May
23
2007

Finding focus, breaking down barriers

Finding focus

Last Friday we focused on the story of the how the early church dealt with including outsiders, told in Acts 15. Through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, and earlier of Peter, many gentiles, people outside the family of Israel, are coming to faith. And that is too much for some insiders, who insist that these newcomers must be circumcised to fulfill the demands of the law handed down to Moses, before they can be part of the Church. The Apostles convene a conclave to settle the matter. Finally, the Church agrees that if God sees fit to give the Holy Spirit to these outsiders, who are they to demand more?

This story is a powerful example of a theme often repeated throughout Acts: God, not the Apostles or any other religious authorities, is running this show. Just as Jesus tells the disciples before his Ascension that they will not just witness to Israel but to the ends of the earth, so here the Spirit again makes clear that the Message is for all people.

We also see the church reading its context, both shaping and being shaped by the new environment it is in. As a sect of Judaism, the church could safely balance the Message and its historic rules and practices. But now, engaging the diversity of the world, the Apostles face a challenge. Do converts have to become Jews in order to become Christians? The Spirit leads them to focus on Christ rather than Moses, and they instruct the new believers to adhere to essentials of the faith without requiring them to observe the letter of the Jewish law.

This story also raised some deep questions: In fulfilling the law on our behalf, did Jesus lower the bar for us, or raise it? Would God, after exhibiting the most costly love imaginable – sending his son to the cross – then simply revert to demanding that everyone adhere to the pre-existing law? If our role is not just to tick off do’s and don’ts on a list, what is our role in the world and relationship with God?

What do you think? What questions does the story bring up for you? If you want, please share and discuss them by leaving comments to this post.

A Prayer for Eyes to See God’s Work

Daily life and work often breeds in us tunnel vision…we focus intensely on the issues and problems and opportunities right in front of us, but we lose the big picture sense of the world around us that our peripheral vision can provide. So we spent some time looking up, and down, and right, and left, to exercise our ability to notice what is not right in front of us, concluding with this prayer:

Look up: Give us your eyes as we approach the season of your coming.

Look down: Give us your eyes as we learn to love in the way of your love.

Look to one side: Give us your eyes in our homes, our churches, and outward in the world.

Look to the other side: Give us your eyes. Let us see your presence in all of us.

(From “Body Prayer,” Doug Pagitt and Kathryn Pryll)

Written by Bob Fisher in: gatherings,spirituality |

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