A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (9:36-43)
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
A Reading from the Book of Revelation (7:9-17)
I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (10:22-30)
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Along with the best known stories in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke provides us also with some short vignettes and legends that we can all too easily miss. He tends to tuck them in between the much longer, much more familiar narratives. Today’s first reading is just one example. It comes in between one of the accounts of the conversion or call of Saul, on the one hand, and the story of Peter baptizing the first non-Jews to join the church, on the other.
At this point in the book, Peter has already been portrayed as calling on the name of Jesus to enable people who had been paralyzed to stand up and walk. But in today’s reading, the author presents us with an even more amazing story. He portrays Peter as raising a woman from the dead. In doing so, he illustrates in a powerful way the new life that is at work in the world through the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit.
Raising somebody from the dead is, of course, impressive in itself. But the real surprise in the story comes when we stop to think who this one person is whom Peter is said to have raised from the dead. Who merits that distinction? It is not an important local or regional leader. It is not one of the wealthiest or most influential people of the time. It is not even a prominent leader of the church; three chapters later, when the apostle James is killed, neither Peter nor anyone else makes an attempt to bring him back to life.
But here, a woman by the name of Dorcas or Tabitha is raised from the dead; translated, her name means “Gazelle.” Only those church members living in Joppa would probably have known who she was. “Tabitha Who?” the members of all the other churches would have asked. It is unlikely that they had ever heard of her.
Why in the world would some unknown woman from Joppa be raised from the dead when prominent leaders of society and of the church were not? Who is most important here, and what is most important here?
In 1781 when British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, it is said that the British band played an old English ballad, titled “The World Turned Upside Down.” If someone ever creates a dramatic production of the Acts of the Apostles, that same melody might be a good choice for its theme song. Acts clearly presents us with a world that has been turned upside down by the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of his Spirit.
After all, look at its cast of leading characters. A small group of ordinary, Galilean fishermen are teaching in the temple and lecturing the highest council of the Jewish people about the work of God. One member of that small group, one who had always seemed rather unstable and who had denied their leader when he needed him most, was now acting as solid as a rock and remained faithful despite multiple arrests and threats to his life. The greatest persecutor of this New Way had now become its staunchest advocate. Old men, who had been crippled for years, were now walking around and calling people to a new way of life. And some woman named Tabitha, who had been running her own personal welfare program in Joppa, caring for a group of widows, had now been raised from the dead. If that isn’t a world turned upside down, I don’t know what is!
What was going on here? What was this world coming to? Well, that is exactly the question that the Acts of the Apostles asks: what is the world coming to? And the answer that it gives is “the reign of God.” That is what the world is coming to.
Because of what God has done in Jesus, the whole world has been changed. But still, in the case of this story, we continue to face the same question: why, in this changed world, would this little-known woman be the one person who is raised from the dead? What was so special about her?
According to our reading, when Peter comes to Joppa, he is met by several widows: the most vulnerable and helpless group of people in that society. They are weeping and showing him all the things that Tabitha had made for them. It becomes clear that she was the one person who made sure that they were taken care of. Without her, they had no one to turn to; they had no help and no hope. And so, in the name of Jesus, Peter raised her from the dead. In this new community of faith, widows will not be left to perish. They must be cared for, even if that requires raising somebody from the dead.
There are many people around the world today, and right here in our own greater-Dayton community, who, to one degree or another, are helpless. They, too, need someone who will make caring for them a priority. And God has given them someone to do just that. God has given them us: the church, the community of those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Like Tabitha, and like the other men and women in the early church who would not allow the widows and other helpless people to perish, we have been sent by God to care for those who are in need today. We have been sent to care for them personally and directly, and we have been sent to care for them by ensuring that our public policies do not neglect them by favoring those who are already well-off and who need no help.
The new world that God has begun to bring about through the death and resurrection of Jesus is a world which is to be based solely on the promises of God, and we have been charged with fulfilling those promises in God’s name.
We have not been sent to do what Peter is said to have done: literally to raise dedicated caregivers like Tabitha from the dead. But we have been sent to raise up, in a figurative sense, those who live the gospel by caring for the most vulnerable people in our time and in our society.
And maybe, just maybe, we ourselves are being called by God to be one of those dedicated caregivers. Maybe we, too, have been called by God to share in the ministry of Christ, the Good Shepherd, by participating with him in caring for those in our community who are most in need. Maybe the story of Acts is supposed to be our story, too.