Joe Neville

Acts 7:55-60



World Changers

Isn't it time we stopped talking about things that will "change the world"?

--Editorial, "What's changed?"

Christian Century, October 17, 2001, 3.

September 11 was "the day the world changed." That came from the cover of the Economist, and from the lips of countless televised talking heads.  But President Bush has also told Americans to get on with their lives - "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he urged listeners in Chicago.  If some economists and business leaders are to be believed, the terrorists will have won if Americans don't go shopping....  Well.

Crises are moments that demand reflection, re-evaluation, decision, and, in most cases, concrete change.  A return to normal is not now the order of the day.  Suddenly the trivia of popular culture and the single-minded pursuit of wealth don't seem as alluring as [before]; family, friends and "doing something meaningful with my life" have risen in value.”

Folks, I typed the words: “Changed the World" into Google, and the search produced 55,100,000 items. Among them: the color mauve, The wheel, the Fender bass, radar, clocks, the U.S. women's soccer team, photographs, the Model T Ford, canned food, coast-to-coast auto races of the early 1900s, Christopher Columbus, glass, flowers, Albert Einstein, Pope John Paul II, banana pie, Monty Python, Tony Curtis, U.S. Actor, on the arrival of the videocassette recorder, Max Factor, Scotland, Princess Di, pop music, Rap Music and, of course,

Amid all this hype about world-changing innovations and personalities, I did find one item that seemed to qualify for the distinction.  I found it in Amir Aczel's book The Riddle of the Compass, a lesser known, yet described as an uncommonly good book about an invention that in his view qualifies as a world-changer: the compass.

The compass was probably invented by the Chinese at least 150 years before it began to be used in Europe around A.D. 1200. Before the compass, sailors relied on the skies for information about their location; in cloudy and stormy weather they were clueless. The compass changed all that and made shipping faster and safer, allowing for busy trading routes to develop, linking the world together in the first phase of what is now call the "death of distance."  // “Never know what your going to find on Google!

Was the magnetic compass a world-changer? No doubt about it.

However, about a thousand years before the compass was invented, the appearance of Christ, the True Compass, introduced a new way to navigate spiritual waters and the treacherous shoals of life.

In Acts 6-7 we see how influential the Christ as Compass was in the life of the early church. These chapters don’t contain the stories of Jesus, of course, but they illustrate just how transformative his example and guidance proved to be in the lives of the first Christians.  What we see in Acts is a picture of a completely new way of life, one based entirely on the direction provided by Jesus Christ.

The changes begin in chapter 6, with the selection of seven souls to serve as deacons to ensure that the needy in their communities are properly served.  So the 12 apostles call a meeting, and ask the group to select "seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (v. 3). The community chooses Stephen and six others, and the apostles ordain them to the ministry of serving the needs of the fellowship.  They were responsible fro distributing food to widows and making sure that the various factions of the community are treated equally.

These are the people -- Stephen, the deacons and the apostles -- of whom it would later be nervously said that they "were turning the world upside down" (Act 17:6). Acts tells us that Stephen hits the streets running -- "full of grace and power," working "great wonders and signs among the people" (v. 8). But this winsome wonder-working is not well-received by a particular group of Jews, and so they stir up the elders, scribes and people against Stephen, and they bring him before the council. Hitting him with a truckload of false charges, they try to break his spirit, but he stands before them with what's described as "the face of an angel" (v. 15).

Stephen became a world changer, for when we read the account in acts, Saul of Tarsus, held the coats of those who stoned him.  Saul of Tarsus, as we read in Acts *:1 that Saul was consenting of his death.  Stephen was the connection between Christ and Saul of Tarsus, Stephen stands as a critical juncture in church history, by being witness to Stephen’s death, by being complicit in it, Saul unwittingly participates in the death of Christ.  His guilt as executioner of the faithful is established, so that when Christ does appear to him on the road to Damascus and says to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” he feels himself guilty and when he gains his spiritual compass, he spends the rest of his ministry in one large act of atonement.

Stephen becomes a world-changer -- the first martyr of the Christian church because he set his sail according to the Christ Compass.  And, as such, he is a prototype, a model, a compass, for each of us.

Stephen shows us how to navigate by the compass of Christ and to see Jesus as the directional signal that we follow in life and in death. It means:

·       *To act as a servant leader, working diligently for the welfare of others.

·       * To speak boldly about our faith and to tell the story of God's loving embrace of the human race.

·       * To look serenely to heaven, especially when the world is roaring with rage.

·       * To trust our Lord to hold us close, in even the most desperate of situations.

·       * To try to offer forgiveness to those who hurt us, as Jesus did on the cross.  Oh God, O God, here I preach to myself!

It’s hard!  It’s hard, but that's what it means to follow the Christ-compass. That's what it means to be a world-changer.

Living our faith, -- that's heroic.  Holding fast to our convictions whether people cheer us or crucify us, -- that's impressive.  Looking for a promised land beyond the limitations of this world, -- that's inspiring.  That's what grows the church.  But before we embrace that promised land of ultimate hope, we have work yet to do here.

We don't have to die to change the world.  We simply have to live in a particular way and move in a distinctive direction . . . With Christ as our compass.