Acts 9:36-43Common English Bible (CEB)
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 37 About that time, though, she became so ill that she died. After they washed her body, they laid her in an upstairs room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two people to Peter. They urged, “Please come right away!” 39 Peter went with them. Upon his arrival, he was taken to the upstairs room. All the widows stood beside him, crying as they showed the tunics and other clothing Dorcas made when she was alive.
40 Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called God’s holy people, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42 The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with a certain tanner named Simon.
This is the word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Signs and Wonders – Then and Now (The Resurrection of Tabitha)
The book of Acts is full of these wonderful stories about the power of God. We can read story after story of the ways that people began to experience the life changing love of Jesus. Last week we heard the most famous conversion story in history – we heard about how Jesus spoke to Saul, and how Saul was blinded for three days. We heard about how Jesus used another named Ananias to heal Saul. And we heard how the most unlikely character became an agent for God’s kingdom. There were lots of dramatic signs and wonders in the scripture last week.
And we continue with stories of signs and wonders this week with this story of God’s resurrection power. This week, we turn to the missionary experiences of Peter. Peter is traveling near Jerusalem – he’s at Lydda; and he’s working to spread the news about who Jesus is, when two people arrive to tell him about the death of Tabitha or Dorcas. Now Tabitha means “gazelle” in Aramaic which was the language the Jewish people spoke. And Dorcas means “gazelle” in Greek – which would have been the language that Luke who wrote this book would have been writing in.
And so I imagine that Tabitha was beautiful and graceful like a gazelle. And indeed it seems as if during her lifetime she has gained the respect and love of her whole community – I think probably for the grace that she showed toward others. Because the text says that her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. I can just picture this woman who was like a gazelle – and who was good, who loved beyond human capacity, and who was dearly loved in return. The community of believers respected and loved Tabitha so much that when she became sick and died suddenly, two messengers went to find Peter. The community couldn’t believe that Tabitha was gone. The community couldn’t and wouldn’t accept that Tabitha was gone. Now perhaps they had heard about other miracles that Peter had been performing in their area. Peter’s reputation as a healer had probably spread.
And so they ran to find Peter and to bring him back to the body of this much loved woman, and their hope was that maybe, just maybe Peter would bring her body back to life. And when Peter arrived they took him upstairs, and I can just envision the scene of what happens next. The widows stand beside Peter crying. They are grieving. They are heart-broken that their beloved friend is gone. And they took out the clothing that Tabitha had made during her lifetime. They showed Peter the works of her lifetime, and they demonstrated to him how special and beloved she was to them. They showed Peter the clothing that Tabitha had made for those in need. They showed Peter tangible evidence of the life that she lived – a life of compassion and a life full of good works. If anyone deserved to live, if anyone deserved to be healed, if anyone deserved to be resurrected it was Tabitha.
And surely we all know Tabitha’s. I am thinking of a Tabitha in my life, named Ina. She is a humble servant who loves everyone – all the time. I have never heard her say anything negative about another peson – ever! She quietly loves by serving others in all kinds of ways without any need to receive recognition for her acts. One of my favorite things she does is her chewing gum ministry. She keeps a supply of chewing gum in her pocket. And the children have figured out that she has it, and so all the kids at church sneak up to her and give her a hug. They get a big hug back and the kids ask for chewing gum using their best manners. She tears off a piece of gum from a stick and the kids scurry away with their gift. It’s a blast to watch kids sneak over one by one to get their secret gift during church.
We surely all know those men and women whose lives are full of compassion and love for others. We have been loved by men and women whose lives are filled with good works. And like the community of believers in Joppa, we may have even cried out to Jesus for their healing or maybe even their resurrection as their bodies have failed. As each of our human bodies will fail.
In the text, Peter responds to the desperate pleas of the widows for Tabitha.
And he sent everyone away.
And he knelt down.
And he prayed.
He turned to her body and said, “Tabitha, get up!”
And breath filled her lungs.
She opened her eyes and sat up.
“The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord.”
It’s an amazing story. Tabitha is resurrected through the healing power of Jesus that comes to Tabitha through the Holy Spirit and through God’s agent, Peter. But honestly this story brings up a lot of “yeah, buts.”
Yeah, Tabitha was resurrected, but that doesn’t happen today.
Yeah, Tabitha was resurrected, but we don’t have Jesus or Peter around today.
Yeah, Tabitha was resurrected, but she deserved to be.
We usually doubt that healing is really possible much less resurrection after death. And we wonder, “Why is one person healed and another person is not?” We wonder if it is only the Tabitha’s of the world who are healed. We wonder why innocent children suffer. We wonder why God doesn’t heal the Tabitha’s in our lives. We wonder if God hears our prayers. We wonder if God even exists.
Our world is broken.
We are broken.
And sometimes we have trouble seeing the power of Christ in the midst of our anguish.
Yeah ……… but, we have the same mighty and powerful God today!
Yeah, but, God wants to resurrect broken people, and renew broken relationships, and revive communities and even the world.
