Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission
Lectionary Reflection
Year A, Easter 7, New Testament Lesson

Acts 1:1-14

Jesus said to the apostles, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Acts 1:1-14
by John Gibbs, Ph D

“Becoming People Who Are Safe for the World” (Witnessing to God’s Rule in the World)

This first chapter of Church history has no creation vocabulary. It does not directly address issues of ecological responsibility. It focuses on the birth of the Church. Nevertheless, it describes the presence of “Spirit” and “power” in the Church’s earliest beginning. Both have become determinative for the covenant community’s care of the creation.

The Church gets underway through being baptized with the Holy Spirit. This is the same Creator Spirit that brought meaning out of chaos at the Creation. The holiness of God sustains God’s “good” creation. The Church that is empowered by that holiness also works against chaos, and on behalf of God’s creation.

What the infant church dreamed about, on the other hand, was return to the glory days of Israel: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Clearly the answer took her by surprise: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This answer targets “power” as their central concern, reinterprets power, and discloses that the kingdom of Israel was not the same as the kingdom of God (vv. 3,6). What kind of “power” is appropriate for the Church? It cannot be self-serving oppressive power, the power of domination, or the power to destroy. Only the power to be “witnesses” to God’s rule is promised to the Church.

At the start of the third millennium the Church is still learning about stark contrasts between God’s liberating and enabling power and, on the other hand, commonly accepted economic and social uses of power that enforce systemic injustice upon humanity and all life alike. We in the Church are not at liberty to baptize, nor to be silent about, unaccountable uses of power that mutilate the face of the earth and deface the image of God within humanity. Especially during ecological crisis the Church cannot witness to God’s rule if she adopts prevalent lifestyles that assault the earth and the life it supports.

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament
Ezekiel 39:21-29
Psalm 68 or
Psalm  47
New Testament
1 Peter 4:12-19 or 
Acts 1:(1-7)8-14
 this page
John 17:1-11

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 2002.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the web site.

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