Throwing Stones

Posted by on Jun 19, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

May 18, 2014

“Throwing Stones”

Scriptures: Acts 7:55-60, 1 Peter 2:2-10

Note : hold a stone in your hand while reading this message

As children, when taunted or teased, we may have replied to our tormentors: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” It’s not that the names didn’t hurt, but we took solace in the reply. It suggested that we were stronger on the outside than perhaps we were inside. We may have also used, from time to time, the phrase: “Don’t throw stones in glass houses.” Throwing stones in glass houses has its own dangers –like breaking windows. Throwing stones, except perhaps when skipping them across a lake, can be dangerous.

Throwing stones was a form of capital punishment for the Jews.

They brought the condemned person outside the city, because his crime had rendered him unclean and whatever was unclean must be put outside of the city gates. When they came within four cubits of that location, they stripped the criminal, if a man, leaving him nothing but a cloth about the waist. The place on which he was to be executed was elevated. The law of Moses required that the first stones thrown at the condemned criminal be cast by the witnesses, the same ones who testified   at the trial. The first man would aim strategically. If it wasn’t successful the next 2 witnesses would lift an even heavier stone; they would aim for the chest.   The process would continue until the person was dead.

That’s what happened to Stephen.  In the 6th chapter of Acts he comes on the scene:

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.   Acts 6: 1-5 NRSV

Stephen and the others were responsible for food distribution, like a soup kitchen or food pantry. The persons they cared for had no means of caring for themselves; they were dependent on the church for their very life. We are not certain how long Stephen does this ministry, but it was long enough for people to notice.

Some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.  Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.  They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth  will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.   Acts 6: 9- 14

Acts 7 is the longest address in the book of Acts, and one of the most important. In it Stephen reviewed the history of Israel and the contributions made by their revered leaders: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon. Stephen’s address was more than a rehearsal of familiar facts; it was also a rebuttal of their indictments against Stephen and a revelation of their

own sins. As Stephen finishes his discourse, boiling emotions explode, violent anger erupts. Stephen is taken out of the city and stoned.

And Saul was there, giving the approval to his death.   Acts   8:1    

It is important to remember that the people who stoned Stephen were not ungodly people; in fact, they were “church folk.”  Church folk know how to do church – they know the laws, regulations, traditions, customs and ideologies.  And anything contrary to those things becomes a threat.  You protect what you believe to be true and you throw stones.

Throughout history “church folk“ have figuratively thrown stones.  And on this Sunday we celebrate as Native American Sunday we remember with shame the way church  people  “threw stones” at our brothers and sisters. And we think about all the other times it has occurred.

How could it happen?

1. It begins when we see some individual or group as “other” – different from us.

2. It grows as we judge them by our standards.

3. It comes to full blossom when we perceive them as a threat that must be silenced.

And I wonder how many times  the church we love  is still throwing stones today. At times those stones are even thrown at other Christians.  I wonder how many times each of us has played an active role in that process.

As you hold the stone in your hand, ask God  to bring to your memory any individual or groups  you have labeled  as different from you…the times you have judged them by your understanding  of God..and  perhaps tried to silence them ..see yourself holding the stones, ready to throw them at that individual or group.

And as you hold that stone in your hand I want you to remember the times you have been hurt because someone else has thrown stones at you.  See them holding the stones ready to cast them at you.

If we honestly open ourselves to explore those questions, feelings of pain may begin to bubble up to the surface.   So it is important that as we hold onto that stone we begin to see Christ, the Living Stone. The one we heard about in 1 Peter.  . The one who loves us; the one who chose to work through us.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy,

but now you have received mercy. …  1 Peter 2:10

We could have been condemned; but God has shown us mercy and because of that we put down our stones. Instead of seeing the other as an outsider, we no longer label them. We no longer fear them.  And when we truly understand, we are able to forgive those who have thrown stones at us; because God’s love bubbles through us..  That love can transform the stones we hold from an object meant for destruction to material that can be used for construction. God wants to build us into something holy, something sacred.

But before it can happen we need to decide what we are going to do with the stones we hold in our hands.