Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of Love with Christmas. Today, we memorialize a man, who filled with Love, came up against the cruelty and harshness of the world and was killed by those who could not see Love. December 26th is the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. His story is as follows:
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. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 7:54-8:3)
As I was driving to Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY, I passed my high school, where up until about a month ago a young man, a freshman, also attended. My heart sank to think of him and how his parents must be grieving him, their son whom they lost to suicide. My heart sank further to think that it was cruelty in this world that killed him, the cruelty of his fellow classmates. Yesterday, I was speaking to a friend of his parents and learned how students constantly taunted him for being small-framed, and called him “gay.”
This young man was not gay. Gayness and sexuality is not the point. Cruelty is. It is very much the point that we must persist in the doing of all good works that Love has prepared for us to walk in; we must continue to teach our children love. We must refuse ignorance and teach our children that individuality is not something of which to be afraid, something we must push away from us. We must open our eyes to the truth of our commonality—this young man was a son, a grandson, a friend. He was a student with his own dreams, a hope for our future. He laughed, cried, loved, learned, and wanted to be included in his community the same as we laugh, cry, love, learn, and want.
It was more than stones that killed Stephen. It was the anger of the men which blinded them to Love that killed him. Stephen only lost his body in death. They could not kill Stephen’s spirit—even at the point of being stoned, in love for those who were cruel to him, Stephen prayed. Stephen did not lose sight of Love. In reality, the greater death here was not Stephen’s, but his community’s. Like Stephen, we must fix our gaze on Love.
It says that Saul approved of their killing Stephen. It says in other translations that Saul “was complicit” in Stephen’s death. Saul was later converted and worked for the love of the same community that he once persecuted. He was renamed Paul and joined the ranks of Jesus’ Apostles. It is Love that brought both Stephen and Saul to peace. It is Love that saved them.
We do not want to be a community complicit in death. But, if we do not teach our children to respect each other, to see themselves in each other, that is what we have—a community complicit in death. That is not what living together in this world is to be about. We are here to live life, to praise life, to love life. To be alive and thrive in this life, we need what we desire in the deepest parts of ourselves—love. We are beings that are sustained by love permeating every facet of our lives. We must love Love.
With Stephen, let us gaze to the heavens if we must. But, each of us, let us gaze within ourselves—then we will find an opening to the vision of where Love stands. Let us see Love and in Love let us know how to live fully who we are. Let us love so much that we pray for each other’s forgiveness in our part of wrongdoing. Let us love so much that we drop our stones that they draw blood no more.
We may in some corner of our thinking be like Saul, hardened against love and life. But we can become Paul, we can become people of life. We can defend life by teaching love. We can love our lives that we cherish for ourselves so much that we ensure that others can live. Eventually, Love came around and it is what converted Saul and renamed him Paul. Each of us, doing our part, can covert our community.
If we are persecuted, we can sling stone for stone and hope to come out on top. Or we can be like Stephen. We can refuse to let anything that others do to us detract our gaze from Love. We can refuse to let hatred cycle through us and creep into our thinking. We can be like Stephen and love at all costs. If we find ourselves in unkind situations, we must have faith that our actions of returning love for hatred will have an effect. Not allowing cruelty to continue with us; one by one, perhaps this is the only way we can truly honor the life of that young man from my high school who shot himself.
A sermon written by a bishop long ago was read during prayer at the monastery. It said: Love is the ladder by which all climb to heaven and God. Let us make our ascent together!
Let us ascend to higher thinking, Let us ascend to being more pro-active in our community. Let us rise and meet our challenges so that no more parents will feel they have failed their children, that no more students will feel that one of them is so unbearable that they must put one outside their margins, that no person be pushed out of life altogether, that no more teachers are left wondering what more could they have done to protect the students in their schools.
Let there be no more death, except the death of harshness, derision, ignorance, and hatred. Let all that is against life, life for all, be killed by your love. Let all that is against precious life be what love kills.
© 2016 Daniel E Crocker Jr