On What We Do for One Another
May 8, 2022
The Lord is my shepherd;I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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.
Today’s sermon is titled, On What We Do for One Another.
The story of Tabitha is not often told. Like the resurrection of Jesus, it is problematic for our rational minds. The story of Tabitha returning to life after death is just one among nine others recorded in the collection of biblical literature; three of these accounts come from prophets in the First Testament and seven others are from the Second, or New, Testament. Our minds, so heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, are quick to ask, “How could someone possibly be raised from the dead?” Our minds can not comprehend such a thing. But perhaps this is not a story for the mind. Perhaps this is a story for the heart, a story for the spirit, reminding us of what we can do for one another.
There is one thing that we can all do. It sounds simple, and yet the effects are profound. We can accompany one another through all of the joys and hardships of our lives. We see this tender accompaniment beautifully portrayed in our story for today.
The setting for our story is first century Palestine, although it is unclear how many years it has been following the death and resurrection of Jesus. There have been stories of the disciples healing people of various illnesses even though, as we learned last week, the followers of Jesus were under pressure from the authorities not to teach. One disciple, Stephen, had been stoned to death just outside one of the city gates of Jerusalem in an attempt to discourage any other disciples from speaking publicly. There was not yet any formal structure that we would call church. Followers of Christ were still considered a radical, fringe movement known as “The Way.” Followers of Christ still considered themselves to be Jewish. They observed the Sabbath but they also gathered on Sunday evenings to bread bread and share the cup as Jesus had instructed them. Because of their shared convictions, and perhaps because they were also under intense social and political pressure, a strong community was forming.
Tabitha was a beloved member of one of these early Christian communities. She was probably one of the women who was either unmarried or perhaps she had survived her husband. Tabitha found a community among the early Christian women. The women shared their skills within the community and, in return, they were sheltered and fed and, in the case of Tabitha, respected and revered. Tabitha was a weaver, perhaps, and a seamstress, creating clothes for others in the community. When she became ill, the others nursed her. When she died, the others washed her and prepared her in the ancient way.
The writer of Acts takes time to paint the picture for us of a close community made up of people committed to one another, in the joys and triumphs of life and also in the inevitable illness, hardships, and ultimately, death. Biblical scholar Stephen Jones writes the following about this story from the book of Acts: “The emphasis of this text is not upon a return from death, but upon a community focusing all of it’s spiritual strength and resources passionately upon life and wholeness. We are creating the same kind of community here, and now.
I see it taking shape, Friends, and I want to lift up what I see. When one of us is grieving or facing medical procedures or enduring illness, we are being present with one another, in various ways. We are raising prayers, we are making food, we are sending messages and cards. We are accompanying one another in all the seasons of our lives, in celebration, in heartbreak, in grief and in joy. This requires vulnerability. This requires a willingness to share and a willingness to let others in.
Frederich Buechner writes of the vulnerability in such relationships as being counter-cultural to the stoic, individualism that is pervasive in our modern culture. We are encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, and to do for others always, but very few of us are gracious in asking for or receiving help from others. Buechner writes, “To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do– to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst–is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from.”
Friends, I experience that holy power at work among us. I experience our community growing both in service, as we help and accompany one another, and in grace, as we practice receiving help and accompaniment. This is what we can do for one another. We can walk with each other, come what may. It is an act of love, an act of faith, and an act of bravery because it requires us to be vulnerable, to let the deep feelings wash over us and through us. It also brings us closer to whatever God is.
In closing, and in celebration of the community we are creating here, I want to share with you a few lines from Psalm 23 that I have changed to reflect how we are carrying the spirit of Christ into our interactions with one another. I am so grateful to be one among you and I pray that we will continue to learn together, and to deepen our understanding of love as we give, forgive, and learn to graciously receive.
My Friends are my treasures; I shall not want for more. They encourage me to lie down in green pastures; they walk with me beside the still waters. They restore my soul; they lead me in the paths of righteousness. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear; for they are with me.
So be it. Amen.
“And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
And he answered, saying:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Holy One, I thank you this morning for this practice of prayer. Just how it works, we may never know, but we are grateful to be participants in something deeper, something wider, something far beyond who we are. We extend our prayers over all the world this morning and we call on the highest, purest form of mother love to aid us in the healing of our Selves, the healing of our relationships, and the healing of our planetary home. Give us the courage to pray about anything, about everything. If ever we are at a loss for words, turn our minds to this prayer that Jesus gave us in the book of Matthew. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these final words:
For the many ways women share their love, their concern, their wisdom and their time, may they receive abundant strength and clarity from the very heart of God and may the most tender aspects of mothering be an expression of love that each and every one of us, both men and women, can embody, with the grace of God. Amen.