Challenge, Controversy and Change
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.
Reflection by Ron Buford
Among religious people, breaking the 10th commandment is a great stumbling block: “Thou shalt not covet.” Here are two Christian sects: one Jewish; the other Gentile. The Jewish sect has good reason to ask, “Why keep Moses’ law when newcomers don’t have to keep it?”
The church today stumbles similarly. Why do we accept unmarried couples living together? We had to get married. Why do we let gay people get married? They used to have enough shame to keep their behavior a secret. Why do we accept people who are divorced? We stayed married and hated each other. Bottom line: We suffered, you suffer too; God requires it.
Correction: No, not God but our imperfect understanding of God required these things for a while. The love of God, changing our understanding, and our own repentance compel us to risk making change, no matter how much it costs us, no matter how many jobs, members, churches, or friends we lose. God’s ever-expanding inclusion and grace is the greater good—even greater than everyone getting along.
In the book of Acts, Paul connives (yes, connives), strategically dividing his enemies based on their theological differences, opportunistically seizing upon his Roman citizenship to bring about change. He escapes Jerusalem’s perception of control over God’s plan, moving it to the Roman Empire–whose control will also eventually fade . . . just as we and so much of what we believe and do eventually fade into the arc of God’s future.
Gracious God, we believe in You, and to Your deeds we testify. Let the stillspeaking God be true, and every human trapped in time and space be a liar. As we receive new light from You, grant us courage in the struggle for justice and peace, Your Presence in trial and rejoicing. Amen.
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