Psalms 87:1-3, 4-5, 6-7
The reading from Acts gives us a precious glimpse of a moment in the formation of the early Church. Whereas the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”) makes the early church’s mission to the Gentiles seem a simple and obvious thing, the narrative of Acts gives a more complicated picture.
It took a series of visions and a fresh Pentecost in Cornelius’ household
for Peter to fully realize that the Gospel was meant for non-Jews as well
(see Acts 10.) And today’s segment from the Acts of the Apostles
shows how the Christian mission spread out from Jerusalem because they
were scared out of town. The Jerusalem “Jews-for-Jesus” community was scattered
by the persecution that arose because of Stephen. At first they preached
the word to no one but other Jews. Because some of these missioners happened
to be Greek-speakers from Cyprus and Cyrene, they began to share the good
news of the Lord Jesus with some of the Gentiles in Antioch in northern
Syria. Those Antiochene Gentiles turned out to be surprisingly responsive,
and the number of those who joined to “Jews-for-Jesus” group in Antioch
grew enormously. This unexpected development led the Jerusalem leaders
to send Barnabas to check out what was happening. Barnabas recognized this
development as the grace of God. God apparently wanted this to happen.
When I read this, I am moved to ask, who are the “Gentiles” among us today? Could they be Christians of other denominations? If there is a barrier between us and others who are baptized into the same body of Christ, maybe we need to pray that the Holy Spirit teach us how to overcome those barriers. Or, are some of our “Gentiles” (ironically) Jews? Maybe it will help us overcome centuries of Christian anti-Judaism if we learn more about the Jewish roots of Christian origins and how the revelation of God came to us by way of the Jewish story of God’s life with the people of Israel. Or maybe our Gentiles are members of our own Christian denomination whom we dismiss as (depending on our point of view) “liberal” or “conservative”—while we affirm our own clique as (again, depending on our perspective) “progressive” or “orthodox.” Let’s allow Luke’s history to remind us that God’s work with our church is unfinished and that the Spirit is always ready to turn apparent disaster into fresh beginnings.
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