OREMUS: 26 December 2008

Steve Benner steve.benner at oremus.org
Thu Dec 25 17:00:00 GMT 2008

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OREMUS for Friday, December 26, 2008
Stephen, Deacon, First Martyr

Lord, open our lips,
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Blessed are you, loving and merciful God,
you look upon us in mercy not in judgment;
you draw us from hatred to love;
you make the frailty of our praise
a dwelling place for your glory.
We thank you for the signs of your mercy
revealed in birth and death:
save us by the coming of your Son,
and give us joy in honoring Stephen,
first martyr of the new Israel;
For these and all your mercies, we praise you:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Blessed be God for ever!

An opening canticle may be sung. 


Psalm 30

I will exalt you, O Lord,
   because you have lifted me up*
 and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to you,*
 and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;*
 you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the Lord, you servants of his;*
 give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,*
 his favour for a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night,*
 but joy comes in the morning.
While I felt secure, I said,
   'I shall never be disturbed.*
 You, Lord, with your favour,
   made me as strong as the mountains.'
Then you hid your face,*
 and I was filled with fear.
I cried to you, O Lord;*
 I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
'What profit is there in my blood,
   if I go down to the Pit?*
 will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
'Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me;*
 O Lord, be my helper.'
You have turned my wailing into dancing;*
 you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy;
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;*
 O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
   let me never be put to shame;*
 deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;*
 make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
   for you are my crag and my stronghold;*
 for the sake of your name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net
   that they have secretly set for me,*
 for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,*
 for you have redeemed me,
   O Lord, O God of truth.
I hate those who cling to worthless idols,*
 and I put my trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy;*
 for you have seen my affliction;
   you know my distress.
You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy;*
 you have set my feet in an open place.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;*
 my eye is consumed with sorrow,
   and also my throat and my belly.
For my life is wasted with grief,
   and my years with sighing;*
 my strength fails me because of affliction,
   and my bones are consumed.
I have become a reproach to all my enemies
   and even to my neighbours,
   a dismay to those of my acquaintance;*
 when they see me in the street they avoid me.
I am forgotten like the dead, out of mind;*
 I am as useless as a broken pot.
For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
   fear is all around;*
 they put their heads together against me;
   they plot to take my life.
But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord.*
 I have said, 'You are my God.
'My times are in your hand;*
 rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
   and from those who persecute me.
'Make your face to shine upon your servant,*
 and in your loving-kindness save me.'
Lord, let me not be ashamed
   for having called upon you;*
 rather, let the wicked be put to shame;
   let them be silent in the grave.
Let the lying lips be silenced
   which speak against the righteous,*
 haughtily, disdainfully and with contempt.
How great is your goodness, O Lord,
   which you have laid up for those who fear you;*
 which you have done in the sight of all
   for those who put their trust in you.
You hide them in the covert of your presence
   from those who slander them;*
 you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the Lord!*
 for he has shown me the wonders of his love
   in a besieged city.
Yet I said in my alarm,
   'I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes.'*
 Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty
   when I cried out to you.
Love the Lord, all you who worship him;*
 the Lord protects the faithful,
   but repays to the full those who act haughtily.
Be strong and let your heart take courage,*
 all you who wait for the Lord.

A Song of Solomon (cf. Song of Songs 8:6-7)

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;

For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave;
its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.

If all the wealth of our house were offered for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Psalm 149

   Sing to the Lord a new song;*
 sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in his maker;*
 let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.
Let them praise his name in the dance;*
 let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people*
 and adorns the poor with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;*
 let them be joyful on their beds.
Let the praises of God be in their throat*
 and a two-edged sword in their hand;
To wreak vengeance on the nations*
 and punishment on the peoples;
To bind their kings in chains*
 and their nobles with links of iron;
To inflict on them the judgement decreed;*
 this is glory for all his faithful people.

FIRST READING [2 Chronicles 24:17-22]:

Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the
king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God
of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon
Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring
them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.

Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he
stood above the people and said to them, 'Thus says God: Why do you transgress the
commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken
the Lord, he has also forsaken you.' But they conspired against him, and by command
of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. King Joash
did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah's father, had shown him, but
killed his son. As he was dying, he said, 'May the Lord see and avenge!' 

