“God so loved the world,” we are told in John’s Gospel. And if you don’t know what verse of scripture I’m quoting, just tune into a professional sporting event. Somewhere in the crowd, often right behind the backstop, someone (he had a rainbow wig on when I was a kid) is holding a sign with the scripture reference (John 3:16). If you’re familiar with the Comfortable Word in the BCP, no doubt you know the verse by heart. It is at the core of our proclamation about Jesus the Christ. Everything we know about Jesus, everything that happened to him is because God loves the world; God loves everything God made; God loves you and me. If that’s not Good News, I don’t know what is.
Stephen believed so deeply in Jesus Christ he was willing to proclaim the Good News with his last breath as he was tortured and killed for his beliefs. My hope and prayer is that no one ever has to die for their beliefs. But then I imagine what the world might be like if Stephen and the other leaders of the Early Church had forfeited their faith. They knew something that the Church today would be wise to recapture. And if not the Church, me at least. What Stephen did he did for the world: we remember his martyrdom because he was motivated by the same love that God has, a love for the world.
What if the Church today started existing, not for itself, not for its bottom line or precious buildings, but for love for the world? What if, every time we made a decision we asked: how does this further God’s love in the world? What if the Church lived (and maybe died) as Stephen did, confessing the Good news, confessing love and forgiveness?