Sunday, 25 April 2010

Living in hope

Easter 4
Reading: Acts 9 v 36-43

From the stories of Jesus resurrection appearances, we move on to the book of Acts – and see the early church at work. a small but growing band of believers who are establishing community together.
Pooling resources, offering gifts and skills, enjoying fellowship together.
So we meet Tabitha, described as a disciple.
Tabitha, who had obviously made quite an impact on the folk around her has died and is being mourned.
That, in itself, is touching – a reminder of how those united in faith, even in resurrection faith, come together to mourn and to support one another.
Belief in the resurrection does not inure us to the loss of loved ones and the pain we feel at their passing.
We share community in joy. And in sorrow.
Tabitha sounds like one of the saints of the church.
I’m sure today, we could name many saints around us, in this community, who are just like her.
People who quietly make a difference to this community of faith.
People, without whom our lives would be the poorer.
Saints – the living AND the dead.Her loss will leave a gap in that community.
She, like all of us possessed gifts and skills that will be missed.
Tabitha, like each one of us who make up this community is irreplaceable.
And so the community gathered, in their sorrow, to remember Tabitha.
They got together, as we do, when a loved one dies, and they shared stories and they even celebrated some of the legacy that Tabitha had left behind, the fine garments she had made.
All the widows stood together, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Tabitha had made while she was with them.
When I read that part of the story, I got to thinking: What are the things folk would get together and gossip about when our time comes.
What are the legacies we are creating?
What are the priceless gifts we’re bequeathing to this community?
I’m quite sure many of you would probably say that you don’t have the kind of gifts and skills that leave legacies.
Those who don’t knit or sew or cook or bake, those who don’t make things or, in other ways create tangible reminders.
But all of us really do make a difference.
All of us bequeath something unique to the community, whether we are aware of it or not.
A kind word, a smile, common sense, patience, a sense of humour, the ability to organise and enthuse – all of these are gifts that are needed in a community, gifts that will be missed when they are no longer there.
Each day of our lives, we are creating memories, building up that legacy that we will bequeath to the community around us.
Every one of us has our own peculiar gifts and skills without which this community will be the poorer.
And so, this community, in the early church, are, together, celebrating and mourning the peculiar gifts and skills that Tabitha possessed.
Those early believers met together to comfort each other and to celebrate one of their saints.
They sent word to Peter to come and be with them in their mourning.
Peter, a witness to the resurrection of our Lord, revered by the early church.
In faith, that mourning community called on him to come and minister to a community in mourning.
I’ve always felt that one of the biggest privileges bestowed on ministers is to be with folks in times of bereavement, to journey alongside communities in mourning.
Even and maybe especially when I have never met someone in life, to be with their loved ones in their loss, to listen to people’s stories, to be asked to celebrate their life is an honour that can never be underestimated.
It is a real gift to be entrusted to stand alongside a community in mourning, to commemorate a loved one and to encompass hope for the future and look forward to life – life that will be poorer because of our loss, but life that is nonetheless enriched by the life of the loved one we mourn.
And, whether we like to think of it or not, every one has a story to tell, a legacy to leave.
In our reading from Acts, we find this early church community sending for Peter to come and be with them in their loss.
Come, without delay, they ask of him.
I don’t think they asked him expecting a miracle.
I think their request was simply to have Peter minister to them in their loss.
But when Peter arrived, he raised Tabitha to life again.
And that’s probably where I have most difficulty with this text.
That Peter, called to minister to a community in mourning, performs a miracle and raises the dead.
It’s a wonderful story.
It’s a wonderful testimony to the power of God enacted through one of Jesus’ first disciples.
But that sort of miracle is so far removed from our experience of life today – where the dead do not come back to life.
Yet, even though we cannot expect resurrection in this life, still we have hope for the future.
As Christians, in community, we are reassured that death is not the end but a new beginning.
So that even in our loss, we have hope for the future.
It’s that assurance of faith that I think speaks most to us here in Mauchline today.
That as a community of believers together, in joy and in sorrow, we have hope.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t become too distracted by the fact that Peter brought Tabitha back to life but focus, rather, on the hope of that small community in mourning.
Hope that gave them power to experience new life.
When my children were small, we had a CD of Nursery Rhymes that we played while travelling in the car.
This is the version of Humpty dumpty that was on the CD:
Humpty dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty dumpty had a great fall
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Those, I imagine are words you are familiar with. But this version adds another couple of verses:
Humpty Dumpty sat on the ground
Humpty Dumpty looked all around
Gone were the houses, gone were the roofs
All he could see were buckles and hooves.
And then:
Humpty dumpty counted to 10
Humpty dumpty got up again
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Were glad to see Humpty together again.
I was never too keen on that version.
It seemed to me there was no point in allowing children to believe that eggs, once broken, could somehow be patched up, like papering over cracks.
But, it seems, that belief in the impossible is more in keeping with the actions of this small community in the early church.
And doesn’t our faith, particularly in this Easter season speak to us of possibilities rather than impossibilities?
Maybe it’s that our experience is very different to that of the early church.
We’ve become too used to pain, too used to a reality that doesn’t often leave much room for miracles.
Or maybe our idea of miracles has become too narrow.
So that we fail to appreciate how every day is punctuated by miracles.
The problem is that when we arm ourselves, try to insulate ourselves to pain, we also shut out the possibility of being open to all the wonderful possibilities that surround us too.
We shut down our hope.
We limit the capacity of God’s grace.
It’s not a case of not having enough faith.
Rather, it’s a case of not having enough hope.
Hope gives us the ability to see answers to prayer that we would never have envisaged.
Hope allows us to be sure of the power that we have to make a difference as a faithful, witnessing community, to be a force for good in our world today.
Maybe we cannot bring the physical dead to life but we can breathe life into the community around us.
We can offer healing that extends well beyond what we can see and measure.
Our faith and our hope makes a difference to ALL of life.
Our faith and hope gets in between the cracks, bringing healing, restoring wholeness in ways that cannot always be seen.
Healing that works from the inside out.

