Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission
Lectionary Reflection
General Reflection on St. Stephen

General Reflection on St. Stephen:
by the Rev John Gibbs

Stories of the martyrs make it as clear as can be that Godís People are not disembodied spirits. A personality is an integral whole conjoining body, mind, spirit (or soul). Commitment of "heart and soul" involves the body, and may be fateful for it.

Though Scripture does not separate out the "parts" of a person, nor provide a compartmentalized anthropology, in todayís terms we might try to move back toward a holistic view of personality by saying that the body is put at the service of mind and spirit. The world of body and physicality and "nature" is part of Godís "good creation."

Martyrdom is evidence not that body is despised, but rather that the bodyís death is all the more regrettable in light of God having created it "good" (tov, a Hebrew word meaning "fit to serve the Creatorís purpose"). The unjust death of the whole person, including "body," can reach the level of honor designated by the term "martyr," which means "witness" to the Gospel. In that way "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

It is consequently questionable to draw a dichotomy between spiritual and temporal matters. Just as spirit or soul works through body to accomplish even the ultimate "witness," so our spiritual commitments make use of temporal means to give bodily, physical expression to "what is unseen."

Stewardship expresses spirituality. We worship usually not in thin air but in real physical buildings, our bodies warmed by furnaces or cooled by air conditioners. Worship makes use of space and time, and we do well to attend to what we do with both space and time within worship.

The contrast between "flesh" and "spirit," to which the Apostle Paul refers, in no way attacks the unitary personality that everyone assumed in his time. "Flesh" means not what I can pinch on my arm, but what I cannot avoid in the human condition that preceded me, surrounds me, and follows me. Term "flesh" refers to distorted relationships that tend to imprison the whole person in all its physical and spiritual capacities. (See J-J. von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible, pp. 251f.; Oxford, 1958.)

Environmental ethics can never get underway until the blood of the martyrs has claimed our full attention, and spoken its physical/spiritual "witness" among us. Once we have seen and heard that, we are reconnected to the treasure of our existence in time and space. The blood of the martyrs is the paradigm of our pilgrimage on this earth of space and time.

John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 1998.  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

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