Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC) Lectionary Reflection Year C, Sixth Sunday of Easter, New Testament Lesson

Acts 14:8-18

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, "Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good-- giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy." Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Reflection on Acts 14:8-18 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Thanks to Luke's interest in conversions, we have quite a statement here about the witness of the creation to God. Acts 13-14 portray conversions in three episodes: 13:6-13a; 13:14-52; 14:8-18. Conversion in all 3 instances involves a turning away, and a turning toward, as Jacques Dupont demonstrated in The Salvation of the Gentiles (N.Y.: Paulist, 1979).

In today's text conversion turns away "from multiple centers of value, all at the human level (14:15)" (C. H. Talbert, Knox Preaching Guides: Acts, p. 61; Atlanta: JKP, 1984). That is because conversion is an act of turning toward the good Creator (14:15, 17).

Stories about conversion are stories about new beginnings. As such, they stand in sharp contrast to the maintenance mentality of so many beleagured congregations. Conversions are also events in which the gifts of God are received. As William H. Willimon maintains, "God is the chief actor in all Lukan accounts of conversion. .Conversion is not the result of skillful leadership by the community, or even of persuasive preaching or biblical interpretation. .Too much mainline Protestantism is focused, not upon conversion, but upon accommodation, adjustment, and the gospel reduced to the utterly conventional. Acts reminds the preacher that change, turning, is at the heart of the Christian message."" ("Eyewitnesses and Ministers of the Word: Preaching in Acts," Interpretation, April 1988 [42/2], p. 168)

The question arises: what might be the result if the Church as a whole were to turn away from its preoccupations with inwardness, and with justification by faith as the sole key to every Christian thought? What if the Church were to turn instead toward the vast cosmic canvas that God has set before and around us?

What if the Church were no longer to look for human miracle workers to save us from ourselves, and no longer to put their hope in "worthless things"? What would be the result of reorienting our whole thinking, so that the Church collectively turned "to the living God, who made heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them" (14:15)?

The whole creation bears "witness" (14:17) to the God who created it, ".giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy." When we hear and see that witness, we are far removed from mere maintenance issues and solipsistic "piety." Imagine the doctrine of creation, and the environmental ethics that it entails, leading toward conversion! Luke did, and he reports that it happened.


John Gibbs, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2001. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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