You Are Special
Opening Question: Is there someone at school or in your neighborhood who doesn’t like you? How do you treat that person?
First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
The Council in Jerusalem accused Stephen of crimes against the Jewish religion. God’s Spirit filled Stephen. He defended himself, then, he stared into heaven and saw the glory of God. He also saw Jesus who stood right beside God. “Look! I see the sky open up. The Son of Man is standing next to God.”
The members of the Council erupted into a loud commotion. They covered their ears in protest. Together, they grabbed Stephen and threw him outside of the Jerusalem. They began to throw stones at him. Many of them took off their jackets and set them at the feet of a young man named Saul. They kept throwing stones at Stephen, but he prayed out loud, “Lord Jesus, take my soul into your Kingdom.” He fell on his knees and shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.” Then, Stephen died.
“Ooo, I hate Brittany,” Vanessa said. “She makes me so angry. She’s spread so many lies about me.” Out of the corner of her eye, Vanessa saw, Brittany walk down the school hallway towards her. Vanessa turned so she would not face Brittany. She lowered her voice. “Here comes ‘Brattiny,’ now.”
The girls around Vanessa grew quiet. One or two of them glared at Vanessa’s enemy.
Brittany glanced at the group and walked by. She shook her head. “What did I do to make Vanessa so mad?” she thought to herself. “Last year, she was a good friend, but this year she ignores me.” Brittany frowned at the thought, then shook her head again. “Thank you, God, I have other friends.” She smiled at that thought, then made her way to her English class.
There will be a time in your life when someone won’t like you. They will declare themselves your enemy. They might not try to kill you, but they will try to destroy your reputation through gossip and rumors, even lies. How do you treat these people?
The reading from Acts gives us an answer. Stephen was honest when he said Jesus was Lord. When the leaders dragged him out of the city and threw stones at him, Stephen prayed for God to forgive them. Honesty and forgiveness. These two qualities show us the way we can treat our enemies. They might not like us for a reason. We should be ashamed if there is a real difference between us and our enemies. But we should hate in return. Instead, we should forgive them if they hurt us. Forgiveness opens the door to our enemies to become our friends. Even if our forgiveness is rejected, it does invite others to be our friends. Forgiveness shows everyone we are God’s children.
Bridging Question: What makes you special? How does God see you as special?
Gospel: John 17:11b-19
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed:
Father! Holy One! Keep my followers safe with your power! Use the power you gave to me. Then my followers will be united, just like we are united. When I lived with my followers, I always kept them safe with the power you gave me. I guarded them from evil. None of them was lost, except for Judas, the lost son. In this way, the Bible saying came true.
Now I come to you, Father. I preached in public so my followers could share my joy to the fullest. I shared your words with them, but the world hates them. The world doesn’t own them, just as the world doesn’t own me. I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but I pray you will save them from the devil. The world doesn’t own them, just as the world doesn’t own me. Use your truth to make my followers your special people. Your words are the truth. I sent my followers into the world in the same way you sent me into the world. I promise to be your servant for their sake, so the truth will make them your special people.
Brittany saw Vanessa standing alone and walked up to her. “You’ve been ignoring me all year. Why?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Vanessa said. She looked away from Brittany’s face towards a notebook she held in her right arm. “Student Council” was printed on the notebook.
Brittany followed Vanessa’s eyes to the notebook. “You’re jealous,” Brittany said. “Now I remember, you lost the election for classroom representative to the Council.”
“I’m not jealous. You’re just so proud you were elected.” Vanessa’s eyes blazed with her words.
“Vanessa, look it. You’d make a great representative, but you ran against Aaron. He’s really good at sports, so he’s popular with the boys. He so cute, no girl would vote against him. You didn’t have a chance.”
Vanessa sighed and look down at her shoes. She slumped and stepped away. She did not look back at Brittany.
Sometimes people don’t like us because we have a special job or honor or talent. They’re jealous or they think we don’t deserve our special place. Sometimes we do well in our job or with our talent. Some people admire us, some hate us. No matter how we’re special, we must remember our place, our talent, or our honor really comes from God. He made us special. He wants us to realize how special we really are. We are his children. We follow his Son. The words of Jesus make us different; they make us special.
Our job is to invite others to join us. Then we can all be special, special in God’s eyes.
Closing Question: How can you help your friends become God’s friends?