Rev. Katherine Todd
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 the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Just last Sunday, we read about how Peter, having just been through an emotional marathon following Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, has retreated to the sea to fish and has led 6 other disciples in doing the same. This fishing expedition doesn’t go well. They catch nothing, but the risen Christ meets them on the shoreline with hot fish and warm bread, strait from the fire. The whole encounter ends with Jesus repeatedly asking Peter whether or not Peter loves him. Each time Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” but each time Jesus responds by saying “Feed/Tend my sheep.”
It seems as though Jesus is trying to break through the disconnect between Peter’s affections and his actions. Peter feels love for Christ, but his actions are less that of a disciple and more reflective of the man he used to be, before he met Christ. Jesus is challenging Peter to live his love and devotion in service to others – not returning to his former life but continuing his discipleship by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So in today’s passage, we finally see Peter DOING the work of a disciple of Christ. In fact this story, along with several other stories of Peter and the early church, neatly reflects stories that came out of Jesus’ life. Just as Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so Peter raises this faithful disciple from death. Just as Jesus heals a paralytic man, so Peter heals a paralyzed man. Peter is DOING the work of discipleship!
This Peter, who was once looking wistfully back at the fishing life, is now all in.
And I find this very encouraging.
We know that Peter was not an educated man. Luke reports that the religious leaders of the day found Peter ordinary – such that they were amazed as how he taught them with authority and performed deeds of power among the people. Peter was an ordinary guy. He was rash and a bit impulsive. He liked to fish naked, and the sea was a source of comfort to him. He spoke before he thought. He couldn’t always follow through with his intentions. When Jesus was in custody before his eventual crucifixion, Peter denies Jesus 3 times, in order to save his own skin.
And it is this Peter who Christ calls and uses to spread the Good News of Great Joy.
Though he has failed over and over, Jesus lovingly pursues him, and keeps calling Peter to follow. Now, Peter’s words and his actions are finally starting to match. Peter’s faith is finally taking shape in works. He chooses to leave Christ’s presence, not just a hearer but a doer. Peter chooses to tend the sheep – to shepherd God’s people, to lead others in doing good and not in turning back.
In the Gospel of John we heard these words of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me[e] for anything, I will do it.”
Jesus is explaining that we will do greater things than he did – precisely because Jesus will be with God, hearing our prayers and giving us what we ask.
This is hard to believe. It sounds too genie-in-a-bottle for us. It sounds too anecdotal to be true. And yet, in the person of Peter, we see an ordinary person doing extraordinary things, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And I would assert that God is calling you and I to do great things by the power of the Spirit.
Do you look around and think – we need a miracle!
Do you look around and think – how can we begin to fix the messes we are making?!
Does each new grim report simply pile onto your already-mounting-stack of tragedies-with-no-answers?
Perhaps God has made you, for such a time as this.
Perhaps God is using you to do even greater works by the power of the Spirit…
Perhaps God has given you eyes to see the mess, so you can be a part of the solution.
After all, Christ said we will do greater things than he did!
We are not alone. God is not finished with us yet. There is more to this world than we can see or perceive. And Christ is still at work, doing miracles, turning tables, raising the dead, healing the sick. Christ hears our prayers.
We do not pretend to control God.
We do not pretend to understand why God acts and does not act, why God heals some and not others. We do not pretend to know why some suffer all their lives and others seem to walk such an easy road.
Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing. “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, for God cares for you.” And “the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective,” scripture reminds us.
in all things,…
as we face enormous obstacles to justice and equity,
as we stare down the mountains between us and where we need to go
as we face off against the darkness within ourselves and one another,
May we remember that Christ, who raised Lazarus from the dead, lives in you and in me.
May we remember that the One who made heaven and earth and fashioned you and me has called us precious and beloved.
May we remember that there is more to this life than we can see.
And may we call on Christ,
Interceding on behalf of our brothers and sisters,
Crying out to God in the face of injustice,
Sharing what we have with one another,
…..DOING the work of discipleship.
Who knows what mighty work Christ may do,
in you and in me!