Witnesses - Week Three: "Tabitha, Get Up!"

This is what is known as the Season of Easter in the historic church calendar, and for the next several weeks we'll be continuing to celebrate Easter, and we'll also step further into our sermon series, "Witnesses."

Because where we are in respect to Easter Sunday is about the time that those first-century followers of Christ were asking a question--which is the same question you and I ought to be asking, too:    "Jesus rises.  Now what?"

It's a good thing that we are not alone in asking this very question.  Jesus' disciples wondered the same thing, and almost immediately after Jesus was raised from the dead.  We know this because of the book of Acts.

I love the arc that the story in the book of Acts takes.

It begins with a bunch of scared people in a room, wondering what is going to happen to them---disciples of Jesus, who are afraid to venture outside the door because they think they might be killed.

It ends---literally---with the word "unhindered" as the Apostle Paul sits imprisoned in Rome, which was widely known as the "very end of the Earth," preaching the Gospel, furthering the movement of Christ.

I'd call that a movement, wouldn't you?  But how did this happen, really?  It was because of witnesses.

That's what this sermon series is all about---a bunch of people living differently.  Living a Resurrection life because they witnessed something that changed them forever.

And we have a chance at this.  To bear witness to what has been raised to a new life in us--to live a Resurrection life.  That's what we're going to do for the next several weeks all the way through the season of Easter.

I have a question for us today, just to get things rolling.

How do you know someone is a Christian?

You might assume that someone would identify as a Christian if they looked a bit like one of those people who come knocking on your door in the middle of the afternoon.

Or if they were carrying a really, really big Bible.

Or you notice they had one of those Jesus fish on the back of their truck, which you noticed as they flipped you off because you offended them by driving too slow or something.

Furthermore, can you really know that someone is a Christian even by what they say?

You can assume it, but there are lots of people who will say all kinds of things that sound Christian-y on Sunday but then live all the other six days of the week like they have no idea who Jesus is.

So seriously, what would be some tell-tale signs that someone is a Christian?

Could it have something to do with the way they live?  And if that's true, then we have a bigger issue.  Because we don't have to wonder why people have such a hard time with Christians these days--it has to do with the fact that far too many of us claim to be Christian... but don't really act like it all that much.

Check this quote out from the late Brennan Manning, who wrote one of my most favorite books of all time "The Ragamuffin Gospel":

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. - Brennan Manning
And then there's this famous quote from none other than Gandhi himself:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” - Gandhi
What's at stake in these quotes?  Everything as it turns out.  For those of us who claim that we follow the Risen Jesus, who identify as Christians, it means everything that we back up what we are claiming with actions.  

Which is what we're going to be thinking about today:  We are living a Resurrection Life when we show our faith through the way we act.  

Our conversation partner today comes to us from the book of Acts once again.  We're going to be exploring Acts 9:36-43 and the story of how Peter raised a woman named Tabitha from the dead.  

Let's read the story: 
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” 
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. 
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Don't let the miraculous moment here become an obstacle for you to see the truth of this story.  

The story about Tabitha here in Acts 9 does not really fit within our worldview. Like I said, we've adjusted our vision, our lives.  But this story speaks to us regardless of where we fall in our understanding or ability to see it.  

We are drawn toward healing and stories about healing because brokenness is such a part of our lives.  Although our Western mindset might not allow us to believe that such a miracle could occur---we long for it to be feasible on a gut level. 

So let's take a look at this story and see what makes it so meaningful for us today.   To begin with, we discover that Peter is ministering on and near the coast of northern Israel at the seaport of Joppa and ten miles inland at the town of Lydda.  Incidentally, both of these cities were destroyed around 68 AD during the Jewish revolt against Rome. 

Just prior to this passage that we read Peter heals a man in Lydda, who had been paralyzed for eight years so the word about Peter healing him spread quickly.   Meanwhile in the city of Joppa a group of believers were mourning the loss of a faithful member of their community: Tabitha or Dorcas.

Just as an aside, if I had been named Tabitha back in those days---I would have seriously preferred to be called Tabitha and not Dorcas.  Just saying.

Her name actually means "gazelle" in both forms but it could have easily been another way of saying "graceful."  Tabitha is called a mathetria, which is the feminine version of the Greek word for disciple.  This moment in Acts 9 is the only moment in the entire New Testament that the feminine word for disciple is used.  So the reader is given a hint that something is up about this Tabitha woman.

