Acts 9:36-43

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 37 About that time, though, she became so ill that she died. After they washed her body, they laid her in an upstairs room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two people to Peter. They urged, “Please come right away!” 39 Peter went with them. Upon his arrival, he was taken to the upstairs room. All the widows stood beside him, crying as they showed the tunics and other clothing Dorcas made when she was alive.

40 Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called God’s holy people, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42 The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with a certain tanner named Simon.

We are now in our third week of our Post Easter sermon series called wonders and signs. Rev Macie Liptoi began the series the Sunday after Easter, the youth group continued it last week, and now today and for the next three Sundays I am glad to join in. The term wonders and signs is found at the end of chapter 2 in the book of Acts. This follows Peter's Pentecost sermon where the people in the crowd are so moved by what the Apostle has said they ask, “What are we supposed to do about all this?” What does this new Community of Faith look like? 

 42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. 

So a pattern emerges at the end of Acts chapter 2: 

the people are moved by Peter’s witness 

what should we do?

 be baptized change your hearts and lives

 experience God's salvation

 and God brought 3000 people into the community 

the Believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching

building Community

sharing meals

praying together

they had a sense of awe about what was going on around them

 God performed wonders and signs 

every day they met together 

they would sell their possessions and give the money to those who were in need 

they shared food with gladness and simplicity 

they praised God and demonstrated God's goodness 

the Lord added daily to the community those who are being saved 

Over and over again we see when people are in tune with their faith, when they do the things that faithful people do- like listening to the apostles, praying together, sharing meals, worshiping together, serving others- when they do these things they are see God's wonders and signs among them. Does God do wonders and signs because of the church’s spiritual practices? No! A skeptic might ask, “Has God stopped doing these things today since they are less obvious?” No. God is God, and is still in the business of doing wonders and signs. The question is about tuning in. The early church was so in tune with their faith practices and with what God was doing that they saw signs and wonders being done around them. This pattern is continued throughout the Acts of the Apostles; it's not just confined to Jerusalem or Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Faithful people are ready for God's signs and wonders because they are doing the things God has called them to do. They are being the people God has called them to be.

Following Pentecost, Peter had a significant Healing Ministry going on. In Acts chapter 9, one day in Lydda day he comes across a man named Aeneas who has been bedridden for 8 years. Peter approaches him and says simply, “Jesus Christ heals you.” The man gets up and walks for the first time in 8 years. Peter was known throughout the area as someone who embodied the power of the resurrection of Jesus. Peter is clear that this is the work of the resurrected Jesus, and not his own. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter is in Lydda and doing these amazing things. The pattern continues: when faithful people live out their faith, God shows up, and God adds more faithful people to the church. The ministry is going well in Lydda; but now word comes to Peter that he needs to leave Lydda and travel to Joppa which is about 10 Mi away. Why does he need to go to Joppa? 

Because a leader in the Church of Joppa had fallen ill and died. Her name was Tabitha in Hebrew or Dorcas in Greek both words mean gazelle.  I’ll be using both names interchangeably as the text does, so don’t be confused; I am talking about one woman. Dorcas, scholars believe, was a widow because her primary Ministry Focus was providing for widows in the community. Dorcas is ministering to the poor around her by providing the gift of clothing. She made them garments that they would not have been able to provide for themselves. She was a faithful leader in the early church. Dorcas was so unique that she is the only woman in the book of Acts to be named a disciple of Jesus. In fact, the reference to Dorcas is the feminine word for disciple in Hebrew- the only time that word appears in the entire New Testament. That is how important Dorcas/Tabitha/Gazelle was to the early church. 

When she dies those widows, recipients of her generosity, flood her house with their tears. Having heard of his success in nearby Lydda, the community of widows call for Peter. They are so in touch with the wonders and signs of God that they fully expected Peter to help somehow. Significantly, the widows do not anoint Tabitha's body for burial as other women planned for Jesus’ body the morning of Easter. The widows of Joppa simply wash Dorcas’ body, as we are washed and made clean through the sacrament of baptism, and wait for Peter. There's this beautiful moment when the apostle arrives. The Widows lead Peter to the room where they have put Tabitha's body. They present to the apostle the clothes Tabitha had made for them. They are literally sharing the fabric of Tabitha's life with Peter, the fruit that this woman presented in the name of Jesus. 

