Monday, May 15, 2017

People of Help in a Me-Centered World

Preached on Mothers Day, Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scripture readings: Matthew 25:31-40; Acts 9:36-43

More of That Walk in April 2017
Along the Columbia River, Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
A woman used her husband’s car for some errands, and when she got back she noticed how dusty the outside of the car was. So, she cleaned it up a bit and, when she went into the house, she said to her husband, “The woman who loves you the most in the world just cleaned your headlights and windshield.” Her husband looked up surprised, and said, “Mom’s here?” (From “1001 More Humorous Illustrations”, Michael Hodgin, #563)
We don’t know much about Tabitha, as a mother. In fact we don’t even know if she was a mother. What we can see for ourselves is the fact that she mothered people. She took care of people. She helped people.
After Easter, the rising of Jesus from the dead makes us think about how the power of God gives us a new life and a changed life. The people in the Book of Acts, like Tabitha, are examples of this power of God shaping the lives of those who follow Jesus, and who live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thinking about Tabitha, let’s look at how God shapes a kind of mothering instinct in God’s people.
Maybe we don’t all want to think of ourselves as mothers. But the Holy Spirit shapes us, and molds us, and nudges at us to be people of resources; to be people of care-giving, to be people of help.
Who do we see Tabitha mothering? Apparently, she mothered the widows of the church. And so, she mothered the mothers, and maybe even the whole community.
The Old Testament puts a lot of weight on paying special attention to the needs of widows, and orphans, and aliens. The Bible tells us this, over and over again in the books of the law and the prophets. These groups of people are singled out by God as people who are most likely to be neglected, or forgotten, or taken advantage of.
They were God’s special test cases to see if his special people were truly people of love and compassion. Would God’s people take care of the most defenseless people, the most neglected people, in their society?
The strange truth is that, even though the Lord put the greatest weight on giving attention to the needs of these particular people, they continued to be the people of greatest need. And they still are (to this day), along with others we could mention.
The room where Tabitha’s body was laid out for visitation seemed to be full of widows. And when Peter got to the house, the widows got up to greet him. They told him about their spiritual mother. They showed him the clothing that she had made.
As the commentaries informed me, the way the Greek text describes them showing this clothing to Peter seems to make them point to themselves when they point to the clothing. (It’s called “middle voice”.) They showed the clothing by pointing to themselves, because they were wearing the clothing, themselves.
Clothing was expensive in the ancient world. Clothing was used for barter. It was used for collateral for loans. Average people seldom had much extra clothing beyond what they had on their backs. The people who were below average had even less than this. Widows tended to be such people.
There’s no way of knowing whether Tabitha raised money through the church to cloth the community’s widows, or whether she had income of her own, so that she could afford it herself. But if her body lay in her own home (which seems likely) then the fact that she had an upper room in her house meant that she was better off than some. It meant that she used what she had, and she used her advantages, to help others in their need.
Why do we have what we have? Why do we have money? Why do we have time? Why do we have talents? Part of the answer to that is, that we have what we have in order to help others.
We don’t have what we have in order to be the slaves of others. What God enables us to have is for blessing and for joy. But joy comes not only by enjoying what we have, for ourselves. Joy comes, most often, from sharing.
This has to do with mothers; but also with fathers, and with all kinds of servants, and with all the people of God, because we are all called to be mothers, in a way. We are all called to be people of help in a “me-centered” world.
Mothers and fathers have what they have; not only to work and to have fun; but what they have is for their children, especially their gift of time. I knew a minister who heard rumors of grumbling when he was seen playing catch with his son in the front yard of the manse. Someone in their church didn’t understand that a parent’s time (even when that parent is a pastor) is not just for work, and not just for others, and not just for the church, but especially for their children.
The great loves you have are not just for yourself, but they are to be shared with your children. So, you better love to share your great loves with them; like fishing, or flying, or gardening, or music, or making things with your hands. And you have to go farther than that. Knowing that their kids have great loves of their own, mothers and fathers pay attention to the things that their kids love; like games, and playing, and laughing, and talking.
