Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Sunday's Sermon: Tabitha, Rachel, Mabel...

May 12, 2019
4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

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

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. 


Monday, May 6, 2019


May 5, 2019
3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-6
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14

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. 

At the beginning of each Star Wars film, the screen looks like this

and if you’re in the theater there is a hush that falls over the crowd. 

And then the iconic theme starts as we see the famous logo.

And then comes the opening crawl.  

When the first film came out in 1977, we needed the back story so we knew what was happening as the movie started.  It gave viewers just enough info to get us ready to watch the movie. 

As other Star Wars films hit the screen, each one came with an opening crawl to let fans know what happened since the last time we joined these characters…if time had passed, it filled the gap.  If the film took place earlier in time than previous films, we again gained enough insight to get us into the movie without being utterly confused. 

It thought about trying to figure out how to turn today’s Gospel reading into an opening crawl like that of a Star Wars film, but it would have gone on and on and on…but here’s why I thought about it, because that’s the way our gospel lesson begins today, right? 

We’re jumping right in to chapter 21, so for a moment, let’s look at the end of chapter 20.  After Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room, on the day of resurrection, and appears a week later, again in that room to show the disciples and Thomas that he has been raised, we read verses 30&31.  

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sounds like the end of the book, right?  It’s a nice ending…although I’m sure many would like to know what those other signs were, not written in this book, but the closing statement, right? But these that are written so that you - pointing at us, those hearing, those reading - so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

And so in a way, that is the end of the Easter story. 

Just not yet. 

Enter into chapter 21…After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

It’s like we’re entering the Star Wars crawl…we are being drawn back into the story, into an ongoing story of salvation, forgiveness, love and eternal life. 

It’s like someone got a hold of John’s gospel and was like, this needs a postscript.  A PS. 

Right, you finish the letter (or the email) and realize that you wanted to add one more thing… so you add a PS. 

This PS, this postscript for today’s gospel lesson is a good one. 

It’s another appearance of the resurrected Christ in the presence of the disciples.  And it happens after they have gone back to life as they know it, or knew it to be after the resurrection of Jesus.  

Think about it, you devote 3 years of your life, following this man named Jesus as he heals, teaches, breaks through barriers, troubles church and political leaders with a radical message of loving your neighbor and your enemy.  

You’ve followed Jesus and you’ve listened, learned, been confused been loved and maybe have even denied knowing him.  And then he is resurrected….and after that Easter day, life goes on. 

You return to the fishing boat you know so well, because there is comfort in the familiar and you need to continue to earn a living for your family. 

For whatever reason, the disciples have returned to fishing, for fish. 

And when Simon Peter realizes who it is he throws on his clothes (for he was naked?) yeah…another interesting detail added to this P.S. he jumps into the sea and swims to be with Jesus. 

He crawls onto the beach and smells the charcoal fire.  Perhaps it’s reminiscent of the fire smell as he stood on the night of Jesus’ betrayal denying Jesus three times. 

As they steer the boat in and realize their catch of 153 fish, Jesus invites them to breakfast.  I don’t know about you, but this is a great invitation, right?  Come, have some breakfast.  Come, sit, eat bread and fish, let us share a meal. 
And in this seaside meal, the love and compassion of Jesus is shown so deeply, to Peter, especially. 

It’s as if this postscript is meant just for him.  Jesus asks him not one time, not to times, but three times, Simon, Son of John, do you love me? 

The third time, Peter looks hurt…because he has confessed two times already to his love of the Lord.  But the third time he says, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."

Gosh, if you’ve ever wronged someone once, let alone three times and your offered the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness, that’s a powerful heart-changing place to be. 

And that’s where Peter is, on the beach with Jesus, telling him over and over how much he loves him…and in that love, Jesus says, follow me. 

Jesus comes back, to Peter specifically to say, follow me. 
The one who stepped out onto the sea, lost faith and sank…
The one who didn’t want Jesus to be crucified, but when he spoke out against it, Jesus said, get behind me Satan!
The one who at Jesus transfiguration wanted to build tents and never leave the mountaintop.
The one who denied Jesus three times…after crying out to Jesus that he never, ever would deny knowing him…

This is the one, to whom Jesus returns, in love, in grace and in forgiveness and says, “Follow me.” 

Gosh, if this isn’t the best PS ever written,  I don’t know what is. 

I don’t know about you, but Peter is the disciple with whom I seem to identify with the most.  The one who messes up and is called out for it. 
The one who steps out in firm faith and then falters and sinks. 
The one who tries to do her best to love and serve God’s people but then messes up. 
I forget to thank someone, I miss an important meeting, I take time for myself when I could have taken time for someone else. 
I feel like I’m living the Gospel as faithfully as I can, and then I’m reminded that no one can do it perfectly, and that even with all the good work I do in God’s name in this place, there are some who feel slighted, left out, overlooked or forgotten. 

I’m not perfect.

Thank God that Peter wasn’t either…

Because if (not if) because Jesus loves someone like Peter, Jesus can love me, too. 
Jesus can still come into my heart and my life and my world and break in, to break me out of myself to see that there is a God of forgiveness and love who wants to continue to use me to reach out in love and forgiveness to God’s people. 

That’s some PS, right? 

It’s this kind of a PS… 

It’s Jesus coming back, after that glorious resurrection and reaching out to Peter as he fishes, as he is living his life. 

That’s the same Jesus, who comes back here, today…and not just today, and not just in this place. 

It’s that same Jesus who comes back tomorrow, as you’re having breakfast with your family…
As you’re getting on the school bus…
As you’re commuting to work…
As you’re filling up at the gas station or at dunkin’ donuts….
Walking into work, or onto the golf course or reading the paper at home. 

Jesus is there, saying to you…PS.  I love you.  Follow me. 

Look for the resurrected Christ in your midst. 
He loves you.
He forgives you. 
He bids you, follow me. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.