A Sermon for 12 May 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 9:32-43. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda (Líd-dah). There he found a man named Aeneas (Ah-knéé-ass), who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
“Now in Joppa (Jáh-pah) 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 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
A few years back, God threw me a curve ball when I was introduced to the energetic therapy called Healing Touch. There I was in total pain prior to a much-needed shoulder repair surgery, when a compassionate sister at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama asked if I might be open to receiving Healing Touch. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I figured if she could do anything to relieve the horrible pain in my shoulder, I was game! Before I knew it, I found myself learning all I could about this incredible healing modality where something as simple as touch has been scientifically measured to have powerful effects. A key principle of Healing Touch that’s taught from the start is to “delete the need to understand” (2010 HTI Healing Touch Certificate Program Level 1 Student Workbook, p. 25). Now, as a highly educated reverend-doctor of the church, deleting the need to understand certainly has been humbling. Like how is it possible that through something as simple as gentle hand passes close to, or actual touches on a person’s physical body, the energetic system of a person can be tremendously affected? Pain can be reduced. Anxiety can be lessened. Long-held emotion can be released. Someone going through the most horrific physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual difficulty can experience healing. Does the practitioner of Healing Touch understand how? No. Not really, though the more one practices, the deeper insight one will gain. The mantra drilled into anyone learning about such healing work is: “Delete the need to understand!” (Ibid.). Do the work anyway! This foundational principle of Healing Touch reminds that “if we have to understand before we do the work, we never will do the work” (Ibid.).
It seems a fitting foundation in reference to the work of Christ as well – especially in light of these healing stories by Peter in the early days after the resurrection of Christ as recorded in Acts of the Apostles. In fact, I wonder if the Risen Christ said just that to his first disciples: “Delete the need to understand. Do the work anyway!” ‘Cuz how can anyone make sense of a paralyzed man, bedridden for eight years, hearing: “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” (Acts 9:34)? And immediately he gets up? . . . And what of Tabitha, also called Dorcas in Greek, meaning a gazelle. Which indeed she must have been to her community: a beautiful creature who lived lightly among the rest of the disciples! What an incredible woman, we hear of according to this brief record of her on her deathbed in Joppa. One commentator points out that the words used for the widows who gather to show Peter the fine garments sown for them by Tabitha, use “the middle voice of the participle showed (which) indicates that the widows actually are wearing the clothes made for them by Tabitha, who also distributed (the clothes) among the most needy of the community in keeping with the community’s principle of shared goods” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Robert W. Wall, p. 429). That same commentator concludes that “her loss is felt more severely then; and her resuscitation is desired more keenly, because of the community’s responsibility for its needy widows” (Ibid.). Maybe Tabitha once heard her Lord say, “Delete the need to understand. Do the work anyway!” So, she got busy giving her greatest gifts for the life of those all around.
How many of us really understand? Truly? Think about it. When you speak a word that you hope will be a comfort to a despairing friend, do you have any idea really what impact that word might make upon them? When you share some of what you have with someone else who is hungry, or thirsty, or so lonely they can hardly stand it; do you have any idea really what that act might do to sustain their body, or mind, or spirt just for one more day until they make it through their greatest struggle? Do you really understand one bit what your presence here and in the every-day-walk of your life means to those around you? How your words, and actions, and gestures of kindness might impact another’s life for good in ways not even they might be able yet to see? . . . No. We really don’t. And we don’t need to. That’s the beauty of God’s Way – the path of embodying the full love of God a little bit more each day. We do not need to understand it all just to get up one more day and commit our everything to living in the like manner of Christ. We can just do it; trusting that God will bring the outcome that is for the greatest good of all. We can release our desired outcome to the One who alone understands. We can be the healing presence of the Risen Christ everywhere we put down our feet on this earth!
It’s how God’s works of wonder continue around us today. Some biblical commentators of these healings in Acts of the Apostles want to make the distinction that such incredible healings were only possible by the earliest disciples because, God just had loosed a power “in the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., Joseph Harvard, p. 426). And while that is true, it still is true that such power is at work in the world through those who yet embody the same love of God as shown in-full in Christ. Though our eyes may have grown dim to the sights, wonders still are worked all around us each day! God is acting now through us – to continue to bring new life in this world every day.
Tabitha found a way to use her gift of sewing so that not one widow in her community was found without clothes on their backs. Peter and the other apostles would tell stories far and wide of what they had witnessed and come to love in the One they followed to Jerusalem and beyond. What is it for you? What acts of love in this world fill your heart to overflowing and revive your spirit to face a new day? . . . If your heart wants to help children born into difficult circumstances get a chance to flourish in this world, maybe you could volunteer at H.G. Hill Middle School or at an afterschool program somewhere else. If being in the quiet of creation restores you, consider finding a way to invite others with you – especially those who are stressed to the brink in their life. If you don’t want anyone else ever to feel alone in a crisis, maybe you could ask to sit in the family waiting room at a hospital. If you love to write notes of encouragement, we have a weekly list in the bulletin of people of this church and beyond who need gracious expressions of care. God put each one of us here on this earth right now – to be about the works of wonder each of us alone is able to accomplish. You do not have to explain it to anyone else – not even to yourself. Just delete the need to understand, then do the work God has put you here to do! . . . It’s how God’s wonders continue today!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit. Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)