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
by John G Gibbs,
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.