Dear Friends,
Barriers and boundaries define our lives. There are physical boundaries: geographical features that form natural limits, such as the Rivers Test and Itchen that divide and limit Southampton. At a larger scale we are an island nation with distinct coasts defined by the sea. This can affect our attitudes as result, including towards others abroad. Speaking of which, I daresay that you are continuing to lap up the coverage of the forthcoming referendum! Actually, it is a serious issue that we should all vote on, although as a member of the ministry team I do not wish to prejudice things by saying which way you should vote, except to say that I have an independent streak and also believe in consensus and working with others. And with an evasive answer like that perhaps I should be a politician!

There are, of course, many other barriers: cultural, racial, linguistic, and even within languages. On the latter point, it has often been said that Britain and America are two great nations divided by a common language – just consider the different names for parts of a car, or should I say automobile. Maybe the latter is a barrier that is falling in the light of the continuing scenario of Americanisms peppering our language, period (sic).

There are also barriers caused by illness and disability. Some are obvious, and one can only admire those para-athletes who overcome limitations to compete in marathons and sports events. Other limits, such as those imposed by long term illnesses and medical conditions, some the result of age and some not, are less obvious but no less limiting, as can be the effects of mental illness, bereavement or the loss of a job.

Now some barriers are there for good reasons: motorway crash barriers are there for our own safety as are, in a different sense, the many rules and laws that we have to define mutually acceptable behaviour.

However there are also self-imposed barriers of the “I can’t do that” or “I won’t do that!” kind that are not always helpful. Whilst we cannot be good at everything, we are often better at many things than we think, and many self-imposed barriers can prove to be illusory. Often we have got into that way of thinking because of the comments of others, perhaps made many years ago and based more on the insecurities of those who said them than in actual reality.

But the true reality is that individuals can make a difference and that together we can make a big difference and overcome barriers. The Easter season and then the day of Pentecost remind us of how God breaks barriers through Jesus and the early believers. In the Resurrection the greatest physical barrier of all, death, has been broken by Jesus. In the Bible readings that have come on the Sundays afterwards we are reminded how God continues to break barriers. In Acts 10 and 11, Peter’s vision at Joppa of being invited to eat kill and eat animals normally regarded as unclean, coupled with the arrival of the Holy Spirit to a group of Gentiles, more barriers are broken. It is not that the Jewish Law is entirely replaced by these events: the Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments, in particular, still stand. However the hold of the many peripheral rules that grew up, sometimes through custom, sometimes for reasons of hygiene (at that time it was as well to be careful about certain foods in hot countries), is broken. Small wonder, perhaps, that it took the early believers quite some time to understand this.

God continues to challenge and break our barriers into the present day too. And what is that underpins this breaking of barriers? Quite simply it is God’s Love, because our God is calling humanity to live and grow with Him, and to let go of unnecessary limits that prevent this and that hold us back. That Love is demonstrated through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and then in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives ever since. Not a sentimental slushy love, but a dynamic renewing love, sometimes a tough love that challenges wrong decisions. More often however it is shown through acts of kindness to one another, and through the example that we show in how we handle life’s good and bad times. Yes, people look at how we handle ourselves at the latter times too.

Sometimes it may seem as if the difficulties that we face are overwhelming, but they are not since God’s Love and ability to break barriers is never stronger than when the odds seem to be against Him! In the post Easter and Pentecost season we see a God whose Love overcomes all obstacles and barriers. He can and will continue to do the same with us today and in the times to come.
Chris