‘God’s Generous Love’ – 26th December 2021 – St. Stephen’s Day

To watch this morning's service on Youtube, please click here:


To download the order of service, please click here:

21 12 26 St Stephens Day Eucahrist (1)

The Readings

Acts 7.51-end
[Stephen said] ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Matthew 10.17-22
Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

The Sermon
By Canon Dr. Matthew Rhodes

It is good to see you all on this Boxing Day. I wonder why you are here rather than at home nursing a hangover or having a lie in. Perhaps it’s because you are really hard core Christians who never miss a Sunday, in which case, well done. Or perhaps it’s because you need to get out of the house. If you’re on your own this year as many of us are, it’s good to be with others. Or perhaps you have a house full and need to escape. Whatever your motivation, you are very welcome and I might just have the very saint you need.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yesterday we gave thanks for the birth of the baby Jesus, but in the space of 24 hours our faith has to leave the stable and the ox and the ass and encounter some rather adult themes.
I heard some children on television the other day suggesting that Boxing Day was so named because the sport of boxing was created on this day. The truth of course is that the boxes in question are Christmas boxes which are traditionally given to servants and tradespeople. But there is still a certain amount of violence connected with today. There’s always quite a bit of violence and murder on the television at this time of year.
Perhaps it provides a balance to the need for us to be nice to each other at Christmas. A bit of spice to balance the sweetness of this time. But whatever the reason, it seems that violence at Christmas goes back a long way. In the church calendar on Boxing Day we hear about the brutal killing of Stephen by the religious authorities. He was stoned to death for his faith in Christ. And Saul, who later became St Paul, looked after the coats of those who did the stoning.
Stephen’s story reminds us of the may Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith. Sometimes we may be called on to give a reason for the hope that is in us and we pray that like Stephen, we can be brave enough to do that. We also pray that as Jesus promises in our Gospel, the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to speak. And it may be that we need to find the right words to say at home too. Christmas can be a stressful time and an hour in church may help us to know what to say, or not say, when we get home. I have a lot of respect for Stephen but part of me wonders if he should have kept his mouth shut a bit more. Sometimes it’s a case of least said, soonest mended. What I really admire him for though is the fact that he was able to forgive the people who were killing him. And if Stephen could do that surely we can find it within our hearts to forgive those who cause us pain.
One of the themes that comes to the fore today is the theme of charity, or caritas, which is sometimes translated as love. Stephen showed enormous charity to his killers. And we are called to be charitable to the people we encounter. To our nearest and dearest and also to our neighbours. Boxing Day reminds us of the need to be generous to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And that is strongly reinforced by the carol which we will sing at the end of this service. Good King Wenceslas. It’s a carol beloved be carol singers for generations because it tugs at the purse strings of those who hear it.
The carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ may not give God much of a mention but hopefully it will send us out in a good mood. Willing to play our part in building the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate. Like Wenceslas and Stephen himself, we are called to reflect God’s generous love to the world. To give of ourselves as God gave of himself when he sent his son to be one of us. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Sue H and Sybille B

Saviour, we hear your call.
Help us to follow.

Holy God,
though this world depends on your grace,
it is governed and tended by mortals.
We pray for those
who walk the corridors of power
in the parliaments of this and other lands,
whose judgements we value or fear.

Saviour, we hear your call.
Help us to follow.

We pray for those who hold key positions
in the worlds of finance, business and industry
whose decisions may profit some
or impoverish many.
May they always value people higher than profit;
may they never impose burdens on the poor
which they would not carry themselves;
and may they never divorce money from morality
or ownership from stewardship.

Saviour, we hear your call.
Help us to follow.

We pray for those in caring professions,
who look after and listen to
kind, cruel and cantankerous folk.
May they always sense the sanctity of life
and every person’s uniqueness;
may they help and heal
by their interest as well as their skill;
and may they be protected from the tiredness
which comes from an excess of demands.
We hold before God all who have asked for our prayers and all we carry in our hearts this day.

Saviour, we hear your call.
Help us to follow.

May the words we have shared this Christmas
lead to courageous acts which transform people’s lives;
may the carols we have sung
help others sing, even in their sadness;
may the gifts we have exchanged
deepen our spirit of generosity
throughout the coming year
and may the stories we have told and retold
be good news of great joy to us and all people

Saviour, we hear your call.
Help us to follow.

We rejoice in our communion with Stephen
and all the saints and martyrs,
whose hope was in you, the Word made flesh
and with whom we for evermore are one.
Lord, receive our prayers
and perfect them by your heavenly intercession,
to the glory of the Father.