In today’s reading from Acts we hear of the discord going on among the first Christians. Many Jewish Christians believed Gentile converts had to be first circumcised and live under the law of Moses to be right with God.
Let’s go back to the beginning of Acts 15 to understand the power of the Holy Spirit at this defining moment in the formation of the universal Christian community. Let’s also frame it in line from today’s Gospel, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”
The apostles and presbyters met in Jerusalem to discuss this controversy. After much debate Peter stood up and said “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.
The message of Jesus – preached by the Apostles, Paul, and the New Testament – come to God just as you are – Jew, Gentile, foreigner, rich, or poor – but you must come to Him through Jesus Christ.
Paul made it clear that it wasn’t his idea to preach to the Gentiles, this was God’s plan. The second part of the Gospel verse “I chose you and appointed you to go bear fruit,” in other words make disciples of all men. “I command you to love one another.” Put aside your mindset, our differences, our judgments, our limitations and see others the way God sees them.
It is implied in the reading from Acts that some of the Jewish Christians are upset that the Gentiles are giving the same ‘access to God,’ if you will, without having had to live by the same tenants they had before the coming of Christ. How do we do this in our own lives? Here is an extreme version of this thinking used for effect: I am not sure I want to serve a God who choices to love and call into relationship an individual or a group I deem unworthy.”
All of our strength, power, and grace comes from the truth that God loves us first. Jesus lays down his life for us demonstrating the greatest love story ever told. Christ’ leaves the earth so that the Spirit of God can remain with us forever. Divine Love pursues us every day of our lives. What is asked from us in return? “Love one another.” This is not passive love, but actively serving others both close and afar, those easy to love and those who challenge us, in ways that are comfortable for us, and ways that require sacrifice.
What a joy to be called a friend of Christ. We say yes to that friendship when we live in love. Our fuel – God loves us first.