Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

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We meet quarterly close to the solstice and equinox.

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Mary Brown Environmental Center in Ely, MN

Creation Season Materials


Resolution on the Spirituality of Food Production

Resolution on Church Buildings and Grounds

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To Reflections on other Readings for Year B, Proper 25

Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Isaiah 59: (1-4) 9-19
Psalm 13
New Testament Hebrews 5:12 - 6:1, 9-12
Gospel Mark 10: 46-52

Special Acts 10:9-28, 34-35 this reading

Lectionary Reflection

Year B, Proper 25 New Testament Lesson Special Reflection for Creation Season 2006

Acts 10: 9-28, 34-35

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, Get up, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean. The voice said to him again, a second time, What God has made clean, you must not call profane. This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simons house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them. So Peter went down to

the men and said, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming? They answered, Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say. So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peters arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, Stand up; I am only a mortal. And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

Peter began to speak to them: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Reflection on Acts 10: 9-28, 34-35

by John G. Gibbs, PhD

It would be quite a stretch to reach emphasis on "eating locally" from any of these texts. To attempt to do so would not serve our interest in recovering the significant presence of the creation within biblical literature. That is because the function of each of these texts is something other than to commend "eating locally' rather than having our foods brought to us an average of 1,200-1,500 miles. There is the further circumstance that in the cultures for which these texts were written most food was consumed locally, for our 21st century transportation network did not then exist.

The issue in Acts 10:9-28, 34-35 is the inclusiveness of the gospel as distinct from purity laws. At the time when Luke wrote the first volume of the Church's history in The Acts of the Apostles, the major story to be told was the spread of the Christian faith beyond Jewish Christians into Gentile communities. The message of "peace" (10:36) is one of inclusion rather than exclusion. That meant, as Peter said: "God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean." This text, accordingly, implies much of relevance to the present economic class divisions, racism, and homophobia in the Church. This implication can be made, that is, if the innovations of biblical interpretation and cultural mores that obtained in the early Church are to be our guide (rather than wooden repetition of the exact situation specified by Peter).

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the famous "Shema" (Hebrew word "Hear") in the Torah and in Jewish tradition. It remains today the foundational charter of religious education within synagogue and church alike. Observe carefully: its monotheism, "love" as the central command to those whose lives would be oriented toward that one God alone, the presence of this faith in the whole of the community's life (verse 7), the relevance of this faith to the whole personality of both a person and a community (hand, forehead, house, gates), the transmission of this faith from one generation to the next (recite, talk about).

In light of this monumental statement about the meaning of the first commandment (within the Decalogue), there is no basis for the view that Judaism is a religion of "works" as opposed to Christianity's "faith." The one God alone is as much the God of grace for Judaism as God is the God of grace for the Church. For the Shema, as subsequent verses show, God is the God of deliverance from bondage, the God of liberation, the God who wills "that your days may be long" (6:2) and "that it may go well with you" (6:3), the God whose promises (6:3ff) communicate his grace. Anti-Semitism is a black mark on the Church's history. [E. P. Sanders, Lloyd Gaston, and many others have combated against false dichotomies between Christianity and Judaism that have done justice to neither religious community.]

At Jacob's well near Sychar in the culturally pluralistic Samaria (between Judea and Galilee), according to John 4:7-41, Jesus drew "living water" from a deeper well than ancient hostilities had known. Divisions between man and woman, between Samaria and both Judea and Galilee, between Jerusalem's temple and any other place of worship-all these are set aside by Jesus' inclusive lifestyle and message. In this text as in Acts 10 we see the early Church's innovative interpretations of biblical texts, and again we find precedents for interpretive approaches that go for the essential core, casting aside the dispensable particulars of historical circumstance. Worship is not confined by place, however much a particular place such as the Jerusalem temple might aid worship. Instead, "true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (4:23). That is because "God is spirit." We can worship anywhere "in spirit and truth."

It is well to remember that this gospel was written at least 2 decades (or was it 6-7 decades?) after the resurrection, and thus in light of the Church's faith even though details of events and words at least 20-23 years old no longer might be recalled exactly. The object was much less to report historical details than to report "signs" which Jesus "did" (20:30), not in order to satisfy our modern quest for "what actually happened" but "so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31).

That circumstance helps us understand words attributed to Jesus (4:10, 13-14, 21-24, 26, 32-38) not as egomaniacal statements, but as being words of this gospel's author that legitimately try to summarize the real meaning in the life and work of Jesus. Echoes of Jesus' exact words and deeds may remain extant in these concise accurate summaries of their meaning.

The Lord's Prayer conjoins heaven and earth, God's glory and our needs, our needs and our neighbors' needs. Daily bread received, "debts" forgiven, deliverance from evil are our petitions or requests to holy God. Forgiveness received is prototype of forgiveness granted, both being the basis of life in community with "others" (6:14-15). [That is the case in Matthew's version of the prayer.]

Luke 11:2-4 has "sins" instead of "debts," "Father" instead of "Our Father in heaven," omits "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," and omits "but rescue us from the evil one." These variations in details, while the basic substance of Jesus' teaching about prayer remains constant, remind us of the fact that all the gospels were written at a time some decades later when the words and events being described on the basis of oral tradition might not be stated exactly the same way on each recall. They were written so that what mattered most, namely the basic meanings of Jesus' words and deeds, would remain intact and available both for later generations and for contemporaries yet to be proselytized.

In both Matthew and Luke the Lord's Prayer is both physical (earth, bread) and spiritual (hallowed, debts or sins, time of trial), always within the community of faith ("Our," "us," "we ourselves"). Daily bread and forgiveness remain prominent in the recollections of both gospels.

So then, what to do about "eating locally"? Why not include a flyer in the church bulletin that deals with the necessity of eating locally as a means of reducing our use of fossil fuels (products of millennia of sunlight), and thereby reducing global warming? Our texts do not speak to the issue, for the problem we have (global warming) did not then exist.

But if we try to live on the basis of God's will being done on earth (no less than in heaven), then we cannot continue contributing to the ruin of the planet. Further, if we live on the basis of God's promises of liberation from bondage, then we cannot continue to subject more and more species to extinction as the conditions essential to their survival are destroyed by our lifestyles. Instead we will learn to live as one among other species, and as those who "image" the garden-tending Creator by making choices that do in fact tend the garden that has been entrusted to us.

Historical geography (see, e.g., Jared Diamond's books including Collapse) documents local ecological disasters that were human-caused. But the present planetary situation of human-caused climate change was unknown until our time. Certainly there are ample precedents in biblical literature for living carefully within our natural habitats, and restoring the creation that we have been destroying. These precedents warrant the Church's vigorous engagement with, and support of, efforts to save our ecological heritage from the Creator. An excellent recent study is that by Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon, 2005).

John G Gibbs, PhD originally wrote this reflection in 2006 especially for the 2006 Creation Season for the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota. At that time he attended Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John G. Gibbs or any member of the MEESC or our Webverger or send a letter to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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