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Acts 15:1-11, The Council at Jerusalem

Tuesday, April 24

Homogeneity or Diversity?

Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.

diversity for a blossoming community

In the early days of the spread of Christianity, there were many debates over how, exactly, to live as Christians in a world divided by religion, race, and culture. Until now, being born a Jew meant you were Jewish by religion, race, and culture. Your roles, rites, rituals, and relationships were all dictated by your status as a Jew. But now, with the rise of Christianity, life as a Jew was changing dramatically. Additionally, Gentiles (non-Jews) were being welcomed into the Christian faith. No longer was religion settled by birth. A new melting pot of people from all over the world, all faith traditions, all cultures was being created in the name of Christ.

Paul knew that the saving work of Christ depended on Christ's work, not ours. For this new faith to survive and thrive, it had to be founded on something greater than one's birthright. It had to be shaped on unity and the coming together of varieties of people, rather than the separating of people by ritual. Circumcision had been a requirement for all Jews to satisfy the covenant created between God and the Hebrews. With the welcoming of Gentiles, the question of circumcision became a hot topic. Paul believed and argued that to put that "yoke" upon the shoulders of the disciples charged with the spreading of the word would put unnecessary burdens on their work and words. It was, after all, Christ's work that saved, not ours.

I have family and friends in California, where the state is quickly becoming more of a Spanish-speaking state than English. The transition makes me want to learn Spanish so I can become even more involved with the cultures of the world that are coming to my doorstep. I have friends, however, that find the transition a nuisance. "If they ("Us and them" language? Really?) come to America, they should learn to speak English. If they want to speak Spanish, they should stay in Mexico." What a sad, self-centered, ignorant, and divisive attitude! If we followed Paul's example, we might see that the strength of an emerging culture isn't in its homogeneity, but in its diversity. Instead of expecting "outsiders" to conform, we can blossom as human beings if we receive with open arms and open hearts the diverse gifts that others bring. That is how cultures survive and thrive.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 15:1-11

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Earlier Event: April 23
Acts 16:35-40, Paul and Silas