A Complaint Arose    Let’s pray….  Rev. Stuart Buisch

A complaint. Smile.  Go figure, all of the sudden the Bible has a depth of human reality that cannot be denied. A complaint.  When everything is rocking and energetic and exciting all is well but then it gets old.  Somebody dies.  Everyone comes around. Everyone makes a casserole. Then a month passes and the complaint is; why isn’t so and so moving on.  Mourning got old.  
A children’s program. Lots of leaders, with lots of kids, who have lots of friends and it is all very exciting. Then a complaint. The new kid doesn’t feel a part.  A few years pass and some kids grow out and their parent helpers leave and its more work. Ahh. A complaint.
Acts 6 is classic and tons of fun. Let’s notice some of the details.  Initially this complaint crosses a language difference.  Did you ever notice when a translator is working live with two people who don’t understand each other that only the translator really understands or does she?

The first speaker speaks, pause and the second speaker hears what the first said but in their own language. Person number two tries to process, which sometimes works and sometimes does not.  It is even worse working with a stroke victim who desperately wants to say something but cannot.  This message boils up inside but cannot get out.  Understanding is lost.

I am not sure why Luke tells us that this conflict in the early church has a language barrier.  Languages also point to ways of doing things, culture.  Were the Greeks complaining not just about the amount of food but also the kind, presentation and clean up? This clash of cultures continues to the trial of Stephen that we read about. Residents who were part of a synagogue from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia are in conflict with Stephen.  It is particularly interesting because, almost like the image of the stroke victim, these four groups struggle to challenge the ‘wisdom the Spirit gave him’. They couldn’t adequately answer him.
We are in a culture clash right now, with several levels. Lots of complaints.  Our life is called into question and routine has been destroyed.  Its also summer and summer has rules of its own. Every summer we …. Except this summer those norms, our culture is changed.  We have also split along political lines.  Acts 6 calls us back together. We don’t need to agree. We need to work together for the good of something greater than ourselves.  For Jerusalem there were widows who needed to be fed.  This was a kind of meals on wheels that wasn’t working.  Different people weren’t seeing it the same way.   

The next part of this text is curious at best.  Verse 2 says ‘the Twelve’ called a meeting and said corporately… What a powerful image. It wasn’t one or two leaders, it was the group. As a whole they decided that the most important task is the proclamation of the gospel.  I am personally attracted to that idea.  I think I have a specific role in the church.  However, more and more I wonder if I have another role, working alongside people who are making a difference in people’s day to day lives.  The twelve raise up seven others to do this work of feeding.  The list is interesting in that Stephen, the first on the list is ‘a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith’ and the last on the list is a convert to Judaism.  One might think with Stephen’s qualification that he should be preaching.  Nicolaus, who converted to Judaism, is now a Christian or so it seems as he is serving the early church. This probably discloses that in the early days the church and Judaism were not clearly divided entities.

Whatever the actual situation, the whole body liked the idea of the twelve and it was acted on. Even better the community continued to grow.

But the complaint also didn’t go away. It shifted back to a Jewish/Christian conflict.  Stephen was drawing too many because of the wonderful miracles that were happening and the blessing of God on the people. Jealousy.  Religious jealousy.  Fear that your group is doing better than my group and instead of working a bit harder, offering something similar we simply work to remove the opposition.  It is interesting to note that the issue of food doesn’t come up again and apparently the initial complaint is taken care of.   
Let’s not miss a couple of details.  The Holy Spirit has a key role in this complaint sequence. Stephen is who he is because God’s Spirit works in him.  There are whole churches today that operate with an affirmation of the role of the Holy Spirit in their midst.  Would each of us be comfortable with the idea of God’s Spirit working through us? Do we recognize and praise God when we see that happen in us? Are we open to God doing what ever furthers the kingdom of God to make that happen?
How do we feel about different gifts? I do believe that there are certain tasks for elders/deacons/members/friends/clergy.  But I am also realizing that one of the problems in the church is when preachers can’t serve food. Etc.  That is part of the journey my faith is on just now. Next week we look at Stephen’s personal defense.  I am always challenged about how much he knew and had thought about the broad sweeps of scripture.

Finally, let’s not miss the truth that complaints can be doors to greater ministry, greater understanding and deeper connections with God. Amen

Creator of the Cosmos, re-create your love and grace in me this day….
Pain -sufferer and resurrected One, show us how to stand with others, ones we agree with and ones we don’t …
Sustaining Spirit, your strength, wisdom and courage empower each of us in our service to God…
Our Father