Her friends and relatives appear to have started preparing her for burial but then stopped in order to wait for Peter to arrive.  She was laid out in a bedroom but had not been anointed for burial so clearly they were all expecting something. 

And clearly they were right to do so. 

After Peter prays he speaks to Tabitha and he tells her to get up.  The words he would have spoken would have been in Aramaic, and would have been Tabitha cumi!  We've heard words just like these before when Jesus raised a little girl from the dead during his ministry.  The words Jesus used were Talitha cumi! which mean, "Little girl get up!"  So... that's cool.  And here's something even cooler.  The Greek word used here for "rise!" is anesthemi which is the same Greek word used in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament to describe what happened when God raised Jesus from the dead.

I know.  The Bible is awesome. 

Let's think about the woman in this story together for a moment, though.  What is so special about Tabitha?  What did she do that warranted her resurrection?  It's true that she was a good person, but I am sure there were plenty of good people in the world that day who died without having Peter summoned to raise them up.  In fact, we all know really good people who pass away from one reason or another. 

But Luke makes a point to talk about Tabitha's ministry to the poor, particularly the widows she served.  They show Peter the clothes that she made--even the "underclothes" which I am sure was sort of awkward.  These women knew very little--except that their friend and patron was dead and they were hoping beyond hope that this man who was a witness to the Resurrection could change that. 

Tabitha was just an ordinary woman, but she obviously believed that following The Way meant that you lived differently.  She knew that if you were a follower of The Way, you gave to those who were in need even when you had to sacrifice to make that happen.  And you put your heart and soul into making the world better so that the people who benefited from your love were blown away by it. 

Here is the heart of the story.  Luke reminds us here in this text that sometimes the story of the Church isn't always about the "Big Ticket" characters.  It's not always about apostles and preachers---not even always about those who walked and talked with Jesus.  Sometimes it's about ordinary people who live extraordinary lives.  Ordinary people who aren't ordinary to God.

Kind of miraculous when you think about, right?

N.T. Wright calls the Tabithas of the world---these ordinary miraculous people---"the beating heart of the people of God."  They represent the new reality of God's kingdom. 

So here's my big question after all of this.  

What's would be more believable for us right here, right now---that God raised a woman from the dead, or that a Christian actually acted like a Christian.  

What does it look like when Jesus followers figure out that living differently really does change the world?  Because the deeper meaning of this story is that Tabitha lived out her faith in such a way that she made an impact.

She was a miracle.

What we learn from this story is so important to our understanding of what it means to live Resurrection lives, to be the kinds of people who bear witness to Resurrection, to the new life that can happen when you strive to follow Jesus more fully.

First, we learn that no one is too ordinary to be extraordinary.

Tired from a full day’s work, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955 and forever became one of the people who changed the world. When she refused to obey the driver’s order to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus so a white person could sit there, she was arrested for civil disobedience. Parks’ act of defiance, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed, are recognized as pivotal moments in the civil rights movement.

After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a repeat DWI offender, Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in her home on March 7, 1980. Before MADD, there were little to no legal consequences for driving while intoxicated; her organization transformed American attitudes about drunk driving and successfully fought for stricter laws across the country.

Born in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai learned early on about the importance of education from her father, a teacher at a girls’ school. When the Taliban took control of her town in 2008, they prohibited girls from going to school. Yousafzai publicly spoke out against it and was shot on the left side of her head for standing up for what she believed in. After months of recovery and moving to the United Kingdom with her family, she refused to hide in fear, instead using her voice to start the Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to ensuring every girl has the opportunity to go to school. At 17, she became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Second, we realize that we have all the examples we need to follow.  

I want to think about the people in your life who have shown you this truth. Just take a moment, close your eyes and think about them.  Speak their name out loud.  

The Movement that Jesus started is all about how God uses ordinary people who are not ordinary to God to live extraordinary lives... Which is miraculous.

Jesus needs some ordinary miracle makers for this movement of his.  Are you ready for a miracle?  Are you ready to be one?

What are you waiting for?  Get up!  

Because we are living a Resurrection Life when we show our faith through the way we act.  


Popular posts from this blog

Wuv... True Wuv...

Rapha & Yada - "Be Still & Know": Reimagined

The Lord Needs It: Lessons From A Donkey