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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | 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.” (NRSV)

It is not every day that we get to read passages regarding circumcision for devotionals. But this passage is about so much more than that: it’s about who is in and who is out with God. The dispute in question began in Antioch, and Paul and Barnabas go to the Council of Jerusalem to try and answer the question.

Much of what the Jewish people did in the Old Testament was to set themselves apart from everyone else, and this was one way for others to know where one stood. If you were a male who was circumcised, you were “in” with the God of Israel. Now, after Jesus has come, there is no longer Gentile or Jew. The lines are blurred, and people fall back into asking the question of who is in or out. We still ask this question today in all kinds of situations: “Who is one of us, and who isn’t?”

According to Paul, we are one because of Christ. Dispute over. Right?

Not really. We still have this dispute every day: “Who is one of us and who isn’t?” Instead of our seeking the things that separate us and set us apart, Paul reminds us that there is neither Gentile nor Jew, but that we are all one through Jesus Christ. As Christians, our job is to find the things that unite us, the things that reconcile us to one another, not tear us apart and build walls. When we do this, we are living into the grace and love that Christ gave to us.

God, help us to build bridges instead of walls. Help us to find the ways that we can come together instead of remaining divided. Keep us from asking “Who is in?” and help us start proclaiming, “Through Jesus Christ, we are united.” Amen.

Written by Shelley Donaldson, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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