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Being open to all Acts 10:44-end

In our reading from Acts this morning something shocking happens: the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the uncircumcised! Only once in my life to my recollection have I been asked if I am circumcised - and if you do not mind I will not trouble you with the answer.

In first century Palestine, however, this was a crucial demarcation indeed it had been since the time of the ancient Hebrews where the fact that the Philistines did not practice this was just one more thing to make them so detested. Circumcision in Jesusí day was an act of initiation into the covenant community and was originally performed on the eighth day after birth. Now an act of initiation is also an act of exclusion; those who are not initiated are by definition outside. Among the books in my reading pile at the moment is a history of freemasonry here an example of this kind of thinking. And so the the circumcised believers, these early Christian Jews who believed in Jesus Christ , and who were Godís chosen people are SHOCKED that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles who were quite definitely not members of their club.

It surprises me still that these sentiments of belonging or not belonging so many thousands of years later are alive and active today. Setting aside the different approaches of the Jews, the Moslems, Sikhs and Hindus we need only look across our Christian traditions, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist for example to find denominational gulfs that sometimes erupt into our lives.
Perhaps you have been at a Catholic wedding, baptism or funeral and have realised that if you were to take communion you would cause offence. The differences between Anglican churches themselves can lead to feelings of exclusion for example on the grounds of gender.

Jesus came to save us all. We heard only a few weeks ago when Jesus speaking to those outside of Judaism said ďI am the good shepherd; I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold I must bring them also, they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.Ē Peter was taught this in a vision and he understood it so well that he determined to baptise these Gentiles who had heard the word and who had received the Holy Spirit.

So we have a responsibility not to be a club, not to exclude but to include. If this is so and I believe it is then this must shape who we are - I want to suggest three ways in which our church needs to be:

● We will welcome anyone whoever you are and from wherever you come
● We will share the message of Christian love, hope and way of living with all, both within and without our church walls
● We will seek to learn, to worship and to pray in community together

Those early Jewish Christians would have found that profoundly shocking - I pray we donít.

Amen.

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