Posted in Acts, Holy Spirit, Jesus, peter, Sermon

A Mighty Woman

I heard a DJ ask people to call in and share their mother’s best advice.  

“Whatever you’re doing, make the place better than you found it.”

“The world is full of people all too eager to put you down. Don’t join the chorus and say bad things about yourself, to yourself. Your heart is listening.” 

“Never forget your umbrella.”  “My mother always used to say this. She meant it literally, and figuratively. For her, and eventually for me, it was about being prepared for whatever life decides to rain down upon your head. I say the same thing to my daughter over, and over again.” 

“It’s OK to be shy, but it’s not OK to never try.” 

“If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you take it out, put it back. If you empty it, fill it. If you fill it, empty it.”

“Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should.”

“Every relationship takes compromise, but don’t push down parts of yourself to make your relationship work. It takes two equal people to be partners, not one person, and one half-person.”

“Always prepare early. Give yourself enough time so you have peace of mind and don’t have to rush.”

“We don’t even know what we don’t know.”

“Do not feed the fears.”

What say you, what advice did your mom’s or mother figures give you?

Jessica Larijani, SUCCESS director of digital content, writes, “My mom puts her whole heart into everything she does. For my sisters and me. For my family. Her friends. Even strangers. I admire her for so many things, but especially her generosity.

“I know what she’s doing right now without asking: sewing. She started as soon as there was a need and she hasn’t stopped since. She is part of a mask brigade making and donating protective wear to health care workers and first responders. She’s sewn almost 500 masks since the start of this pandemic, and I know she’ll keep going as long as there are requests.

“My mom’s mission has always been to help others, and her selfless dedication to that has shown me that nothing matters quite like giving kindness. Our actions leave an impact, and we can all make a difference in this life if we just choose to look for the opportunity to help.”

Our actions in this life leave an impact, not only on our children, but on everyone around us.

Acts 9:26-43

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

What is grief, but love made real?  I wrote that line down when we first watched Marvel’s WandaVision.  We binged it all over again on Friday in preparation for watching Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and I wrote it down again.  What is grief, but love made real?  Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, the account of the early stages of the Way, known today as Christianity, cites one such story about a mighty woman who had died and as Jessica from SUCCESS magazine said, Dorcas put her heart in everything she did and she was loved and cherished in return.

So what is happening in our text today?  What lessons does it have to teach us?  They carried her body to an upper room of her house.  Nowadays, the scene is often played out in a funeral home, a chapel, a sanctuary, or at a graveside.  

The grieving friends of Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek because Luke realized this story would be told to both Jews and Gentiles, are gathered to­gether in her home. She must have died recently, for she hadn’t been buried yet.

As the sad news spreads through town, her friends and loved ones come and pay their respects. I would imagine the initial conversations at the door are all essentially the same. “I just heard the news.” “I can’t believe it!” “How did it happen?” “Was anyone with her?” “She was such a wonderful person!”  The same questions that we would ask.

My grandparents all had large families and I remember funeral homes a lot as a kid.  The whole family gathered with all the drama and hijinks that comes with whole families gathered.  It gave us a chance to see aunts, uncles, and cousins we wouldn’t see until next Thanksgiving or Christmas.  It gave us a chance to see family we don’t normally see.  It gave us a chance to see the children and the grandchildren of the people that our grandparents’ talked about.  It gave us a chance to share memorable or poignant or funny stories of loved ones and when we were younger to play hide and seek or tag in our funeral clothes until inevitably we were told to stop.  But one time something peculiar happened.  All of us in the family would each dutifully walk up to the casket, pay our respects, and make a mad dash to the couches and wing-backed chairs over in one of the side rooms.  One time, my dad and his two brothers walked out of the viewing room with quizzical looks on their faces.  They each took another pass looking at their aunt’s face.  Something was definitely wrong and they couldn’t figure it out.   I don’t know who noticed first or who said it first, but one of them said, “Aunt blah-blah-blah, is smiling!  She never smiles.”

That certainly was not the case with Tabitha.  Aunt blah-blah-blah, to protect the innocent, may have lived a life “devoted to good works and acts of charity.”  I don’t know if what my dad and uncles said was right because I was little.  However, Dorcas certainly was devoted to good works and lived love as the growing crowd of grieving friends and neighbors attest.  They reminisce together, sharing their favorite stories of Dorcas. With­out the help of videos or pictures, they have to use their own recollections of her.  They don’t have a set time for the visitation like we do now.  Instead they share for hours, telling their favorite stories, recalling their happy memories together, trading the tales of her life.

While they didn’t have slideshows of pictures to spark memories, they have something even more personal because she made it.  They have the things that Tabitha her­self had made.  For each one of them.

Evidently this saintly woman was masterful at making clothes. Not just skillful, but generous, as well. Was there a friend or a neighbor who hadn’t received something from her hands? The remi­niscing turns into a lovely sort of show-and-tell as the townspeople bring out the tokens of Tabitha’s kindness.

“She gave this to me for my last birthday,” one woman tear­fully shares, as she holds up a lovely shawl. “She was so thought­ful! She never forgot a birthday, you know.”

“She was always thinking of other people,” another chimes in.

“This robe,” says another woman, drawing attention to the one she’s wearing, “I’m sure she was making this robe for herself. But when I visited one day and commented about how pretty it was, she held it up against me and said, ‘A perfect fit! It’s yours!’ “

On and on the stories went.

You and I don’t get to hear those stories and the truth is we don’t know any of Dorcas’ backstory.  Scripture doesn’t give us a glimpse of her life up to now.  We have no record of any of her words.  If we were going to wear our historian hats – the only part of her biography that is preserved for us is this story on this one particular day; and she was dead for most of it. 

