May 8, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Acts 9:36-43

36Now 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. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since 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.” 39So 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. 40Peter 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. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Dorcas

St. Twrog’s Church
Maentwrog, Wales

Psalm 23

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. 
5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever.

Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 
 “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, 
 “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
 and thanksgiving and honor
 and power and might
 be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15For this reason they are before the throne of God,
  and worship him day and night within his temple,
  and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
  the sun will not strike them,
  nor any scorching heat;
17for 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.”

John 10:22-30

22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So 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.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

There was something compelling to me this year and this week about the story of Tabitha, Dorcas, and the widows. Maybe it’s because this is only the second Mother’s Day when my own mother is a widow, a new word for us. Maybe coming back into the sanctuary, there have been times when I have missed dearly the widows who sat faithfully every week in the back center pew. Many of them have since joined the community of saints who have died. Maybe it was the story coming across my newsfeed this week of the first women ordained as Lutheran pastors in Poland.

Women have made great advances in my lifetime. We can celebrate that the two young women whose high school graduations we will aplaud next week have opportunities their great grandmothers might not have imagined. And yet we know there is still work to do, locally and globally. For every Dorothy Day serving the poor whose memoir is published, Malala Yousafzai standing up to the Taliban, Leymah Gbowee working for peace in Liberia winning the Nobel Peace Prize, or Amanda Gorman using her poetry to paint a vision, there are women whose voices never get heard. 

Widows are still vulnerable, but we also might think of single moms fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; stories of missing indigenous women in our own country; women of all ethnicities escaping domestic violence; or widows next door to you worried about keeping their houses during this crazy housing market. 

To be sure, we all know men vulnerable to the brokenness of this world too. But on a day when our country, or at least Hallmark, prods us to honor our mothers, and when a New Testament writer takes time to mention the only woman disciple ever mentioned by name in the entire New Testament, it is a good day to take stock of women’s places in our own communities and the world. It’s a perfect day to examine how the Gospel might inform our lenses, our perspective.

All of this assumed that in this place, in person and online, we believe and confess that scripture and our faith are not just about the salvation of our souls or what happens to us after we die. The good news of Jesus Christ informs our living here today. It informs how we see the world and encounter all God created. 

Collectively, all our readings from Acts during the Easter Season, serve as powerful illustrations of the living and resurrected Jesus Christ continuing to live and bring redemption and reconciliation through the church. That is an incredibly accurate description of what happens in today’s text from Chapter 9.

Tabitha, a woman, is a disciple of Jesus. Here we get a view of a new future in which men and women in Christ have a different way of seeing themselves–as disciples, followers of Jesus. By referring to her with both names (Tabitha is Aramaic and Dorcas is Greek) the author hints that she lives in a multicultural environment. Maybe she has friends who speak Aramaic and others who speak Greek. She sounds like a bridge builder in her community. 

We also learn about her charity work for the widows–she clothed them. What an intimate and caring gift. Making clothes for someone else requires you to know that person–what size she wears, maybe what she likes, what you think is appropriate for her life. One scholar wrote that Tabitha “helped knit the community together, literally clothing the people with protection, beauty, dignity, and love.”

We enter the story at the end. As in our own encounters with the end of life, there is glory and grief. The glory is a life well lived, lived in service to others. Tabitha’s life hangs together beautifully as someone devoted to helping people, especially widows. Widows, that group of people vulnerable in ancient and current times, made vulnerable by death’s sting, have always been a special concern for God and here for Tabitha as well.

We know from this story that Tabitha’s life was woven in good works of charity. So, the widows weep. They weep for her and maybe for themselves. We will never know if Tabitha was in fact one of them. What we do know is that they claimed her as one who cared for them. Here glory joins grief because to lose someone who cares for the weak and the vulnerable, whose life is turned toward making a difference in the world and who is making a difference, is a bitter loss. The widows have lost Tabitha and a disciple is gone. This is what stops Peter in Joppa.

Peter’s presence declares an unmistakable and wonderful truth: women matter. This woman matters, and the work she does for widows matters to God. It matters so much that God will not allow death the last word. Others had been raised from the dead in the Gospels, but this is different. This is not a little girl or the brother of a friend of Jesus; this is a disciple raised from the dead. Tabitha is not finished in life or service. “Tabitha, get up.” 

