Thirty-Third Day of Easter   8 comments

St. James of Jerusalem, a Pivotal Figure at the Council of Jerusalem

Divine Love, Commandments, and Gentiles, or: The Artificiality of Aspects of Organized Religion

May 11, 2023


Acts 15:6-21 (Revised English Bible):

The apostles and elders met to look into this matter, and, after a long debate, Peter rose to address them.

My friends,

he said,

in the early days, as you yourselves know, God made his choice among you: from my lips the Gentiles were to hear and believe the message of the gospel.  And God, who can read human hearts, showed his approval by giving the Holy Spirit to them as he did to us.  He made no difference between them and us; for he purified their hearts by faith.  Then why do you now try God’s patience by laying on the shoulders of these converts a yoke which neither we nor our forefathers were able to bear?  For our belief is that we are saved in the same way as they are: by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

At that the whole company fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul s they described all the signs and portents that God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

When they had finished speaking James summed up:

My friends,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon had described how it first happened that God, in his providence, chose from among the Gentiles a people to bear his name.  This agrees with the words of the prophets: as scripture has it,

Thereafter I will return and rebuild the fallen house of David;

I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again,

that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

all the Gentiles whom I have claimed for my own.

Thus says the Lord, who is doing this as he made it known long ago.

In my judgment, therefore, we should impose no irksome restrictions on those of the Gentiles who are turning to God; instead we should instruct them by letter to abstain from things polluted by contact with idols, from fornications, from anything that has been straightened and from blood.  Moses, after all, has never lacked spokesmen in every town for generations past; he is read in the synagogues sabbath by sabbath.

Psalm 96 (Revised English Bible):

Sing a new song to the LORD.

Sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his name;

day by day proclaim his victory.

Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvellous deeds to every people.

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

For the gods of the nations are idols every one;

but the LORD made the heavens.

Majesty and splendour attend him,

might and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of nations,

ascribe to the LORD glory and might;

ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name.

Being an offering and enter his courts;

in holy attire worship the LORD;

tremble before him, all the earth.

Declare among the nations,

The LORD is king;

the world is established immovably;

he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad,

let the sea resound and everything in it,

let the fields exult and all that is in them;

let all the trees of the forest shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice

and peoples by his faithfulness.

John 15:9-11 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Remain on in my love.  And you will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept  my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.  I have said this to you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be fulfilled.

The Collect:

O God, you continually increase your Church by the birth of new sons and daughters in Baptism: Grant that they may be obedient all the days of their life to the rule of faith which they received in that Sacrament; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


We human beings seem to be inherently cliquish, with some notable exceptions.  Sometimes God speaks to us and commands us to do something; let us call it X for the sake of this devotional.  X is supposed originally to be a sign of obedience to and reverence for God.  Yet, over time, certain people transform X into a sign of exclusivity and seek to impose it on others, who seek God honestly yet find X burdensome.  Perhaps those who impose this burden as a condition of membership think they are doing God’s work.  Yet they are doing so such thing.

Circumcision was a daunting prospect for a Hellenistic male.  Many Gentiles, dissatisfied with varieties of polytheism, believed in the God of Judaism, yet remained on the periphery because they were Gentiles.  Many of them loved God yet did not look forward to circumcision.  And who can blame them?  Some Jews did.  Peter, a convert to the idea of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as equals, defended the goyim when Judaizers confronted him.

As Peter said, God shows no partiality, and anyone who keeps God’s commandments is acceptable to God.  Circumcision is not an issue in this framework.  Yet loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself are issues.  This is the summary of the law of God.  And, as Jesus said, keep his commandments.  I have paraphrased his short version of divine law.

So, why do we lay such burdens on people and seek exclusive identities.  I propose an oft-repeated thought: often we define ourselves by what we are not.  (I am guilty of this, so I write to myself first and to others second.)  We need to define ourselves primarily by what we are.  We are bearers of the image of God, who is pure love.  If we really love one another, we will look upon others as bearers of the divine image and fellow brothers and sisters in the human family.  This understanding embraces our common humanity.  History tells me that when governments to war, frequently they launch propaganda campaigns to dehumanize the enemy, thereby making it easier to convince people that killing the “others” is moral.  (The U.S. government did this to the Germans during World War I, for example.  And the Nazis did it to the Jews and many non-Germans before and during World War II.)

Yet God loves everyone–Jews and Gentiles, Americans and Germans, Germans and non-Germans, et cetera.  Anyone who loves God actively is acceptable to God, and labels are irrelevant.  Dare we speak this truth?


Posted originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 6, 2010


Posted October 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023, Episcopal Church Lectionary, May 11

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