And YET, for all intents and purposes, we feel like we know her, don’t we?

We feel like we know Tabitha because we’ve all been loved by someone like her.  Perhaps it was your grandfather, your aunt, your sweet next door neighbor, a favorite Sunday school teacher, that one camp counselor who was there when you first encountered Jesus and you realized that he died for you.  All of those people who loved you into being who you are.  Those generous folks who share their love with the world, not just the rich and fancy, but ALL people.

Personally, I don’t know how many Christmas stockings that my Great Aunt Clair made when we were kids, but I know that I still have mine.  She made my mom and aunt long-sleeved denim Winthrop shirts specifically designed for each of them because she was a proud Winthrop alum.  She always gave me books that were Newbery or Caldecott Winners for Christmas.  I would read every book that I received, mostly the latest Nancy Drew, before I would read those.  Sure, they weren’t a fun whodunit mystery, but those “boring” award books taught me lessons that stick with me to this day.  I have a whole host of books and quilts and prayer shawls and cross stitch pictures and pottery and a woodworked chair that my grandfather made that I will cherish long after the Saints who have imbued their spirits of selfless goodness and love long after they have gone and I remember the people that made them.  

So it was with Tabitha. The family members, friends, and neigh­bors had all gathered together in her home, clothed and armed with the loving handiwork that she had left behind. Together they oohed and ahhed. Together they reminscised. Together they showed the symbols of her goodness and love to the apostle Peter.

Peter, the leap before he looks, the foot in his mouth, and yet, the rock on which Jesus built his church, had become a pillar of the early church and he was staying in the nearby town of Lydda. He was just a few miles from Joppa where Tabitha had lived. So the Chris­tians there sent word to Peter, urging him to come to Joppa right away.

When Peter arrived, he was taken immediately up to the room where the body of Dorcas lay. There he was surrounded by the grieving loved ones, each one with an article of clothing to show him, each one with a story to tell him. Surely Peter was moved by the stories of the mourners.  Surely his heart was touched by the good works of love she had left behind.

Then he did something unusual. Peter sent them all out of the room.  They hadn’t asked him anything.  

He abruptly told them – all who had gathered  – to leave the room.  It would have seemed strange to them, he didn’t know Tabitha.  He hadn’t heard anything about Dorcas until he came to her house.  He’d never even laid eyes on her.  I can’t imagine what they whispered to one another as they walked down the stairs, leaving Peter alone in the viewing room.

He told the people to go because that’s what he had seen Jesus do.

Years before, when Peter and the disciples had chosen to follow Jesus along the dusty roads of Galilee, Peter had been in a similar bedroom. The twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus had died, and the house was full of mourners and Jesus sent them away. Or at least out of the room.  Accompanied only by a few disciples and the grieving parents, Jesus spoke to the little girl. And in speaking to her, he raised her to life.

So, now, the disciple followed the example that he had seen set by his Master, his Rabbi and did the same thing.  He sent the mourners out of the room, and then he spoke to the corpse. “Tabitha, get up,” Peter said, and the dead woman opened her eyes. Then she sat up. And then, Peter called all of her  friends and loved ones back into the room and you could have knocked them over like a feather.

They thought she was dead.  They are bursting with joy!  They can’t believe their eyes!  Now they get to say all those nice things TO her, instead of about her.  Their grief is turned to love made real in the flesh.  They could hug her and she could hug them back.

It was not Peter’s strength that brought about her healing, but by the Spirit of Jesus working within him and through him and for him.  He saw his rabbi do it and he had faith and trust that the Spirit of the Lord would do it again.

Peter stays with Simon, the tanner, but he soon goes on his way, on to the next place where he will stay, where he will preach, where he will heal. He leaves Tabitha, alive and well, in Joppa. She is among the good love works that Peter leaves behind.

Earlier, we caught a glimpse of the good love works that Tabitha had left behind. Tunics, cloaks, robes, shawls. But Peter has his own profound collection. Healed bodies, lives transformed in Christ, and a living Tabitha — these are among the good works that Peter leaves behind.

Peter’s example and Tabitha’s example challenge us. We see what each left behind, and we ask, “What is it that I leave? What is the impact and effect you or I having been in a community, a church, a school, a workplace, a family?  What is the good, the love, the mercy we leave behind?  A life well-lived?”

Where Tabitha had been, she left behind symbols of love and generosity, tokens of caring and love. Where Peter had been, he left behind life and health, gladness and rejoicing.

We don’t have to be an artisan to leave an impact, but as Mary Oliver asks “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Are you going to live love or are you going to live in fear, anger, and let the root the bitterness creep in?

We consider the example of Tabitha, and we observe that the good works she left behind remind us of her Lord.  Afterall, he is the original artist and he gifted her with the creativity and skill with which she made everything.  He modeled for  her the love and the generosity that she shared with all of the people in her community. 

We consider Peter and we see that the works he left behind also remind us of his Lord. When we look at Peter, we remember Jesus who sent his followers out in Matthew 10 “to proclaim the good news … Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”  We remember Peter who went about doing good in Acts 10:38 and when Jesus told Peter and the rest of the disciples in John 14 that they would do the works he had done and even greater works.  The Holy Spirit was with Peter.  And with Tabitha/Dorcas.  And it can be alive in us.  Helping us leave behind good love works.  Giving us the strength, perseverance in the darkness of this world, and the Mighty will to do it, we can point people to our one and only Savior in whom all of our good works are inspired and are from.  That’s the best advice of all.  We point people to our Savior by our good love works so they can see, feel and know Jesus.  Amen.

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