrontation as his strategy for leading people to Jesus.
It rarely works.  He’s considered a caricature.  Tar Heels going back many generations joke about the “Pit Preacher.”  One exception is Lon Solomon, founder of McClean Bible church in Northern Virginia, just outside of DC.  At one time, that congregation was one of the largest in America.  Solomon described himself as pot-smoking child of the 70’s who attended UNC, heard the Pit Preacher and accepted Jesus.  He gave up drugs, became a pastor, and was one of America’s most renowned church leaders in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  That example aside, the aggressive rantings of the Pit Preacher usually inspire eye rolls and mockery more than faith. 
Contrast that approach with Paul’s witness in Athens.  Instead of diving in with condemnations, Paul takes in his surroundings.  Fresh off witnessing efforts in Thessalonica and Beroea that nearly brought him bodily harm, Paul approaches the Athenians with a much softer hand.  It’s not that he fears for his own safety.  Paul frequently faced violence with little regard for his own wellbeing.  It’s just that in Athens, he took a different tack because he thought the more ecumenical, intellectual strategy would be effective. 
The bottom line is helping people give their lives over to Jesus.  When you or I bear witness to the Gospel, we have to keep in mind our own personality and style.  We have to be mindful of the needs and temperament of our audience.  And, we have to know our context.  Paul was an intellectual talking to intellectuals in an environment where the exchange of ideas was expected and encouraged. 
In Thessalonica and Beroea, Paul was a Jew among Jews in a Jewish place of worship.  In those cities, with the Jewish audience, he talked about the way Jesus fulfilled the messianic scriptures (17:2, 11-12).  With that approach, some in those cities became Christians after hearing Paul preach.  Other wanted to kill him.
In Athens, the results were similar; some become believers, while others remain scoffers.  Consider his approach.  He begins, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way” (v.22).  Ultimately, he’s going to tear their religion down, but before doing so, he acknowledges their faithful commitment to what they believe.  There’s something respectable about devotion, even misguided devotion and he shows them that he can see and respect that.
Next, he finds a point of connection.  When the Pit Preacher angrily names the sins of people stopping to gawk at him, they aren’t usually convicted by the Holy Spirit.  They are amused or annoyed.  Paul notices one of the statues, one of the idols on display at the Areopagus, the altar dedicated to the “Unknown God.”
Paul tells them he knows this ‘unknown god.’  It is the very God he proclaimed earlier, made manifest in Jesus.  But he doesn’t get to that yet.  Here, he appeals to their reason by discussing natural theology.   The unknown God is the creator of the world and everything in it, every man, woman, and child.  The Athenians can reject Paul’s premise.  But they understand it.  He has made his case on their terms.  Having done so, he expands his argument. 
This unknown god, creator of all that is, cannot possibly be contained by idols or shrines, or anything made by human hands.  On the contrary, this god Paul claims to represent is the one who gives breath and life.  From this claim, Paul moves to the unity among human beings that is grounded in our shared nature.  We are, each one of us, created beings, created by this god Paul knows but is unknown to the Athenians. 
Furthermore, this god has created the world in such a way that all people, of all cultures, will search for him.  We all have a built-in yearning for god.  This “Unknown God” statue is the Athenians’ attempt to find this god of which Paul speaks.  Every person on earth seeks this god.  It is our human nature to seek God, and, says Paul, God can be found.  How?
With a stroke of rhetorical genius, Paul quotes two Greek poets.  Normally Paul would quote Old Testament prophets, but normally Paul is speaking to a Jewish audience.  These Athenian Greeks would stare with blank-faced ignorance if Paul appealed to the Psalms or Isaiah or Deuteronomy.  So, he doesn’t.  He combines lines from Epimenides and Aratus.  “In him we live and move and have our being.  We too are his offspring.” Paul understands these Greek poets differently than his listeners do, but they will, at the very least, appreciate that he has taken time to learn their culture and speak to them in ideas familiar to them.
