“Rise Again”                                                                                       April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43 & Revelation 7:9-17                                                  Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.              One of the strengths of this church is our commitment to care for the living.

A.   That manifests itself in ministries such as our Food Pantry, our Preschool, our sponsorship of the Boy Scouts, our allowing the Girl Scouts and the Senior Center and Home Owners Associations to meet in our rooms as well as the Symphony of the Valley to rehearse here.

1.    For a number of years we have opened our doors to host the homeless over Christmas week as part of the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) and hopefully this fall we’ll be part of an ecumenical effort with Trinity Lutheran Church and Stephens City Mennonite Church to begin an Afterschool Ministry for elementary age children in this area.

2.    Jacquetta Owen and I have been part of that Task Force and if things continue to progress then in September we’re going to need some people to experience the call to volunteer and to be in mission with the children and families who register to attend Afterschool.

3.    If we’re going to grow our church then being in personal, hand in hand, know you on a first name basis ministry will be vital.

B.   But in addition to caring about people in their present and future needs we also care about people in the past.

1.    I mean, we actually care about and honor people who have died.

2.    We demonstrate our hallowed respect for those who have passed to glory by allowing them to speak to us through scripture.

3.    This morning we have done that by reading the story of Tabitha who is also referred to as Dorcas which happened to have been my mother-in-law’s name, and the fact is this woman from the book of Acts died 2,000 years ago.

4.    Why do we read a story about a woman who died 2,000 years ago?

5.    We do so because she was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and her story still inspires us in our faith and we love her for it.

6.    Barbara Kingsolver has written a wonderful book entitled Animal Dreams which is set in the town of Grace.

7.     It is always good to live in Grace and Kingsolver tells about how the people of Grace every year celebrate the day of the dead.

8.    The entire town gathers in the village cemetery so they can decorate, I mean really decorate the tombstones and toss flowers everywhere.

9.    Families have picnics, the children run and play and everything is undertaken with tender care.

10. “It was a great comfort to see this attention lavished on the dead,” Kingsolver notes. “In these families you would never stop being loved.” (Willimon, “Arise,” April 21, 2013)

C.    We Christians never stop loving those who have died in the Lord.

1.    By retelling the story of Dorcas we honor a member of our Christian family.

D.   So let’s retell her story today.

1.    In the city of Joppa there was a woman named Dorcas who Luke tells us was a disciple.

2.    This is notable because she is one of the few women so explicitly designated. (Willimon, “Arise,” April 21, 2013)

3.    As a disciple of Jesus she was specifically “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36)

4.    Sadly, that good work ended when Doracs became sick and died.

5.    Her ministry had primarily been with poor widows and like the women who cared for the body of Jesus, these widows care for the body of Dorcas.

6.    If you can, imagine them standing there sorrowful, holding the clothing and other things she had made for them.

7.    That’s when Peter entered the story.

8.    He knelt in prayer and then spoke directly to the dead woman, “Tabitha (he called her Tabitha), get up.”

9.    Now I don’t know about you but I generally have more success getting my cat to do what I tell it then getting dead people to get up when I tell them to do so.

10. And seldom am I successful with my cat.

11. Interestingly, one of the things that work for Peter is that the word he used for “get up” is the same word that is used to speak of Jesus’ resurrection. (Willimon, “Arise,” April, 21, 2013) 

E.    Now Dorcas was brought back to life in a way similar to Lazarus which meant that she would eventually die and have to be buried.

1.    But what happened to Dorcas made people back then and should make us today think about Jesus’ resurrection.

2.    Because of Jesus’ resurrection good women like Dorcas are raised and brought back to life.

3.    When Dorcas was brought back to life her small fledgling church was brought back to life and while the data is clear that at the present time Christianity and religious faith in general are in decline in this country, by the power of the resurrection churches can come back to life.

F.    The Bible tells a number of powerful stories of God overcoming what appeared to be dire circumstances.

1.    People thought it incredible when they heard the story of slaves escaping from Egypt which was the most powerful nation on earth and then journeying to a land flowing with milk and honey.

2.    Goliath was a giant with a giant sword while David was a shepherd boy with a sling and stone and all who saw that battle were amazed at who actually fell.

3.    As unbelievable as those stories seem we Easter people have an even more amazing story – death which had defeated everyone has been defeated forever more by God simply raising Jesus from the dead.

4.    For God that was no big thing because God just speaks a word and things happen but for you and me this is a big thing.

G.   I say that because to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that like Peter who denied Christ and struggled to understand the Lord and the Lord’s call to follow and to serve and for Dorcas who died and her tiny, newly begun church, you and I experience a number of disappointments and defeats and mini-deaths and that death when there is no more breath left in us.

1.    It can seem like we are down for good.

2.    But we can rise again.

3.    As I worked on this sermon the lyrics of an old folk song by Stan Rogers where the refrain is “rise again” kept coming to my mind and I think the only way I’m going to get them out is to share some of those lyrics with you.

4.    The song is about a ship named the Mary Ellen Carter which hits “a rock in a pourindrivin’ rain.”

5.    The crew of five worked so hard to save her but soon she was “awash.”

6.    The owners of the ship decide that she’s not worth saving and that it is best to leave her in her watery grave but the crew members proclaim that the Mary Ellen Carter will rise again.

7.    “Rise again, rise again, that her name not be lost to the knowledge of men. Those who loved her best and were with her till the end will make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.”

8.    So they barrow a barge and with a hard hat suit they dive down 60 fathoms at great risk to themselves and as one of the crew says “twice I’ve had the bends” which is incredibly painful and dangerous.

9.    Why would they do that?

10. “Oh, we couldn’t leave her there you see to crumble into scale. She’d save our lives so many times a’livin’ through the gale. And the laughing drunken rats who left her to a sorry grave, they won’t be laughing in another day.”

11. So they patch the holes and close up the vents so they can pump in some air and force out the water and in essence put the breath of life back into the Mary Ellen Carter so she can rise again.

12. And then Stan Rogers in his lyrics connects what his happening to the ship to those listening to the song.

13. “And you to whom adversity has dealt a final blow, with smiling lairs lying to you everywhere you go. Turn to and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain and like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.”

14.  “Rise again, rise again. Tho’ your heart it be broken and life about to end. No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.” 

H.   Stories such as Dorcas’ and the vision we read from Revelation 7 with the great multitude standing before the throne pushes the story of the Mary Ellen Carter much further.

1.    It is not by our efforts, mighty though they be, that we rise again.

2.    When we rise again it is always and only through the power of God, but will we avail ourselves of that power?

3.    I know it sounds odd but one of the ways we avail ourselves of that power is by retelling the stories of dead people, people who by faith we believe have been raised to new life and those biblical stories help us connect with the story of the resurrection of Christ and to be part of His story and thus His resurrection.

4.    I know I need to hear those stories because I’ve experienced many disappointments and defeats in my ministry and my life.

5.    I haven’t been a perfect Christian and every church I have served as Pastor has fallen short of being all it could have been for the glory of God.

6.    Some of that has been due to the failures and inadequacies of me as Pastor and some has been due to a lack of commitment and effort by church members who focus on the trivial instead of the grand and thus fail to connect with the power of the resurrection.

7.    But churches and individual Christians always have hope which is based not in our own talent and abilities but in Christ.

8.    The Christ who like the crew of the Mary Ellen Carter has never given up on us and thought it worth the risk and the pain to dive the depths of death and hell itself in order that we might be raised with him a new and glorious life.

9.    Let us believe and be numbered with Dorcas and her church and all the saints who are around the throne so that both now and in the wondrous future that awaits us we rise again.