Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46
How do we respond in challenging situations?
Conflict and discontent have been a part of the social (dis)order longer than the church itself. Human nature (free will?) leads us to have different interpretations of events around us and in times of rapid change, as we see in some of the Bible passages today, change leads to stress which escalates to open conflict between people and can threaten the church itself.
The Psalms passages provide assurances of God’s service and care for us in times of trouble. No matter what we have going on in our lives, God supports us through such times. I find particular assurance in Psalm 46:1 which reminds me that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Regardless of catastrophe happening across the world around us, God is there.
The newly rescued Israelites faced no shortage of conflict themselves. Despite experiencing first-hand the dramatic miracles in their rescue, they still doubted God’s ability to provide the promised land. After hearing of the peoples who inhabited the land, they refused to go forward and claim God’s promise. For this reason, God condemned the generation of leaders to wander the desert one year for every day they had spied on the land. Even despite the proclamation, a group of Israelites decided to go ahead and as a result were destroyed by the peoples they encountered. The Israelites lived off God’s promise from day-to-day. Nevertheless, they refused to act on the belief when it came to claiming the land God provided for them. Their human nature could not accept their own power in God.
Today’s Acts passage lets us see just how little things have changed in the church since its beginning. One group of believers held on to the Old Testament law, for little more reason than God had commanded it. They believed in the New Covenant through Jesus, but they had trouble giving up the Old Covenant. There had been a way for Gentiles to convert to Judaism, but that involved circumcision and following a set of rules. It was the way they knew. Suddenly there was that tradition that was completely gone and there was a totally new way of doing things.
How often do we see this in the church today?
I find myself sympathizing with those who came in teaching the requirement of circumcision. Anything different violated what they had been taught for a lifetime – and many generations before. Nevertheless, I find myself cheering for the apostles as they proclaim the living word of God and his love and salvation for ALL people. The debate on the New Covenant provided a seminal moment in the church that shapes much of what we do today – yet even today, we continue to face disputes on the way to do things because of tradition even when new learning should guide new actions.
Jesus indicated as much through the event cited in Luke. He foretells coming conflicts as people interpret his teachings even focusing on the closest relationships. The conflicts about his teachings not only exist across groups, but within the tightest social structures. While we often want to see Jesus one who brought peace and unity, the reality remains that he brought division between the people of his time: a tradition that continues today.
As painful as change can be, we cannot afford to support our faith only with the shallow faith that comes from holding selective verses above the others. Our God is complete as is his word. The Holy Spirit does not act independent of the Father, nor does the Son keep his voice from the Holy Spirit. In the same way, we are demanded to take the entire Word as our guide. Failure to do otherwise puts us in the same circumstance as the Israelites in the wilderness: in the least bound by our own fears and unable to act with the power God has given us at the most preventing others whom God would have us bring to him from seeing God’s love. Just like the apostles and the Jews, God would have us work together to understand his desire for the world.
Let us learn to see beyond ourselves in a ways that accept the fullness of God’s love and being. Help us through times of conflict and change in a way that not only promotes our personal growth, but promotes the growth of your kingdom.