Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 12, 2019
Year C, Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
At the time of this posting, there was no recording of this sermon. The text is below.
Most of you have met my dog, Pal. Many of you haven’t met the one I sometimes lovingly call “crazy cat”. She and Pal don’t get along too well and as long as Pal is in the house, she tends to dwell in the lower level bedrooms. If he’s out of the house, or if he’s sleeping in the master bedroom, she’s right there amusing us. That’s the story of Tabitha. I’ve tried to call her Dorcas, which but she doesn’t seem to respond to that. Clearly, I haven’t trained her in her Greek name.
Seriously, the story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, in today’s reading from Acts, is one of my favorites. Tabitha is a disciple who walks the walk. Let me underscore what I just said. When someone suggests that there were no women among the apostles and disciples, here’s a specific reference to a disciple whose name was Tabitha. “Now in Joppa, there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha”.
We’re also told that Tabitha was devoted to doing good works and performing acts of charity. This devotion makes an impact on the lives of those around her. When Tabitha dies, her community of believers is stricken by the void left in their world. The widows of the congregation don’t just cry for her; they also display her good works, the seamstress skills she put to work for others. I am not a seamstress, truth be told I can’t sew more than a button and even that’s a labor, but Tabitha’s seamstress skills were legendary.
It was a tragedy, a huge loss to the town when Tabitha died. Imagine, especially for the widows, this loss. They had already lost their husbands, and this was a woman who had been helping them, making clothes for them, caring for the poorest of the poor in that society.
When Tabitha died, her body was laid out and cared for by the other women as was the custom. As the women washed her body and anointed it with spices, I imagine they told stories to each other that Tabitha had told them. Tabitha was a woman of great faith in Jesus Christ and she shared her faith with the other women.
So, we’ve got a room full of widows mourning the death of a pillar of their community. Tabitha, or Dorcas, while only mentioned in this passage, sounds much like a living saint in our churches today, those people who spend enormous amounts of time, energy and resources to those in need. I never knew of the sewing ministry of what were called Dorcas Guilds in many churches. Some consider it an anachronistic tradition. Is it? I’m aware of women who still gather regularly, even after working a full day, to sew and congregate, to be in community.
Tabitha in her own quiet way is a powerful woman. Indeed, she had such an impact on the community around her that they can’t bear to let her go. Even though they wash her body, they still send for Peter when they hear that he’s nearby? They send word to Peter that he should hurry to Joppa without delay. She is already dead. Is it a call for him to come and pay his respects and mourn with the people before they lay this faithful servant to rest? Or have the disciples heard about the other miracles which Peter has performed in the name of Jesus? Are they expecting a miracle?
The text doesn’t give us this information, but I think we can conclude that Peter’s presence is important. Peter walked and talked with Jesus; he witnessed the miracles of Christ. Peter gets up immediately and goes. Just as Jesus, before healing someone or performing a miracle, began by having compassion, Peter has compassion for those impacted by Tabitha and her own compassionate works. She is dead, but the evidence of her work still lives—in the material goods shown by the widows, in the tears shed from their eyes.
We tend to forget that the disciples were empowered to heal. We are much more familiar with Jesus performing healings and raising people from the dead. But here was Peter, the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times the night before he was crucified, the same Peter whose faith faltered when he attempted to walk across the water to meet Jesus. Peter has never raised anyone from the dead, he has only watched Jesus raise someone from the dead.
But by now, Peter has experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has seen the risen Jesus and broken bread with him. He has found his faith and it is resolute.
First, before he gets down to business, Peter has to put some people out of the room. This is exactly what Jesus does in Mark’s telling of the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead. In both cases, it’s unclear why the people are told to get out. What is clear is that the people are not optimistic. They are weeping and wailing; in the Jairus story, some of them even laugh at Jesus.
Peter is confident in the power of God through Jesus Christ. He kneels down and prays. He tells Tabitha to “get up.”.
That’s essentially where the story of Tabitha ends. It’s important enough, however, to be recalled in the Book of Acts. It’s important because her own resurrection, her own belief in Jesus Christ, leads others to believe in Christ.
But what does it have to say to us today?
Being a disciple is not just about the miracles we see and experience. It’s about seeing God in the ordinary places that might not look so attractive. It’s about allowing God to work in our lives, no matter where we are or what’s going on. God can show up in the least likely places and perform wonders even in situations that appear dormant or dead. Being a disciple means knowing that God is still active in our lives and in our communities.
What better way to live out the love of Jesus Christ in the resurrection than to serve others in love? A love that refuses to give in to the cruelties of the world. Just as Jesus said the works he did in the name of God, so, too, must we testify to that love of Christ in the world. This love is what gave Tabitha’s community hope. They h ad so much hope they sent for Peter.
In life and death, and in renewed life, Tabitha’s great love for serving God’s people spoke for her. The good news about what God had done in Tabitha spread throughout the region and many believed in the Lord. We tell the story of Tabitha because it shows the incredible power of life in Christ. Tabitha the disciple learned from Jesus a giving way of life. Tabitha had become one with the Lord she followed, and that union showed in how she lived, how she cared for others, how she directed her resources. Her life had been transformed by Jesus. Her being raised from death was one more powerful sign of the presence of Christ in her. Whether she lived or died, she was in Christ and shared in his transforming and everlasting life.
In Tabitha’s death and resurrection, the community was identifying the presence of God. Their experiences of God began their life of discipleship. We can take a look at their lives, at the life of Jesus and the message is: “take a look at my life. Take a look at my actions.”
That is what I ask each of you here today to do. Take a look at your life. Take a look at your actions. How are they helping to form the community of God in this church, in your family, in the community?
 Acts 9:36, New Revised Standard Version
 Cf. Mark 5:40, New Revised Standard Version
 Acts 9:39
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