Sewing and Reaping
April 21, 2013
Acts 9: 36-43
Reverend Jan Wiley
It makes sense that today’s scripture is assigned to be read in the Easter Season. The short passage comes from the Book of Acts which shares the continuing story of the disciples and the early church after Jesus’ resurrection.
The disciples have had time to preach about the Risen Christ. A number of Jews have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Small churches have begun, often in people’s homes but not without pain and controversy. Saul, the persecutor of the early church, has just experienced his conversion, which is described in the chapter before today’s story. And so, just before we hear details of Paul’s amazing missionary journeys, we encounter this small gem of a story – about the disciple Peter and a woman named Tabitha.
Read Acts 9: 36-43
Sewing and Reaping
I’m pretty sure that in the story about Tabitha and Peter that you just heard, we are supposed to pay more attention to Peter and his act of healing. Peter is the number one disciple. The main dude! The rock! And he doesn’t just perform an act of healing, which he has done before, but he brings Tabitha back to life. It is another story of resurrection – this time done by one of Jesus’ disciples. So it seems likely we supposed to pay attention to the resurrection piece of the story and how this miracle leads many to believe in the Lord.
Now geography seems important too. Acts, which was written by the Gospel writer Luke, always pays attention to geography. It is one of the organizing principles that we find throughout his story. Up until now, most of the ministry of the disciples has been in the Jewish world. Luke will soon tell the stories of Paul as he embarks upon his most amazing missionary journeys into the Gentile world.
And here, we have this little story tucked in the Book of Acts that gives a hint of how the Gospel is about to launched into the world.
Even the physical setting of Tabitha’s story is halfway between the Jewish world and the Gentile world. Peter is summoned to Tabitha’s bedside from modern-day Lod, just east of Tel Aviv, and Tabitha’s city is Joppa, modern-day Jaffa, just to the south of Tel Aviv. Historically, once one leaves the hill country and heads toward the Mediterranean Sea, one is heading more and more into the outskirts of Jewish territory and into Gentile-controlled areas. Peter is physically, as well as “theologically,” leaving the Jewish world and entering the Gentile one. So this little story is a window perhaps into the larger missionary effort that will soon begin with Paul.
But I have to confess that even with most of the light in the story being focused on Peter and his miracle, my heart just keeps getting pulled to focus on Tabitha.
Luke doesn’t tell us much – but just enough. He graces her and us by actually naming her. So many women in the bible aren’t described by name but Tabitha is. In fact, Luke even tells us in Greek her name is Dorcas. Both names mean gazelle. But if we knew Greek we might be even more surprised to see that she is called a disciple, using a feminine singular variant of the word. She is not being included as if she was part of a group of disciples but as an individual one – and a female at that.
Then Luke tells us a bit more about Tabitha: she was ‘always doing good and acts of charity.’ Doesn’t tell us in the beginning how she did this, only that she did and Luke lifts it up. Of all the things he could have said about her besides her name, this is what he chose to tell us about her. She was devoted to always doing good and acts of charity.
It is only after Peter arrives and goes to the upstairs room where they have placed her after her death that we learn that the widows of the community are there and they cry and show Peter the robes and clothing that Tabitha had made for them – and it is likely that they were showing the very clothes that they wearing that she had made for them.
That’s where I connected with Tabitha. Because she sewed. I used to sew a lot when I was younger and had more time. But I especially connected because sewing was so much a part of my mother-in-law Trudie’s life. She was a modern day Tabitha who sewed for all kinds of people. And when she died, many people shared with us the clothing and quilts she had made. But her real gifts were in designing and creating church banners and stoles for clergy to wear in worship.
Her home church of Escondido has dozens of banners large and small which grace the sanctuary at different times of the year. This was Trudie’s gift and expression of her faith.
So today, I placed just one of her banners on our altar table. It is not an Easter banner but a banner for Pentecost as it shows the descending dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, come to grace the church and people of faith. It is the season we are moving toward in this great 50 days of Easter.
Now in the last months my husband Mark and I have been cleaning out the cottage house where Mark’s mom and dad lived. Trudie died 15 months ago and his Dad, at 91, moved to skilled nursing this Christmas. By the end of this month we will have closed up the house.
