Peter, Tabitha and the Shepherd’s Voice

May 12, 2019

Summary

Last Sunday I explored Jesus’ call to Peter, “Follow me.”

Today we get a glimpse of the adventure that Peter’s life became when he listened to his Lord and followed the great shepherd’s voice.  Now I am not going to set before you an entire chronological timeline of Peter’s doings since Jesus’ ascension to the Holy Spirit’s big entrance on Pentecost day and beyond, but it’s enough to say that Peter has been busy, and it hasn’t been fishing.

In this morning’s reading, Peter is in the city of Lydda, which lies on the plain to the West of Jerusalem.  Peter is there because he is following his Lord, he is listening to his voice and going through Judea sharing with people the good news of Jesus.  Lydda seems to simply be another town in which Peter is preaching when he hears of Aeneas, a paralytic, whom he then, in the name of Jesus heals.

It is this healing that brings Peter’s presence in Lydda to the attention of the disciples in Joppa.  Their hope it seems is that Peter might heal their fellow disciple Tabitha too, but alas, she dies before he arrives.  This woman whom her friends set so much value in, was gone, death had taken her by Peter’s arrival.

We know of Tabitha, or Dorcas as she was also known, only because of this short passage in the book of Acts. Yet, finding out any further details about those whom Jesus, or his disciples healed, other than their illness or condition, is actually quite rare.  Think about all of those whom we read of Jesus healing in the gospels, there are very few of whom we know any details.

Even of Aeneas whom Peter heals in Lydda, a few verses earlier, the only known fact is that he has been paralyzed for eight years.  Of what kind of man he was, we know nothing.

But of Tabitha we learn quite a bit actually, in just a few words. Firstly we learn that she was already a follower of the Way, in other words a disciple of the Christ.  Tabitha was a believer, and not only in word, but in deed.  The author of Acts, Luke, writes that she was, as the New Revised Standard Version translation puts it, “devoted to good works and acts of charity.”

I like even better how another English translation, the Common English Bible, describes Tabitha.  It reads, “Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.”

Tabitha was the real deal, her faith was filled with works that benefited others.  To tell you the truth, in reading this short description of her, I was reminded of a number of women I have met and known over the years in various congregations.

These different women, in my mind, all belong to a category that I entitle, ‘church women.’

Each of them of them whom I immediately pictured in my mind was, or is, impressive to me because of how their faith overflows from their hearts and minds into their lives, and then through their actions into the lives of others.

There are a number of you whom I think of in this way, but no names will be announced this morning, don’t worry!

Rather, I will share of some women from other chapters of my life who I thought of when reading the description of Tabitha.

Mary’s life was filled with good works, both within the church and beyond.  She led the women’s group, when no one else wanted to, so that the various bible studies, fellowship activities and bazaars took place.  She volunteered countless hours helping elderly individuals and couples with submitting their annual taxes.  In America that is not an easy task!  Mary also sang in the church choir, and visited many needy people in the community.  She cared to the point of exhausting herself!

Sylvia also comes to mind.  She often cooked meals for those whom had just come home from the hospital, or had a baby, or were in grief.  Sylvia’s food and baked goods were treasured by many, for she was a great chef and baker.  And she did not simply drop her gifts off, but would visit with those who needed company.  She often went and visited with elderly people living in nursing homes or who were home-bound.

Then there was Gladys.  She knitted, and quilted, and sewed.  Gladys was constantly offering others the creations of her hands.  She would create ‘prayer shawls’ for those suffering through tough times, or who were pregnant.  As she crocheted the shawl, she would pray for the person she was going to give the shawl to, and so, wrap them in her prayers.

These women and so many other followers of Christ that I have met, ministered with and been impacted by over my years are disciples in the vein of Tabitha.  They are doers and people of compassionate loving action.  Some of us share our faith primarily through words, and others of us share our faith primarily through our actions, the affects of Tabitha’s Godly love were shown Peter when he arrived in Joppa.

Let me read again, “All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.”

“The widows…weeping.”

I can imagine that Tabitha had ministered to each of these women in their time of need, she must have helped them in their grief at their husbands passing, or in a time of sickness.  In their hands they held the evidence of their Godly friends love for them, tunics and clothing, Tabitha’s witness of Jesus’ love, given for them.

As Peter followed the voice of the shepherd, so Tabitha followed his voice too.

As Jesus’ voice led Peter to travel throughout Judea and Samaria, and eventually Rome, preaching and teaching of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness.  So also, Tabitha heard the Good Shepherd call. He called her to follow and witness to his love through the gifts and talents which he gave her. Rather than traveling, Tabitha was called to her community, where her witness was understood, appreciated, and effective.

Her witness was so effective that Peter was led by God to call her back into life, and lift her back into relationship with her community.  Tabitha’s return was an act that resulted in even more people believing in Jesus the resurrected Christ.

The Kingdom of Heaven is made of many different believers.  Some disciples like Peter, are called to travel or wander earth, following the voice of the Good Shepherd from place to place, ministering along the way.  Others like Tabitha, hear Jesus’ voice telling them to stay and minister within their community.  Either way, each disciple is called to listen for the voice of our Shepherd Jesus.  Each disciple is called to share their witness of the power of Jesus in their life.  Each disciple is commanded to love their neighbor by the gifts and talents they are filled with.  Each disciple is to listen for the voice of the Shepherd, for in faith, we know his voice of love.

So, whether our Christ calls you to wander the roads of the earth, or the roads of inner-relationship as his witness, I pray that you open the ears of your heart to hear, for he has need of your talents and gifts given and used in love.

Be not afraid…listen to the Lord, and live for the Lord!

Amen.

 

Bible References

  • Acts 9:36 - 43
  • Psalm 23:1 - 6
  • John 10:1 - 30

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