by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
36 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. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 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.” 39 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. 40 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. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
Today I am drawn to the ACTS reading because of both personal and professional/church things. And the John gospel speaks to the love of the shepherd and the willingness of the shepherd to give his or HER life to the sheep.
The Acts lesson is most powerful to me. So very powerful. It is an extraordinary snapshot of the early Church in action and we have familiar people in it as well as some not so familiar.
This lesson takes place after Pentecost and so we’re ahead of ourselves even though we celebrate Pentecost and the Holy Spirit in about a month’s time. Our good old bumbling disciple Simon Peter doesn’t resemble himself at all. In last week’s gospel, Peter was fishing on the wrong side of the boat and didn’t have any sense to wear any clothes while fishing. You would have to be present from last week to get that. A little insider knowledge. Here Peter is raising people from the dead. And we just thought raising people from the dead, resurrection, was God’s and Jesus’ work.
Dorcas, a holy woman known for her generosity as a seamstress to her companions has died. Of course, everyone is grief-stricken and Simon Peter is called to act immediately. He does something unexpected. He raises Dorcas/Tabitha from being dead. And he just doesn’t say to her, take your time getting up. Simon Peter tells her to get up and walk.
This story is powerful in two ways.
One, it is a metaphor for the Early Church. Paul, Simon Peter and the other disciples including these FEMALE disciples cannot tarry. They cannot dawdle, And that’s the same lesson for us. We, the Church, cannot dawdle. We have to get up and get to work for the Kingdom of God. Just because we have experienced the Resurrection of Jesus and now the gift of the Holy Spirit, we cannot sit on our laurels. Every day is a “little” Easter where we defeat death and sin. Every day is a day of Resurrection and every day we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. We cannot remain idle.
Note that Tabitha/Dorcas hears the sound of Simon Peter’s voice much like Jesus states in the John gospel that his sheep KNOW his voice. Even though Tabitha is dead she knows the sound of Jesus’ voice through Peter calling her to new life and resurrection. Dorcas knows the voice of the shepherd and comes home.
The second way this lesson is so powerful to me is personal. My mother, Carolyn, who would have been 84 years old yesterday, May 11, was born and delivered by a midwife in a community in North Florida named Dorcas. As a younger person, I never knew the reference of my mother’s birthplace and its relationship to the woman found here in Acts. So, to use the phrase “fitting,” it is indeed fitting that my mother, though dead was born in a place named for someone who was raised from the dead. In fact, some of my mother’s ashes are interned in Dorcas, Florida. Many relatives are buried there along with my grandparents. So, this story, regarding Resurrection not only for Dorcas but for my mother hits home.
Today is Mother’s Day. It’s a wonderful tradition in our nation to recognize the extraordinary role of mothers in our lives. Motherhood and Fatherhood are indeed, vocations. The root Latin word for vocation is “vocare” or CALL. To be called to something is very different than merely choosing it. That is why the life of a ministry, specifically ordained ministry is a vocation and not a profession.
The same is said for Motherhood. It is a call and not a profession. One has to authentically hear a voice, I believe, to be called to be a mother. I realize what I’m saying is very ideal in that a number of people have landed in motherhood for all sorts of reasons other than a call. However, the call of Motherhood is nothing to be trifled or taken lightly. Neither is ordination or a host of other vocational calls.
Today we celebrate those mothers who are still with us in their vocations, their calls to be our mothers regardless of their age of their children’s ages. Motherhood is not something from which we retire or receive a pension. For a number of us, today is bittersweet. We miss our mothers. This is not to elicit your pity or sentimentality. Today is a reminder of the memory of our mothers and the gifts that she gave us. Trust me, the best of you see of me is greatly due to my mother. If I were in the bed like Dorcas in this Acts story, my mother would have poked me with a stick to get me out of bed even if the Apostle Peter himself raised me from the dead. Trust me, much like the sheep in John gospel, I knew my mother’s voice: beckoning, coaxing, and encouraging me to get up not only to everyday work but the work of the Gospel.
Today we also celebrate and commemorate Lynn Kenyon’s mother, Carolyn, with a special blessing during the offering.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome in the book of Romans, Chapter 16, Paul says the following:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.
Sadly, we don’t know Rufus’ mother’s name. But obviously, she was important to Paul. By the way, legend has it that Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene, the man charged with helping Jesus carry his own Cross on the way to Calvary. We have to dig for these details about someone like Paul. But I think this brief factoid emphasizes that the GREAT Apostle Paul needed someone like a mother in own life for his sense of wholeness. Paul was human and needed the influence of a great woman and mother.
We are all human and have mothers. That is obvious. I pray today that this great gift of Motherhood has our support, encouragement, and nurturing at all time in any mother’s life. I pray today that we support mothers, that mothers always hear the voice of the shepherd, and the sheep know her voice. And finally, I pray that we all know the voice of the shepherd and that we stay in the hand of God forever.