Sermon for 4th Sunday of Easter 2019
Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22 –30
In a small-town courtroom, the defense attorney was questioning a character witness to establish her credibility as a long-time, honest, trusted, and upstanding citizen of their local community. He asked the elderly woman a simple and straightforward question, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?”
“Yes, of course I do,” the woman replied, “I have lived in this town all of my life and I have known you since you were a little boy” (after a moment’s hesitation she continued) “and I must say you have turned out to be a huge disappointment. Everybody in town knows that you are more interested in making money than serving the cause of justice. Everybody also knows that you lose most of your money at the poker table, and everybody knows that you drink too much. Yes. I know you quite well.”
The lawyer was taken completely off guard, and not knowing what else to do at this terribly embarrassing moment, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you happen to know the prosecuting attorney?”
“Why yes, I do,” she replied. “I have known him since he was a youngster too, and it is so sad. He had such great potential, but everyone knows that he lies and he cheats, he manipulates people and talks about them behind their backs, and everybody knows that he is not faithful to his wife. He thinks he is such a big shot, but actually he is not very smart. Yes, I am afraid I know him too.”
The prosecuting attorney turned bright red and sat in stunned silence – both men staring at their shoes. At this point, the judge was incensed about what was happening in her courtroom. She asked both counselors to approach the bench and in a very quiet voice she said, “If either of you asks her if she knows me, I swear I will throw you both in jail.”
Mrs. Jones is that voice that connects our past to our present. We all know it. She knows everything about us, those moments from our younger years that we will never be proud of, but also those moments that will stand out in our memories as bright shining places, too. This is also true of the life of Jesus. Christ came to be the bridge between the old and the new, the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels.
The story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, is one of my favorites. Tabitha is a disciple who walks the walk. She has a distinct gift for doing good works for widows and those in need. She is committed to helping others. Her devotion is consistent – not just during Thanksgiving and Christmas, when our charity seems to wake up.
Her response to the needs of others makes an impact on the lives of those around her. When Tabitha dies, her community of believers is deeply moved by the void left in their lives. The widows don’t just cry out for her; they also display her good works. In death, her great love for serving God’s people speaks for her. What a testimony! Even when we are made silent, God is able to speak through us. God’s love is evident because we have answered the call to serve.
While the reading from Acts seems to revolve around Tabitha, it’s also a story about Peter. When Tabitha dies, the disciples send word to Peter that he should hurry to Joppa without delay. She is already dead, yet it’s an urgent call. A call filled with the hope that only the Holy Spirit can live into. The call for Peter is not a call to come and pay his respects. The call is expecting a miracle. Peter’s presence is important in making it happen. Peter walked and talked with Jesus; he witnessed the miracles of Jesus. Peter is the one who addressed a multicultural crowd at Pentecost, and the word of God spread throughout the land. So, if the disciples were to call anyone during a grace and urgent moment, Peter is the man.
Peter gets up immediately and goes. Peter has compassion for those who are impacted by Tabitha and her compassionate works. She is dead, but the evidence of her works still lives – in the material goods shown by the widows, in tears shed from their eyes. Peter notices. He is a true disciple, both a student of Jesus and a follower in his footsteps. I imagine that in our Gospel reading, when Jesus spoke of the works he is performing in the name of the Father, Peter was listening nearby. So, when the time comes for Peter to step up to the plate, he is ready. There are at least three details about Peter’s actions that point toward his being a follower of Jesus.
First, before he gets down to business, Peter has to put some people out of the room. This is exactly what Jesus does in the raising of Jairus’ daughter. In both cases, it’s not clear 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, but I wonder if he also knows the value of having people around with the right attitude. The right attitude conveys that God is in control no matter what the situation looks like. We need to remember this – because the stakes are too high, the road is too long, and today and tomorrow are too important for us to allow a negative attitude to permeate God’s atmosphere.
Secondly, Peter kneels down to pray. He doesn’t take the typical prayer posture of his time, standing with arms and eyes raised to heaven. He kneels, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knelt and demonstrated his submission to God. Does Peter kneel as a way of following Jesus? Or perhaps it is for emphasis; that the work of God is not confined by traditional postures of any kind. Whatever the reason, Peter submits himself to the Lord with his petition through prayer. Peter kneels in submission to God, and Tabitha is raised by God!
Finally, Peter spends the remainder of his time in Joppa with Simon, the tanner. This would not be the most relaxing or attractive place to stay. Imagine the dead animal skins, the odor. Imagine the type of work that must be done to what remains of animals. But, I’m sure Peter remembers that Jesus stayed in the most unlikely places. And it is here in the home of Simon the tanner that Peter will receive a vision that will greatly impact the body of Christ. God can show up in the most unusual places.
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 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.
The Gospel reading takes place at the Feast of Dedication which commemorates the cleansing of the Temple which had been defiled by sacrificing a pig on the altar of burnt offerings. The feast was celebrated near the end of December. This is also the present-day Feast of Lights called Hanukkah. Jesus says to his demanding inquirers that he has already told them plainly who he is. He has told them what they need to know. The trouble is that the way Jesus has told them is through his works. In other words, it seems that Jesus’ role and identity cannot be reduced to a title; instead, his role and identity must be experienced. This becomes clear in the analogy of the sheep and shepherd. The sheep know and trust the shepherd because they have experienced the shepherd and his works. In the same way, a child knows and trusts his or her mother because of experience, not reason.
We celebrate Mother’s Day today. It is true that most of us didn’t have June Clever as our mothers. It is also true that most of us didn’t have Mommy Dearest as our mothers. Somewhere in between, we will find our experience. Our mothers gave us life. They taught us right from wrong. They loved us and raised us the best they could. We celebrate their efforts today.
Mother's Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in the months of March or May. It complements similar celebrations honoring family members, such as Father's Day, Siblings Day, and Grandparents Day. The initial proclamation was in1870 by Julia Howe who wrote the firstMother's Day proclamation asking women everywhere to join together for world peace. To join together for world peace…we have come a long way to the current Hallmark’s holiday. It was officially recognized in 1914 by a signed proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson. In searching for quotes to capture motherhood, I came upon “What I believe in and value” by Charlie Hedges. Grace – Treasure life as a gift from God. Strength/Fortitude-Fight the good fight, hard. Love –Embrace people with openness. Hope – Facilitate the growth and success of others. Human Dignity– Seek first to understand before passing judgment. Being real (integrity)– Acquire enough wisdom to be humble. Fun – Have at least one hearty laugh each day. Impact – Practice the courage to take risks.
Wow, wouldn’t that bring us back to the teachings of Jesus – grace, fortitude, love, human dignity, integrity, fun and courage to take risks. Wouldn’t that take us back to the original intention to join together for world peace? Jesus would love that and I bet Peter would whole heartedly agree!! Amen.
Frederick Buechner tells us that the world says, “Mind your own business” and Jesus says, “There is no such thing as your own business.” The world says, “Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, “Follow me and be crucified.” The world says, “Drive carefully – the life you save may be your own”, and Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The world says, “Law and order” and Jesus says, “Love.” The world says “Get” and Jesus says “Give.” Jesus tells us that the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As sheep of the Great Shepherd, whose voice will we follow? 1-2-3 Whose voice will little Madalynn be encouraged to follow? “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Amen.