Preached by Brenda Holden on 12 May 2019: 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-end, John 10:22-30
Getting to know people is one of the delights of being human. People’s lives are never ordinary – everyone has a unique contribution to make in the great scheme of the God’s Kingdom.
What we heard this morning was the story of Tabitha, whose name in Greek was Dorcas. Dorcas had died and the mystery is why this miraculous healing was recorded by Luke in such detail.
Dorcas, when she was alive, had been a special disciple in the church in Joppa. She had developed a charitable ministry among women of the town especially widows. In those days widows were prey to severe financial problems with no social security benefits being available. There was the suggestion by one writer that she organised the prototype of a clothing club that was later found in other early churches. There appears to be no doubt that she was well thought of by the women who had gathered as mourners around her death bed.
It was known that Peter was in Lydda, not far from Joppa and he was sent for in the hope that he could do something as he was a well-known leader of the Early Church. Peter appears to have dropped everything and returned with Dorcas’ friends. Part of the mystery for us is that Dorcas wasn’t the only member of the early church to die, so why did Peter respond immediately?
The account of what happened when Peter arrived at Dorcas’ home has an uncanny resemblance to Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter. Dorcas’ body was in an upper room of the house and Peter excluded the mourners from the scene. He then knelt and prayed before taking her hand and telling her to get up once she had opened her eyes. What we hear is a story of a resurrection as Dorcas is brought back to life.
This miracle is a demonstration of the power of God working through Peter. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had empowered him and the other disciples. This is possibly the resolution to the mystery of why this story is included in the Acts of the Apostles. If you remember, last week in our Gospel reading we heard the risen Jesus conferring this authority on Peter following the breakfast on the beach. After three times when Peter said that he loved Jesus, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, in other words, to care for his flock and this is what Peter was doing in the story this morning.
Dorcas was an unsung heroine in her community. She could be described as the beating heart of God’s Kingdom. We can imagine that her risen self just got on with God’s work to the glory of God.
Today is the start of Christian Aid Week 2019 and this year they are focussing on the work in Sierra Leone in Africa. Christian Aid is well known for its support when disasters happen. What is less well known is the work they do with long term community development programmes in many of the poorer regions of the world. For decades Christian Aid has been on the ground developing sustainable income-generating projects and health education programmes with many of those being led by women- women like Dorcas working within their own communities. Christian Aid have released a video about a lady in Sierra Leone called Tenneh who uses her midwifery skills to encourage health education and support for pregnant women to increase the safety of both mothers and their babies at the time of childbirth. The work of Christian Aid can bring resurrection to parts of the world where there is little hope.
Dorcas in many shapes and forms abound within church families around the world – their ministry attracts us to the small-scale deeds at the heart of the Kingdom. God pays attention to and values ministry in all its forms – apparently ordinary people are not ordinary to God!
It is fitting that the lectionary gave me the resurrection of Dorcas for my final sermon. I had expected to finish my 20 years of preaching with my homily at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. God, working through Linda, however, had other ideas. He didn’t want to leave me there, just as he didn’t want to leave his first disciples in a dark place. God wants us all to experience resurrection – the hope and love that it brings into our lives. My resurrection will be similar to Dorcas’ as she returned to her prayerful worship, her creativity and her friendships – that is very similar to the journey I hope to take in the coming years.
We none of us know what the future holds as we listen to the call of the Risen Lord. However, we can be sure that Resurrection will happen – it is a wonderful and mysterious gift for all of us who profess and live our Christian faith.