Rev. George Miller
April 17, 2016
About a month ago on TV was a modern-day musical of the “The Passion” featuring songs from the last 40 years.
One of the big surprises of the show was the use of Tina Turner’s tune “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, sung by Pontius Pilate.
A few weeks ago teenage boys of all ages, as well as comic books fans, nerds, and people of all backgrounds made “Batman vs. Superman” one of the biggest super-hero films of all time.
Last week we heard that if the Resurrection was filmed today perhaps there’d be expensive special effects and a scene of Wonder Woman helping God raise Jesus from the grave with Lois Lane by her side.
Heroes, heroes everywhere, from TV to the multiplex to the pulpit. Which got me wondering- who is the hero of today’s reading?
We just heard Acts 9:36-43, and it is one of those scriptures that has been misunderstood, underutilized, or seen as a really “nice”, simple tale.
But as we discovered during Tuesday’s Lectionary Bible Study, this story is way more than just nice or simple.
It is complex and full of details that can be so easily missed.
So this morning we’re going to first go through the scripture, and then we’re going to return to the question “Who is the hero of today’s reading?”
We are introduced to a woman named Tabitha, which is Greek for Dorcas.
This is an indicator that something special is being told. Back when this was written, women were rarely mentioned by name. They were referred to by their situation, or their physical placement, or who they were married to and the child they had.
Think of the woman who had been hemorrhaging, the woman at the well, the wife of Cleopas, or Mary the mother of James.
To name a woman was an indication that she was important; she was well known. To name her twice means even more so.
Tabitha is not just so nice they named her twice, she is referred to as a disciple. Not just a follower of Jesus, not a believer, not a fan.
But a disciple, the same title given to men like Peter, and John. A title, which indicates she is their equal.
So within the first verse we realize how important this doubled- named disciple is. So our ears should perk up.
We should also notice something else. There is no mention of a husband, or of a son. Was she married? Was she a mother? Was she a widow? Was she single? A life-long spinster? A friend of Sappho?
No one knows, but it is so clear that Tabitha was a woman of independent means. She didn’t need a man to define her.
Tabitha has devoted herself to doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with the Lord. She gives her time, her talents, and her money.
This indicates to us that Tabitha was a woman of social status, she was a person of wealth, someone who had “enough”.
In the name of Christ, she was willing to share. But Tabitha was not the kind of person who simply signed a check and placed it in the offering plate.
She is someone who physically acts. She has found her calling by ministering to the widows of her community. She makes them clothes, she makes them coats to keep them warm, and she spends time with them.
This is important, why? Because back then widows were basically a social-class of their own. On life’s ladder, they would be on the bottom rung, more often than not poor, destitute, and perhaps even homeless.
Widows were virtually on their own in the world, with no one to represent them, or to protect them.
But Tabitha did. Tabitha cared for them. She clothed them. She loved them.
So when she dies, it creates a huge crisis for the community- they now have no one to speak up for and watch over them.
Not such a “nice” or simple tale, is it?
The love the widows have for Tabitha is enormous, as they wash her body, and lay her in a room upstairs.
Picture, for a moment, what this may have looked like.
A group of widows, vulnerable, most likely old, penniless, hunched over, a life-time of wrinkles across their faces, caring for her body.
Going to the well to get the water that was needed. The deliberate, careful steps to carry that water so as not to spill too much.
The tender taking off of Tabitha’s garments. The washing of her face, her arms, her hands, her feet.
The low hushed humming the widows might do, like what you’d hear at an AME Church.
The stories they’d share or the songs they’d sing as they cleansed her hair, combed out the knots and braided her locks of love.
The oil they’d use to anoint her flesh. The perfume to make her smell sweet. Perhaps white linens to dress her in.
The sweeping up and cleaning of the upstairs room. Going outside to pick flowers to place around her. The carrying of her body up the steps.
The disciples send two men to Peter saying “Come to us without delay.”
Tabitha was so special she not only had two names, but had two men rushing to fetch Peter. Their urgency further indicates how important she is, because no one rushes for a nobody.
Peter arrives on the scene with the widows weeping.
Because the widows don’t have much, they hold that which they have- the clothes, the coats that Tabitha made for each and every one of them by hand.
This wasn’t just a craft group or a thing to pass the time, what Tabitha did was to clothe and protect and to give dignity.
Peter puts everyone outside, kneels, prays, addresses her by name, not her situation, not who she is married to, or the mother of.
“Tabitha, get up.”
She opens her eyes, she sees, she sits, and taking his hand, she stands.
In Christ, Tabitha is raised. In Christ, Tabitha is able to see again. In Christ, Tabitha is once again on her own two legs.
In Christ the community is restored. In Christ, the crisis is averted.
In Christ, many more get to hear, many more get to know, and many more get to believe in the Lord.
…So to go back to the question asked in the beginning of the message- who is the hero of today’s reading?
Is the hero Tabitha, the woman who cared for the widows, devoting her life to doing justice, and loving kindness and being a disciple of the Lord?
Is the hero Peter, who speaks Tabitha into new life?
Are the heroes the 2 disciples who go to get Peter?
Could the heroes be the widows, the vulnerable members of the community, who washed her body, carried her upstairs, and stood weeping while holding the items that Tabitha had made?
Is God the hero of today’s reading? Or is it Christ?
Or could it be that the hero of today’s reading is…the community?
Not an individual. Not a deity. But a combination of everyone involved?
What if the hero of today’s reading is everyone, from Tabitha to Peter to the disciples to the widows, to Christ Jesus to God?
What if today’s reading becomes for us, an indication of just how wonderful and amazing things are when everything is based around the reality of Easter?
What if today’s reading is another reminder of how the name of Jesus Christ has life-giving powers and creates communities in which amazing things happen, people do good in their part of the world, and there are always fresh possibilities?
I like thinking that the hero of today’s reading is the entire composite of people that it took to tell this tale.
That what we witnessed here is how in Jesus Christ, good and great things are happening.
Today’s reading gives us a glimpse into a community that has been shaped by the Resurrection and the breaking in of the Holy Spirit.
A community in which normal constructs break away to show that when one encounters Christ, it is hard to stay the same.
A community in which ordinary fishermen become the ones to preach to the Temple authorities.
A community in which a woman is not dependant on a man or a marriage to make her mark.
A community in which being rich doesn’t make you reckless or rude, but responsible and able to reach out to others in need.
A community in which one can see, one can stand, and one can rise again, even when death or the end is real.
A community grounded in Christ- that’s who I believe the hero of this reading is today: this community that found a way to do what they could in their own corner of their world…
…Friends, disciples, widows, news-givers, benefactors, orphans, parents, spouses, believers- we can all be heroes as well.
We can all be people who make a difference in our own little corner of the world.
We don’t have to do it all, we don’t have to solve it all, we don’t have to know it all, but like Tabitha, we can be devoted to good works, we can do acts of charity.
In Christ we are a community, in Christ we have our calling, in Christ we too can show great care.
Amen and amen.