St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr
Sunday, December 26, 2010
These are the notes and outline for the sermon I preached.
Tune of “Good King Wenceslas” is played
• What does Good King Wenceslas have to do with today? (Solicit answers)
• It takes place on the Feast of Stephen—December 26
It’s a song about the legend of Duke Wenceslas of Bohemia who lived from 907-935. Let’s look at the words and see what this story is all about.
Good King Wenceslas looked out,
upon the Feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even:
brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in site,
gathering winter fuel.
Hither page and stand by me!
I you know it telling:
yonder man who is he,
where and what his dwelling?
Sir he lives a good way hence,
underneath the mountain;
right against the forest fence,
by Saint Agnes' fountain:
Bring me food and bring me wine,
bring me pine logs hither:
you and I will see him dine,
when we take them thither.
Page and monarch forth they went,
forth they went together,
through the wild wind's loud lament,
and the bitter weather.
Sir the night is darker now,
and the wind grows stronger;
fails my heart - I know not how,
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps well my page,
follow in them boldly:
you shall find the winter's rage,
chills your blood less coldly.
In his masters steps he trod,
where the snow lay even,
strong to do the will of God,
in the hope of Heaven:
therefore Christians all be sure,
grace and wealth possessing,
you that now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.
So the duke or King sees a poor man out in the cold gathering wood for his fire. So the duke decides to go to find this poor man and bring him food and wine. The duke and his page, his servant, start walking to go where this poor man lives, very far from the duke’s mansion. As they’re going through the snow, the page becomes too cold. So Wenceslas tells him to walk in his footsteps, that miraculously there’s heat in those footsteps that will warm the page.
• What’s that carol have to do with St. Stephen? (Took place on feast day, the day the martyr is remembered)
• What is this day known as in England and other countries? (Boxing Day)
• A shopping holiday now, but began as a day to give to the poor—a way to remember St. Stephen
• He originally was designated as a deacon, the ones set aside to serve food to the widows, so that the apostles could focus on preaching
• So in that sense, Boxing Day does celebrate St. Stephen
• How then could “Good King Wenceslas” celebrate St. Stephen? (serving the poor)
• But something makes me a bit uncomfortable about this carol.
• Any guesses?
• Focus is misplaced if we ONLY focus on Wenceslas and his good actions
• Serving the poor rises out of faith in Christ, so the focus starts with faith in Christ
• The actual Wenceslas was a duke, killed for his faith—not his good deeds
• St. Stephen is celebrated for his confession of Christ
• In the end, Stephen was killed for his preaching—not for serving the poor
• So do we serve the poor? Yes.
• But is that our only mission? No.
• Today we also celebrate that we go out to preach Christ to the world
• Why do we sometimes end up focusing on good works like in this carol instead of focusing on sharing the Gospel? (Solicit answers)
• It’s easier to focus on results in this world
• Results in this world makes it easier to define Wenceslas as a good man
• And we desperately want to define our lives as good lives
• It’s much fuzzier to focus on the spiritual, the eternal, salvation
• It’s much fuzzier to focus on whether we’ve shared the good news
• It’s much fuzzier but it’s what St. Stephen was focused on
• It’s much fuzzier but it’s our focus
• It seems fuzzier but it’s why Jesus came
• And He made it completely unfuzzy—salvation is secure in Jesus
• We’re called to go and serve others, but also called to do fuzzy, spiritual work
• For instance, the Breakfast Club at Viking Middle School
• Start relationships with them so we can share the Gospel
• Do we serve others who don’t have enough? Yes.
• But is that our only mission at Breakfast Club? No.
• Will we also look for ways to share God’s love with them? Yes.
• So what would be a way to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day? (Solicit answers)
• How would you change “Good King Wenceslas”? (Solicit answers)
• What do you want to walk away remembering on Boxing Day? (Solicit answers)
• Morgan Pursley is back home and going to share an anthem with us
• a portion of Handel’s Messiah based on Isaiah 40
• O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain,
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength,
lift it up, be not afraid,
say unto the cities of Judah: Behold your God!
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
arise, shine, for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
• Listen to how this portion of the Messiah, while about John the Baptist could also be about St. Stephen
• Listen to how this portion of the “Messiah” reminds us to go and tell the good news of Jesus Christ
• Listen to these words can be Boxing Day words, celebrating St. Stephen not just for serving the poor but also celebrating the way God used him to announce Good News to the people