4th Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016
first reading: Acts 9:36-43
second reading: Revelation 7:9-17
gospel reading: John 10:22-30
Today’s readings give us a wonderful opportunity to look at COMMUNITY as shaped by Jesus.
In the season of Easter, it’s good for us to take a closer look at this “thing” which shapes us, and in which we live. In our gospel reading Jesus calls us his sheep who follow him. No one can steal us away. We are sheep together, gathered and guided by the Good Shepherd. In Revelation we read about the great multitude, from every nation singing praises to God.
But it’s our second reading that really caught my attention this week.
We have the story of a woman, an incredible woman by any measure – but singular in the history of the early Church.
Tabitha/Dorcas. The first verse of our reading is simple and to the point – where she was who she was and her name. “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.” Basic information. Easy to read quickly through. But we have to stop, because in this short verse is something truly extra-ordinary.
Tabitha/Dorcas is called a “disciple.” Many times in the New Testament a woman is called a follower or a believer or a witness – but this is the only place in the whole New Testament where a woman is explicitly referred to as a “disciple.”
Tabitha/Dorcas was obviously very important in her community. And it’s sad really that we don’t make a bigger deal for her, so I’m going to do a little of that today.
What do we know about her besides the amazing fact that she was considered a disciple? She was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” I love the word “devoted.” It implies that love and commitment went into her works and acts. That she was surrounded by widows gives a clue that perhaps they were the recipients of her care.
Widows in that time and place had no means of support or voice or power. They were completely dependent on the good will of others. Some scholars think she might have been a widow herself, but we don’t really know. But we DO know the widows were mourning for her. It was probably the widows who washed and laid out her body after she died.
It was the weeping widows who showed Peter the other fact we know about Tabitha/Dorcas. She worked with fabrics – she was a seamstress. Perhaps it was this talent of hers that enabled her to be so generous in her works and charity. She was a leader in her community, and also one of its benefactors. So it was certainly a huge blow for all of them, but especially the widows, when she died.
They didn’t just love and mourn her, this community NEEDED her. Perhaps that’s why they sent men to go get Peter quickly. Then, not only is SHE brought back to life, but through her rising, her whole community is brought back from death to life, from despair to joy.
This community of faith in Joppa, formed by the rising of our Lord Jesus, experiences a second kind of Easter in the rising of Tabitha. It’s a great biblical story. Great for the miracle, but also great for illustrating community – REAL community. Community that we all can understand.
This community in Joppa, but also our faith communities, aren’t built around superstar political leaders or powerful military generals or charismatic preachers. Sure, there are some mega-churches, but the vast number of us belong to smaller congregations.
And even though Tabitha was an important person in her community, she wasn’t “THE” person. For Christians, “THE” person is Jesus.
The raising of Tabitha is a miracle, but it’s also a story of everyday normal people.
It’s about a seamstress, healed by a fisherman, who was lodging with a tanner.
This is what a faith community looks like. Tabitha used her talent in making clothes to do good works and acts of charity. A seamstress supports her community, a fisherman comes preaching and healing and a tanner provides housing as he is able.
God is in the ordinary things with ordinary people – but the work accomplished is EXTRA ordinary.
God is the creator of all our gifts and talents, and all of them, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are, can be used in service to God and others.
We are baptized into a community. We are called through that baptism to serve God IN community, just as Tabitha, Peter and Simon.
It’s not perfect. We are flawed people, in bondage to sin – and that is definitely the challenge of community. Community, even communities centered around Jesus, are messy. It’s messy, but it’s messy because we ALL are. I’m sure Tabitha/Dorcas wasn’t perfect, neither was Simon – and we KNOW Peter had his problems.
This is what we are as the Church – a community of SINNERS, (here, locally and globally) gathered around the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel of love and forgiveness and salvation frees us to serve God and each other even THROUGH our imperfections. So, we need never fear that we’re not good enough or can’t do enough or bring enough to the table.
In fact, it’s also important to note that Simon was a tanner – a profession which kept him in a state of ritual uncleanness. One of the original “dirty jobs!” And God used even Simon!
Whether we are a small gathering, or a “great multitude that no one [can] count,” we are brought together through Jesus Christ – to support and strengthen one another in faith and service.
God gives each of us life, gives us a community in which to live out our lives, and gives us gifts to offer that community and the world.
God in ordinary things with ordinary people creating a community that is EXTRA ordinary.