John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

 

Acts 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

 

There are so many things that disquiet our hearts and minds today.  The unfolding events in Boston and the town of West, Texas, continue as we hear story after story.  There is also much that is close to home and personal.  Family and friends we are thinking about maybe even this very minute who are struggling.  I pray that you find comfort as the love of Christ is shared between us today.  Amen.

Jesus says in our gospel passage today that, “My sheep hear my voice…I know them, and they follow me.”  That is a lovely thing to say and maybe even more lovely to hear.  The imagery of God as shepherd is so common in scripture that many, many people, whether or not they have any connection to church, know the opening lines, and maybe even the whole, of Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  While the image may be poetic and comforting, I began to wonder what it might actually sound like to hear Jesus’ voice.

The Acts text might help us out here – bringing us in on hearing Jesus’ voice from a different angle.  Only slightly less well known than Psalm 23, the story begins this way.  “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.”  Her name is offered in two languages which gives us an inkling that she is comfortable in her religious community as well as in the wider Greco-Roman culture around her.[1]  The story goes on to tell us that she is known for her charity and good works.  This is how she moves through the world.  And then she dies.

We are told neither how she dies nor the specifics of why the disciples call for Peter to come to them.  Simply that the disciple Tabitha dies and that Peter is in a town near-enough to be able to come.  So he does.  When he gets there, the widows who are there show Peter all the clothing that Dorcas made during her time with them.  We are not told much about the clothing but we know that scripture demands the care of widows who, at that time, were dependent of the community for their lives.  Again, they request nothing of him; they simply tell him their experience and show him Dorcas’ work.  Peter sends them out of the room, prays, and tells Tabitha to get up.  She sits up and Peter offers her his hand to help her stand up, at the same time calling the saints and windows back into the room.

This is a ton of story packed into seven verses.  Imagine the biography that would be written if this story were expanded in its fullness.  It is a story to inspire the imagination.  For those of us who are disciples today, we are here in large part because of the witness of Tabitha and other disciples.  And it is disciples like Tabitha who are powerful examples of discipleship.  But above and beyond the example of discipleship and the witness of a religious faith in a wider world, the story of Tabitha, the widows, Peter, and other disciples speaks powerfully to the way Jesus’ voice is heard in community.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  How do we hear the voice of Jesus today?

This morning we will be celebrating many, many people here in this place who give of their time and who give of their skills in this congregational community and beyond its walls as volunteers.  As a full assembly, we will celebrate these volunteers in a litany of gratitude, echoing the grateful celebration of the saints and widows who told Peter about Dorcas.  The voice of Jesus is heard through the work of these volunteers and through our celebration of their work.[2]

There is a story about the love shared between a disciple of Jesus and her community that I’d like to share with you. I received permission this week from her husband Mark to tell a bit of her story.  Her name is Nina.  Nina walked into Augustana many years ago following a nine month long recovery in New York State from a two-seater plane crash.  She suffered major burns in the crash and was still wearing the special stockings for healing over much of her body.  Nina came back Sunday after Sunday and experienced a time of healing here at Augustana; a time that she describes as having “established her faith.”  As she told it to Mark, the church was the one place where she felt welcome all of the time regardless of her physical scars.  The voice of Jesus is heard in this welcome.[3]

A few years ago, Nina’s life situation allowed her to begin participating in the work of Augustana.  Krista Rahe, a good friend of Nina’s and head of the Spiritual Arts Committee, drafted Nina and her creative talent into that committee.  She also began working with Dianne Nelson and the Altar Guild who prepares the sanctuary for worship.  Then Nina became involved with Advent Adventure working with our Children’s and Family Minister, Cary Mathis, which led her to pour her creative energies into the Music Art and Drama camp that impacts children who worship here as well as children in the wider community.  Cary says he keeps a long list of her unique ideas close at hand.  The voice of Jesus is heard as invitations to share Spirit given gifts with people both in the church and beyond and the voice of Jesus is heard in the response to the invitation to share those gifts.[4]

Last Fall, just before Thanksgiving, Nina had a catastrophic stroke.  Her survival in those first days was touch and go but as Mark says, it is not Nina’s first time around dealing with a major illness and recovery that will not be measured in days, weeks, or months – calling into place her resourcefulness and zest for life as part of her recovery.  The church community far and wide began praying, and showing up, and praying some more.  The voice of Jesus is heard in those prayers and in the groans too deep for words.[5]

A little over two months ago you called me as a pastor here and very quickly I began to hear about Nina.  First from the Care Team who stay up to date on care visits to Nina and the progress of her recovery, then bits and pieces from the rest of the staff who know her, then from the Congregational Council, then from the Children and Family Committee, then from other people in the congregation…and so on, and so on…you get the idea.  People say things to me like, “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t met Nina.”  And then they would proceed to tell me something about her – making me think of the widows talking about Dorcas in our Bible story today.  The voice of Jesus is heard as you tell these stories.[6]

I had my first visit with Nina this week.  Her long-time friend, Susie, was also there visiting which was wonderful, in part because the way Nina and Susie are able to communicate their love for each other and stories about each other despite Nina not being able to speak. While I was sitting there with Nina and Susie, listening to their stories, watching them nod back and forth to each other, the Easter Sunday story of Mary Magdalene popped into my head in what I like to call a Holy Spirit moment.  As I re-told the story to Nina, reminding her of Mary Magdalene standing at the empty tomb, thinking that Jesus the Christ is the gardener, until he says her name, “Mary.”  And then Mary knows it is Jesus and not the gardener.  Nina nodded and smiled throughout the story as we remembered our way through it and then I said to Nina, “If you could hear the way people at church say your name… … …”    The voice of Jesus is heard as we hear our names spoken by the risen Christ in the Body of Christ knows as the church.[7]

The story of Tabitha’s discipleship intertwined with the saints and widows; and the story of Nina’s discipleship intertwined with this congregation are only two of the stories that help us to hear the voice of Jesus.  As there are these two, so there are many people who form the great cloud of witnesses in this congregation and in the church catholic.  These two disciples’ and their interconnectedness within and beyond their faith community bear witness to the one who calls and sends them into the world for the sake of the world.[8]

For the witness of disciples who help us hear the voice of Jesus through their work and their stories, today we celebrate and say, thanks be to God!

 

 



[1] Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary.  On Working Preacher for Acts 9:36-43 on April 21, 2013; http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1625.

[2] Matthew 20:1-16

[3] Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

[4] See 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts.

[5] See Romans 8:26 – “But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.”

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] John 20:1-18

[8] Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11

 


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