First Congregational Church
May 8, 2022
4th Week of Easter
“Living This Age”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I ran across a couple new hymns this week that could possibly show up in a future version of our spiral books. “It Is Well with My Soul, But My Knees Hurt.” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I Have Seeing.”
It is said that Winston Churchill once said, “They begin the Evening News with ‘Good Evening,’ the proceed to tell you what isn’t.
There is also the story that tourists visiting an old, historic church in Alexandria, VA had a tour guide who pointed to a pew and said that George Washington had attended a worship service in that very church, sitting in that very pew. A reverent silence fell over the tourists, and the guide went on to say that church services in Washington’s time were very lengthy, often lasting three hours or more. The reverent silence was shattered when a tourist in the rear loudly proclaimed, “So George Washington slept here, too!”
In all seriousness, I came across a line from the Greek philosopher, (Hair a cly’ tis) Heraclitus, who said no one enters the same stream twice. That’s one I may add to the wall behind my desk. No matter where we are in this world, we are never in the same place twice, simply because any subsequent times we came to that place, we are different simply because of the life, experiences and people who have influenced us since the previous visit.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
Thank you, Sharon. Part of the interesting aspect of this passage is its similarity to Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter and Jesus’ best bud, Lazarus from the dead.
In Jairus’s situation, he asked Jesus to come and heal his daughter, so Jesus did. In Lazarus’ situation, Mary berated Jesus for not having come sooner, that he might have healed him. So raising Lazarus from the dead could have stemmed from a lot of reasons, but for now, we’ll just recognize it’s link to our passage. In Tabitha’s case, Peter wasn’t asked to heal Tabitha, but just to come, maybe to share the difficult time with her friends. It seems that no one expected anything more. Expectations and realities - all so different - with remarkable familiarity.
It’s interesting, too, because this day is also Mothers Day, and of course, that means that each of us is here with a vast array of emotions regarding the said topic - and each year that goes by, our relationship to Mothers Day changes, sometimes dramatically - in good and not so good ways. Jesus raising this person to live again can spark so many emotion receptors, and uffda, that’s a lot of stuff in this room. Which is also a part of this passage.
In another “different” but same place at the river of life, from the situation in Ukraine to a bomb in Havana to Supreme Court leaks to tornadoes and the multitude of other situations, there are emotions that we bring to this death-bed, birthing bed of life - topics that also affect how we hear or turn off this passage.
Whether we are beaming with pride and joy this day, or just hoping that we can keep it together long enough to get out the door, I’d like to share this one piece of truth that I’ve learned. Regardless of where we are on this river of life, there is always one thing, even a very minuscule thing, most times a very basic thing, that can not only shed light but instill hope.
Part of that piece of truth is that there are some parts of our human nature that don’t change, and that’s not such a bad thing. When Peter arrived at Tabitha’s house and the women took him upstairs, without looking back in a Bible - do you remember what they did? They showed Peter the robes and other clothing that Tabitha had made while she was still with them. The same thing is often done at funerals these days.
Whether it’s a beloved teacup or fishing rod or other objects of association, we are often keen to share the joy and preciousness of such articles with those around us. Participating in some of the traditions of life can help us release stress and satisfy our souls in ways that can be beyond words.
Another little nugget of light that comes from this passage isn’t as instantly recognizable but is equally important. We don’t catch it as quickly when we focus on this woman’s name in Aramaic. But when we think about her name in Greek, Dorcas, then we may begin to catch more familiarity. Do a Google search of Dorcas, and you get over 8 million results, many of which have something to do with ministry from food pantries to education to the underserved around the world.
I think it was Scott Hoezee of Calvin Theological Seminary that likened the meaning of Tabitha and Dorcas to a gazelle - in both languages - that today’s person was fleet of foot to help those who needed help. More specifically, there is a subspecies of gazelle named dorcas gazelles - that stand about 2 feet high. That idea of swift helpfulness is one that has survived and thrived all these years later, probably much to Tabitha’s surprise. And it begs the question, what will survive us, long into the future, despite our histories? Just the other day I was thinking that a good sermon title would be: What will your biography be titled? Not for today’s sermon, tho.
The teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots. He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn't want to go on. Finally, when the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, "Teacher, they're on the wrong feet."
She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet.
He then announced, "These aren't my boots." She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, "Why didn't you say so?" like she wanted to. And once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet.
No sooner than they got the boots off, he said, "They're my brother's boots. My Mom made me wear 'em." Now she didn't know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, "Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I’ve stuffed ‘em in the toes of my boots.”
Next time you help - or watch someone help - a little person struggle with their boots, allow that moment to remind you that sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to find the truth, truth that is neither good nor bad, but information that can bring a sliver of light to that moment.
The interesting thing - about finding that little flash of hope-instilling is how that one piece - that mustard seed of hope light - brightens the path of other little hope lights - and we begin to see larger pieces of hope light - some of those “slivers” lasting long after we are gone.
I was reading an article the other day that the term “mama’s boy” is a flex, not an insult to a new generation of men. For so long, the emasculating term, mama’s boy, was about power and control over others deemed weaker than the one hurling the insult. Today, living in this age, bringing all the pain of the past to the present, looking for the nuggets of truth and light, we become part of the healing of the world and the hope of tomorrow - hope that turns agony and pain into pride and healing.
And that’s how we demonstrate how to follow Christ while following Peter’s steps, in helping someone who is - not so much physically - dead - but emotionally or spiritully - to rise up to new life. Living this age, coming to this passage - at this time in our lives, and taking that one sliver of hopeful truth back to our everyday lives helps all of us live as better followers and inspirations for others to join us.
I was given an article by Dwight Zcheile, one that Rev. Petteys referenced while he was filling in for my sabbatical. At the end of the article, it said, “In an Age of Authenticity, people are looking for authentic expressions of spirituality, community, justice, and hope. That is a good thing. May the church meet them there with the Good News of Jesus.”
This passage can be about a lot of different things, but it is certainly one that gives us the incentive to take the pieces we have and offer them to others as they can use. Jesus isn’t even mentioned in this passage, but allowing this section from Acts 9 to encourage our connections with one another, helps us all live this age to the best of our abilities with all that God has given us, the good along with the not so good.
We may think that our realm of influence isn’t all that great, but that is a flat out mistake. Just during this hour together, just within the confines of these walls, there is so much of the world right with us. From the astounding array of people that come through the door, to family and friends near and far, all our little pieces of light and truth have untold ripple effects. The person next to you may live most of their time miles from this place. Your recognition of them, noticing them, will go with them, and will be shared with others, just because we bothered to look at someone to really see them, to hear their stories.
Living this age, regardless of knee or shoulder condition, or where we are at the stream, living this age is the honor and privilege to join with God in bringing about the world God has seen for us. So we’d better pray.
Holy, Mothering God, thank you for all the ways you reach out to us, regardless of our backgrounds, successes, or failures. Thank you for the slivers of hope-filled truth that somehow grow and expand, that allow us to live in our current moments, doing the best with what we have, for you. Forgive us indifferences and laziness and even our naiveties, and inspire us through those moments that give us awe in our ability to be a part of you and your greater vision. For the blessing of being messengers of your healing and grace and wholeness and light, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.