Tabitha is an activist who lives again in resurrection power. Her body has been quickened by the Holy Spirit, and her eyes are opened again to see a new day. She has work to do and joy to give to the widows: you have not been abandoned, dear widows, God has heard your weeping and returned her to you. 

More importantly she is alive. Willie James Jennings writes that “we know that death imagines a special claim to the bodies of women. Their deaths are normalized and naturalized in social orders that value men’s bodies far above all others. It will not be so among the disciples. They will find Peter standing next to Tabitha, a gift of God who has been given again the gift of life. It is not accident that the first disciples to have this little taste of the resurrection is a woman, because it was a woman who gave birth to the resurrection. And Peter is there once again to see a miraculous sign point to faith’s direction–many who found out about this believed in the Lord.”

Peter does not bring her back to life as a reward for all her good behavior or because he can’t handle the grief around him. Bringing her back to life validates the urgency of her work. She, as her own person, also matters, but we assume she will not live forever. Eventually death will overtake her a second time, after her story ends. But the leadership and love she provides now has an opportunity to live again–through her ongoing efforts and the charity that is supposed to dwell at the center of every Christian community. Her contributions are essential to the church’s ability to bear witness to the wholeness Jesus Christ brings to individuals and communities.

Today happens to be the saint day of another remarkable disciple, Julian of Norwich. During her lifetime, Julian experienced the first and second waves of the Black Death in England. Resulting turmoil from the plague was a major cause of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, which ended with suppression of the rebels by King Richard II.

Little is known about Julian’s real name or background. Her decision to become an anchoress followed a severe illness when she was 30 years old, high fever, difficulty breathing and the sense of being paralyzed. But it was while fighting this illness that Julian began to experience the first of her many visions.

Julian’s first vision took place as a priest was approaching her bed. “The priest brings a cross to her. The cross begins to glow. She sees Christ standing right in front of her, is quite startled, and then a voice at one point says to her, ‘Look up to heaven. Don’t look at the cross but look up to heaven.’”

Julian interpreted this voice as a temptation and not the voice of Christ: “She was looking directly at the suffering Christ but was being tempted to look away from his suffering.” Instead, Julian looked down to the crucifix as the priest told her to.

Where her eyes had been fixed upward “towards heaven” prior to her visions, now she held her gaze on the cross each time she experienced one. By fixing her eyes on the cross, Julian perceived that “glory comes through suffering, in particular the suffering of Christ, and not in spite of it.”

Julian would continue to experience religious visions throughout her life, writing detailed accounts of each. The visions declared that love was the meaning of religious experience, provided by Christ who is love, for the purpose of love. These descriptions were eventually compiled into Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving English-language book written by a woman. 

Her words have been carried down to us in the ELW hymn 735, “Mothering God, you gave me birth in the bright morning of this world. Creator source of every breath, you are my rain, my wind, my sun. Mothering Christ, you took my form, offering me your food of light, grain of life, and grape of love, your very body for my peace.”

Something about the good news of Jesus Christ gave life and callings to both Tabitha and Julian. The message of mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and most importantly abundant love, that they heard, envisioned, and experienced is the same message passed on to us as well. We hear it proclaimed we receive the gifts and promises of Jesus’ mercy and love in the simple meal of bread and wine. Might we be strengthened for service and follow in the ways of these two remarkable disciples.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Set free from captivity to sin and death, we pray to the God of resurrection for the church, people in need, and all of creation.

A brief silence.

Gentle Shepherd, enable your church to respond to the voice of Jesus. Give us unfailing trust, unafraid to join in Jesus’ work of renewing all things. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Feed your people at the table of creation. Prepare a safe place for those whose environments are dangerous or unhealthy, especially those making difficult journeys. Prosper your creation for the sake of every living thing. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Warm the hearts of all who celebrate and all who mourn on Mother’s Day. Accompany those yearning to be mothers. Help us to heal from broken family relationships and open us to receive your nurturing love from all who serve mothering roles in our lives (especially). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Seek out those who weep while they await healing or consolation (especially). Set people in their path who can provide the care they need, and wipe away every tear from their eyes. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Inspire the words of prophets and saints who employ innovative imagery to stretch our understanding (as did Julian of Norwich, whom we commemorate today). Send Christ to instruct us with motherly care. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Enfold us in the great multitude of saints from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. Wash us in your saving grace every day, guiding us to your waters of life. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

In your mercy, O God, respond to these prayers, and renew us by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.

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