10 years ago today – on Christmas Eve in 2003 – I had the honor and the heartbreak of preaching my brother’s funeral. It was one of those moments that you pray you never have to experience, and yet, once you’ve experienced it, never stop thanking God for allowing you to experience it.
My brother was my hero, and was the hero of many others, as well. To my knowledge, the words I spoke that day were never recorded, and so here – as best as I can recall – are the words that Jesus helped me deliver to those who were there.
I pray that they speak to you now as much as they did to all who heard them then – and even more to me as I spoke them.
# # # # # # # #
Before I speak to you about Stephen, let me read three verses found in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. I’m reading from The Message translation because it describes perfectly the life of my brother and how he impacted so many of you here.
Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
My brother loved to ask questions, and if you ever met him, chances are good that he asked you any or all of these three:
1. Do you know Peggy Grigg?
2. Do you know Jesus?
3. When is Jesus coming back?
No matter who you were, the first question Stephen would ask you was, “Do you know Peggy Grigg?” Now, Mrs. Grigg is an amazing person that everyone is better for knowing, but the question was more than just a social one. It really mattered to Stephen that we all knew her, and each other.
Stephen was really concerned that we all get along, and he had a knack for bringing people closer to each other by bringing them closer to him. If you knew him, you know that he would use any opportunity to achieve that result. I saw him do just that once during an event at the Special Olympics (I’m going to embed that story here instead of trying to type all of it. I shared it at our church once and it was recorded, so we can use it here!)
See, Stephen had learned how to use his disability to his advantage. He had learned how to use it to positively manipulate any situation – even one in which he seemed to have lost – in order to bring people closer. In that regard, Stephen was a peacemaker. Matthew 5:9 says “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Stephen was a peacemaker, and many of us here today will never be the same because a disabled young man – a weaker person by the world’s standards – was used by God to bring peace to us.
There was another question that Stephen would ask, and this one wasn’t a peacemaker question. “Do you know Jesus?” This is a preacher question, and Stephen would ask that question anytime, anywhere, of anybody. Heck, he’d ask the devil if he was here! He had no fear, and when I was a younger man walking far from God, it was a question that embarrassed me and often put me in uncomfortable situations.
A little back story might help you understand why. As you know, Stephen lived with Cerebral Palsy, and the severity of his CP affected a lot of his fine motor skills, and that in turn made his speech sometimes hard to understand. And when you’re a family member of someone like Stephen, that makes you the translator in everyone else’s eyes. Now, when you’re not walking with Jesus and Stephen is asking people if they know Jesus, you don’t really want to translate that! I remember once when he and I were at Food Lion buying some groceries. As we’re getting our items scanned, he looked right at the young lady on the other side of the counter and – with arms flapping – said (in a very loud voice, I might add), “DO YOU KNOW JESUS?”
I turned a couple shades of red until I realized that she hadn’t understood his question. She looked at me with a curious face and asked me what he wanted to know. Without missing a beat, I seized the opportunity to get out of the situation with a less than accurate interpretation. “Um, he wants to know where the CHEESE IS.”
What a strange way to save the world, sending a preacher in a body like Stephen’s. How I pray that I might preach with just an ounce of the relentlessness that he did. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss the Jesus that Stephen was pointing us to because of the appearance of the one pointing. But God chose Stephen when none of us would have, because he chooses what appears weak in order to show His strength.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
The last question Stephen would ask – and I’m sure I’ve heard him ask it in the tens of thousands of times – was a question that a prophet would ask: “When is Jesus coming back?” Stephen never let any of us forget for a moment the imminent return of Jesus.
He was a lot like John the Baptist in that way, wasn’t he? He was always pointing to something coming that was much greater than us and that we’d better be preparing for. John’s message was recorded in John 1:23: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming!'”
Stephen said the same thing. He just reduced it to a 5 word question: when is Jesus coming back? And as much as Stephen really did want an answer (in fact, I’m pretty sure this is the FIRST question he asked God when he saw him 3 days ago), I’m not sure it meant as much to him as making sure that we NEVER FORGET that Jesus IS coming.
Many of you know that my dad is a doctor, but Stephen had a way of examining us, too. How we responded to this question when he asked it revealed a lot about where we were – or weren’t – in our relationship with God.
It still does, and today – even at his funeral – that question probes us. How do you answer it now?
There is something about all of this – Stephen’s death and mom’s death just 3 weeks ago – that makes me feel so small. Well, honestly, it makes me feel hollow like the passage we read earlier. Isn’t that what made Stephen’s life so powerful? “(God) chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies.” Stephen’s entire life pointed people to 2 things: Jesus, and their need of Him.
Standing here today, I know I need Jesus now more than ever before, and you probably do, too. And we have a disabled peacemaker, preacher and prophet to thank for that. I love you, Stephen. Well done, and thank you.