Today, I'm involved in a service, Pray Across Scotland, ahead of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
I'll share this reflection:
Churches that follow the Sunday lectionary would hear preaching today, even if you celebrated Christian Aid Sunday, on Jesus as the good shepherd and/or on the description of the early church as described in Acts.
Let me share with you just a few verses from Acts chapter 2
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
When Peter preached that Pentecost sermon, when the Spirit came and people from all over the Roman empire heard the Good News in their own language, it was the Jewish people gathered for a Jewish festival who became the first converts. And these first converts, the members of the first community of faith that had the Risen Christ as their Lord, brought with them all that they had in common as well as all their differences. Things that united them and things that could have divided them.
And, as we read through the book of Acts, we read of many of their disagreements on religious outlook.
But look at the picture painted in Acts chapter 2. In the midst of all their differences,still they managed to create, together, a faithful family that worshiped Jesus Christ as Lord. They were the church family, the body of Christ, as we too aspire to be.
The church of Acts gathered around the Good News and in doing so, found unity where others might have found division. They wouldn’t always be so faithful, so one in Spirit, but, time and again, they’d come back to their oneness in Christ.
That first church is mirrored throughout history. Over and over people with all kinds of differences – some obvious, some that take a little digging and time to discover – people gather together to worship, to serve, to care for one another and all in the name of Christ. From time to time, the family of faith resembles those first days of the church. And from time to time, we let our differences get the better of us.
Whether we find ourselves bound together in love or sorrowfully divided, the fact that there are differences among us does not change.
The real difference, perhaps, is that sometimes we let those differences divide us and sometimes we live as though Christ is Lord of all and calls us all together.
Sometimes we live as though we truly believe that God’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples… even the ones we don’t agree with.
Our differences matter. They are not insignificant details.
But, they are also not, thanks to Christ, insurmountable. For in Christ all things are possible. In Christ, there is no division strong enough to keep God from calling us together. To keep us from being one loving family of faith.
The Good Shepherd welcomes all the sheep and declares that the sheepfold is plenty big enough.
Who are we to narrow the abundance of God?
My prayer, as we approach the General Assembly, as we debate the finer points together, as we reveal our differences, is that in Christ, we will be able to affirm that there is room for all.