Now I assume that Tabitha had to sew by hand. But Trudie had 3 different sewing machines, plus a serger and an embroidery machine. And we had a hard time sorting out which equipment went with which machine. And we didn’t have a clue how some of them worked. So Mark talked to a woman in his congregation named Judy, a sewer like his Mom, and asked Judy if she would like a long-term loan of his mom’s embroidery machine. She just had to figure out how it worked! She said an enthusiastic ‘yes’. So we gathered up all the pieces we thought belonged to that machine and delivered them to Judy. She downloaded an instruction book and within a few weeks she had it all figured out.
And then a few weeks ago Mark came home with a small bag and tucked inside were 5 small dresses that Judy made. And every dress had a small bit of machine embroidery somewhere – a butterfly along the hem, a ladybug on the collar, a little boat on a pocket. They are on their way to Africa to be distributed to little girls who have few resources.
There are still ‘Tabithas’ in our midst even if they go by the name of Trudie or Judy. Within this congregation Shirley and her sewing group make laps rugs for seniors in our community. They are Tabithas too! The power of Tabitha is not that she was a seamstress. It was the power of using the gifts she had in service to the world. Sewing was only her vehicle to share her love and care for the world. It could have been something else.
We are called by God to use the gifts we have in service to the world. Those gifts may be skills we have gained in our jobs, or from our hobbies. The gift may come when we stretch ourselves to do something for others we’ve never done before.
Did we not see that on Monday after the bombs exploded at the Boston marathon? Trained first responders immediately went toward the injured. Doctors and nurses who were finishing the grueling 26 mile race, immediately began using their lifesaving skills, military veterans from recent wars stepped back into action, and volunteers just stepped up and did whatever they could. 180 injured people survived, many of them grievously injured, mainly due to the immediate availability of those on duty and those who just stepped up.
I imagine those of us who have never found ourselves in that kind of tragic situation wonder what we would do in the same circumstances. Part of us hopes we will never have the opportunity to find out. But we pray we would respond with whatever gifts we have.
But what we do have is the opportunity on a regular basis to live up to the words that were used to describe Tabitha – “devoted to always doing good and acts of charity.” Opportunities to ‘do good’ are before us every day. And they don’t have to be heroic, though they might be. More likely, they will be the small things we do, the way we use our time, the places where we spend our financial resources, occasions when we go out of our way to make a difference, the letters we write to our legislators calling for justice, the prayers we offer on behalf of others.
One question is how can we be ready to respond to the opportunities to serve? The Boy Scout motto comes to mind: Be prepared.
And being prepared can be with our skill sets but more importantly, being prepared to respond to opportunities of service, little or big, on a daily basis or in the midst of tragedy, come from our hearts and spirits being open to be used by God in the service of others.
To respond to God comes first by seeing ourselves each and every day as followers of Jesus Christ. If we define ourselves that way, if we pray daily that God might use us, then we are more prepared to be part of God’s servant ministry.
My son-in-law Tim works in internet marketing. But recently he has been a bit restless, not feeling that his job helps people in any real way. He wants his life, and his job, to make a difference. So he has decided that he wants to be a firefighter. It started by him taking a class in Disaster Preparedness. He liked it so much he enrolled in a class called Fire 101 and is not taking an EMT class. All while he continues to work full time. I don’t know if he will ever be a paid firefighter. That dream may come true or it may not. But Tim is preparing to be a person who can make a difference in people’s lives. Maybe that will happen through a job or maybe he will just have opportunities to use the skills he is learning. But I trust that his preparing to make a difference will in fact make a difference to someone, sometime.
I mentioned the movie ‘42’ some weeks ago, before I had seen it. Mark and Nick and I saw it on vacation and it was one of those movies where the audience broke out in applause at the end. Now I knew the basic story of Jackie Robinson, the baseball player who wore that number. What I didn’t know is that the other hero in the story was Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, who stepped out on his own to integrate baseball. Little did I know he was a Methodist and being a follower of Jesus Christ made a difference in his life. His faith, lived daily, prepared him to take the giant step to integrate baseball.
It was the preparation of a life of faith that gave him the vision for Major League baseball being open to people of every color. It was his preparation of worship and bible study and prayer that allowed that vision to find expression in his life.
Our stage may not be as big. But we too can reap what we sew!