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May 12, 2019, 11:34 AM

Miracle in Joppa - Sermon, 5/12/19


In the category of “kids say the darndest things,” I have been thinking of a girl who we will call Camilla from my last church. She only came to Little Learners, our mid-week Sunday School program, a few times. Every time she came, though, I was amazed by the questions she asked and the answers she provided. For example, one week I taught about Noah and the flood. The story features a dove sent to see if the land was dry. Most of the kids were suburban residents and I wasn’t sure if they knew what a dove was so I interrupted the story and asked, “What is a dove?”

 

Of course, I was aiming to hear that a dove is a bird. Camilla, out of nowhere, answered that a dove is a symbol of peace. Oh – I should mention that Camilla was six-years old at the time she gave this answer. Kids do, in fact, say the darndest things!

 

A few weeks later, I told the story of Good Friday. The kids who came to Little Learners were of a wide age range, so I was tip-toeing around talking about death. Different ages of kids understand death in different ways. Plus, different parents expose kids to death in different ways at different ages. I explained that Jesus’ friends and helpers put his body in the tomb after he died.

 

All of a sudden, Camilla raised her hand. I admit that my heart skipped a beat when she raised her hand because you never quite knew what was going to come out of Camilla’s mouth. It turns out that Camilla’s next question was one of those that understandably made my heart skip a beat. Camilla asked me, “Why do you keep saying Jesus’ body? Wasn’t it Jesus that they put in the tomb? Why do you keep saying it was the body?”

 

Oh, boy! Seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself having to explain death to a six-year old. I cautiously looked at her mother throughout the answer to make sure it was age-appropriate. Honestly, I was so flustered that I don’t even remember how I answered. Camilla was not only a smart six-year old, she was also very sensitive, so I am sure she could sense just how flustered I was.

 

I will probably never forget Camilla’s question or the way I felt as I struggled to answer it. Camilla’s question definitely falls into the category of kids saying the darndest things.

 

I was reminded of Camilla’s question when preparing for today’s message. Today is usually known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” but it was not images of sheep or shepherds that stood out to me in today’s readings. Instead, I was drawn to the miracle described in the selection from the Acts of the Apostles.

 

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is not exactly famous, although I think it should be because it features the story of one of Peter’s great miracles. Usually, I associate Jesus with miracles, not Peter, but in today’s story, it is Peter who performs an incredible miracle. We are introduced to a woman named Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.

 

Tabitha is well-known in Joppa, not only for her faith in Jesus, but for her devotion to “good works and acts of charity.” We don’t know the cause, but Tabitha becomes ill and dies. The disciples in Joppa perform the necessary acts after a person dies: they wash Tabitha’ body and lay “her (body) in a room upstairs.”

 

Perhaps out of desperation, the disciples in Joppa send two of their company to find Peter in Lydda. Peter comes quickly to Joppa and enters the house of mourning. There, he encounters a group of widows who are weeping over Tabitha’s body. The widows show tunics and other clothing Tabitha had made before her death. Tabitha had been a truly valuable member of the early Christian community.

 

At this point in the story, we need to put on our imagination caps. What do the other disciples think Peter is going to do? What do the other disciples want Peter to do? Do they think he was there to simply mourn the death of a faithful disciple?

 

Or is there an unspoken hope that Peter had the power to raise Tabitha from the dead? After all, Peter is famous throughout the area for his close relationship with Jesus. Perhaps news has spread of Peter’s ability to perform miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. After all, raising Tabitha is not Peter’s only miracle in the Acts of the Apostles.

 

Whatever the disciples hoped for, Peter arrives in Joppa and visits Tabitha’s body. After meeting the mourning widows, Peter chases everyone out of the room where Tabitha’s body lays, kneels down, and prays. Is Peter confident that Tabitha could be raised from the dead? Does Peter feel qualified to perform this miracle?

 

In faithful hope, Peter turns “to the body and (says), ‘Tabitha, get up.’” Then, against all odds, Tabitha opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up.

 

Now, I believe that the raising of Tabitha is only part of the miracle in today’s story. Another part of the miracle is the effect of the healing on the rest of the community in Joppa. The Acts of the Apostles records that the raising of Tabitha becomes known throughout Joppa and many believe in Jesus.

 

Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of the spiritual lives of everyone here, so I can’t say this for certain, but I am not aware that any of us have the divine ability to raise people from the dead. Even if we do kneel and pray, I have not heard of anyone here physically raising someone from the dead.

 

But, like Peter, we can perform miracles. Through our presence, we can breathe new life into a person’s spirit. Through our prayers, we can breathe new life into a person’s spirit. Through our belief in the Risen Christ, we can breathe new life into a person’s spirit. Through our relationship with Jesus, we can breathe new life into a person’s spirit.

 

And our ability to perform miracles has miraculous impacts on the people around us. Just as Tabitha’s raising from the dead helped news of Jesus to spread throughout Joppa, we, too, can help to spread the news of Jesus spread in our own world.

 

Do we truly believe this? That we can miraculously spread the news of the Risen Christ in the world? This is our miracle as people of faith: planting seeds of faith in other people, and praying for God to provide the growth.

 

Like Peter, let us pray we are up to the challenge to breathe new life into a person’s spirit and into this hurting world so that the great Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ is spread. Amen.


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