Thus, Paul stands among a people who build statues of gods, undercuts the practice of using statues to represent gods, and does so in the language and the logic of those who erected the statues in the first place.  Then he calls for a decision.  “God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, [but] now he calls all people everywhere to repent” because judgment is at hand” (17:30-31a).
The time to blindly grope for God through idol worship and philosophical prattle is over.  God has set the day of judgment and commissioned the man who will be the judge.  Remember, he’s already spoken about Jesus.  Greeks believed the soul is immortal but the body dies.  In Jesus, Paul shows the Athenians, that in fact, God has come among us in bodily form, and was killed and rose from the grave. 
Paul’s final point is the one he intends to be remembered.  The resurrection is not the name of a god.  The resurrection is an event that happened after God in human flesh was crucified.  He rose.  The resurrection is the sign that God has defeated both sin and death.  To share in God’s victory and be assured of our own resurrection, we human beings have to repent of our sins and turn in faith to Jesus.  It took a bit of maneuvering to get there, but finally, Paul calls the Athenians to repent of idol worship and idle philosophizing and to instead put their faith in Jesus. 
We are, each one of us, called to stop putting our confidence in things, in systems of thought, in standards of success, in money, and in other worldly expressions of value and power.  We are to turn away from these things and to turn away from our own sins. We are to turn to Jesus, receive forgiveness from him, and live our lives under his lordship.
After we take this step of faith, we next share the Gospel.  In whatever context we find ourselves, we are to love people in Jesus’ name and remove obstacles that block their pathway to faith.  Thinking creatively in the everyday places of our lives, we are to persuasively share Jesus with others. 
Some Athenians came to faith after listening to Paul.  Several more rejected the message and scoffed at Paul and all he had to say.  We are not responsible for how people respond to Jesus.  We are called by God to represent Jesus well and present the good news of salvation in Jesus coherently and patiently.  As it says in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
The Gospel most definitely holds up in a university town and wherever we find ourselves.  Trust in Jesus and, with love and grace, warmly share all that you know about him and the salvation he gives, and do it in a way that is gentle, genuine, and inviting.

[i] Willimon, William H. (1988), Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts, John Knox Press (Atlanta), p.142.
[ii] Williams, David J.(1990), New International Bible Commentary: Acts, Paternoster Press (Peabody, MA), p.302. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

"Holy Recklessness" (Acts 7:55-60)


Watch it here -

Sunday, May 10, 2020

            Most churches have done what ours has done during the Coronavirus global pandemic, and moved to conducting meetings through Zoom calls and worship through streaming platforms.  But not all.  Most churches, like us, have closed down the facilities except for essential functions, in our case the food pantry,  But not all. 
            Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church[i] and Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge were arrested for holding in-person worship services after the governors in Florida and Louisiana respectively had put in place stay-at-home orders.  Along with churches in Ohio, Arkansas, and other parts of Florida, these churches have held in-person meetings. 
            Why are these congregations ignoring the science about the Coronavirus, and defying the government guidelines, and in some case government orders? 
            Pastor Lawrence Bishop of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio said paraphrasing Psalm 91, “No plague would come nigh our dwelling if we dwell under the shadow of the Almighty.”[ii] Is he more confident in God’s protection than those of us who have temporarily closed our church doors? Pastor Bishop added, “The Devil don’t like us to assemble together because he is afraid of the vibration of our praise.”  Are the churches that refuse to comply with the Center for Disease Control’s preventive measures standing as a bulwark against the onslaught of Satan?
            What’s actually happening here?  What is the best course of action for a follower of Jesus?
            Because of COVID-19 people are getting sick, and dying.  New York hospitals were so overwhelmed by the number of critical patients, Samaritans’ Purse had to set up emergency field hospitals in Central Park to help meet the caseload.  Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and can be spread by people who have it but do not have symptoms everyone is a possible carrier and spreader.  Because COVID-19 is new, we don’t yet fully know how to treat it or inoculate against it. 