Peter kindly dismisses the women, closes the door, and then he knelt by the body and prayed. After a moment of prayer he turns to the body and says. “Tabitha get up!” and she opened her eyes and saw Peter. It’s very similar to an encounter Jesus had at the home of a leader of the synagogue whose daughter had fallen ill and died. Jesus took the child by the hand, said talitha koum which means, “young woman get up.” The words Peter uses are “Tabitha get up.” Tabitha opens her eyes and Peter calls the community together, presenting Dorcas alive to them again. It recalls the women who had seen the resurrected Jesus on Easter Sunday: “I've seen the Lord!” The news spread throughout Joppa and many put their faith in the Lord. The widows are not surprised by any of this- they were used to seeing wonders and signs embodied by Tabitha, and had heard of Peter’s ability to embody the same. They are in tune with what God is doing.

You might have heard that last weekend a new Methodist denomination, the Global Methodist Church, was formed. This is a group of very conservative, evangelical former United Methodists who have decided to leave the UMC denomination and create their own with its unique piety and discipline. On a personal level, I grieve the potential loss of clergy colleagues and friends. I haven't spoken about this publicly because our North Texas bishop said in a meeting recently that only five churches, out of 300, were considering joining the new Methodist denomination. To be honest, I have not approached this new development with a hair on fire perspective because Grace Sherman is not one of those five churches. Could a new Methodist church be planted in Sherman in the next few years that is aligned with this new denomination? Sure, it’s possible, but we are not in competition with other churches. 

That doesn’t mean we are not confronting our own challenges as a congregation.  The church has been in a state of decline for many years well before the covid-19 pandemic. Grace lost people since the pandemic. Many people worshiped online when we were not able to meet in person. Some of those are continuing to worship online for their own safety and well-being. Some decided to either worship elsewhere or not worship anywhere because they are enjoying their Sundays. All of this has led to an abundance of people who are simply not around and not available to participate in any of the ministries of Grace Church. It put an undue burden on our leadership and staff to carry much of the ministry of the church. The financial status of the church has been struggling the last couple of years, and that has continued since we've been back in person for the last 12 months now. We simply have not recovered the financial support we had before the pandemic, and we may need to address these issues in next year’s budget if things do not turn around. For the record, every church is facing the same challenges.

From my perspective, the bigger issue impacting Grace UMC is not the Global Methodists. It’s whether we, like Dorcas, Peter, and the widows of today’s story, are in tune with God’s wonders and signs. This is a spiritual issue and it's linked directly to what we're seeing in the book of Acts. When people stop investing themselves in the spiritual disciplines then we will become disconnected from each other. We no longer sense the Wonders and signs of God around us and instead focus on things that are frustrating, frightening, and concerning.  Remember it was the practices people had in common that gave life to their faith. They listened to the apostles’ teaching, shared meals together, they worshiped together, they prayed together, they served together. Notice how many times I'm saying the word together? It was in doing these disciplines of the faith that allowed the Wonders and signs of God to be revealed. As I said before, those things have not stopped. God has not stopped being God. The resurrected Jesus has not stopped sharing resurrection power.  Is our concern about Grace UMC, or our worry about a new Methodist denomination more evident in our lives than the spiritual practices that brought us to the faith in the first place? (ask twice) If we are to be known by Who We Are then we have to embody what we believe. 

This was the case of Dorcas. People in the community knew her because they knew what she did as a result of her faith: ministering to those she was most associated with- the widows- in ways that were tangible and made a difference in their lives. When Dorcas died the community was distressed, but out of their collective faith they called The Leader of the entire movement to help- and he got on the first bus to Joppa. Peter knew the name Tabitha. Her works and faith preceded her.

For me that is where our focus need to be. Are we doing the disciplines of our faith that will help us to see the Wonders and signs of God? When we become part of the United Methodist Church we promise to uphold that congregation with our prayers, presence , gifts , service and Witness. So in light of the challenges I mentioned above, let's ask ourselves:

How am I supporting the church with my prayers?

How am I supporting the church with my presence?

How am I supporting the church with my gifts- specifically financial gifts?

How am I supporting the church with my service?

How am I supporting the church with my witness?

When we are all living out those commitments Grace will be a community just like the one in the book of Acts, a community that is defined by Joy. We'll be seeing God's wonders and signs everywhere. And every day the Lord will lead people to join in the vision to embrace all, engage with Jesus, and expand the kingdom. In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen