Posted by: mikebackup | April 21, 2013

What Good News can do

Reading – Acts 9:36-43

New International Version (NIV)

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Let’s begin by studying these verses a little. As is often the case, there are layers of meaning to be found here. After Paul’s conversion a new section begins in Acts in which Peter is the focus of attention with his ability to perform miracles. The location is Joppa, north east of Jerusalem on the coast, at the tip of what had once been Philistine territory. The name Tabitha – also known in Greek as Dorcas, both mean ‘gazelle’ – has died. She is called a disciple, and is a fellow disciple of those who called for Peter – an indication of the equality that was developing in the Church, unlike the pagan world outside and the synagogue.

As a woman devoted to good works, she was at the centre of a circle that made and distributed clothing to the poor in the community (v. 39). Peter had to go to her ‘without delay’ because she would be buried promptly in a hot country. This miracle has clear parallels with Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5.35-43), though they are not identical. Both Jesus and Peter get rid of the official mourners, who were known to make quite a lot of noise as they still do in some societies.

Although Jesus spoke of the girl ‘sleeping‘, she is clearly dead, but Jesus implies she will be back with them shortly, such is his confidence in the power of God. He then said the well known Aramaic words ‘Talitha koum’, ‘Little girl, arise.‘ In Acts talitha, little girl, becomes Tabitha, the name of the disciple; koum, get up, becomes the Greek anastethi. Like Jesus, Peter took the dead woman’s hands and this gazelle ‘leapt up’. This is not a resurrection like Jesus’ because there is not the transformation Paul talks about, nor immortality. It is a restoration to life like that of Lazarus.

There are two important differences at the end. Jesus commanded those in the know to keep the event a secret, while Tabitha’s healing leads to the belief of many. In Jesus’ story the healer gets the praise, while in Acts it is not Peter, but Jesus ‘the Lord’ who is praised.

This is what living in the power of the resurrected Christ can mean, and it gives us an understanding of what Pentecost means. It is about continuing the extraordinary ministry of Christ in ordinary women and men who are living in the power of the Spirit.

In this passage we see the gospel lived out, not reduced to a set of words. We can all fall into the trap of describing Christianity in terms of statements or as a set of rules to live by, but the Acts of the Apostles shows us that it is more than that. It is essentially the living out of the gospel, ushered in by Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. It’s that true metamorphosis I spoke about last week.

Without the Spirit leading events, Peter, Paul and others would be living out their own agendas: Spirit-led, they live out the good news of Christ. The theme of Jesus the Good Shepherd can be seen in Peter and within the Church itself. Peter clearly acts as the leader of this local church but it is the task of the church itself to carry out the mission of Christ the Shepherd to his world.

Those who are called by Jesus, who are in his flock, are not lost but have eternal life. It is good to feel that the Church is a place of support, helping us to ‘get up’ whenever we are down. This story is not self-centred, about the deeds of individuals. It is a story about the life of the Church, a people living in community, supporting each other. It is not just about supporting each other but about bringing others into the fellowship of the Church.

We are doing this well and our good news is spreading well. What these verses offer each of us and our community is the promise of amazing if not miraculous works when we trust and live in the Spirit. Our new venture with the knitting at Surestart is one of the moment example – I never saw that coming. That’s the really brilliant thing about living in the Spirit, we are co-creating with God and it could lead anywhere. We need to have that listening ear, that closeness to God so that when the call is made we go. It’s always exciting, challenging and most of God’s deep love is seen immediately.

Let the Spirit lead us on.

Gracious God,
there is a time for doing and a time for praying;
a time for moving on and a time for staying.
Bless me with the spirit of stability and of daring,
that I may serve you where I am
but not be afraid to go where I am called,
when the time is right.

We pray for those dependent on the charity of others…
Open our eyes to see their needs,
and strengthen our hands to make a difference.

We pray for those subject to the cruelty of others…
Open our eyes to see their needs,
and strengthen our hands to make a difference.

We pray for those who bear responsibility for others…
Open our eyes to see their needs,
and strengthen our hands to make a difference.

We pray for those who long for the companionship of others…
Open our eyes to see their needs,
and strengthen our hands to make a difference.

We pray for those bowed down with illness,
for those who are dying.
Open our eyes to see their needs,
and strengthen our hands to make a difference.

we give you thanks for those who express their faith in you
and their care of others through their work,
through their ministry of hospitality,
through their thoughtfulness, through their giving.
May we be inspired
through the ordinariness of their discipleship
to see the wonderful extraordinariness of your love
that is alive in their offering of
their gifts, their time, and their hearts.
We praise you in Jesus’ name.

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