“Being More Fully Alive” – 04-21-13 – Easter 4 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22-30

“Tabitha, get up!” said Peter to a woman in Joppa. She had not fallen. She was not kneeling in prayer. Neither was she searching for something which had fallen. She was dead.

Sometimes the healings in the New Testament were for unknown, unnamed people. But this Tabitha was special. Tabitha, an Aramaic name translated into Greek, is Dorcas which means “deer,” the animal. Another source tells me that Dorcas means “gazelle” which is in the antelope family. So however you remember this story, Tabitha and Dorcas are one and the same person. Our scripture says that she is a follower or a disciple. It is assumed this means that she is a disciple of Jesus, a believer of this “Way.”

Jesus had already ascended after the resurrection. But, the believers in Joppa knew that Peter was in Lydda and they sent for him saying, “This is urgent. Come immediately.” Joppa and Lydda are not too far apart, northwest of Jerusalem. Joppa is along the Mediterranean Sea while Lydda is somewhat inland. Peter did accompany the messengers in quick fashion. Dorcas had been washed and laid in an upstairs room. A body was permitted to remain three days before burial in that area.

There was Dorcas stretched on a bed when Peter arrived. According to custom, women were with the body. The word in scripture is widows, not women. They were weeping as expected. Dorcas had been devoted to good works and acts of charity. She had made much clothing. She apparently gave these garments to people who needed them and she did not keep them for herself. The widows had gathered some of the coats and clothes which they showed to Peter to emphasize her practical goodness. We don’t read that Peter spent any time in viewing these articles of the productivity of Dorcas. Instead, he asked the widows to leave the room.

Peter knelt and prayed and then said, “Tabitha, get up.” She sat up. Peter offered his hand to help her to rise from the bed. Then Peter called the widows to enter and witness what had happened. We would be naive if we thought this action would remain a secret. No indeed. Remember how Jesus asked the witnesses not to tell anyone when he performed similar miracles. Peter did not ask these people to hold their tongues. So the word was out. More people became believers that this Jesus and his disciples had a power that could not be ignored. The band of believers was expanding. This new church start was expanding.

It is strange that nothing is said about the life of Dorcas after this first death. Could she resume her usual routine? Did she become a verbal apostle for this extended belief? I say extended because it is not a new religion. This Jesus came and went as a fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures – the Jewish scriptures. It had all been prophesied. It was the old religion reborn with the fulfillment. It was the old religion more fully alive.

Actually, the work of Dorcas expanded also. Even today we still hear of Dorcas groups – groups of women doing similar work: making and providing clothing and similar necessities for people who need them. So Dorcas did become more fully alive having followers through these 2000 years but Dorcas is not to be worshiped. She is a model for us but the person who is the head of this work and all helpful work is Jesus the Son, in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Tomorrow is designated as Earth Day. How do Dorcas and Peter and this being raised from death speak to Earth Day? Let us ask ourselves if Dorcas and our earth have anything in common. Are you saying, our earth is on its way to dying? Some of you believe that; but, surely some of you do not think that is true. Spring has come again. All is well. Maybe so. This is good if it is true. But before we sit in our comfortable lounge chairs, we may want to check on this subject. Either perspective could be wrong or both perspectives could be partially correct. Whatever we discover when we do research or watch the news, the earth may need a good annual checkup as we are supposed to do for ourselves.

If we take ourselves to a doctor for an annual review of our aging bodies, we may discover that a certain type of exercise would be good for us or maybe a certain type of vitamin is becoming scarce in our bodies. We can be more fully alive if we follow the doctor’s advice, even so much as eating an apple a day instead of a dish of ice cream a day. Well, the earth can be more fully alive if we ask an “earth doctor” what little things we can do to bring the earth to a fuller, longer life. One thing that is good for our bodies and the earth both is to pull some gloves on our hands and bend at the waist to pick up litter that non-believers deliberately scatter.