            Thus, the country has shut down.  This shutdown has sparked a national debate.  What’s worse, Coronavirus-related deaths or unemployment and the dramatic downturn of the economy?  Christians set their faith in Jesus aside and then take sides, either maximum caution, or reopen immediately.  Distressed as we are, how do we follow Jesus in this troubling time?  How do we embody faith?
            My high school football coach wanted us to play defense with reckless abandon.  Run to the ballcarrier at full speed.  Run through blocks.  When you get to the runner, tackle him hard.  Drive him to the ground.  Reckless abandon.  It’s wonderful in football.  Can other things be done with reckless abandon?
Baton Rouge police chief Roger Corcoran called Pastor Spell’s decision to keep Life Tabernacle open when the rest of us are staying home “Reckless and irresponsible.”[iii]  Hillsborough County sheriff Chad Chronister, in Florida, said of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne who kept The River Church open, “His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people from his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week.”[iv]
Reckless.  Are pastors Spell and Howard-Browne leading their churches with the kind of determination my coach wanted to see on his defense?  Should other pastors follow their bold example?  Reckless. 
In the Bible, Acts chapter 6, the first deacons are commissioned to oversee, of all things, a food distribution.  The first church had conflict based on the perception of favoritism.  Greek-speaking widows complained that the Hebrew-speaking widows were being fed, but the Greek-speakers, Hellenists, were not.  The apostles didn’t want to sacrifice preaching and praying time to deal with this complaint, so they commissioned deacons to handle it.  One of those first deacons, Stephen, was also an amazing preacher and defender of the faith.
He was so good, synagogue leaders in Jerusalem felt threatened, and as they did with Jesus previously, trumped up false charges and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen’s defense, the text of Acts chapter 7, infuriates his accusers.  At the end of it, they, like 5-year-olds, cover their ears, and say “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!  Not listening!”  They drag him outside and stone him to death.  As he is dying, Stephen has a vision of the resurrected Jesus.  To Jesus he says, “Lord, do not hold not hold their sin against them” (Acts 7:60).  They’re killing him and he’s asking God to pardon them!  How?  One commentator I read writes, “Stephen is able to love so recklessly because he has entrusted himself to Jesus.”[v]
Again that word; Reckless.  Is it possible to show the Jesus-love we see in the Bible with the vigor of a determined linebacker bearing down on a quarterback?  I’ll love you as hard a Luke Kuechly tackled running backs.  What does this mean? Reckless love.  Reckless leadership.  Reckless abandon. 
Trying to serve God during a global pandemic is hard.  Stephen faced hardship.  He was tried for insisting that Jesus is Lord and we all need the salvation only Jesus gives.  What if we hold up Stephen’s witness alongside the actions of American churches and church leaders who have defied CDC quarantine guidelines?
The first line of comparison is suffering and loss.  American churches today face the loss of the freedom to gather.  Whether you think it is the disease, or overreactive government guidelines, either way, we’re not gathered in church.  You’re at home watching this.  Leaders, like Pastors Bishop, Howard-Browne, and Spell declare their independence as they invite their members to assemble even though, in the name of public safety, the governor has said to not do that.  Coupled with protestors storming different state capitals, we hear a collective clamoring to open up.
Stephen’s circumstance was different.  He felt compelled by God to declare that Jesus is Lord.  His trial came when leaders in Jerusalem felt threatened by his message.  While his preaching defied a government order, when he was arrested, he did not protest.  Instead, he spoke directly to his persecutors.  He leaned into the situation.  When stoned, he prayed for his executioners.   As a follower of Jesus, his concern was for the Kingdom of God.  To share Jesus with his persecutors, he gladly forfeited his rights.  Christians in today’s America demand their rights.  Quarantine resistors bristle, where Stephen leaned in and shared Jesus.
A second line of comparison is wisdom and knowledge.  Did you see evangelist Kenneth Copeland vigorously blow into a microphone declaring, “COVID-19, I blow the wind of God on you?”  Why didn’t Stephen do that?  Stephen preached.  It’s the longest sermon recorded in any of Luke’s writings, even longer than Luke’s record of Jesus’ lengthiest sermons. Stephen preached and prayed. 