The reason I was in the States the last couple of weeks was to lead a women minister’s retreat.
We shared times of worship and teaching.
We shared fellowship over meals together.
We hiked in the beauty of the Virginia Mountains and we indulged ourselves in pedicures.
Bodies, minds and souls were fed and renewed.
Spirits were refreshed.
Some of the “results” if you like of that retreat are visible – I still have beautifully painted toe nails!
But other benefits and probably more important and longer lasting are those things that cannot be seen.
The healing of wounds inflicted by ministry
.The building up, in love again.
The replenishment of the gifts of the spirit depleted by constant giving.
And the topping up of the resources of love that God gives.
The renewing of the sense of God’s calling in ministry and the assurance of God’s equipping us for that task.
Too often we overlook our needs as whole people.
We feed bodies and minds and starve spirits.
That is NOT the picture we get of the early church, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
They came together in community and, believing themselves a force to be reckoned with because they were a community of resurrection, they did not allow themselves to be limited.
They simply asked God – and one another for whatever they needed.
And, gathering strength from being together in the presence of the living God, they ministered to the world around them in life changing ways.
And this is important for us today.
The realisation that resurrection is not exclusively an act of God but is something that can be practised by the Christian community in many different ways and in many different places.
We are still resurrection people.
Living in the spirit of resurrection bubbles up through God’s people living in community, prayerfully supporting each other, building each other up and reaching out, with power and hope, beyond ourselves.
Every day, miracles are happening in this community that we serve.
May we believe it.
And may we be empowered to live as resurrection people, knowing that all of us, in our own peculiar way bring life to this community – for the glory of God .

1 comment:

Dot said...

Thanx for this great reminder and for such encouraging words. Dx