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26 December 2021
Acts 7:51-60

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Stephen siad to the high priest and the council:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, 
you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, 
just as your ancestors used to do. 

Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? 
They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, 
and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 

You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, 
and yet you have not kept it.”

When they heard these things, 
they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.

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. 

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened 
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 

But they covered their ears, 
and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 

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. 

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 

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.


Matthew 10:17-22

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

Jesus said to the twelve:

"Beware of them, 
for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 

and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, 
as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 

When they hand you over, 
do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; 
for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 

for it is not you who speak, 
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 

Brother will betray brother to death, 
and a father his child, 
and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 

and you will be hated by all because of my name. 
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.


Address

God came to us in Christ in a world full of tensions and divisions. In fact, the sort of world we live in now. Jesus was born in temporary accommodation when his parents were travelling. 

When Jesus was taken to the Temple at six weeks’ old, there was the prophecy that he would shake up many lives and that a sword will pierce his mother's heart. That seen as referring especially to Mary’s pain at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Before long, Jesus’ family will be refugees heading for Egypt to escape the murderous Herod.

About thirty years’ on, after the Resurrection, in the early days of the Church, in Jerusalem, the Christians initially behaved much as the Jews did. They tried to provide regularly for the needy, who were largely the widows, who would probably not have a stable income. The Christians there were of two sorts. The majority had been born as Jews, and probably spoke Aramaic, as did Jesus. Then there were a smaller number, mostly, - but not all, - born as Jews, but who normally spoke Greek. It was the widespread language in the ancient world, and – you will remember – that the New Testament was written in Greek.

The Greek-speaking Christians at that time in Jerusalem felt that their widows weren't doing so well in the food distribution, as the Aramaic-speaking widows, so seven men were chosen, and indeed ordained, to sort it out. Stephen was the most prominent one of the seven, who were called deacons. Besides having those administrative responsibilities, deacons were also to be preachers, and, in those very early days, Stephen managed to upset the local synagogues and the Jewish leaders by his preaching. He was accused of being against Moses and the Temple.

But Moses, Stephen was actually very keen on, and the Jewish Law. Probably the Temple not so much - it was not around in Moses’ time, and Stephen might have been unconvinced about some of the activities going on in the Temple in his day. Stephen was quite a young man, possibly under thirty when he died, being killed after giving a speech to the Jewish leaders, outlining the essentials of Jewish history, and pointing out that God's great prophets had usually been persecuted by the Jewish leadership, and that they had done the very same thing to Jesus, the greatest of all. They had messed up to the ultimate degree.

Stephen courageously said what he was moved to say and paid the price. One of the leading Jews who opposed him was Saul, who looked after people's clothes for them during Stephen’s stoning. The outcome, of course, was that before long, Saul would change - from being famous as a violent persecutor of the Church, -  to become St Paul, himself enduring all sorts of hardships, and becoming the most famous of all for spreading the faith around the ancient world. Stephen's witness must have played a big part in triggering Paul's conversion.

So, what does all this say to us? The Church now, when there are serious differences and divisions, seems often to choose the route of papering over divisions, very politely, and with very pretty paper. Confrontation and hurt to be avoided at all costs. Anything leading to painful change for anyone, to be dodged and side-stepped. But is the Church of England thriving like that? I think Stephen and Paul would want us to ponder. Like Christ, they never rushed to take the easy way, and it was their courage and leadership and examples and sacrifices which brought many others to God.

Fr Roger

Service Times

First Sunday in the Month:
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Family Service

Second Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Parish Eucharist

Third Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Sung Matins

Fourth Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Parish Eucharist

Variations can be found in the Parish Magazine or the Calendar at the bottom of this page.

Useful links


Here are some links to resources you may find helpful:


  1. St Mary's Facebook page
  2. Chichester Cathedral will be live streaming services. For the Eucharist and order of service Click here before 10:00am Sunday and follow the instructions.
  3. The BBC Daily Service is available here.
  4. Prayer for today.
  5. The C of E youtube channel.
  6. Hearing You is a new phone help line launched by the Diocese of Chichester in partnership with Together in Sussex in response to the impact that Covid 19 has had on Just about the whole community. It aims to provide pastoral support and a listening ear to the recently bereaved and people directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  7. COVID-19 advice from the Diocese of Chichester here.

Please note that St Mary's are not responsible for the contents of external links

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