Yeah….but, while we were still sinners, Christ died to show God’s love for us. And God wants to resurrect not just the Tabitha’s of the world, but even the worst sinners of the world.
And yeah, but even in the worse turmoil imaginable, God is with us through it all and grants us peace.
Although I don’t have any easy answers for these deep questions of God, we do have the same resurrection power today. The good news is that when the community of believers cried out on Tabitha’s behalf, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ appeared. The good news is that when Peter knelt down and prayed, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ appeared. And the good news for us is that this translates directly into our lives. When the community of believers today cries out for those in need, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is poured out. When we act as God’s agent and kneel down, and pray, the resurrection power of Jesus is unleashed!
Now, in my experience this resurrection power can be unleased in all kinds of unusual and creative ways. I believe that bodies are healed in the power of Jesus still today, but there are lots of layers, I think. Resurrection has several meanings. Resurrection means rising from the dead – this is what happened with the beloved Tabitha. And this is also what we are promised after death as believers in Jesus Christ, amen? Praise God for Jesus Christ who is our salvation. In John chapter 11, Jesus says this to Martha after her brother Lazarus dies: Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And Jesus says, “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that everyone who believes in Jesus will never die?” This is the resurrection power in Christ Jesus our Lord that we witness in Tabitha’s story. This is the core question of our faith. Each week in our creed we affirm that we do believe. We say: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” This is the ultimate resurrection power even if our bodies cease to live. This is the ultimate resurrection power even if our bodies cannot be cured.
But I also encourage you to think about tapping into this resurrection power in our everyday living. Resurrection means not only life after death, but it means revival and revitalization in general. I think the healing power of God, the resurrection power of Jesus, involves another layer — a more ordinary dimension, but no less dramatic, than the healing of our physical ailments and the saving of our souls. Resurrection power can bring the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives when things are so bad that we have no hope. Resurrection power can bring our churches alive when we think there’s not much of a pulse. Resurrection power can heal wounds in a country where people kill each other because of the color of their skin.
And I say that just like Peter, we mere mortals can be agents of God’s healing power to those around us. It is the same healing power of Jesus that Peter calls upon, that is available for us. Even though Jesus is not on the earth during the book of Acts, the apostles were given the same powers that Jesus had. You see Peter knelt down, and he called upon the power of Jesus to heal Tabitha. Peter did not use his own power, but Peter used the power available to him through prayer to heal Tabitha. Just as Paul was used as God’s agent in last week’s text, so is Peter used as God’s agent. And so we too can be agents of God’s resurrection power for others. In fact, as followers of Jesus that is part of our job. How else will the good news of the unending love of God spread to others, if we don’t use God’s power in our everyday lives? How else will many put their faith in the Lord if we don’t kneel and pray without ceasing for the resurrection power?
This week, I was at Cash Saver down the street, and I noticed a family with three kids and a couple of adults. One of the adults had a deep frown on her face. I don’t know what was going on, but she looked miserable. The kids were being kids – waiting in line to check out – you can imagine they were pushing and shoving and running around. And this family went out ahead of me, and they were parked a couple of cars away from me. And so as I went out into the parking lot, there was a big ruckus going on. The boy wanted the girl to help him put the groceries in the car. And he started yelling at her. And then the miserable looking woman started yelling at all of them – cursing them with the worst words, and cursing life in general. There was no grace. There was no compassion. And it was almost as if God was laying a contrast of Tabitha’s story before my eyes.
There are families in this community who are desperate for the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. I have no idea what was going on with this family. But the brokenness and misery were plain to see even for a stranger walking by.
God is just waiting for some of God’s people to put aside the “yeah buts” and become agents to unleash this resurrection power.
And isn’t it ironic. God is really hilarious sometimes. Isn’t it ironic, that we have 79 children who are interested in an after-school program, and we have so many people in this church who are either teachers or who are retired teachers. There is no telling what kind of resurrection power could be unleased in this community if we were to courageously offer ourselves as God’s agents to change the world in some ordinary and common ways.
Just as Peter used the resurrection power of Jesus, so can we.
You have the ability to call upon the healing power of Jesus.
You are God’s agents to share his grace to the world.
You are called to live lives that overflow with good works, and you are called to live lives that overflow with compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 99.9 percent of the time, the resurrection power of Jesus comes through some common and ordinary act of one of Jesus’s followers and not through a dramatic lightning bolt.
So, today, Holy God, I pray for that family at Cash Saver. Would you pour out your Spirit on them and resurrect and renew them, so that their lives would be filled with joy and not misery. Would you heal the brokenness so that they might experience the joy of the Lord. Mighty God, grant us your resurrection power – may your power touch each person here today. Would you let us feel your resurrection power in our own lives and relationships in a real and tangible way? And then, make us bold. Make us courageous. Teach us to step up as your disciples, teach us to pray. Teach us to listen and obey. And Lord of Lords, inspire us to be your agents of healing and resurrection. Amen.