Message for Easter 4, Mother's Day on Acts 9:36-43 and John 10:22-30 on May 12, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Over many years of ministry, I have learned that most people live with pain. Some of it is physical of course, as health issues or aging take their toll. But I have learned that even people who appear to have it all together on the outside, who look like everything is hunky dory, usually have a story of suffering to tell.
This is one of the reasons I love to visit people, and why I am still working on getting together with all the members as well as visitors. I like to listen to the stories behind the story—what you have really been through—the courage you live with just get through the day, the grief you have endured, the losses, the family issues or trauma that were out of your control, the struggles that don’t show, all that we don’t commonly share over the everyday “how-are-you’s?” and “I’m fine’s.”
Life can be difficult. None of us gets through without some of kind suffering in ourselves or those we love—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. Support and care in the real stuff of life, is part of the true meaning and purpose of Christian community and spiritual friendship—to be with people where we do not have to pretend who we are, and that we need help and healing, hope and wholeness which we cannot muster on our own.
This is the significance of the ministry of Tabitha in our Acts reading—a great story for Mother’s Day, which lifts up the ministry and work of women.
Tabitha was one of those members of the early Christian community who recognized other people’s pain and needs and did something to serve them, to heal them, to give them hope and wholeness, and spiritual friendship so they would not suffer alone.
The fact that Luke—the writer of Luke’s Gospel is also the writer of Acts—includes both of her names, Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek, indicates that she had a role bridging differences in the diverse cultural communities that made up this early congregation.
Specifically, Tabitha served the widows of this young Christian community—women whose husbands had died, who did not have a son to take them in, or whose son was unable to provide for them. Widows with no male family to bring them into their household were poorest of the poor. No property, no business, and no way to create income, the widows were destitute and consigned to a life of begging. They were suffering grief to be sure, and on top of that, the complete loss of home and livelihood.
But as part of this Christian community, here was Tabitha, who devoted herself to good deeds and works of charity to care for the widows in their suffering, loss, and displacement.
In their sorrow at her untimely death, the community called for Peter to come from Lydda. Instead of showing Peter Tabitha’s body as one would expect, he found a roomful of weeping widows showing him tunics and clothing that Tabitha had made for them. This sounds like a strange detail to our ears when we live in disposable culture. We get a hole in our shirt or we become tired of our clothes, and we can toss it and get a new one—stores are counting on the fact that we are going to add to wardrobe four times a year with the seasonal changes.
But in the first century, making clothes was the most labor intensive, time-consuming job of every household. Sheep had to be sheered, the wool cleaned and spun into yarn and thread. Then the yarn was woven to produce cloth, then the cloth was cut and stitched together with the hand-made thread to complete a garment. For the more well-to-do who could make linen, they had to cultivate flax plants and harvest the fiber. Then they had to clean and align the fibers to spin the yarn and thread and then continue the same steps mentioned with wool, weaving the cloth and stitching.
In this context, it makes sense why Jesus would say, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” (Luke 3:11). Many could not afford the luxury of the time and resources it took to make a coat, or a new set of clothes.
So weeping, the widows showed Peter the tunics and clothes Tabitha had made. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Tabitha heard Jesus voice and she followed him in the way she lived. In all of the New Testament, this is the only time the feminine form of the word, “disciple” is used—she was the only woman who was called a disciple in the Bible, even though many other women exhibited these gifts, including those who shared the good news of Jesus’ resurrection in all four Gospels. Even the men recognized her discipleship and wrote it down—that was very unusual for that era and culture—and what a gift for us to receive her story today.
Tabitha’s faithfulness as a disciple led Peter to pray for her resurrection and the living Christ who called Peter to tend his sheep, heard Peter’s prayer and Tabitha arose.
Tabitha’s ministry changed the story for the widows who moved from suffering alone in silence, to women who are part of a diverse, meaningful community where their stories were heard, their needs were met, and their burdens were shared. As women who were clothed in hope and recognized by love, their own gifts could then flourish—they were empowered to share their own good deeds and acts of charity for the healing and wholeness of others. Suffering did not have the final word for the widows, and it does not have the final word for us.
As I have heard your stories, I have also learned how being a part of this community of faith as brought you healing and hope in the midst of grief, illness, pain, trauma, and difficulty. All of you have received prayers; some, a prayer shawl; others, a shoulder to cry on; some, a hot meal; others someone to listen; others a walking companion; some a circle of women who study Scripture and pray; others, healing prayer; some, a men’s breakfast; others, flowers from the altar; and all of us, someone who notices and greets us each week. If you are hurting and you have not received the help or prayers or healing you need, please call me—my cell and office phones are on the bottom, back of the bulletin.
Being embraced and ministered to in our suffering the by the good deeds and acts of charity in this community, enable and empower each of us to grow in our gifts and ability to serve as well. And that’s the real mission of the church—to care for the body of Christ so that we can activate the gifts for ministry God has given to each and every one of us, that we might bring that healing to Richardson and beyond.
In the Strategic Planning and goals that the Council prayed about and put together which resulted in this list of priorities, it made Growing Community and Congregation one of them so that as the body of Christ, we can become Tabitha and Dorcas to one another.
As we each experience the help and healing, hope and wholeness that this diverse, richly woven Christian community provides, God blesses and empowers us to share our own good deeds and acts of charity as we hear the voice of Jesus, our Lord and Shepherd, who calls us to follow him.