A sermon is only a sermon when it is being preached, so this isn’t really a sermon…It’s the sermon that never was! I was going to preach this but a still small voice stopped me :-) Instead I preached “Just an Inch…”
Even though I never preached this one, I did “teach” it to my Sunday School class.
Acts 9:36-43: 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. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 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.’ 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. 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. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)
Let us pray…
O God open us up.
Open our eyes that we might see,
our ears that we might hear.
Open our hearts that we might feel,
and then O God,
open our hands that we might serve.
My family loves the renaissance festival. We look forward to it every year, the sites, the sounds the smells…being immersed in this world that isn’t really ours. A few years ago we were walking around just taking in the experience…the fairy’s and dragons and pirates…and something caught my eye! I my husband by the arm to make him stop walking because there was this statue. The statue was either the perfect representation of a man…or it was a man as a perfect representation of a statue…I couldn’t tell. But I WAS going to find out. So, I started examining this mystery…until he looked at me!!! I jumped…I might have screamed…I definitely laughed!! This guy fascinated me. So, I stood back for 10 – 15 minutes and just watched. People would walk by and not notice him…so he would poke them with his cane! Sometimes he would gather a crowd and they would just wait to see what he would do next. And every once in a while someone would gather up enough courage to examine him a little closer…and he would suddenly move…surprising every one of them. It was a scene for America’s Funniest Home videos!
So, a few weeks ago I was watching a TED Talk…by Amanda Palmer. In her talk she explains how she would stand on the streets…an eight-foot bride! People would drop money in the top hat at her feet. To say thank you she would offer the generous soul a flower…most rushed by…uncomfortable with the personal contact on city streets. Some however, would pause to take the flower. Amanda Palmer describes this moment of contact…she would say with her eyes, “I see you.” And in response, she could see in their eyes, “no one ever sees me.” … Later in her speech, she shows a picture of a rock-concert. You can tell it is a huge production, bright lights, huge stage, and thousands in the audience. The contrast is clear…up close and personal, eye contact, and silent communication versus the stage of a Superstar! …. We live in a culture that loves our superstars, we are bombarded by the message “bigger is better”… We love our T.V. stars, our sports stars and it’s not just about celebrity status! Our whole world says “bigger is better”…everything points to our title as being important…our business cards say our name and our title…”CEO” – President – Owner – The clothing we wear…a police uniform, the doctors stethoscope, the black robe of the clergy….points to our status, our importance,- Even our spaces are designed to point to the important person in the room – our lecture halls, classrooms, sanctuaries – designed to point towards the most important person…the teacher…the preacher. We live in a culture that bombards us with the message “bigger is better…more important…more valuable…more influential. The superstars are the important ones.”
And Peter, the main character of today’s text, he is definitely a superstar! I know he didn’t start off so hot. I mean…he tried walking on water but ended up wet. He slept when Jesus needed him, and then went on to deny Jesus..three times. Peter had a slow start…But Jesus did say “on this rock I will build my church!” And Peter did live up to his superstar status! The text we read this year for Easter morning was from the Gospel of John. The story races along, Mary runs and gets Peter and the other disciple. They race back to the tomb…and the story slows down dramatically…the writer gives us details…Peter standing alone in the tomb, one folded cloth and one just lying there. … Peter is the one that stands in front of the crowd on Pentecost and says, “We are not drunk!” and ends the day with 3,000 converts! In the story before today’s text he healed a man that had been paralyzed for eight years…the story after this Peter has a vision of unclean animals lowered on a sheet that God says are clean…and gentiles are welcomed into the church…and in this text, Peter kneels in prayer and breathe is restored to Tabitha’s lifeless body. Peter is a superstar…this text is about Peter, this text is about his power and influence on the early church…
