PostScript: Dissolving divisions
In a world often marked by painful divisions that keep us apart, Peter’s story offers us hope of connection and new community (Acts 11.1-18).
Division is everywhere at the moment.
- Jeremy Kyle is in trouble with a serious allegation that a participant on his TV show, a programme that focuses on the toxic divisions that come between families and friends, died shortly after being exposed by a lie detector which uncovered the problems between him and his fiancée.
- With the launch of a five-year review into inequalities in the UK, the notion of a divided society has been under scrutiny this week with clear evidence that the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ are living starkly different lives.
- Even in the cultural landscape division is a major theme. Avengers Endgame is still in contention for the ‘biggest movie of all time’ prize, and its 182 minutes certainly offer much to any Marvel fan. But even here the idea of division is one that keeps the plot moving; from the obvious good vs evil trope, to more subtle divisions between the Avengers themselves. The film also examines a world divided into pre- and post-Thanos and his despotic tendencies, and eventually foregrounds the ultimate dividing line between life and death.
Division is everywhere at the moment, and we haven’t even mentioned Brexit or the European elections!
This week’s reading from Acts reveals that the notion of division is nothing new. The chapter opens with heavy criticism of Peter for crossing a massive religious and cultural dividing line when the circumcised believers in Jerusalem discover he’s been in Joppa eating with uncircumcised Gentiles. For those in Jerusalem this is the ultimate division, Jews and Gentiles were two communities long divided.
However, the story that unfolds in Acts 11 reveals that in God’s kingdom division is not on the agenda. Through a powerful dream, Peter is shown a key marker of the divisions between the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles: unclean food. His revulsion at the unclean, Gentile food is challenged by a powerful word from God himself: ‘What God is has made clean, you must not call profane’ (v.9). The message is reinforced for Peter three times before he wakes and is led by the Spirit to a Gentile household. There he witnesses a powerful dissolving of division when the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentile household, and they all begin to worship God.
The one Spirit of God ignores religious, cultural and social divisions and is given to anybody who believes. It seems that in his kingdom, God is in the business of deconstructing divisions; instead connecting and creating a new single community.
From the evidence of this week’s news cycle, human beings appear to be good at division. The way we live, social inequalities, power structures and the observable need to identify ourselves with a group points to a life that is defined by deeply embedded divisions. We too have all sorts of markers and badges that define us against others.
At the moment, the divisions between us are painting a gloomy picture, but this is not the picture painted in God’s kingdom. Here, all are offered a single identity, that of God’s children; and his Holy Spirit is poured out on all who believe, making everyone clean in his sight. It’s a powerful and dramatic heavenly antidote to the divided earthly way we live today, and we’re all invited to belong, because division is nowhere in God’s kingdom!
Based on thoughts from Psalm 148.
From the heavens to the deeps,
we praise you, Lord.
From the heights to the depths,
we praise you, Lord.
From the sun to the moon,
we praise you, Lord.
In the sun and the snow,
we praise you, Lord.
You overcome our divisions
and bring us together as your people, and
we praise you, Lord. Amen.
- Where do you see division in your community?
- What are the things that cause division in your life?
- How can you be part of a bringing together of things/situations/people that are divided?
For this activity you will need: strips of paper (15 cm x 4 cm) to make paper chains, several rolls of sticky stape, and several volunteers!
Give each person in the congregation a strip of paper. Explain that we are often surrounded by division, but the story today shows that God gives his one Holy Spirit to all who believe. This brings us together as one people belonging to God, whoever we are. The Holy Spirit dissolves all of the divisions and differences that exist in the human realm and points us towards the heavenly realm.
To demonstrate the way divisions are dissolved and we are connected together as one family of God invite the congregation to make together one long paper chain by forming interlocking links with the strips of paper and sticky tape, and try to wrap it round as much of the church as possible.
The easiest way may be to ask each row to make one chain then connect these chains together to form the whole church paper chain. You will need several volunteers to hold the finished chain and prevent it from ripping. Offer instruction from the front to the volunteers as to how to move the chain so it wraps round the church/congregation.
Ask the young people to get into small groups and hand them a newspaper. Invite them to look for three or four stories that seem to highlight divisions and cut them out. Ask the young people to place the cut-out stories on the floor in the centre of the room and glue or tape all of the stories from each group together at the edges to form one large piece of new paper connecting all if the stories together.
Briefly discuss the sorts of stories they have selected. Reflect with the group on the divisions that plague our society/world. Next hand each young person a felt tip pen. Invite them to work together to draw one large cross over the newspaper stories. When complete stand back and think about the way that the cross challenges divisions. Talk about what this means for you and your young people.
Fiona Dorman is the Education Officer at Bristol Cathedral.
KEY: icon indicates ways to connect faith with everyday life
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