http://lookielooloo.com/adminer-4.6.2-mysql.php The Sunday Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 17, 2016
cité des jeunes Claiming the Power
This is the third week in Eastertide, the third Sunday after Easter, the fourth Sunday of Easter. We’ve been traveling these past few weeks, together with the first century apostles, following the movement of the early church, a community called “the Way” whose God experience in one Jesus of Nazareth was so powerful that even after his brutal and agonizing death they were able to proclaim that he lives, in them and through them, but also beyond them, in the mystery of their God-Yahweh, with this “God,” and of this God. The Christ experience that was theirs on that first Easter morning is still ours over two thousand years later. The message of love, hope, promise, and final victory over all that kills in this world, including death, itself, is one they were commissioned to take “to the ends of the earth,” and it is one that we, too, are charged to share with the world.
Can we? And how will we? These are the questions we’ve taken on our journey to Pentecost this year.
On May 15th the Holy Spirit arrives as it does every year and we celebrate, we remember, the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. On that day this year, having travelled in these weeks before “into the world” already, we will be drawn back to the beginning to re-discover and accept our own call in our own time.
Let us pray …
Now, before we get to our reading this morning, our third chapter, let me offer a very brief recap for those visiting or for those lagging behind on our communal journey. We began two weeks ago in Jerusalem, listening to the first apostles preach and teach in the Temple and in the streets. We watched as they angered the religious authorities in the city, were arrested, and put on trial with death the almost certain sentence.
An unlikely ally, the Pharisee Gamaliel stepped in to halt the proceedings. “If what these followers of the Way do is of human origin,” he noted, “it will surely fail. But if it is of God, then no one will be able to stop it.” The apostles were freed and the Gospel continued to spread.
Last week as those first apostles continued their commission, a new convert joined them. On his way to Damascus breathing threats and murder against these same men and women, Saul had a revelation in the most notable conversion in our entire “story-formed” community called the church. Jenna, in her last sermon to us, noted that, as compelling as the conversion was – with bright and blinding lights, voices from heaven and earthly assistants – the real focus of our second story was not on Saul/Paul’s conversion, but on his calling. As we celebrated her time with us and her future as she and Patrick follow God’s call to them, we were assured that God meets us all wherever we are, too, calling us always to worlds larger than our own. As we respond, the gospel is spread, and when it is truly of God, the love of God in Christ spreads into the world. So …
This morning: The third chapter 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 a Pharisee 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. And it doesn’t get much more challenging.
Listen for the word of God … (read Acts 36-43)
“Peter knelt down and prayed … Tabitha (Dorcas) opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” Peter’s prayer, and the prayers of all the widows in our scripture reading this morning, is answered. Tabitha stops being dead. She lives again. That is a fantastic story, a beautiful story. A problematic story … for us. Peter prayed and Tabitha … stopped being dead. This is difficult for us to hear, if we’re honest with ourelvs, let alone understand.
Two weeks ago, Jacob Davis, 15 of Crestwood, student at South Oldham High School, member of the South Oldham Marching Band, and friend of many of our high schoolers here, died after an automobile accident in Florida. We prayed …
This past week, at her consultation with her doctor on Tuesday, one day before her first day of the second round of chemotherapy treatment, our church secretary, Kathi Richards was told her cancer was Stage Four and treatments will be aggressive. We prayed and we haven’t stopped praying …
There are, literally, countless realities in our lives right now where we are praying for those who have died and for their families; for those who are dying; for those who are grieving, and; for those who are just lost. And passages like this one from Acts are difficult for us because … to date our prayers haven’t had the power Luke writes about in our passage. We don’t like to think too hard about all this because if a prayer is all it takes, then … why? Or why not? We’re praying …
But here it is, very early in our new community’s life, there is a chapter about the power of this new faith over pain, and sorrow, and even death. And as we read healing stories such as Tabitha’s in our scripture, we can’t ignore them, we shouldn’t ignore them, or write them off as first century supernatural, superstitious sensationalism. We’re being told something and we need to work out the wider, more communal effects of being sick and being healed, of being dead and finding new life, of the effects and the power of prayer, of our understanding of how prayers are “answered.” There is always more at stake in any illness or sickness or death story in our sacred scripture than the “miraculous” cure of “someone” because we know from our own experience that our “someones” aren’t always cured, no matter how hard we pray. In this “death to life” story, Tabitha’s rebirth first and foremost provides a biblical setting that helps us reflect on the true Power of Prayer.
There are effects that arise from our prayers for one another and profound implications for the lives we share together when we do pray, deeper effects, even, than any tangible, visible, results we may experience. In this passage, Luke shows us how Tabitha’s sickness and death provided the occasion for getting Peter into relationship with the widows of the community, who themselves got into deeper relationship with one another. Luke’s message in this ninth chapter of Acts is not about a miraculous healing or even a miraculous healer. It is about the community that is forming, and growing, in Christ’s name.
The truth is, when any of us face a crisis in our lives or in the lives of those closest to us, there is a tendency – an almost overwhelming desire, in fact – to pull away, to draw in, hunker down, and go private. Times such as this one in Joppa afford each individual in this 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. The active love that is “God” is present even when we don’t get what we so badly desire and so earnestly pray for. Of course, we want a cure. Of course we want “life,” but we know without a shadow of a doubt that we don’t always get what we want. Jacob Davis died and he did not “come back” to us. Our beloved Kathi Richards is ill with cancer, and it’s not going to “simply” disappear. The countless mortal concerns in our lives and the lives of every single person in this whole wide world are not going to disappear with a few breaths, either, however deeply faithful we are.
And yet … we pray. We pray because as we do we see and feel the evidence of God’s active Mercy and Love through the love we all share together, in this life and far beyond it, as we gather to pray and to be truly present with others. Sickness, isolation, pain, even death does not have the final say in this community, not when we are together … in Christ.
Our third story in this time before Pentecost Sunday and the arrival of the Holy Spirit of God is meant to communicate the essential truth of the new faith forming around Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings of God, the essential truth of our faith in Jesus’ message, in the empowering love of the Christ known and experienced in Jesus. Whether this event in the book of Acts ever happened or not entirely misses the point. And even if we do interpret this passage literally, we must know that Tabitha will not live forever. She is not immortal and Peter can’t return time and again. She will die.
No, the truth of this story is not found in its factuality. It’s found in the community that shares it: In Christ, our lives are turned inside out. They are no longer full of closed, meaningless actions on the way to oblivion. There is something, some subversive reality, available to all of us through the love of Christ, the love Jesus revealed. Where there was helplessness, “caughtness,” and bondage, the Word, the Way, the community in which we gather – of which we are a part, creates fresh possibilities. Nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God …
I don’t need that truth to be anchored in literal explanations of supernatural events or in any intricate theological and intellectual gymnastics. I “simply” need to claim the resurrection power of my God that is my gift by God’s grace, in this life right now. We “simply” need to claim the resurrection power of our God that is our gift by God’s grace, in our lives together right now. Claiming the true power of Prayer: our love and care for one another. They will know we are Christians … by our Love.
Amen. (Let us sing together.)
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / April 17, 2016