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April 18, 2016, 10:30 AM

Marks of a Healing Community

by Sandy Bach

36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”

40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

42-43 When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.  (Acts 9:36-43 The Message)

Tabitha
She’s a faithful disciple with the heart of a deacon. Her ministry is in the care of widows – one of the most vulnerable in the community. Word of her works has spread some distance in both the gentile and Jewish communities. She is not one of the poor, but a woman with an upper room, which tells us that she is financially well off.

She’s an important member of the Christian community and a god-send to the widows. Every day she risks her economic stability and possibly her own health for the sake of those in dire need. Every day she is empowered by God to serve.

Sadly, though, she gets sick and dies. Was it due to a lack of self-care or something else? Whatever the reason, all faith communities know that even when ministry is going well and thriving, none of us can escape heart ache.

The Disciples
They worship God and listen to Jesus’ voice. They are willing to submit to the authority of Peter. They know him to be a healer. They need healing, a funeral service, and, most of all, a pastoral visit.

Peter
Last week we met up with Peter on the beach. Unable to make ministry work, he went fishing, doing something he knew well. Several disciples followed him. After breakfast with Jesus, he had a heart-to-heart talk with him and realized that his love for Jesus was too deep to ignore Jesus’ lambs and sheep.

So, today we meet up with a transformed Peter. Having received the Holy Spirit, he has preached and healed; despaired of Saul’s persecution of the Church; learned of Phillip’s successful mission in Samaria and is all too familiar with Stephen’s stoning in Jerusalem. He has his days of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” and days of seeing Christ glorified in word and deed.

He’s in Lydda when two men arrive and ask him to come immediately. We read that he, “got up and went with them.” He arrives and allows himself to be taken to the upper room where Tabitha lays, lovingly prepared for burial. He sees much: the love and respect of the widows; the respect of fellow disciples; the clothing she made day after day; and grief: heart-wrenching grief.

So, he puts everyone out of the room. He kneels and prays, perhaps remembering being with Jesus when Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life; or perhaps he remembers the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. He kneels and prays. This is God’s activity; he’s only the channel.

Then he turns to her and says, “Tabitha, get up.” Tabitha opens her eyes and sees Peter. Then she gets up with Peter’s assistance. Peter invites the disciples and friends back into the room where he shows them not what he had done, but what God had done.

The Widows
They have lost their means of support and so they’re marched off to the fringes of society to live by begging or gleaning or other ways we don’t even want to talk about. They are less than human, walking the streets in shabby clothing, begging off of others and being shunned: Get a job! Don’t be so lazy! Whew! Have you taken a bath lately?

One person, Tabitha, sees their situation and fights to make their lives a bit better. They receive fresh, clean clothing; perhaps even a place to bathe. They learn about this Jesus who ate with sinners and stood up for widows and the orphans.

They are a community of believers and for the first time in a long time they belong. They know love that cares for each other and love in the form of self-respect.

Tabitha gets sick and dies. Their grief is bottomless. Where will they go? What will they do? They simply can’t return to their former lives, but what else is there?

What are the marks of community today? You have to look in the right places to find them because this is an age where individualism is one of the most important characteristics. To find true community, your best chances of finding it in the best sense of the word is in a church.

Church community stands together. They sacrifice precious time to see that the family sitting in a loved one’s funeral can return to Fellowship Hall for a hot lunch prepared with love. They pray for each other over and over again, knowing that a cure may not be imminent, but healing is possible in countless ways. They welcome the stranger with open arms and no expectation that the offering plate will be fuller, but that the life of the church will be.

Church community weeps together. After the 9/11 attack on our nation, the one place you found many Americans was in church praying for peace, for the families of the victims and for each other. Community weeps together when one of their own dies. They weep together over the unfairness of disease and war and social injustice.

Church community celebrates together. Whether it’s a celebration of a member receiving their first service animal, or the anniversary of the congregation, or simply a pot-luck meal.

And in this age of cherished privacy and a stiff upper lift, they’re not afraid to call each other and ask, “How are you doing?” And then settle in for the lengthy answer.

That was the community of Tabitha’s day. And sometimes, thank God, we find it today.

We live in a world changing constantly: a world where the loudest voice gets heard; where one disease is wiped out only to have another new virus emerge; where the ones who aren’t like us aren’t trusted by us; where we suffer and weep behind closed doors.

This is a world that can be difficult to live in. But, it’s a world that Jesus is active in, providing communities like that of Tabitha’s and looking to a God who provides victory over death and calls us into new and transformed life daily.

We are in the world, but we are not of it. We live and work and play in the world, but we worship God and demonstrate a love that tries to model Jesus’ life.

Tabitha became ill and died. So important was her work and her life, that they sent two men to Joppa to find Peter. Peter was the agent of healing and bringing life back.

But this story isn’t about Peter or even Tabitha. This story is about a God who reveals God-self in may wondrous ways.

And it’s a story of a community who refused to be of the world. They believed in the risen Christ and walked with him daily. Their faith inspired their work and their love and refused to let anyone be left to work things out alone. They knew their dilemmas and refused to not believe in a God who could bring healing in many different ways.

Where are the Tabitha’s today?

Who do we know who is turning the world upside down?

Who are the ones who refuse to accept the status quo?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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