Acts 7:44-53 – Don’t Be a Church Curmudgeon

Muppets Statler and Waldorf

“Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it.However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
    Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’

“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” (New Living Translation)

On this eleventh day in the twelve days of the Christmas season, perhaps there are people who have moved on from the yearly celebration to daily complaints. A big reason why I personally hold to the Christian Calendar with its liturgical seasons is that it helps shape me spiritually so that I can avoid being a cranky old church curmudgeon.

It seems like some believers have been baptized in pickle juice. They have something negative to say about everything. And even when they acknowledge they don’t really understand something, they’ll still give a stony faced retort of “I’m against it.”

The liturgical calendar, when properly observed, keeps us grounded in faith, hope, and love. There are plenty of things in this old fallen world which can take our eyes off our calling as Christians. Pandemics, politics, poverty, and pain can mess with us. If we aren’t on solid spiritual ground, all the misfortunes of this life can take a significant toll on us. Then, like a stubborn old mule, we just sit down and don’t budge.

Like the ancient Israelites for whom Stephen railed against in our New Testament lesson for today, we might become hard-headed, and inflexible. We get lost in doing things our own way to the neglect of what God wants. 

Whenever that happens, there is damage to God’s people, God’s name, and God’s law. Rather than tongues being used for praising the Lord and encouraging others, God’s prophets who are calling us to holiness are verbally decapitated. Ironically, those who speak and act in the name of the Lord are resisting him.

“Pettiness of mind, ignorance and presumption are the cause of stubbornness, because stubborn people only want to believe what they themselves can imagine, and they can imagine very few things.”

Madeleine de Souvre

Anytime someone believes they have piously figured out everything, they will soon find themselves fighting against God. The Lord of All has not called us to figure out every mystery and nail down each uncertainty. Those who claim to have done it are living in a delusional world. Perhaps they will eventually discover how large and immense God really is – much bigger than our puny thoughts and misguided practices. 

How then shall we live?

Quit digging your heals in.

Let go of your illusions of power and privilege. Walking around like you’re King Lactose the Intolerant only looks weird and causes too many trips to the bathroom.

Submit afresh to the Lord for whom we must bow in all things. If we can do that, then we are well on our way to seeing the only true God in all his immensity. Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and set aside self-righteous pride so that he may exalt and honor us at the appropriate time of his choosing, not ours (1 Peter 5:6).

Take up our holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors, having become new people and knowing the reconciling power of the cross, through the proper spiritual tools of faith, hope, and love (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 Corinthians 13).

The following practices can help us become more spiritually flexible and open to the Spirit’s work:

  • Stretch. If we are rarely or never in positions which work our faith, then that faith will diminish and eventually atrophy. Faith is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be worked ands stretched. And your face won’t break if you crack a smile now and then.
  • Breathe. Fear, worry, and anxiety cause us to have shallow breathing and unable to think straight. When we are amped-up about something, focus on doing some breath prayers, i.e., breathing in saying, “More of you,” and breathing out saying, “Less of me.”
  • Relax. A hyperextended faith will not support extreme positions which alienate people and put God to the test. Some folks just need to get off their high horse before God knocks them off. Nobody is helped by another’s forced beliefs.
  • Move. Faith is mostly lived in the mundane daily decisions of life. Consistently taking small steps of faith each day will go a long way toward our spiritual health and vitality – not to mention helping us see a big God at work.
  • Listen. Two ears. One mouth. Get the clue. Many people would be better served if they would just listen rather than incessantly talking. Behind all the bluster is typically an issue of wanting the kind of control God possesses.

To do the will of God, we must have a growing awareness and knowledge of a big unlimited God, and a small, limited self. This will take loosening up on the stubbornness and opening to greater flexibility.

If you are not in the habit of following the Christian Calendar through the year, now is a good time to start. After all, nobody wants to smell like they just crawled out of a pickle barrel.

Holy God, heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool. You cannot be kept within any one church or any single place.  You are much too big for that!  Forgive me for my small thoughts of you and my weak faith. I humble myself before you so that you can live in and through me for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

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