23 February 2018
Easter 4, Acts 9:36-43, Ps 23, Rev 7:9-17, Jn 10:22-30
Where do we see Jesus?
We find in this best seller of the early church, the book of the Acts of the Apostles, as we race through the story with Luke, that it is where life is given, the the paralysed can move, the poor are valued and the barriers of culture are dropped.
The echoes roll down through the ages of past signs and wonders. We hear them as clues to the meaning of the stories and we get the message over and over that this is the spirit of the same God of Israel who is acting.
The deeds of Elijah and Elisha are renewed in the raising of Dorcas the widow. The same God is here, the old commandments to care for the poor have new life breathed into them.
This is the Spirit of the same Jesus that they have known or heard about. The works of Jesus are being carried out by the church. The mantle of the spirit of Jesus is being passed onto the whole community The risen one is among them acting. The good shepherd has not left the flock and is guiding them into new pastures.
But like Elijah's widow,[ [Luke 4:25] who although there were many widows in Israel Elijah got sent to this one in Sidon , an outsider,] we find that this community is wider than the chosen Jews. God does not keep the boundaries of the Jerusalem establishment. This new movement is wider and more unsettling than they could have ever dreamed, the wind of the Spirit blows were it wants..
Today's story in Acts focuses on Peter. Peter we are told was going around the church groups. In Lydda. between Jerusalem and today's Jaffa he repeats the works of Jesus - Hear the clues, the imprint of Jesus.
" Aeneas", Peter says to the paralysed man who has been stuck on his mat for 8 years, "Jesus Christ heals you, get up and make your bed". We've heard this before. This is clearly Jesus' work. It's not Peter they turn to with thanks but the risen Jesus. Peter is therefore authenticated as a leader and follower of Jesus.
Meanwhile, down in Joppa . they were in crisis. A widow called Tabitha - Dorcas [Gk] had died. Note that this is a Greek speaking community. There's a cross cultural mix here, as in all the places of growth in the developing church. Greek culture meets Jewish culture, Paganism meets one God religion, philosophy meets mystic rituals, and all are challenged by the good news of Jesus as the Spirit of Jesus moves over the fences .
The church in Joppa [today's Jaffa] hear that Peter is nearby in Lydda and the disciples there sent two men to Peter to beg him to come as quickly as possible. . Peter came, and he found the community in mourning.
Dorcas/Tabitha , who was always doing acts full of kindness, especially for the widows, the one who were poor and marginalised., she was gone.
At those times, as still in many parts of the world, women without men were vulnerable often left destitute. A widow had almost no access to economic structures. The OT continually talks of the need for the community to provide for the widows and orphans and this reveals their lack of value to the community. But in the early church love was an active verb and Tabitha was love in action in her leadership in that community and the poorest in the community were bereft.
The widows of Joppa had had Tabitha and her faith-based initiative to support them and give them worth. The only woman in all of scripture to be called a disciple, [although that didn't mean she was the only disciple]. Tabitha had cared for the widows, out of her own resources and in the most practical of ways -- she had sewed their clothing. So they were gathered around showing the things she had done for them.. [There is some evidence later that the church had official women's groups - like deacons - the orders of widows.]
Hear the clue as to what was about to happen. Luke's readers and the listeners would have heard it coming.
Peter put all the weeping widows outside. Alone with the body, Peter knelt and prayed, and then commanded Tabitha to get up. Hear the voice of Jesus, its in the words.
Remember the little daughter of Jarius the ruler of the synagogue. "Talitha cum" Jesus had said.
"Tabitha cum" said Peter to Tabitha a leader in the church in Joppa. She opened her eyes and, with help from Peter, got up.
Peter had been on the move, teaching and healing by the power of the Holy Spirit. By that same Spirit he was able to show Tabitha to be alive and well, restored body and soul to the widows who depended on her acts of charity for their survival. We get the message the risen Christ is present in the actions of the early church.
Then there is a post script. Peter, we are told, stayed in Joppa for some time, with Simon the tanner, an occupation that almost certainly would make him unclean. Peter was maybe being prepared for his encounter with Cornelius . Those with the Spirit of God do not recognise that a person who is a tanner contaminates the worship of God, rather God makes creation clean. The value of each person is affirmed and way is open for the new creation to move in.
The early church is shown as growing in awareness and is about to be stretched more fully by the clash of culture, customs and heritage as more and more Gentiles hear and come to follow Jesus. They were challenged as to their attitudes to children, to widows, to people in different occupations. They had the reality of many starving and people who were castoffs of that society to deal with as well as the rich and powerful being challenged as to how to best use their power and wealth for God.
Where do we hear or see Jesus around us? Whose voice are we tuned into?
I have today last Friday's Herald. The front page only. If each of us reads it, what do we hear? I will read the items. [We looked at the five items on the front page and then gave our choice as to which was about life and death and where we might be pulled towards had short discussion about our choices with those in the pews around us and indicated our choice. The items about testing for Downs syndrome got the highest mention along with the huge job loss at Fisher and Paykel in our neighbouring area.]
This same Spirit is right here today, challenging us to hear and see where God is taking us. Each of us have our own hearing to do and to bring to the whole. Who is being devalued, where are the life and death issues. It is so easy for us to get waylaid on being busy and miss the mark.
Because Tabitha lived, the widows were not left alone. But there is another truth to which her rebirth bears witness.. In Godís new world, things can change and we are equipped as followers of Christ and as the church to bring life and healing.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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