Fourth Sunday of Easter 17 April 2016
(Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22-30)
“Our Finest Hour?”
Two lines from the movie Apollo 13 come to mind as being quite apropos for describing who we are as a church today. The first is one of the most-quoted lines in movie history: “Houston, we have a problem.” These are the words uttered by astronaut James Lovell after an oxygen tank explodes, crippling the spacecraft on its journey to the moon and endangering the crew. As the damaged spacecraft pitches out of control and attempts to limp back to earth, Mission Control scrambles to figure out how to ensure that the three astronauts will return home safely.
After overhearing a fellow official at Mission Control lament that this could be the worst disaster NASA ever faced, the NASA flight director, Gene Krantz confidently replies with the second, less well-known quote from the movie. “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
So I think of the church today. We keep reading reports and hearing results of studies telling us that the Church has a problem, that most Christian Churches, including the ELCA, are crippled, spinning out of control and fading fast. (2014 Religious Landscape Study).
Like the NASA official who feared a disaster that would sound the end of space exploration, many people believe that the Church has experienced a disaster from which the Church will never recover.
I want to go on record by saying I am not one of those people! I prefer to believe that we have the ability to enter our finest hour as a church.
And I say this because I believe God’s work is the work of Resurrection: the work of bringing all people into new, more whole, better living through unending and unfathomable love. When we stop talking about resurrection, we stop believing that God’s love transforms our deaths and turns them into new life; and when we stop believing that, people see no reason to associate with the church.
Let’s look closer at the resurrection story we heard from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead.
If you want to follow with me, I’m on page 156 in the Pew Bibles, bottom left column. We are in Joppa, modern Tel Aviv. What do we know?
Tabitha has died. She is also known as Dorcas in the Greek. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. She made clothing for a living, especially for widows. She is a disciple. Peter raises her from the dead.
So you will now say, “so what is so terrific about this story? It sounds pretty ‘ho-hum’ to me.” But Resurrection stories can never be ‘ho-hum.’
So what did we miss? Here are a few things!
Tabitha is a whole lot more than meets the eye! “Tabitha” means “Gazelle or deer.” Do you know how hard it is to fence in a deer? Don’t even try to keep them under control! Gazelles can really jump! Tabitha is a woman who leaps the gender-norms. She has totally moved outside the patriarchal structures that would fence her in and diminish the witness of the church. As a fellow clergy person said on the ELCA clergy facebook page:”How different this image when compared to the sheep narrative. Then this person exclaims: Holy parabolic, paradoxical, leaping, reign in-breaking juxtapositions, batman! “(Kim Beckman on facebook). This is no typical Resurrection story!
Tabitha is called a “disciple” the first and only woman in the New Testament who is called a disciple. That is amazing enough, but also think what that means. Her identity is one in relationship with Christ, not as a woman dependent upon men for her financial and civil security.
The fact that Tabitha is known by both a Jewish and a Greek name might suggest that she is a cultural hybrid, that she straddles the cultural line between Judaism and the wider Greek-Roman world. And she gives life to the most vulnerable ones have no one. In these verses we are reading a story of people on the margins, a story lovingly recounted by widows and people like them. Here we have a woman disciple, clearly named, who is so far outside the “expected” roles for a woman at that time, a disciple way out on the margins, in touch with those on the margins of society…..and this is the person Peter chooses to raise from the dead! This is a really amazing story that speaks to us suggesting, among other things, that those who believe in the Risen One have power to provide voice to those who have no voice in today’s society.
I think we tell a pretty good Easter story here at St. James, we do a lot of reaching out, but I always want us to be much more than a cool social services organization.
I want us to be a place of God’s work, of worship, of spiritual awakening. The way that we speak, the reasons why we do the things we do, the directions we go, it is because we meet God in the breaking of the bread, in the waters of Baptism, because in our work we help make space for resurrection and Easter—God renewing the world through us. We can do really good church when we pay attention to God, and listen for God, and speak the word of God.
Does it sometimes feel like the church is spinning out of control? Of course it does! Do we sometimes have problems, Houston? Of course we do! However, with all due respect, I still do believe this can be our finest hour, as we keep living the Easter story, proclaiming that He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Amen.