Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, Numbers 14:26-45, Acts 15:1-12, Luke 12:49-56
A 2012 U.S. News and World Report study claimed one out of three American citizens tested could not pass the civics portion of the immigration naturalization test. Rather than indict our educational system, but let’s consider what it says about our attitudes toward membership. Many exclusive groups, such as nations or religions, accept people born inside the group into full membership. Outsiders who wish to immigrate or convert must usually undergo education, testing and other entrance requirements. The different standards point to an underlying assumption that being born into a group imparts an essential understanding of the group’s culture. This study would indicate otherwise. Is it possible that one reason we construct “entrance exams” is to reassure ourselves of the superiority of our own group?
When some people in Antioch began saying Gentiles could only be saved if they were “circumcised according to the custom of Moses,” Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed. Peter agreed and asked the gathered apostles why they would put God to the test “by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we were able to bear?” In other words, if the Jewish people couldn’t save themselves with the law, Gentiles shouldn’t be expected to either. Does it sound a little like the type of entrance exam that doesn’t create good members, so much as hype the superiority of the group?
Of course immigration requires regulation, and conversion at least some minimal commitment to the standards of a religion: a person who believes Jesus never existed would make a poor Disciple of Christ. However, we must be careful we don’t exclude people based on matters of preference. Today we don’t ask each other whether we’ve been circumcised, but we may ask whether someone’s baptism was full-immersion or not, or which prayer someone said to become saved, or any number of questions regarding local and denominational customs. It seems part of the human experience that we must learn again and again that God “has made no distinction between them and us.” As Christians, let us make no distinctions where God has not.
Comfort: In God’s kingdom there is only an “us.”
Challenge: Ask your pastor about the requirements to join your church. Or if you don’t belong to a church, ask a friend about theirs.
Prayer: God of the sun and stars, shine a light on all that unites us.
Discussion: We are all members of some groups by birth, and some by intent. Are they any memberships you struggle with?
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