Photo: Members of Trinity’s Tabitha Circle preparing for the December Bake Sale. 

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Texts: Acts 9:36-43 and Revelation 7:9-17

Watch Here (Minute 30:04)

In the name of the risen Christ. Amen.

If you purchased cookies at the Bake Sale last December, or soup at the Soup & Biscuit Sale in March, or if you attended the Spring Tea last Saturday, you would have attended events sponsored by the Tabitha Circle.

Tabitha Circle is a ministry of Trinity, open to both women and men, that host these events as fundraisers to benefit those in need in our community. Recipients have included the outreach programs of Concordia Lutheran Church in Main South in Worcester. If you are interested in learning more about the Tabitha Circle, I encourage you to speak with Lori Doyle. In the spirit of full disclosure, Lori had nothing to do with this advertisement.  This is a completely free plug for the ministry.

Have you ever considered where Tabitha Circle got its name? Why would a group that does projects such as these in order to help people in need, take the name Tabitha Circle?

Because you listened intently to the First Reading from Acts this morning, you already have your answer. In our reading from Acts, we have the story of Tabitha. Acts describes Tabitha as a disciple devoted to good works and acts of charity. The description as disciple is noteworthy. My Harper Collins Study Bible suggests this is the only case where a woman is described “explicitly as a disciple” in the New Testament, though we know that many women followed Jesus as disciples. It is the only time where the feminine noun for disciple appears.

As theologian Melinda Quivick has pointed out, Tabitha was a widow who made clothing for those who were outcast, and those who were poor. Herself a widow, vulnerable and often forgotten in a patriarchal society, through her good works and acts of charity, she helped others who were also victims, those outside of power or those who power ignored.

It was this Tabitha, a disciple devoted to good works and acts of charity, that Peter raised from the dead.

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, on this 4th Sunday of our celebration of the resurrection of Christ, this story comes to us as a resurrection story.  

No, this story does not call us to resuscitate corpses today.  Unlike Peter, we are not called to go into funeral homes or hospitals to kneel before dead bodies in prayer, and to tell the dead to get up and live.

Instead, might this story work on us to expand our understanding of God’s resurrection work? That we can find God’s resurrection beyond the physical resurrection from the dead?

Might we receive the story of Tabitha in this way …

Let’s imagine Tabitha representing service, charity, and kindness to those on the margins of society. Let’s have Tabitha stand in for the ways of almsgiving and love for the vulnerable. Since Tabitha was described as a disciple, let’s claim this loving service as an expression of faithful discipleship.

Let’s imagine Tabitha’s death, then, as the absence of service, charity, and kindness. Tabitha’s death representing an ignoring and turning from the needs of the vulnerable around us. Connected to faith, what if we understood this death as the failure to connect faith with public action and advocacy in the world. The death of Tabitha could then be understood as the absence of people of faith working for kindness and charity in society as an act of discipleship.

Now, let’s imagine, Peter representing the church. Let’s understand Peter as the whole church: bishops, pastors, deacons, church councils, musicians, congregations, denominations, all of us. Peter is us, the community of followers of Jesus Christ.

To Peter, two messengers were sent to request his immediate presence with those grieving Tabitha’s death. What if we understood these messengers, as those who rush to us, the Church, from places of pain and death? What if we understood these messengers as those messengers pleading with us, the Church, to hurry up and show up in places where service, charity, and relationships have died.

  • Messengers speaking to the church in the form of scientists telling us our climate is changing, our planet is warming, and we are careening towards a mass extinction event. Messengers telling us, “Hurry up and do something!”
  • Messengers in the form of shooting victims, not speaking with words from their mouths, but in the blood of their bullet ridden bodies in synagogues, mosques, schools, churches, city streets, name the place and there is a gun killing peoples. Messengers pleading with us, “Hurry up and do something!”
  • Messengers in the form of students, and parents, and researchers, telling us with stories and data that students of color in the Worcester Public Schools received different treatment than white students. Messengers pleading with us, “Hurry up and do something so that all students have the same education!”

Peter listened to the messengers sent to him. Peter responded. He got up and went to where Tabitha lay dead. And when he showed up, he did three important things. The three things he did were these:  He knelt … he prayed … he spoke.

What if, in places where people are victimized by indifference, and broken relationships, and breakdown of societal structures, we, like Peter, the Church, knelt in service, understanding, and compassion before victims of oppression, injustice, and violence?

What if, in places where love, and relationships, and understanding have died, we, like Peter, the church, prayed? What if we prayed for understanding, for compassion, for forgiveness, for reconcilation in places where relationships have ended?

What if, in places where mercy, justice, and equality have died, we like Peter, the church, spoke words of life, justice, and healing? What if we spoke clearly, and unequivocally, the image of community proclaimed in Revelation 7:9, our second reading today, recording that great multitude that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne.

What if we spoke life by using our words, our social media posts, our decisions to speak the truth of one human family, loved by God beyond our comprehension, including Muslims, Jews, and peoples of all faiths; rich, and poor, and all places in between; black skinned and brown skinned and any colored skin; American and immigrant, citizen and refugee, and all people around the globe?

Think of the resurrection we would experience today, if we knelt, and prayed, and spoke in these ways! Peter did these things, and Tabitha’s eyes were opened! In seeing Peter, she took us hand, and got up!

What if we received the story of Tabitha in that way today? A story that we make alive, when we respond, when we kneel in service, when we pray, and when we speak. We were part of such a story this past week.

This past week, we participated in the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Those of us who were there, found out that almost all of the residents were new to the house within the last week. What is powerful about that, was that people stay at IHN until they are able to live sustainably in a home of their own.

That means, almost all of the residents who had left the house, were no longer homeless, but had been moved from homelessness. There is resurrection! By us simply taking two weeks of the year to show up at the IHN House on June Street, in our kneeling in service, in our prayer, and in the words of life extended to the residents, there Tabitha is raised from the dead by Peter, the church, today!

There in us, there in the church, there the living Christ lives! There the living Christ, the great shepherd, walks with those experiencing housing insecurity, through the valley of the shadow of homelessness, leading them to green pastures of permanent and sustainable housing.

The Good News today, is that Jesus Christ lives, and because Christ lives, we live!

Joined to the living Christ, through faith in the water and word, bread and cup, we are sent today as the body of Christ to the world. Joined to the living Christ, through faith, we are called to respond to the messengers calling us to places of death. Joined to the living Christ, through faith, we are called to show up, to kneel, to pray, and to speak words of life for the resurrection of the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Thanks be to God. AMEN.