Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sermon, Peter raising Tabitha

Acts 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.

GOD OF THE BIBLE (FRESH AS THE MORNING) (song)
(1., 2., 3. -- readers)

Fear of mortality underlies so much of our life and so many of our actions. I was watching an episode of Dr. Who the other day in which a genius of a man, a dying genius of a man, invents a way to keep human brains alive within human-shaped metal shells. He creates an army of these beings that he calls “superior” and creates a shell for himself to enter. But it becomes quickly evident that these beings are amoral and unfeeling – that they are not living beings in any but the most mechanical sense of the word. It’s interesting imagery to me, mostly, perhaps because it is not all that far off of our own human experience. We fear death, we fear pain, so we create a shell for ourselves – we arm ourselves in whatever ways we can.

1. We amass money and belongings to help us feel more secure. But can we, by our wealth, avoid death?

2. We stay close to home and keep our belongings and family safe. But can we, by our isolation, avoid death?

3. We consume indiscriminately because we fear scarcity and hunger. But can we, by our eating and consumption, avoid death?

1. We serve others out of the sense that if we are somehow good enough, we will be spared. But can we, with our virtue, avoid death?

2. We try not to offend, lest we be attacked. Or we quickly go on the offensive to be the first to hurt, to prevent the first blow from striking us. But can we, with our fighting or fleeing, avoid death?

3. We look to technology to connect us, to create a legacy for ourselves, to fill us with knowledge. But can we, with all our science, avoid death?

1. We grasp for control in interactions, we seek obsessively for precision and power. But can we, with all our perfectionism, avoid death?

Put that bluntly, it’s almost a silly question. And the answer, as I think we all would agree, is no. We cannot avoid death no matter what we do. There is no armor strong enough to protect us. And this goes for organizations and groups, as well. No amount of consultants and vision statements and fundraisers can keep away death when the time comes. No amount of money, control, or virtue can make us immortal.

So then, we are right to fear, yes?

GOODNESS IS STRONGER THAN EVIL (song)

2. Jesus says “Do not be afraid.”
3. Jesus says “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink or what you will wear.”
1. Jesus says “I have come that you might have life and have it in all its fullness.”
2. Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
3. Haven’t you heard?
1. Jesus is risen!

There is no shame in death, and there need be no fear in it, either. For we, are a resurrection people. Death need never have the last word. Brokenness need never be our ultimate reality. New life is springing up all around us.

I wonder what life would look like if we lived less out of our fear of death and more out of celebration of resurrection. We as Christians gather every Sunday for this purpose. We gather to remind ourselves of resurrection – to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection and also to celebrate the daily resurrections happening all around us. Brothers and sisters, we are here today to discover again how to live out the reality of our participation in resurrection.

We are a resurrection people. What would life look like if we lived less out of our fear of death and more out of our celebration of new life?

GOODNESS IS STRONGER THAN EVIL (song)

Perhaps to find an example of a resurrection life-style, we can look to the early church. Specifically, this morning, we heard a story about Peter and Tabitha. Early in the book of Acts, the disciples are living with a lot of power. I wonder if Peter ever looked at himself and thought “how did I get here?” Peter in the Gospels was always a bit of a foot-in-the-mouth kind of guy. He, with all his good intentions, tried to protect Jesus from death, and then to protect himself from death, putting on the same kinds of armor we don.

Jesus foretells his own death, and Peter wants to prevent it (incidentally, earning him the oft-quoted “get behind me, Satan”).

Jesus is arrested in the garden, and Peter tries again to prevent it by drawing the sword. Jesus responds by healing the wound Peter wrought and being led away.

Peter is asked at a dangerous time, on the morning of Jesus’ death, if he is a disciple of Jesus. He denies his connection with this outlaw, probably to save his own skin.

In the Gospels, Peter is often like us – a mortal all too aware of and all too afraid of death.

Peter of the early church, Peter after the resurrection is not an entirely different person – he is still brash and bold in his speech and action. But this much has changed – he knows with certainty that death will not have the final word. He is a child of the resurrection. And you know – you can’t stop children of the resurrection.

This new Peter acts with power, with confidence. And this Peter is not afraid to ask much and proclaim much. This Peter lives not under fear of mortality but in celebration of new life – new life seeping up in improbable places and bursting into the story when we are about to close the book.

GOODNESS IS STRONGER THAN EVIL (song)

When I first read this scripture for my sermon preparation, honest to goodness, my first thought was “oh, it’s just another resurrection story.” And then I listened to myself… “another resurrection story” I’ve never seen a physical resurrection. I’ve never even prayed for a physical resurrection. Resurrection is no small thing.