Mothers and fathers share their kids’ great loves with their kids. They use their time for this. If you are parents or grandparents, this is part of what you have, because God has given these children to you.
We live in a world where the message is that self-fulfillment comes from self-indulgence. But that message can never build a family. It can never build a marriage. It can never raise children to be happy adults. It can never build the mission of Jesus.
One thing I noticed, in this story, is the name of the woman. I don’t mean the unusual sound of the name Dorcas. (Pronounce it the Biblical Greek way.) The name means gazelle, and the Aramaic and the Greek versions of this name are both used twice as if Luke wanted his readers to think about the name, or (more than that) what the name meant and suggested.
This woman was the gazelle. A gazelle is graceful, and quick, and a long-distance runner. When a need arose in Tabitha’s vicinity, it was gracefully, quickly, and almost unnoticeably met. Children think that their mothers really prefer chicken wings, and necks, and backs, and like them much better than drumsticks and thighs, because their mothers are so graceful, and quick, and steady about their choice.
I think I was a teenager when I actually asked my mom about this, and found out the truth. She did it so that I could fight my dad and my sisters for the drumsticks and the thighs.
When the Holy Spirit makes us people of help, those we help may hardly notice. And if we don’t always give help in a way that’s as graceful and quick as a gazelle, then, maybe, we can give the kind of help that runs as long-distance as a gazelle.
The help inspired by the Holy Spirit goes long. It goes long in order to create a strength, and a self-reliance, in your neighbors and in your children. The strength they gain comes from the security, and the dependability of your help: the help that goes long.
This is what a mother’s or a father’s help does. You help a child grow into courage, and perseverance, and strength, and confidence. This is also the kind of help which God’s people are called to give to each other. But God’s people are also called to give this to anyone in need.
The very shape of the miracle of Tabitha’s life is basically a replica of what Jesus did. Peter and the others, as they would visit each other, were being like little Jesuses, wherever they went. They were all little Jesuses in the things they did for each other; not only in the way that miracles happened, but in their whole attitude; their whole spirit; their whole way of humbly learning and serving. They would see Jesus at work around them, and they would see Jesus in each other, because they were being Jesus to others.
They would see Jesus in each other, not because of their power, but because of their love. They would even see Jesus in each other because of the others’ need for love. They would see Jesus in those who seemed the smallest. They would even see Jesus in those who counted the least, and who needed the most.
When Jesus told his disciples, and us, to see him in the neediest of people (Matthew 25:31-40), we see the secret of why Tabitha created this community of widows with the help she gave to them. She saw Christ in them; not in their strength but in their weakness, and in their need. When she looked at them, she saw Jesus who became weak for us on the cross: Jesus hungry, and thirsty, and naked. She visited Jesus when she helped her neighbors.
In marriages, in your lives as parents or grandparents, and in our lives as children of parents, we see the sacrifice of Christ in the sacrifices that others make for us.
We also see the need of Christ in those who need us. We see, in them, their need for the sheer love of Christ. That is how we are called to relate to each other, and to our neighbors, and to everyone in this world.
The love of Christ, as we see that love on the cross, and as we see that love in his rising from the dead: that love is the ultimate help. The love of God, in Christ, gives us mercy and forgiveness. The love of God, in Christ, gives us peace with God, and a new heart, and a new life, and a whole new set of motivations in life.
Because we know that love, we meet Christ everywhere, and it makes us partners with Christ in his love for the world. We want to bring the help that comes from his love into all our relationships. It makes our lives as children of parents, and parents of children, into holy ground.
At the Lord’s Table we meet that love. We see that our spiritual life depends on the nourishment of that love as much as our bodies depend on food and drink.

At this table, we learn that Jesus is glad to be our host. He personally invites us to feed upon him, and to share his life, and to be transformed into people of help because, through Jesus, we know the help of God.

1 comment:

  1. To be people of love, sharing the love. That is what we strive for!