Today our knowledge of the physical world comes from wisdom accumulated through generations of observation, study, repeated research, and peer-reviewed findings.  Science is a gift God has given, a way for women and men to expand their obedience to Jesus’ command that we love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).  Best practices by scientists who love the Lord is obedience to this command.  But some high-profile Christians downplay the voice of scientists and even accuse the scientific community of conspiring against the Bible and against God.  Even when devout Jesus followers are the very scientists sharing the newest information, others in the church resist this knowledge and instead blow into microphones.  I don’t remember Jesus doing that.  The Holy Spirit is God, and is not tossed around by any evangelist or anyone.
Stephen appealed to the shared values and knowledge of his community.  To understand the world, first century AD Israelites relied on scripture, which told the stories of creation, the Exodus, the monarchy, and the witness of the prophets.  Stephen situates his message in this shared story.  In the final note he likens those who oppose Jesus to the wicked monarchs who opposed God’s prophets (7:51-53).
Today’s Christians face a loss of the right to assemble and resist that loss by opposing the government and demanding our rights.  Stephen faced a loss of life and leaned into the situation in order to talk about Jesus to his persecutors.  Some of today’s Christians, not all, not even most, but some ignore our shared frame of knowledge and wisdom by actively resisting the recommendations gleaned from scientific research.  Instead they oppose the Coronavirus by resorting to comical theatrics and unbiblical postures.  Stephen presented the gospel of Jesus within the framework of the wisdom of his day, the story of Israel.
A third line of comparison is the stance.   When churches decide to gather and risk spreading the Coronavirus, what do they think they are standing for?  As a body of people joined together in Christ, what do we stand for?
Is it “us,” God’s people, against “them,” the government?  Are “they” out to get us?  After he was arrested and released, Rodney Howard-Browne went straight back to defiance, back to his congregation whom he told, “They’re trying to beat me up, you know, having the church operational, but we are not a nonessential service.”  He continued, “My encouragement to you is not to talk to these people because they’re not looking for truth.  They’re just trying to find an angle to shut the church down.”[vi]  He specifically told his church to not talk to governing officials or reporters.  Understand, God doesn’t need The River Church in Tampa to be open for God to be God. 
Our spiritual need to be with each other.  Worshiping is as real as any need we have.  But for the time, we relate at a safe distance, because we care for one another’s health. God doesn’t need people gathered at Hillside Church in Chapel Hill for God to be God.
Stephen understood that God didn’t need him walking the earth in order for God’s truth to be true.  But his executioners did need God to save them from their sins.  So, he preached a sermon in which he named their sins, described his vision of Jesus, and asked God to forgive them.  The results of his stand were the gospel was heard.  The hearers might repent and turn to Jesus.  Churches that defy stay-at-home orders jeopardize public safety.  Christianity loses credibility in the public square. 
We are called to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and that all can have salvation in his name.  We must never compromise as we answer that call.  But we must answer it in a way that is intelligible and has a hearing in the public square.  Stephen was stoned because his hearers understood his message perfectly and felt threatened by it.  Churches today that ignore the Coronavirus threat are not feared and are not stoned,  They are lampooned.  They make Christians look like fools.
We are called to give a more effective witness.  Like Stephen, we pray.  Pray for the church, for your neighborhood, and for those who govern.  Like Stephen we proclaim; have a conversation with someone about Jesus.  Tell someone what Jesus means in your life. 
Do something reckless. Donate food to our food pantry.  Or volunteer.  Pray for someone who cusses you out or cuts you in traffic.  Be extra kind to the people in your house, those cooped up with you as you stay at home.  Pray a little extra for doctors and nurses, for those who have the disease; pray for those who disagree with you and for those who seem to be losing it    Make sure your recklessness is the recklessness of love.  And when you put yourself out there to care for others, wear a facemask.  God is with us, even when we have to stay home.