"Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen...stood up and argued with Stephen."
Acts 6: 8-9
This Scripture was the focus of the church message yesterday morning. The story goes on to say that the men at the Synagogue became more enraged and eventually killed Stephen for daring to love deeply and heal with compassion--in the name of Jesus.
What is most interesting to me is that these men were Freedmen, or men that had once been enslaved by other men and had been set free. They were now using their freedom to enslave others with religious regulations. Once having no power, they knew what oppression felt like. Instead of taking their freedom and using it for good--to set others free--they became dictators of the religious law. They believed themselves to be God's hand of justice, enslaving and killing men that were truly free in Jesus.
Men like Stephen.
When they confronted Stephen, he reminded them of Israel's history as slaves in Egypt. The entire monologue is about Israel's history as slaves and how God greatly redeemed them. Yet, in their freedom and redemption, they "turned their hearts back to Egypt." The cycle is nothing new.
We have been doing it all along.
"You stubborn people...You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did."
You, who know the pain of slavery.
You, who have tasted the blood and sweat of oppression.
You, who have been given your freedom. Now enslaving and killing others.
To me, this all sounds rather familiar. Several states are now looking at legislation to promote "religious freedom" exceptions to already established anti-discrimination laws. Have you noticed that the majority seeking "religious freedom" claim to be a part of the Christian community?
To me, they all sound like the Synagogue of the Freedmen. They claim that they are "Christian" which means that they have been freed by Jesus, forgiven of their sin, now free to love and serve others with the deep compassion of Jesus Christ.
Yet. They are using their "religious freedom" as an excuse to live without compassion, love, or empathy.
That is what it means to enslave another.
The good news is that there are still followers of Jesus who truly understand freedom.
Followers like Stephen.
Who are not afraid of touching the sick and broken (and doing therapy with them--gasp!)
Who are not afraid to serve those who do not yet know Jesus' compassion.
Who have not forgotten the deep sin within their own hearts--their own life of enslavement.
Who are not afraid to die, like Stephen, for love.