Where can we find an “earth doctor” to diagnose and guide the ills of the earth? Where can we find a “healer” for ourselves? Will Peter come from Boyertown to Pottstown or from Philadelphia to Pottstown to say, “Child of mine, get up” or “Earth, made by God, get up?”

Well, God gave people doctors to us; God also gave earth doctors to us. God gave knowledge and skill and the longing to heal us and our environment to these people. But above and beyond these provisions, we have a shepherd – a great shepherd. Peter only had power because of his belief in our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The power and passion came through Peter from God with the destination being ordinary people.

Our passage from John today – John 10:22-30 – has Jesus explaining that his sheep know him, they know his voice, they follow, they will receive eternal life. Therefore these sheep will be more fully alive. We are those sheep if we believe. A promise comes with this deal! Jesus will not let anyone or anything snatch his believing sheep out of his care. Jesus declares that the Father and Jesus work together because they are one. This great shepherd has the power and passion in tandem with the Father.

Psalm 23, our beloved Psalm, introduced the idea of our Lord being our shepherd. Lord is just a name to confuse us. The name Lord is used for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at various times in scripture. We normally think of the Son as being the Shepherd, probably because Jesus seems more real to us, more tangible. We have these lovely pictures of Jesus holding a lamb, walking with sheep. In Psalm 23 we have the image of a beautiful, calm earth. We have the still waters instead of flood-like waters. We have green pastures – verdant pastures, life-giving pastures – not deserts. This shepherd provides good things including keeping us on the good path, protected from evil. What evil could come upon us? How about those enemies who watch us having a feast? Who could those enemies represent? Maybe they are the people who devour the earth for their own gain, not having a Dorcas attitude. Maybe these enemies don’t know about our shepherd. Maybe these enemies are operating from fear – fear of failure, fear of losing the portion of power which they hold over the resources of the earth.

Let’s do a check-up here. We mentioned the annual check-up we may do for our own bodies. How do you feel about having a check-up on our own enemy status? Are we holding onto some kind of power? Is it eating away at our peace of mind? Are we holding onto a wealth goal that is keeping us from the real wealth that Jesus offers? Are we holding onto a grudge? Did we not yet ask someone for their forgiveness because we really did hurt that person? Are we holding onto resentment because forgiveness has not filled our soul since someone hurt us?

Don’t we want to be the persons who are dining at the table? Somehow, we need the shepherd to have his way with us. We need to submit our total hearts, minds, souls, and determination to this holy, loving, but firm shepherd. Why is this shepherd so all-important? Because this shepherd is also the lamb! Yes, Jesus is our shepherd because he became the sacrificial lamb. From Revelation 7, “… the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This sounds like living more fully to me.

We have the prophecy-like Psalm 23, with Jesus as shepherd. We have Jesus in John 10, declaring that he is the shepherd and anyone who believes in him will be his sheep. Anyone who believes in him will be protected big time and will be rewarded with eternal life. Living life to the fullest; that is our anticipation of eternal life with Jesus. In the book of Acts, we have Peter who was used by God to restore Dorcas to live life to the fullest for a bit of extra time on the earth until the gift of eternal life with God became hers. In Revelation 7, we have our shepherd being called Lamb for his role on the cross.

Scripture fits like a puzzle. The more we stare at it, the more it takes shape as a picture. The picture of God creating the earth, creating us and the other creatures, creating the vegetation, preparing and sending prophets, preparing and sending the fulfillment – this promised Son, become Shepherd, become Lamb, and once again our forever Shepherd. We are not left adrift. We are not alienated unless we choose to be non-believers.

Even though our lives may seem like a valley of impossibilities, or like a sudden hole which opened without warning, there is this rod and staff which comforts us and leads us to the table. Our choice is: are we going to be the guests at the table or the enemies who are held in watching mode? Which one do we want? What must we do to move from watcher to guest? We need to believe. We need to say, “Jesus is Lord.” In humility, we need to accept the Lamb’s sacrifice as our salvation because none of us is sinless. Must we wait until death claims us. No, fellow watchers. We can be living more fully immediately, right here and now. Why are we waiting?