Powers and Principalities
Sun, May 19, 2019

Witness

Duration:15 mins 5 secs

Our Second Reading this morning comes from the Book of Acts, chapter 9, verses 36-43. Throughout the Easter season we have been following the Apostle Peter in the early days of the church. This morning we find Peter called to the town of Joppa for the church there finds itself in great need. Let us hear this Word of God.

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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We are in the midst of graduation season and as the father of a high school senior, I have had several graduation related events to attend this spring. However, I must say that my first official graduation ceremony of the year was held on Wednesday morning here in this sanctuary. Yes, the Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church Mother’s Day Out and Preschool Pre-K Class of 2019 walked down the center aisle to Pomp and Circumstance. As their teacher called their names they came forward for a picture with their diploma. Their teacher also announced what each child wanted to be when he or she grew up. An artist, a soldier, a dinosaur bone hunter, and a professional Minecraft player were some of the highlights in this year’s class. Perhaps those are the same goals for our high school and college graduates this morning as well, you’ll have to ask them at the reception later.

When you are five years old, all dreams seem possible. And yet, as we age, our options start to be a bit more limited. No longer does professional Minecraft player feel like a legitimate possibility. Big dreams about the future become more uncertain. The question, “What do I want to do with my life?” does not seem quite as clear and straightforward anymore.

In his book Worldchanging 101, Presbyterian singer and songwriter David LaMotte recognizes this challenge. He writes: “’What am I supposed to do with my life?’ is not really a useful question; the enormity of it is overwhelming and immobilizing. A better question may be, ‘What do I do next?’”

Throughout this series of sermons, we have been thinking about big questions and big dreams with the Apostle Peter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit have transformed Peter from an impulsive and fearful disciple into a preacher, a healer, and one who is willing to defy to the authorities when they order him to be quiet. Yes, we are drawn to Peter as a role model for the church. That’s been the assumption of this entire series. If we ask, “What are we supposed to do with our life?” the answer is: we are supposed to be preachers, healers, and protesters like Peter in the Book of Acts.

But in our text for today, Peter raises a woman from the dead! Wow! No matter how big our dreams, I am not sure any of us are literally going to raise someone from the dead. And so, I wonder, at least in this text, if focusing on Peter as the model disciple points us in the wrong direction. Yes, if we see this as a story about Peter, I fear we will miss the only woman specifically called a “disciple” in the entire New Testament.

I’ll use her Hebrew name, Tabitha, but the scripture also tells us that her name in Greek was Dorcus. So many women in scripture go unnamed, so we should take note that she gets not just one name but two. Perhaps those first reading the Book of Acts knew or remembered hearing stories about the disciple named Tabitha.

Now, the New Revised Standard Version translation I read a minute ago says, “[Tabitha] was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” I usually find the New Revised Standard Version to be accurate, but in this case, there is another translation that seems to capture that verse a little better. The Common English Bible translates it: “her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.” We might even say “her life overflowed with works of love.”

When Peter arrives in Joppa after Tabitha’s death, all the widows in the church gather and stand beside him. Not a few of the widows, not most of the widows, but all the widows. You might remember that widows were among the most vulnerable in first century patriarchal society. These widows might not have had a man to care for them, but before her death they had Tabitha. She literally made clothes for them, but the implication is that she did so much more. Remember, Tabitha’s life overflowed with works of love and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.

As New Testament scholar NT Wright has written about Tabitha:

[She] stands in for all the unsung heroines who have got on with what they can do best and have done it to the glory of God. Had it not been for Peter she might never have made it into the pages of the New Testament, and we have to assume that there were dozens in the early years, and thousands in later years, who, like her, lived their lives in faith and hope, bearing the sorrows of life no doubt as well as celebrating its joys, and finding in the small acts of service to others a fulfillment of the gospel within their own sphere, using traditional skills to the glory of God. … This is the heart of the church … the beating heart of the people of God.

Yes, Tabitha and those like her whose lives overflow with works of love and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need are the beating heart of the people of God. Sometimes we think that the life of the church, even the future of the world itself, depends upon those who do big things - preachers, healers, protesters, and those who can raise the dead! But, my friends, the most important questions as we seek to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ may be: What do I do next? What need do I see today? Where can I be of help?

Graduates, the word I want to share with you this morning is in fact the same word that I want to share with our whole church. As you go forth from this service today, as you walk across the stage at your graduation, as you begin the next phase of your life at college or graduate school or in the workforce, you may do great things. Yes, I hope and pray that all your dreams and all your plans will indeed come true. But what I really pray for you is that you will engage in the little things of life and faith. Ask yourself every day, “As a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, what do I do next?”

Seek to be the heart of the church … the beating heart of the people of God. Come to worship regularly. Join a weekly bible study. Volunteer with the babies in the nursery. Visit someone who cannot make it to worship on their own. Get a group of friends play music once a month at a health care facility. Read to an at-risk child after school once a week. Coach a youth sports team. Call your mother and actually talk to her on the phone. Ask your pastor the hard questions swirling around in your mind. Don’t let your acts of kindness be random, be intentionally kind. Have lunch with someone of another race or from another country. Plant a garden and share what you grow. Make promises and keep them. Stand with and speak for the vulnerable and those most in need. Serve faithfully. Love boldly.

My friends, graduates, the great things will come in God’s time. But the church’s witness to Jesus Christ depends on small acts of faith. Yes, on your way to great things, keep the faith and act small. Be the beating heart of the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: