In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I look at how Acts 15 might help us overcome some of the barriers physical distancing is forcing us to face.
Barriers can stop us from getting from one place to another.
Some barriers keep us safe.
Some barriers get in our way.
Barriers can separate.
Barriers can block and divide.
Some of us will have begun to get used to barriers at supermarkets, guiding us in or around the store, with markings on the floor to constantly remind us to keep 2m apart. Barriers to keep us safe that also keep us physically apart.
In 2020 we’re dealing with barriers in way’s many of us have never seen before. Due to coronavirus we’re blocked from being able to physically gather together. Christians can’t go to worship or prayer in church buildings, we can’t meet for coffee or children’s, youth and families ministry. Communities can’t gather for coffee mornings. We are physically distanced from one another.
But we are not socially distant. Over the last few weeks I’ve said many a time in conversations that I don’t find the term social distancing helpful, that I think it would be more helpful to have called it physical distancing.
Why? Because even while 2m or more apart, I think we can still be social. We may be physically distanced, but that doesn’t stop us being the social beings we are, made in the image of God to live in relationship. While not the same as physical meeting, the barriers of physical distancing can to some extent be overcome.
We can still have a conversation with the stranger who is walking on the other side of the road. We can still thank our posties and delivery drivers. From this week can sit in our gardens or in the park with a friend (still 2m apart of course).
In every phone call, every physically distanced catch up, every WhatsApp message, every video call, we have been gathering. Sharing fellowship. Seeking to encourage one another and build each other up.
I’ve been so deeply encouraged by just how ready so many in the churches I have been called to serve have been to phone, write, email, text and more to continue in fellowship together, encouraging and building each other up. And beyond that, reaching out to neighbours and friends, offering to pray for them, encouraging them, caring from them. This is mission, this is outreach, this is overcoming the barriers of coronavirus and building relationships.
For the moment we no longer have doors to open, so we are forced to use all that we have left, and we open lives, arms (metaphorically!) and hearts to others. And I wonder if in doing so we discover that it is in open hearted relationships in the streets in which we live, that we see the missio dei – mission of God – at work.
In Acts 15, at the council at Jerusalem Peter has his own barriers to deal with. Gentile believers were being told that unless they were circumcised there were not saved (15:1). The insider-outside separation that 21st Century human society seems so addicted to creating is no new phenomenon. Gentiles were not Jews, Gentiles were not circumcised. Gentiles were not the same as ‘us’ – so how can they be saved?
What does Peter say?
‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’Acts 15:7b-11, NRSV
Cast our minds back to Acts 10, and we remember that Peter has already had is time to learn that God is bigger than the barriers of human society:
‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’Acts 10:15b, NRSV
Peter had already been learning that God does not look for our outward actions, but at our heart. And that brings us in equality with our fellow human beings, not barriers between us.
“we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”Acts 15:11
So what may God be saying to us today through Acts 15? That’s for each of us to ponder for ourselves. For me, I think God is reminding me that I’m saved not by my actions but by God’s grace.
That I can let go of some of what I thought was most important. That for a time at least, my calling to this vocation will look very different. And while that feels to me very different, unfamiliar and uncertain, it’s going to be ok. God knows my heart finds the barriers of physical distancing tough. God knows that some days are harder than others. And despite it all, God’s grace is always overflowing, and God’s love always unconditional, he knows my heart. With God, barriers are overcome.
God knows your heart too. However you feel today, wherever you read this, whoever you are. God knows how you feel, your struggles, your anxieties, your joys. And God is seeing you right now, with a heart that is overflowing with love and grace for you.
With God, barriers are overcome.
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if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.