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a sermon based on Acts 7:55-60
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Commitment is probably is one of the most challenging and difficult subjects to talk about. Commitment is something we probably all struggle with.

You may have heard about the man named Blundon who around the turn of the century attempted to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Under the intent gazes of ten thousand onlookers he inched his way across the Falls. The spectators were just delighted and started to chant his name in celebration of this great achievement.

After the crowd had quieted, Blundon asked: “do you believe in me now?” And the people went “we believe, we believe!” Then he asked: “do you believe I can do it again?” And the crowd chanted: ‘we believe, we believe!” Encouraged by the affirmation, he asked: “do you believe I can do it with a person on my back?” At this proposition, the crowd went into a frenzy: “we believe, we believe!” But then he asked:” Do I have a volunteer?” and the crowd went silent. Could have heard a pin drop. Finally after a few minutes, there was one man of short stature who volunteered. And Blundon crossed successfully with this man on his back. What a ride that must have been; what a rush!

The simple point of this story is that belief without commitment is not very useful. Out of thousands of people who said: “I believe,” only one put his money where his mouth was. The difference between this man in contrast to the other ten thousand was commitment. Perhaps one could extract a formula on faith from this story:

faith = belief + commitment

The lesson from the book of Acts we have before us this morning shows us yet another example of committed faith. Because of his commitment, because he continued to stand up for Jesus, Stephen became the first martyr in Christianity (or the second if you count Jesus as a martyr).

Jesus once said: “greater love has no one than he who lays down his life for another.” And that’s what St. Stephen did. He lay down his life for Jesus, in the name of the gospel.

In the book of James we read that faith without works is dead. In chapter 2:19 James, who by the way was the half-brother of Jesus, even says: “you who think so much of your belief in God, I got news for you: even the demons believe in God . . . and they shudder with fear.” So don’t you think that your faith alone can save you.

Again: faith = belief + commitment.

We usually don’t have problems with belief. It is on the commitment front that we face tremendous difficulties.

If we were to sing some of our hymns honestly this is how we would have to reword them (as one humor site on the internet suggests):

I Surrender Some (All)
Fill My Spoon (Cup), Lord
Oh, How I Like Jesus
I Love to Talk About Telling the Story
Take My Life and Let Me Be
Onward, Christian Reserves
Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
Just As I Pretend to Be
When the Saints Go Sneaking In

There is no better passage to learn about commitment than the story of Stephen. How can we become committed to God as Stephen was? Is that possible at all? Is Stephen the noble exception, rather than the example? Does God expect that kind of commitment from us?

There is one thing that stands out to me in the story of Stephen: the text says that he spoke under the inspiration of the Spirit of God Spirit; in fact, it says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that here lies the key to a believer's motivation and commitment.

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit of God? What does that look like? It seems to me that Stephen was aware of the Spirit of God in his heart and that he was inspired and guided by the power of the Spirit to a point of willingly--even joyfully--laying down his life for Jesus.

Do we expect the Spirit of God to be present in our lives? Do we look for him in to be our advocate and source of inspiration? Do we expect the Spirit to speak through us and for God's mighty purposes? I would think a part of such an expectation is that we become more aware of God's presence in our lives. Those among us who are baptized and live an active Christian life are already filled with the Spirit of God according to the Scriptures.

But commitment is not just a matter of the head, it is not merely the process of becoming aware of something. Mostly, I believe, it's a matter of getting in touch with God's passion and compassion. With God's Spirit in our hearts, we have been given the gift of passion and compassion--a phenomenal gift that often lies dormant in our lives. It is this gift, I believe, that holds the key to becoming committed believers.

I believe that the Spirit of God often wants to use us, often tugs at our hearts, and calls us to take a stand for Jesus; it's just that we may be too busy, or too distracted, or too self-involved to pay attention. I believe we often drown out the passion and compassion of God inside of us with the noises of this world. We're often too inattentive to God's Spirit in our hearts to hear the cry of the needy and helpless, or to speak out against injustice and moral decay.

How else can the passivity of the church be explained? The numbness of our senses even in the very face of starving people, abused children, and eroding moral values all around us. It's not that we don't have the passion of the Holy Spirit, it's just that we don't seem to be in touch with it most of the time.

I truly believe that if and when we are able to get in touch with the passion and compassion of the Spirit of God inside of us, we cannot but naturally act on our beliefs; with God's passion burning in our hearts we will be able to climb mountains for God. We will be committed to God and to God's kingdom on earth and not even think about it twice because it will feel natural. People will say: "what a committed person!" and we will respond: "o, I'm just...following my heart."

How would our lives be different if we started to get in touch with God's passion and compassion that lies dormant within our hearts?

Perhaps, we would start to make it our business to know what is going on in our schools, in our township and city council meetings. Perhaps, we would stand up and make our voice heard in the name of God. Perhaps, we would find ourselves collecting signatures and correspond with political representatives. Perhaps, we would find ourselves involved in fund-raisers for our youth program, or for cancer research. Or, perhaps, we would find ourselves handing out food in the soup kitchen, sharing our hope and faith with a disillusioned and despairing person, visiting nursing home residents... the list could go on indefinitely.

As reconciled and redeemed children of God, we all have the potential within us to live a life of inspiration and commitment, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We may never be asked to lay our lives down for Jesus like Stephen, but we can make a difference in this world in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us stop and think and pray and reflect, rather than be too busy, too distracted, and too self-involved to heed God's calling to the greater purpose in our lives. May God give us grace to be able to get in touch with his passion and compassion which is already poured out into our hearts. May God empower us to become movers and shakers for his glorious kingdom. Amen.