May 12, 2019
4th Sunday of Easter
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and suitable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’m not sure how to begin today.
So, I’ll start with this. Rachel Held Evans was a popular writer who challenged the evangelical Christian establishment. She was a voice for many through her blog posts engaging posts on twitter. She lived a life called by God and one that was transformed by a living and loving God.
Rachel was born in Alabama in 1981 and moved to Dayton, Tennessee, as a teenager. She was an enthusiastic and devout believer from the start, steeped in the American conservative evangelicalism of the 1980s and ’90s; as a teenager, she was quoted in Christianity Today praising her high school’s federally funded abstinence program.
She left and returned to the faith many times trying to wrestle with the Bible, it’s teachings, her life experiences and the world around her.
Rachel became a forceful and winsome public voice for progressive evangelicalism, first as a blogger and later as an author and sought-after speaker. She started he blog more than a decade ago, and in her years of writing she confronted every controversial issue in American evangelical culture.
Her political and cultural polemics attracted the most attention. But she also wrote passionately about her own evolving faith, her prayer life, her wrestling with doubt, and her love for the church. In her most recent publication Rachel wrote, “Anyone who has loved the Bible as much as I have, and who has lost it and found it again, knows how a relationship with the Bible can be as real and as complicated as a relationship with a family member or close friend.” (Inspired)
Rachel’s last blog post was on March 6, Ash Wednesday.
In it she wrote:
“It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Death is a part of life.
My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.” (Previous details about RHE from Slate.com)
In mid-April, Rachel was admitted to the hospital for flu and had reactions to the antibiotics. After being placed in a medically induced coma to help control seizures she died a week ago on Saturday, May 4th at the age of 37. 37. Really?!?
Her writings inspired and encouraged me to lift my voice.
Her experiences helped me to know that it’s okay that faith and doubt are part of this life’s journey.
And that it’s okay to be firm in your faith one day and completely wonder what God is up to in your heart the next day.
She was a woman and a person of faith who grew up in the church, was shaped by the church, challenged by the church, but through it all learned of a God of love and grace and forgiveness who called her to share that same love and grace and forgiveness with all God’s children.
She will be missed, and not forgotten.
This past week, Mabel, a dear saint of the church died. She was known throughout this congregation for the many, many quilts she made when infants were baptized at Trinity. Several years ago, we took a picture with Mabel and many of the youth with their quilts. She wrapped the most vulnerable in our community in warmth and love in those quilts.
I learned this week, too, that when Mabel was still able to come to church she would bring a bag of food for the food pantry. The volunteers knew right away that it came from Mabel. Apparently she tied it a special way and in it each week was a meal: cereal, fruit, vegetables a starch or grain. When the volunteers asked her why she did it she said that she would do it as long as she could because God wanted her to.
Our lesson from Acts today echoed the life of Rachel and Mabel. Once you get passed the Greek translation of Tabitha’s name as Dorcas.
Growing up, and maybe even now, the word Dork, is not flattering or complementary. So let’s get passed this hiccup together and also learn that her name means gazelle. (That’s much more complementary.)
Tabitha has lived a live of that of a disciple. She is the person throughout the entire New Testament who is labeled as a female disciple. She has lived a life where she has used the gifts and talents she has received from God to help provide to those in her midst, primarily by making clothing for those around her, specifically widows. She helped care for those in her midst who were the most vulnerable in her society. Upon her death, they were not just mourning her death, but also perhaps fearful of what their own futures would be without her presence and help in their lives.
When Peter arrives after hearing of her death, those gathered are showing him the clothing and sharing the ways she helped provide for their needs. He steps into her room, kneels down beside her and prays. Then he turns to her and says, Tabitha, arise. (the same word that we use when we say Christ has been raised from the dead….same arise.) She sits up, he holds out his hand and he raises her up, and presents her as living.
That, my friends is the vision of hope, is it not?
Presented to her friends, and to those who depended upon her for clothing and support, Tabitha – alive – is hope for the present day and hope for the future.
No doubt as the prayers went out in the beginning of May for Rachel Held Evans, they were full of hope. Hope that the doctors could diagnose the problem, figure out a solution and bring her out of the coma, out of the hospital and back home.
But Rachel’s outcome was not the same as Tabitha’s.
So, for those of us still on this side of the grave, we wait.
We wait in the light of the empty tomb as we cry out in anger, grief and loss.
Those of us who have experienced the death of a friend, especially a young friend, struggle with this loss.
Those of us who have experienced the death of someone whom they have relied upon either financially or physically cry out as they wonder and perhaps worry about what their future may be.
Those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one know the feelings of loss, of sadness, worry, anger, stress, frustration and sometimes even hopelessness.
We wonder what the future will bring.
We wait. In grief, in longing and in hope.
And the hope, my friends, the good news this day, comes to us straight from the book of Revelation.
“For 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.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for 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.”
This, my friends, is the promise of the resurrection.
This my friends is the story of hope that we are called to tell over and over and over again.
So that in this broken world, in this world of death and brokenness, there is hope.
There is comfort and the promise of a future of eternal life.
There is comfort in grieving together, leaning on one another and returning to this place week after week to hear these words of comfort and unconditional love from an amazing loving God.
Listen to those words.
Take those words into your hearts and your mouths and share them with those who need to hear them this day.
This is the story of Jesus we are called to tell.
The story of a savior who walks with us in our darkest valleys, leads us beside still waters, restores our soul and never, ever lets us go.
Share that story.
In her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again Rachel Held Evans writes, “Jesus invites us into a story that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our culture, bigger even than our imaginations, and yet we get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of our particular moment and place in time. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect the gift of that. May we never lose our love of telling the tale.” (P. 164)
Friends, never lose your love of telling the tale of Jesus.
Tabitha, Rachel, Mabel, these faithful women shared and showed the example of Christ’s love in word and in deed.
We, too are called to tell the tale, to show Christ’s love and live it out.
And may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.