We are in the first episode of a six-episode series called Expanding the Table. In this episode, we explore the story of Stephen, one of the first deacons and martyrs in the growing early church. And indeed as the word spread about Jesus, the numbers of followers grew. But the church, as a gathered community, had conflict and disagreements. In reality they were more growing pains than conflict. The Twelve disciples now apostles had to figure out how to lead a growing church. How were they to do all of the tasks – preaching, worship, and taking care of those in need and marginalized by society. They decided to commission seven people to help them. Today, they are known as deacons, ministers of Word and Service. But Stephen’s preaching got noticed and people didn’t like what he was saying. He upset the established Jewish religious leaders. The same ones that condemned Jesus to death. Stephen used the words of Jesus as well as the prophets and stories from the Old Testament to tell people that the presence of God is not restricted to any one land or to any material building. Stephen quotes Isaiah, “Do they think they can make God stay put and imprison God in a beautiful ornamental cage?” Stephen was stoned to death. What does that mean for us today when we talk about God and about the Church? Is the Church a building or a gathered people in the name of Jesus?
In this six-week series, we look at how the followers of Jesus after his crucifixion went from disciples to apostles. Jesus instructed them that they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. But this commission wasn't as easy as they anticipated. Conflict arose with the growing numbers of followers. They had to figure out how to be a gathered community of Jesus across the world. They had to discover what it means to expand the table. Being a follower of Jesus no longer meant that you came from a certain people, place, or nation.