The Sunday Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
Scripture: Acts 9:36-42
Becoming More Dramatic
This is the fourth Sunday of Easter in our journey through the Book of Acts on our way to Pentecost. The early church, begun first in the communities experiencing the Life offered through the Way of Jesus, is growing. It began in Jerusalem with a rocky start, but was allowed to continue when Gamaliel convinced the other Elders to allow what just might be “of God.” Last week it continued growing when another nemesis was converted on his way to Damascus.
This morning we leave Paul and rejoin Peter who has traveled to Lydda and is being called to Joppa, northwest of Jerusalem. Pray with me. And listen for the Word of God …
Read Acts 9:36-43. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The third story in our “Reader’s Digest” condensed version of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. This morning we meet the only woman in Acts explicitly called “a disciple.” The good news is truly reaching beyond traditional boundaries and breaking down ancient walls of separation and division. First the Pharisees and now a woman?!
As we noted last week, there have been a series of conversions in these early stories, the early chapters of Acts, and with each story the conversions become more dramatic. Well, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than our story this morning.
There were many challenges to the Way in the first century. One of the biggest obstacles facing Christianity today are questions that arise from scripture such as this. Questions such as this: Did that really happen?
Tabitha “became ill and died … Peter knelt down and prayed … Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up.” Peter’s prayer, and the prayers of all the widows in our scripture reading this morning, is answered. Did that really happen? In addition to our rational minds, our personal experiences of prayers that we believe have gone “unanswered” is offended.
But we ask the wrong question when we wonder whether this event ever happened, whether the truth of this story, or most of the stories from Jesus and about him rely on their “actually happening.” The question that we must ask – the question I believe that was asked by the very first hearers of this story in the first century – should be “what does this mean?”
What does this story mean about Jesus? What does this story mean about those who teach and heal in Jesus’ name? What does this story mean about the power of prayer and faith?
Tabitha’s sickness and death provided the occasion for Peter coming to Joppa and getting into relationship with the community, who themselves got into deeper relationship with one another. Times such as these afford a grieving community the chance to express gratitude for someone else, to worship and weep together, to find a measure of God’s comforting presence among them. There is no question that a belief in a supernatural response from prayer is profoundly appealing, but we must be able to see evidence of God’s active love reflected even when we don’t get what we so badly desire and so earnestly wish for. We don’t (or we shouldn’t) pray to “get what we want.” We pray to better understand and experience what God wants – active mercy through the lives and the love we share together, in this life and beyond it. Tabitha has died, but Death does not have the final say!
This story, the third in our journey is meant to communicate the essential truth of the new faith forming around Jesus of Nazareth. Whether this story actually happened or not isn’t the point. What does it mean?
- Our lives are no longer full of closed, meaningless actions on the way to oblivion.
- There is something “More” available to all of us through the love of Christ.
- Where there was helplessness, “caughtness,” bondage, and death the Way of Jesus creates fresh possibilities.
We don’t need those truths to be anchored in literal explanations of supernatural events or in any intricate theological and intellectual gymnastics. We “simply” need to claim the resurrection power of my God that is our gift by God’s grace, in this life and in whatever lies beyond.
The power of our prayer lies not in any results we can measure, but in the relationship that is established and the trust that is created in our God and with those that surround us and support us, in our deep sorrows and in our profound joys.
If that experience, and not some superstitious interpretation can be shared then, indeed, “many will believe.” It was shared in Joppa that day because, “Peter stayed … for some time” the story goes. The last verse of chapter nine begins, then, with a familiar word: Meanwhile. Tired as we may be, the journey is not quite halfway over. And there is lots going on.
This morning, we have more going on. We have set out table once again, the bread and the cup. All are welcome at this table – wherever you are. This is not Pewee Valley’s table, or a Presbyterian table, it is God’s table. And all who seek the prayer-answering love of God are invited.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / May 3, 2020