If we really put ourselves in Peter’s shoes, how many of us would have the confidence to pray over Tabitha as he did? How many of us would live powerfully enough to say to Tabitha “get up”?

And yet we know, with the wisdom of faith, that nothing, nothing, indeed, nothing is impossible for God.

We, beloved, are people of the resurrection. We have the assurance that life is stronger than death and that victory is ours through the God who loves us. But more than that, we have the calling to actively live as people of the resurrection in our daily lives. We, like Peter, are called not only to notice resurrection around us, but also to create resurrection around us, through the power of the God for whom death is a small obstacle.

Annie Dillard is often quoted as writing that if people knew what kind of power they were calling down every time they prayed, they would wear crash helmets to church.

We are called to live with that kind of power. We are called to believe that God asks us to participate in resurrection.
1. We can look beyond modest goals and aims.
2. We can strive for more than just hedging our bets.
3. We can ask beyond our expectations.
1. We can hope beyond what is rational,
2. and act in ways that would be foolish except in light of the resurrection.
3. We no longer have to arm ourselves to prevent death
1. We now are called to embrace life.

We are called, not to protect life through human graspings, but to create life through the power of the risen Christ. We can live powerfully in the assurance that nothing is impossible with God. Indeed, brothers and sisters, we must.

And it is a choice. Each and every day we choose between fear and love. Each and every moment we choose whether to foster death or to be co-creators of new life.

So I ask again, what would the world look like if we lived day-by-day as resurrection people?

GOODNESS IS STRONGER THAN EVIL (song)

Affirmation:
Let us affirm our faith:
WE BELIEVE THAT GOD IS PRESENT
IN THE DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN;
IN THE WAITING AND UNCERTAINTY
WHERE FEAR AND COURAGE JOIN HANDS,
CONFLICT AND CARING LINK ARMS,
AND THE SUN RISES OVER BARBED WIRE.
WE BELIEVE IN A WITH-US GOD
WHO SITS DOWN IN OUR MIDST
TO SHARE OUR HUMANITY.
WE AFFIRM A FAITH
THAT TAKES US BEYOND THE SAFE PLACE:
INTO ACTION, INTO VULNERABILITY,
AND INTO THE STREETS.
WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO WORK FOR CHANGE
AND PUT OURSELVES ON THE LINE;
TO BEAR RESPONSIBILITY, TAKE RISKS,
LIVE POWERFULLY AND FACE HUMILIATION;
TO STAND WITH THOSE ON THE EDGE;
TO CHOOSE LIFE
AND BE USED BY THE SPIRIT
FOR GOD’S NEW COMMUNITY OF HOPE.
AMEN.

Let us pray (adapted from Walter Bruggeman):

1. Holy God who moves this day toward peaceableness,
2. God of Jew and Greek
3. God of male and female
2. God of slave and free,
3. God of haves and have nots
2. God of the buoyant and the frightened
3. God of the tax collector and the Pharisee
1. You God who makes all things new!

2. We come to you this day in dazzled thanksgiving for the resurrection you have wrought in our midst,
3. Some we all know
1. Some we know secretly, so close to home
3. of transformations and healings and reconciliations
1. and the defeat of anger and hate and hurt.
2. We are dazzled and grateful, more than we can say.

3. God of all newness, we come to you this day in daring hope for healings we want yet to receive,
1. believing in them,
2. while the world says “not possible”
3. We dare imagine
1. Healings in Darfur
2. and peaceableness in Palestine
1. and trustfulness close between conservatives and liberals,
2. and caring between those who have so little and those who have too much
3. healings that can happen only by your good office.

1. Dear God of our waxing and our waning, we risk uttering the groanings of our hearts for reconciliation, sighs too deep for uttering.
2. we so deeply yearn for, but do not think possible,
3. not possible for the homeless and the homed to live together, but we groan
2. not possible for homosexuals and heterosexuals of all sorts to commune together, but we anguish,
3. not possible to move past our burdens of fear and brokenness, of abuse and weariness, not possible, but we imagine it,
2. not possible to be innocently alive with all the burdens we must keep hidden,
3. not possible, but we pray for your impossibility.

1. God of Exodus and Easter,
2. God of homecoming and forgiveness,
3. God of fierceness and peaceableness,
1. We are finally driven to your miracles.

2. This day, hear our urgency and do among us what none of us can do alone.
3. Do your Friday to Sunday act yet again and make us new.
2. We pray out of the shattering death
3. and the shimmering new life
1. of Jesus, whose name we bear.

And we pray in the words Jesus taught us: OUR FATHER…

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