You’ll remember him of course from when he used to help out in the coffee shop. Taking the orders and waiting at tables. Not so good in the kitchen itself I seem to recall. But really good with the customers.
Then he joined the rota for the Foodbank. Meeting clients in the prayer corner complete with his clipboard and pen. Always taking his time with people. Sometimes a bit too much time actually and once or twice he had to be discretely hurried along.
There was always something about him when he was with us at St Matthew’s which made you think that in a quiet way – he treated everyone as if they were Jesus himself.
Jesus right there ordering a cheese and ham toastie.
Jesus right there finding his universal Credit was not coming through.
The news that he had been taken and held, persecuted and punished – is something we cannot get our minds round. Not at all.
And you’ll be thinking – I’m not quite sure I know who this person is. Don’t think I ever came across him down at church.
It is of course Stephen, whose story reaches its painful climax in our first reading this morning.
And if you read back you will see rather worryingly that he began his involvement with church in the same way many of us do.
He appears on the scene to wait at tables so that the leaders of the early church could get on with more important things!
He is then roped in to help make sure that the company of Greek widows in that early fellowship were not being missed out in the daily distribution of food.
It turns out that Stephen did not do these things because of some general thought that this is what a believer should be doing. He did it because he was driven by a vision of Jesus that became clearer and sharper the more he got involved, and was at its clearest as his cruel death approached.
Left without some vision of Jesus in our lives – means we inevitably flounder.
One of the things I miss in these days is not seeing everybody. There might be the odd glimpse from a doorstep as I put something in the letterbox, or a sudden encounter in the street when we are out walking. But that tends to be it! Apart from these precious times.
Unless of course you get involved in online meetings – using things like zoom – where suddenly as the meeting opens – there is everyone – all our faces beaming back at each other – and wave and call out hello as if greeting one another as long lost friends – and then saying goodbye at the end seems very important and as you leave the meeting – you feel a bit bereft.
The PCC is meeting like this on Tuesday and I wonder how that will go!
But for some reason, seeing one another’s faces is important.
And in the same way the vision of Jesus when it is truly held, means everything we say is as holy as a prayer and everything we do is as precious as a sacrament.
These are worrying times for the disciples of Jesus in our Gospel reading.
Things are coming to a head as their vision of Jesus and what they might be up against takes a shape which causes them to be fearful of the future.
Earlier that evening, Jesus had shattered the image they would have preferred to have of him.
For it had been the Last Supper, when suddenly he rose from table and began to wash those disciples feet.
And they protested vehemently at this – for he was their Lord and master and not some down at heel slave.
And because of this vision of what God was beginning to look like – the once united band of followers begins to fragment into betrayal and denial and later that evening – complete abandonment of Jesus and each other, before that night was out.
Because their vision of Jesus and therefore what might be demanded of them is too hot to handle.
Our reading this morning finds Jesus valiantly trying to steady the ship.
The way ahead is unknown and dangerous, Yes just as we feel now, but I will walk with you. Have no fear. Take your lead from me.
Both in terms of your very next step and where your eternal destiny lies.
Believe in me and you will see glory – even in days like this.
What a reading for us when we remain unclear about what the future holds personally – the vision of Jesus remains steady and clear in that image of footwashing – supported by this morning’s words of comfort.
Unconditional love towards us, that we have to find ways of replicating to others.
There is no lockdown to his love.
And in the light of this – our prayer can only be… what is it you want from me next?
Stephen waiting at tables and then helping with food – and then what?
Jesus washing his disciples feet and them feeling uncomfortable with that – and then what?
I don’t think we are all called to a martyrs death as Stephen was – but I do think that once we encounter his love in action- through scripture – in worship and with one another – changing times do not cause us too much despair.
Here is this world. Here is this love. Here is me… walking along with him… the Way the truth and the life in all our days… and now what?
Waiting at tables? Helping with food? Washing feet? Caring for another?
Who was that person? I think your cover’s blown!
JOHN 14: 1-14