Posted on Thu, Jul 8, 2010
Sermon for April 25, 2010
“Tabitha: Woman of God” OR “Hearing Voices”
Rev. Jim Merritt
April 25, 2010
TRINITY: I must say, before I get to my sermon, how proud I am of you. Many of you showed up for the “Love Conquers Hate” rally downtown Gainesville last Sunday afternoon. If you were there, would you please stand so we can show you our thanks? You were so helpful as we proclaimed the message of God’s inclusive love and the fact that God hates…Nobody, and that Love really does Conquer Hate. People in the community certainly noticed your presence, too, and they heard an important underlying message, too. That message is that Trinity MCC is alive and well and IS proclaiming the inclusive love of God both on this campus and out in the community. You did a wonderful job and I am really proud of you.
ODYSSEY: Al and I are very happy to be back with you this evening. April has been one of the busiest months we’ve had in a long time. It’s important for you to know that we are still committed to you and to OdysseyChurch and that even when we can’t be with you here, you are with us in our hearts. Finally, before I get into the sermon, I want to invite you to a very happy occasion for me. On Sunday, June 13, I will be installed at Senior Pastor of Trinity MCC in Gainesville. Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson will be our special guest, and we would love to have you join us. There’s a big shindig, the details of which I know very little about on Saturday and we’d love to have you there as well. Al will make sure Grant gets the information so everyone here will know what’s going on there.
Who was she? What do we know about her? What’s the big deal about this relatively unknown woman in the Bible? You know I love feminist theology, so I’ve enjoyed getting to know Tabitha this week. I’m heavily indebted to the work of feminist biblical scholar Amy Jill Levine, particularly in her feminist companion to The Acts of the Apostles for what I’ve learned about Tabitha.
Especially during the season of Easter it is important to note that the story of Tabitha is another resurrection story, this time of a beloved female disciple in the town of Joppa. Tabitha is known most of all for her many good deeds mostly by providing clothing for needy widows. Many times when we hear of women giving clothing to the poor, we think of wealthy women giving extra clothing from their own closets. This kind of thinking does not apply to Tabitha because she actually made the clothing she gave away. Levine calls her The Charitable Seamstress. Although we might be tempted to label Tabitha as a wealthy and independent woman, several factors lead us away from that temptation. First, she appears to be a single woman who is attached to no man. Some scholars have wanted to call her a widow and the fact is that the term for “widow” commonly used in Luke/Acts χήρά is never applied to her. If she is not a widow, we could say that she is probably financially better off than the widows she helps, and that she certainly is not an aristocrat. It is also safe for us to assume that the clothing Tabitha made to give away to the needy widows was made in her home, not as some scholars suggest in a two story building which she owned (that comes from the statement that her corpse was laid in the upper room of a building). Tabitha’s acts of good work and charity in “feeding the naked” and in particularly caring for vulnerable widows, stands out as particular devotion to her God and to the requirements of her Jewish religion. Interestingly in this story as in so many other biblical stories, Peter’s act of resurrecting Tabitha is presented in a way that overshadows Tabitha’s good deeds. Luke is hesitant to label Tabitha’s work ministry, that might take something away from the male disciples. He left it at the level of a good work. Luke also listed a seven man committee who had taken on the responsibility of taking care of needy widows. Women of the day like Tabitha still simply could not make the list. While Tabitha’s work could easily be labeled “household work” and therefore somehow less important, those of us who are charged with home making, setting up housekeeping, and house work certainly know how important it is. And whether she had a team of other women who helped her or she did it on her own, her devotion to her God and to her faith stands out as an example to all of us called to care for “the least of these.”
It is important for us that this lesson from Acts is paired with the Gospel lesson from John today. It’s easy for us to understand how Jesus might have experienced some frustration. He had said it, he had lived it, he had even “performed” for the crowd to show it; “I am the Son of God.” And still his friends and family just couldn’t comprehend it. They just couldn’t get it, that Jesus was and is who Jesus said he was; the Messiah, the son of God. And he chastises them basically saying, “You are not my sheep.” You cannot be my people if you do not hear my voice. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” To bring it forward we might hear it this way, “My people hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”
Tabitha heard Jesus voice, she observed his deeds and she followed him with all she had to offer. Feed my sheep, provide shelter for them, clothe them. And I just wonder this morning which voices we are hearing. Are we listening to the voice of Jesus? Have we truly observed the life of Jesus and his overwhelming preference for people on the margins like this single woman Tabitha? Tabitha, in spite of Luke’s failure to label her that way, was a disciple of Jesus. She was a minister every bit as much as all of us gathered together here are ministers. And she knew her part of the calling was to clothe needy widows.
What’s your part? What’s my part? Will we be children of Jesus, sheep in the pasture of God? Will he hear his voice, will we accept that we are known by him, and will we follow him.
Tabitha; woman on the margins, woman of God, disciple of Jesus. She heard his voice and she followed. God bless you today. AMEN.
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 GOd. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Parent’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Parent has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of my Parent’s hand. My Parent and I are one.”
Levine, Amy Jill, A Feminist Companion to The Acts of the Apostles (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press 2004) 143-146.