We are so trained to see the superstars that sometimes we miss the supporting characters. We know very little about the women in this story. We know her name…her name is Tabitha. Dorcas in Greek. Gazelle in English. She is a disciple. She became ill and died. ……. We know she had widows grieving at her bedside, we know she made clothes…. we know she was full of good works and good deeds….that’s about it! Tabitha’s whole life is relegated to these seven short verses in the book of Acts. As I read this text, I wanted to know what we were missing? What was her life-like! This text tells us that widows were grieving over her lifeless body but we don’t know WHY the widows were grieving at her bedside. We know a little about what it was like to live as a widow during this time…A women’s value was in her role as a wife or mother. Which means widows had no value. The widows counted on the generosity of people for food and clothes, their very life was in the hands of the generosity of others. And these were the women grieving at Tabitha’s bedside.What kind of life did she live that the widows were the ones grieving her loss? Maybe she was an affluent member of society, with the time and resources to help the lowest members of her society. Or maybe Tabitha wasn’t reaching down to help a widow, maybe she was a member of their community. One of them, gathering together in community, pooling resources so to improve one another lives. Or was it neither of these? We don’t know. What we know about Tabitha is that she lived in such a way that the love of Christ showed in her. Her power and influence, dedication and love….shows. Even though her live story is told in just a couple of sentences. Because this is a story about Peter and the early church, it is easy to miss the importance of Tabitha and the ones that lived like her. Because we know so much about Peter, because he is a superstar, because there is so much written about the influence he had on this early community, it is easy to miss the power and influence of Tabitha. The church would have not survived past those first few years without Peter, but it needed the Tabithas too. To survive, and grow, and thrive, the church needed the dedicated disciples. It needed the superstars but the superstars are not more important than the Tabithas.
We live in a culture that tells us “bigger is better.” The higher your title, the more important you are, the more influence you have, and the church? The church has fallen for it. We like our big names, Billy Graham, Rob Bell, and the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church, Adam Hamilton! The church seems to agree with the culture, “bigger is better.” The leaders are the ones with the power and influence; we expect them to bring life back to the church. We see the crowds and the lighted stage and are blinded to the Tabithas in our midst. In a recent conversation, the question was asked “who do you know that lives a Christ-like life?” And the response was fairly predictable…most people talked about pastors or other leaders of the church. But one man, a pastor, talked about a women in his congregation Over 14 years ago this women walked into the church and sat in the last row, looking like she could make a break for it at any moment. She lived a troubled life; life had beaten her down as tragedy after tragedy knocked her down again and again. But she didn’t make a break for it….she stayed. Today she doesn’t look like she is ready to make a break for it, in fact when asked to tell the story of a person living a Christ-like life, her pastor told her story. She lives a Christ-like life…her dedication and love are powerful and influential. She is often the first person at the church and the last to leave. She gives of her time, talents, and finances. She lives her life in such a way that a leader of the church told her story telling us that she serves her church with all of her strength. Sometimes the message the “bigger is better” blinds us to the Tabitha’s in our midst.
I really want to be a “thank you note” person. I TRY to be a thank you note person! Don’t get me wrong. I am good at writing thank you notes! I enjoy intentionally thinking about what I am grateful for and writing it down. I know the power of God at work in stepping back from life and taking time to be grateful. My problem is not that I am not thankful…because I am…my problem is that I always seem to be missing something, I don’t have a pen handy, or I’ve run out of stationary, or most often I run out of stamps. I have a stack of thank you notes sitting on my desk, some months old! Just waiting for a stamp…I try to be a thank you note person even though I often fail; I DO believe we have a lot to be thankful for.We have the best pastors, the best leaders. the best mentors…we can come and pay almost nothing for a delicious home cooked meal on Wednesday nights…we can go to class where some of the best teachers come to teach us about who we are….and the building. Wow…this building. If I remember right we had over 7,000 different activities last year! Worship, Sunday Schools, Plays, AA Meetings, IHN nights…Taking care of this building takes a lot of work…and we have an amazing team that keeps this building running. Our facilities team works hard to make sure that the building is ready for us and when we come, they welcome us in ways that we can see, with a smile and an offer of help…and in ways that we can’t see. A lot of work goes into keeping this building running, and welcoming. I have to admit. In the last six years I have sent a thank-you note to almost every one of our pastors…I have sent one…just one…to someone on the facilities staff.
We live in a culture, that says bigger is better. And when we stand in the crowd focused on the bright lights and stage of the superstar we are blinded to the Christ-like lives lived by the people in our midst.
Listen again to these words from the Book of Acts:
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. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 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.’ 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. 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. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)
The word of God, for the people of God…thanks be to God. Amen