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The Faith of Saints and Widows

Easter 4, Common Lectionary Year C

Acts 9:36-43

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

First some background is needed for this “meager and confusing” text.
First thing to remind ourselves is that the book of Acts is a sequel.
It’s really the Gospel of Luke Part II.
Like any sequel; if it’s going to live up to the original,
the author needs to develop the plotline, and the characters
who appeared in Luke Part I, and to do so in a way that captivates and inspires
as much as the first book did.

In Luke I we encounter Jesus, born of Mary,
baptized in the Jordan,filled with the Spirit
to bring good news to the poor,
to release the captives,
to free people from what binds them,
and to proclaim – in action as much as word – the Dream of God.
From birth through life to death,
to resurrection, and to life beyond death,
this is what the Gospel of Luke proclaims about Jesus of Nazareth, Christ, God’s anointed.

Luke also populated his first Gospel with crowds who listened, were fed, were freed;
with enemies who thickened the plot as they tried to silence and tame Jesus;
and with disciples as odd and motley as bombastic Simon Peter,
as money conscious Matthew, as short-stop Zacchaeus, and even zealous, jealous Judas.

It is with these that Luke populates his sequel.
With these disciples Luke declares,
the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ survived a cross,an empty tomb,
the desperate persecutions of old-time religiosity,
to emerge from an Upper Room filled with the confidence of the Spirit
to live the Risen Life;to do and say and be everything that Jesus had been,
and said, and done.

That’s the key to the Book of Acts.
If Jesus did it, lived, said, it,
so do these new generations of disciples,in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and to the ends of the earth,from that generation to this.
If Jesus did it, lived it, said it,
so do they, so do we;
healing the sick, check
freeing the captive, check
proclaiming God’s liberation from oppression, check
raising the dead! wait: raising the dead? …

Now if that last one leaps beyond our capacity to say “Amen!”
beyond our capacity to believe that God calls us to do likewise,
then I get you! That’s my first reaction too.
But bear with me, suspend your disbelief for a few moments….
And if it helps, let’s move the spotlight from Peter’s beyond-us miracle,
back to Tabitha, and to the faith of saints and widows.

I want you to meet Tabitha.
We know a little about her from the text.
In one short verse, we can learn a lot,
more than we know about most Biblical women, in fact!
We know her name, both in the local dialect,
and in the international language of the day which was Greek. Tabitha is Dorcas.
This suggests that she was well-known, even beyond Joppa.
But why was she well-known? Was she rich? Important?
A clue is in Luke’s use of a titular word not used anywhere else in the New Testament
to describe a woman: she was a Mathetria = a Disciple (big D).
This meant she was one who dedicated her life to follow the Way of Jesus.
She lived the Gospel, proclaimed it, and was known for it.

Her discipleship, we’re told, was devoted, whole-hearted, time consuming, and engaged with the world;using the talent and work of her hands to sew cloth, she gifted her resources to clothe the naked.What Jesus had done, and said and lived, so did she.

You know Tabitha.
She sits here today;
She knits prayer shawls;
she manages the Meals on Wheels drivers’ roster;
she works at the CAC food bank,
at the Palliative Care centre,
at the Nova store, at MCM,
with the refugee response team.
She volunteers her talents with the Family Life Centre,
she devotes her days and nights to the raising of her children,
she cooks for F4, for the pastoral care freezer,
she washes coffee cups after worship,
she’s an Auntie at Mini-Connections…
What Jesus said and did and lived,
she lives again, here, and beyond, now.
She’s a disciple, big D.

You know her friends too,
the ones that Luke calls the Saints and Widows…
those who pray, for friends, neighbours, strangers, the world.
Those who find solace as they mourn together, remembering the gift of love and life.
Those who, with love and tears,
listen one another to healing speech.
Who quietly talk down the agitation of one bound by fear.
Or sing the songs of solace, and grace.
Those who sit silent vigil with the sick and dying.
Those who pour compassion with the tea at funeral receptions.
Those who bail out a flooded basement, who fix a broken door,
who mow a lawn for a senior, or shovel a driveway.

Those who with quiet strength, protect the weakest and most vulnerable
with advocacy for justice; who write letters,
and sign petitions to protect the rights of the oppressed,
whose Facebook posts alert the world to the forgotten plight of stolen children,
of missing aboriginal women, of Talibé boys.

He wears a rainbow pin on his suit to declare a safe place for his LGBT employees .
He cancels a concert in protest against bigotry.
She wears her hijab with pride while holding her sign for peace,
standing shoulder to shoulder with the rabbi and the reverend,
and all who declare that black lives matter,
that minimum wages will set free those in bondage to poverty,
that politics should be about human dignity and the common good,
that 25,000 is not enough if nine million more are still displaced…
You know these saints, these widows, you know Tabitha,
you are Tabitha,
you are Peter,
We are the Saints of God!

Whenever we are healing the sick,
freeing the captive,
working towards God’s liberation from oppression,
whenever we proclaim life in dead places,
then aren’t we too, also raising the dead?

God calls humanity to join as partners in creating
a future free from want or fear,
life’s goodness celebrating;
that new world beckons from afar,
invites our shared endeavour,
that all may have abundant life,
and peace endure for ever. (Ruth Duck: Abundant Life)


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