Acts 9: 36-43
The story in today’s Scripture is about women. Peter has a part to play—an important part—but the story itself is about a woman disciple, Tabitha (also known as Dorcas), and the company of women she kept. All of these women were widows. We don’t know if they were also mothers. We don’t know if they’d had children, lost children, or longed for children. We know that all they had was each other.
Today is Mother’s Day. It is a Hallmark sort of day—the kind where if things are going good in your life, you welcome. And if you are feeling pain, you do your best to avoid. My husband made the mistake of preaching on Mother’s Day one year with only tending to the Scripture given, and never a mention (in the sermon atleast) of Mother’s Day. Many complained---and the following year, he served well by mentioning his own mother—a beautiful woman—I loved her. And he mentioned too, that she struggled with alcohol and died of an accidental over the counter overdose at age 56. The following year the congregation said, “You don’t need to worry about mentioning Mother’s Day again!”
Well, he spoke truth. And the truth was not all dreamy and perfect. That’s not what the congregation wanted to hear. They wanted the Hallmark version.
Today, none of us can avoid Mother’s Day—we all have one! Or, had one! And we are grateful for so many mothers---for all the amazing ways that mother’s care for us. I saw a cartoon once where a high-profile business was in crisis and the CEO and colleagues were in disarray at how to solve the immediate problem, while also maintaining the integrity of the business and keeping all the stocks and portfolios running, acknowledging staff complaints and chaos in the workplace, while making sure all were healthy, fed, and working to their best of their ability. You get the picture. Finally, one turned to the other and said “we need a mom!”
Today’s Scripture brings us into the very heart of a home.
When we looked at houses in the greater Vancouver area, we would read about the amazing views of the water. When we went to look at the houses, you could see through a load of trees, a tiny speck of glimmer, far far away…and that was the water! The grand view seemed to be the focus, but what about what’s right inside the house—what about what’s in immediate view—the robins outside our window, or the hummingbird eager for its morning food. The view in front of me is just as interesting as what might be so far away--I can barely see it.
This chapter in Acts is like that. Luke is the writer and he is great about giving us the bigger view of a given story, but he’s also masterful and moving us right into the intimate details of a household. Right where we can see what is happening and get a vivid description of the scene.
Tabitha was a woman devoted to good works and acts of charity. She was a widow. And so were those she helped. When Peter was summoned and came to the house, what did these women—the widows—do? They showed Peter all the clothing that Dorcas (which is the Greek form of Tabitha) made for them. Her very gifts to them helped them live. And now she was dead. We, like these widows, are drawn toward healing because brokenness is so much a part of our lives. Dorcas had cared for these women on a daily basis, and now she was gone.
Communities are powerful healing partners in helping us overcome illness & brokenness. This past week, our Bob Renshaw has been in the hospital for a bout with a pneumonia/Covid combination that has also affected his heart. Bob has faithfully brought to church over these last months by Richard & Patricia Hampton, along with Gloria Webb. If you know him, or have met him, you know his bright smile! When I shared with his daughter, Gail, how our prayer team and pastoral team have been praying for him, she wrote back:
“He perked up when I mentioned church and in his own way, communicated about the people and music --We are now working on getting him home so he can rest and heal there”.
Bob may feel far from us while isolated in the hospital, but in a moment of communication and prayer, he smiles, remembers, and knows that God is near.
This story about Tabitha is a story of hope! It does not mean that we will all live forever. We won’t. None of us. We might live longer than expected. As a divinity student in seminary we were to participate in a hospital chaplaincy program. It’s an intense time where, as a student-pastor you are presented with those who are dying almost on a daily basis! It’s emotionally draining, as well. I remember my very first day in the hospital. I was paired with a mentor, and he wanted to walk me through how to assist with someone who has died. In this case, no family was around. Yet, of course, we still would proceed into the room and say a prayer over the body of the deceased. I followed him into the hospital room, he closed his eyes and began to pray over this man who had died. His prayer went on…and on….and I finally said, “Um, I’m sorry sir, but I just have to interrupt….this man is not dead!” The chaplain opened his eyes, and sure enough, the man was breathing….my mentor had walked us into the wrong room!!
“The emphasis of this text is not upon a return from death, but upon a community honing all of its spiritual strength and resources passionately upon life and wholeness.” Tabitha didn’t just devote herself to others for specific seasons of a year (for example, at Christmas or at Thanksgiving). Her devotion was consistent, all throughout the year!
We will all die one day. Peter will, too. And Tabitha…she won’t live forever. But as the theologian Stephen Jones writes, “We believe in a God who transcends the categories of birth, life, and death.” The congregation in Joppa was unafraid to wade into each other’s lives in transforming ways.
Farther out, there may be a great view of a beautiful sea…but right here in Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha, in a home filled with knitting and sewing. Do not belittle the ministry of stitching, sewing, knitting, and generally providing for the needs of the larger community. “Ordinary people are not ordinary to God,” says NT Wright. In this New Testament passage, we read for the first time the feminine form of disciple in the Greek, as it describes Dorcas.
In every community, in every family, in every congregation exists within certain settled, fixed arrangements that we tend to live by. A fixed order in which we find our place and stay there. God moves out of those fixed places. Tabitha, a seamstress, didn’t just sit at home. She sewed and cared for those in her midst. Peter was a fisherman—was he just to keep on fishing only. Or was there more for him to do? When he was summoned by the widows to come, he temporarily left what he was doing. Mind you, there is no such thing as a small errand in the kingdom of God!
“We don’t know, but it’s clear that Peter’s presence is important. Peter walked and talked with Jesus; he witnessed the miracles of the master. Peter is the one who addressed a multicultural crowd at Pentecost, and the word of God was spread throughout the land. So if the disciples were to call anyone during a grave and urgent moment, it would be Peter”.
Sometimes things that we can’t imagine could change, can. Sometimes the things that seem most impossible, are. You know the ‘old childhood rhyme…”Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the kings horses and all the kings men…couldn’t put Humpty together again.” You can’t put him back together. It’s impossible. Give up. Go home. Acts is telling us a different option. A community empowered by the Holy Spirit can turn the world upside down! Just try it. God has a different value system than the world. In I Corinthians 1:26-31 Paul describes where God uses what is lowly and despised in the world to bring about a new reality. Do you know what this message in today’s story of Acts is telling us? That Tabitha’s work is too important to die!
“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 about 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.”.
Will Willimon writes “Every time a couple of these little stories like these are faithfully told by the church, the social system of paralysis and death is rendered null and void. The church comes out and speaks the prophetic word “Rise!” and nothing is ever quite the same.
 Stephen Jones, FOW Commentary.
 Lisa D. Jenkins, Christian Century on Commentary.
 Lisa D. Jenkins, CC Article/Commentary.
 Will Willimon, Acts Interpretation Commentary.