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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

One Person Can Make a Difference

Acts 9:36-43


New International Version


36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.



Martha was one of those unforgettable women. Niña, as everyone called her, was adored by everyone in the congregation. She was always positive, seeing the good in every situation and in everyone. Niña was also unassuming, never trying to take over someone else’s responsibility or stepping on anyone’s toes. Yet she was the greatest example of a servant I have ever met.


Few knew all she did behind the scenes. Niña made the coffee every Sunday – many people noticed that. Some knew she was the person who kept track of their contributions and sent out statements (even learning how to do this on the computer when we switched to computerized record-keeping!). She filled in when the secretary was on vacation and organized a team to put the newsletter together each month.


But she did so much more – those things you only noticed when they weren’t done and that most people wouldn’t think to do. Things like keeping the kitchen organized and washing the towels and dusting the sanctuary. She even made sure the pew racks were always filled and straightened, even sharpening all those little pencils!


Niña always let the two of us in the office know when she would be away – usually driving to Canada (from California) to visit her daughter and family. She didn’t want us to be concerned if we didn’t see her for a week or so, or if the contributions weren’t entered on time.


Niña loved to serve. Through serving she touched lives and made a difference. I felt privileged to know her, grateful for all she taught me, and for the way she encouraged and loved me no matter what.


Tabitha was a woman like Niña. I imagine the widows of Joppa loved their friend. She cared for them and encouraged them to claim their place in a culture where widows were usually left to fend for themselves. They felt the same about her as I did about Niña.


Tabitha was devoted to acts of charity and good works. She was the glue that held that community together. She is called here a disciple – one who had heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, so knew what it meant to follow him. In fact, she is the only female described as a disciple (the Greek word for disciple is used in the feminine form) in the New Testament.


As we consider Tabitha’s story, it is important to note that in the beginning she was not dead, she wasn’t sick. She was doing all that she normally did in the course of her everyday life for the widows and in the community. Then she got a sudden illness and died. That’s the key to the story. She really did die. She wasn’t in a holding pattern between life and death – a deep sleep or one of those we hear about who look down at themselves while the white light of heaven beckons.


Prior to her death, Tabitha was a vital member of the community. When she died, the community felt a profound sense of loss. A piece of the puzzle was missing. Tabitha attended to the physical and financial needs of the women. She provided security to those, especially the women, whose status made them feel insecure. Her death brought sorrow and it brought fear. Fear that the security they felt when Tabitha was with them would be taken away from them. The widows would go back to being the lowly, insignificant members of society they had been before Tabitha entered their lives.


The women looked for a way to ease their pain. A few of the disciples who were in Joppa knew Peter was nearby in Lydda, so they sent for him. We don’t know what they expected Peter to do when he arrived. There isn’t any indication that they asked him to raise Tabitha to life. I think their primary purpose in asking Peter to come was to call attention to who Tabitha was and her important role in their lives. To hold her up because such love for others needed a witness of importance in the church.


At first glance, it seems that this story focuses on Peter. Of Peter coming, of Peter going into the room where Tabitha’s body lay. Of Peter praying. Of Peter raising her from the dead. Tabitha is a supporting actor in Peter’s great moment. Looking at the story more closely, we see that the main character isn’t either one of them. The main character is God. God who works through Tabitha to give her that heart of caring and compassion and the desire to give to others with all that she had and all that she was.


God used Peter to restore life not just for Tabitha, but for the whole community. Peter was God’s instrument. Peter didn’t act on his own with his own power.


The new life that came from Tabitha rising from the dead gave hope. A renewed and restored hope for her and for the community. They saw again the possibilities. They experienced again the security, not just through Tabitha but through the miracle. They saw God at work in a powerful way in and among them. They saw a new life from God that gave them the power to do something for themselves and others rather than be waited on and cared for by one.


Tabitha’s rising gave new hope for all who had been isolated and ostracized by life, society, and family. Her story gives us new hope for those in our own time who experience those same things, who feel like they don’t matter and are the lowest of the low in society. For those who have no security and no one to care for them.


New life means renewed life and new hope for those who are deemed hopeless by others. In new life, the community becomes different than what it was and more than it ever had been before. The community is changed. Roles are reversed, something we observe in various places in the New Testament. Fishermen end up teaching the religious leaders. Tax collectors proclaim the good news of Jesus and giving of themselves instead of taking from others. A seamstress in a community who gives gifts of her clothing to widows in need.


Community changes when God calls people to do new things and new roles and then step up to follow through on that call.


Here that community functions with the backdrop of the rising of Tabitha, the experience of God’s power in action. We have a powerful backdrop as well – that of Jesus Christ rising from the dead. This backdrop forms our whole picture, the entire panorama of who we are, who our community is, and who God calls us to be.


Having Christ there for us influences, empowers, and sends us out to be the Tabithas in our own communities. The Tabithas who touch the lives of others even by doing the small things no one else may notice.


Because of Tabitha, others, and Jesus who have come before us we recognize that we, too, are called to be disciples. Those who give of ourselves. Provide security to the insecure such as those facing food insecurity, those who feel like there is no anchor in the midst of their pain, those who wonder if life is even worth living at all.


We’re to be those who bring hope to the hopeless who seen no future and don’t think anyone cares. To be those who empower the powerless. We are to act and work for changes to help people in our society who have consistently been pushed down or cast aside.


As disciples we are called to be those like Tabitha who see possibilities and act to help those possibilities become realities; to make a difference. Our actions do make a difference person to person as we look them in the eye and treat them as a valued human being.


We make a difference community to community as our community reaches out to others. Communities of the homeless, of widows, of hurting people.


We are to be a community of disciples who reach out to the world seeking to change systems and structures that push down and cast off the least of these. To make a difference both near and far.


Nell Merlino ran a communications firm and consulted with the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1993. Traveling to and from work she observed the crowds of adults on the subway during the morning rush hours and the crowds of kids coming from school at 3 in the afternoon. She wondered what would happen if the subway train in the a.m. was as filled with girls as the train in the p.m.


Nell had been reading statistics about expectations for the future workforce – 1 in 3 workers would be a woman or would be a man of color. She realized that this anticipated change wasn’t visible yet. Nell thought there could be a way to educate girls on where they were headed and to show older generations how many young women were going to enter the workforce for the first time.


At her father’s retirement party Nell realized how many people there she had met as child who had made a major impact on her life, all met through her parent’s workplaces. So, she came up with an idea that became “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.” Nell saw this as a way to get conversations started about work with girls. To help them think about education, work, and what wanted to do, and to bring them closer to role models and to encourage interactions between parents and daughters.


With help from women at the foundation, they planned a pilot program in NYC for a year. They had no idea it would catch on. Through a magazine article, it did. The name was later changed to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day


Nell’s idea grew into something much bigger that she imagined. Children now spend important time with their parents and see a new hope for their future.


When we look around us what do we observe? Where do we see possibilities? People who are looking for security and hope or for those who already experience these and can be mentors for others. Where do we see someone bringing Christ into the world?


This is our calling. To be those who bring Christ into the world. This may be in little ways such as preparing hygiene kits to give to those in need. It may be in bigger ways such as serving at a soup kitchen or lobbying for societal change. It could also be something else, something that God calls each of us to be a member of the community that serves, cares, and makes a difference one person at a time.


Amen.

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