Words: Latin; trans. John Mason Neale, 1852
Tune: St. Thomas

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Saint of God, elect and precious,
protomartyr Stephen, bright
with thy love of amplest measure,
shining round thee like a light;
who to God commendest, dying,
them that did thee all despite.

Glitters now the crown above thee,
figured in thy honored name:
O that we, who truly love thee,
may have portion in the same;
Ii the dreadful day of judgment
fearing neither sin nor shame.

Laud to God, and might, and honor,
who with flowers of rosy dye
crowned thy forehead, and hath placed thee
in the starry throne on high:
he direct us, he protect us,
from death's sting eternally.

SECOND READING [Acts 6; 7:59-8:8]:

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists
complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the
daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the
disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to
wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good
standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while
we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.' What they
said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the
Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus,
a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and
laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in
Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then
some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called),
Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and
argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with
which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, 'We have heard him
speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.' They stirred up the people as well
as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and
brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, 'This man never
stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that
this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses
handed on to us.' And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw
that his face was like the face of an angel. 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. And Saul
approved of their killing him.

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the
apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men
buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the
church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he
committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip
went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds
with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the
signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who
were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. So there
was great joy in that city. 

The Benedictus (Morning), 
the Magnificat (Evening), or 
Nunc dimittis (Night) may follow.

O God, 
you came down to earth
bringing down eternal life for all.
Let us pray:
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

We praise you and ask you for courage
to accept life's sufferings.
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

We give you thanks for Stephen and all the early martyrs,
who showed faith when challenged and confronted:
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

You did not condemn Paul at the time of Stephen's death,
teach us to withhold judgment and give us patient hearts:
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

You graced Stephen with gifts of wisdom and goodness;
help us to appreciate these gifts in those around us:
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

You have strengthened your Church
through the faith and death of your martyrs;
hear our prayers for your Church.
May your perfect love cast out all fear.

Heavenly Father,
give us grace in all our sufferings for the truth
to follow the example of your martyr Stephen:
that we also may look to him who was crucified
and pray for those who persecute us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Rejoicing in the presence of God here among us,
let us pray in faith and trust:

- The Lord's Prayer

May God who has brought us out of darkness
give us a place with the saints in light
in the kingdom of his Son. Amen.

The psalms are from _Celebrating Common Prayer_ (Mowbray), (c) The
Society of Saint Francis 1992, which is used with permission.

The canticle is from _Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Preliminary
Edition_, copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council, 2002.

The biblical passage is from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized
Edition), copyright (c) 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education
of  the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.

The opening prayer of thanksgiving uses a prayer from _Common
Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England_, material from
which is included in this service is copyright (c) The Archbishops'
Council, 2000.

The closing sentence is a prayer in _New Patterns for Worship_,
copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council, 2002.

All that we know about Stephen the Protomartyr (that is, the first martyr of the
Christian Church) is found in chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Acts.
The early Christian congregations, like the Jewish synagogues, had a program
of assistance for needy widows, and some of the Greek-speaking Jews in the
Jerusalem congregation complained that their widows were being neglected.
The apostles replied: "We cannot both preach and administer financial matters.
Choose seven men from among yourselves, respected, Spirit-filled, and of
sound judgement, and let them be in charge of the accounts, and we will
devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." The people
accordingly chose seven men, including Stephen, and the apostles laid their
hands on them. They are traditionally considered to be the first deacons,
although the Scriptures do not use the word to describe them. (The Scriptures
do refer to officials called deacons in the local congregations, without being
very specific about their duties; and a century or more later, we find the
organized charities of each local congregation in the hands of its deacons.)
Stephen was an eloquent and fiery speaker, and a provocative one. (Some
readers have speculated that some of his fellow Christians wanted to put him in
charge of alms in the hope that he would administer more and talk less.) His
blunt declarations that the Temple service was no longer the means by which
penitent sinners should seek reconciliation with God enraged the Temple
leaders, who caused him to be stoned to death. As he died, he said, "Lord, do
not hold this sin against them." One of those who saw the stoning and
approved of it was Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, who took an active part in the
general persecution of Christians that followed the death of Stephen, but who
was later led to become a Christian himself.

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