Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4C sermon

Easter 4C April 21, 2013 I recently returned from being away at an 8 day conference about wellness. This was a conference that was put on and funded by the Church Pension Fund, and we spent 8 whole days talking and learning about how to be well as clergy people. I have come home from this wonderful retreat with a renewed sense of purpose in ministry as well as with a commitment and a plan for how to be a healthy person who seeks wholeness in life and in ministry. In this work that I did, I also thought a great deal about this parish, about what health and wholeness looks like for us as a people. You know that I continue to return to the image and the identity for us that we are a resurrection community; so you can imagine my delight when I discovered the Acts reading for us this morning. Now it is tempting to read this story and see Peter at its center and to lift up a time when Peter actually gets to be the hero who rides in to save the day. But then I think we miss the richness that this story has to offer us. The story isn’t so much a story about Peter; instead, it is a story about the church; it gives us a wonderful picture of a worshipping community in the early church which is also a resurrection community, and it shows us some characteristics that we can try to emulate as we try to grow more deeply into how God is calling us to be a resurrection community in this particular time and place. The writer of Acts (who is also the writer of Luke’s gospel), tells us that in the particular place of Joppa, there lived a disciple whose name was Tabitha. She was well known for being devoted to good works and acts of charity. She is the only woman in all of scripture who is named as a disciple, and she is particularly well known for her ministry to widows, some of the most vulnerable of the population of the Roman Empire and in Jewish culture. Tabitha is known for making clothing for widows, and so when she becomes ill and dies, the disciples send for Peter, whom they know to be in a near-by city. Peter comes quickly, and they tell him the stories of Tabitha and the ways that she has made a difference in their lives and in their community. So he puts them all outside, prays, and then says to her, “Tabitha, get up.” And she does! Peter takes her out and shows her to the rest of them, and the news of what has happened spreads throughout Joppa and many come to believe in the Lord. And Peter stays with them there for some time. But how does all this relate to us? We see disease and brokenness all around us and within us. The recent bombing at the Boston Marathon and subsequent events in Boston and the surrounding areas is further evidence of the relentless insinuation of evil and destruction in our lives and our world. What is modeled for us in this story of life in the early church is that, as a resurrection community, we must first be dedicated to being a community of healing; we must first be dedicated to be a community of hope. We must be unafraid to ask for healing and resurrection for ourselves, for each other, and for the whole world. We also cannot be content to let disease, unhealthy patterns of life, and death run unchecked among us. Another thing that strikes me about this story and how the community at Joppa functions as a resurrection community is the reciprocity that is involved in the community and the mutual care that is offered there. Tabitha is known for being devoted to good works and acts of charity; she takes care of vulnerable people within her community probably from her own resources. When she becomes ill and dies, the community takes care of her, washing her body, calling for Peter and physically going to get him. They care for her as they mourn her loss. In this picture of health and life in the early church, all are both giving and receiving, and the health of this faith community spills out into the greater community as evidence of the power of Jesus Christ to heal and resurrect. I am going to begin working with folk within this church to discuss how we as a church promote health, wholeness, and healing as a part of our mission as a resurrection community. In the meantime, there are some things that you can do to help us grow in our mission as a resurrection community. First, ask yourself if you are participating in the full reciprocity of what it means to be a parish. Are you giving more than you are receiving? Are you receiving more than you are giving? Do you feel that you are not being fed? If so, could that be because you are only receiving and not giving? Do you feel tired, burned out? If so, could that be because you are only giving and not receiving? What balance might God be calling you to find between these two extremes? One way to be intentional in seeking this balance is to allow someone to do something for you, whenever you can, and to try to do something for someone else at least once a day. Second, spend some time listing to God in your life every day, and then let your life be a prayer, a response to what God is speaking in your life. Ask God for health, wholeness, healing, and resurrection in your life. Ask God for health, wholeness, healing, and resurrection in this church. Ask God for health, wholeness, healing, and resurrection in our world.