31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 8, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Her name was Tabitha, and her name was Dorcas. It simply depended on which community she was with at the time. When she was out and about in the Greco-Roman world that was a part of the city of Jobba, she answered to Dorcas. Whereas her Jewish siblings in faith called her Tabitha. She was comfortable with both names as she was also comfortable sharing both her money and her talents.
I love the book Acts of the Apostles because in it, we get to hear the stories of Christians who were doing their best to faithfully follow the Risen Christ and share the good news of his love. In the Acts of the Apostles, we get to hear stories of people like Tabitha, a woman of means and some independence who “was devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36), a woman who used her gifts to care for the widows of the Christian community in Joppa and perhaps even for the widows beyond the Christian community.
Earlier in the book of Acts, we hear how in Jerusalem, the disciples now turned apostles, were criticized for not taking care of the widows of the community. They were overlooking the widows as they were distributing food and so they responded by saying – this is too much. We cannot focus on both being messengers of the good news and being waiters – so the community should “select from among [themselves] seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who [the apostles] may appoint to this [ministry]” (Acts 6:3)
In Jerusalem, there is a committee, a diakonia, a diaconate to care for the widows. In Joppa, there is Tabitha. Perhaps the followers of the Way in Joppa had not gotten word from Jerusalem yet that they too should select from among their community seven men of good standing “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Perhaps they had already chosen their committee.
It did not matter to Tabitha. It did not matter if there was a committee or there would be a committee or there should be a committee. Tabitha saw a need. She saw women in need, and she knew she had the ability to serve that need. So she did. She faithfully, passionately, generously shared her gifts for the ministry that God was uniquely calling her to do.
As we celebrate mothers and caregivers in our world this weekend, as we honor the women who have tirelessly and passionately given their all, we might be tempted to call them and Tabitha superheroes. We might want to attribute their strength and devotion to servings others to some supernatural talent- likely some supernatural talent we do not have.
In the case of Tabitha though, she was not a superhero. She was not imbued with some extraordinary gift. She was connected to the vine. As a follower of Jesus Christ, she knew his words, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can doing nothing.” (John 15:5)
Tabitha’s devotion to good works, her faithful commitment to acts of charity, to taking care of those on the margins of even the inclusive community of Christ, Tabitha’s life of deep service was because she was connected to Jesus, because she was grounded in God, because whether the church at large proclaimed it so or not, she was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
And because she was deeply connected to Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, her life bore much fruit. Even as they stand around her body, weeping and distraught, the widows keep sharing example after example of how faithfully Tabitha took care of them, of how her life bore fruit.
The fruit of Tabitha’s life was more than tunics and clothing though. Living her life connected to the vine of Jesus Christ, her branch reached out in faith and love and connected others to Jesus Christ. The widows in Joppa’s Christian community. Perhaps widows beyond that Christian community, ones who knew her as Dorcas.
When we live our lives connected to the vine of Jesus Christ, our branch of love and faith will connect with others and help them connect with Jesus Christ in ways beyond what we can imagine.
As she faithfully served, as she lived connected to the vine, I doubt Tabitha ever imagined the fruit she bore, the connections she created would be ones that would bring her back to life.
This is the story of the Church of Jesus Christ though. The Church of Jesus Christ isn’t about just one person being connected to the vine. It is about hundreds, thousands, millions of followers being Christ’s branches of love and faith in the world. It is about each one of them seeing a need in the world. Seeing a need and then using their unique gifts and talents to help. Not all the needs of the world, just the need that best use their gifts and talents. And then faithfully, passionately, generously sharing their resources for that purpose.
That is what the Church of Jesus Christ is about. Hundreds, thousands, millions of followers being connect to the vine that is Jesus and faithfully serving in the unique way God is calling them to serve. It is what the widows did. They, too, were connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ, and when their beloved Tabitha got sick and died, with dignity, they washed her and laid her in an upper room, and they called for Peter – to tell him the story of her life, her faithfulness, her generosity.
And Peter, in turn, being connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ, shared the talents he had to give, praying over Tabitha and inviting her to get up and be alive once more.
Tabitha, the widows, Peter, they all shared their unique, amazing, generous acts of service with others. Their good works were extraordinary. In Peter’s case, miraculous, and these lives of deep service, these acts of charity, kindness, and compassion, all came about because they were full of faith and the Holy Spirit. They were connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ.
The needs of the world are many. The needs of the world are overwhelming. It is challenging to know where we should direct our money, our time, our abilities. It is hard to know how best to help, and it is exhausting. Sometimes, we judge ourselves, wondering why we don’t seem to have an endless store of supernatural powers like that person over there. Sometimes, we can feel all dried up with nothing left to give.
“I am the vine, you are branches.” Jesus is the vine; We are the branches. To bear much fruit, to serve the world’s needs, to live lives of deep service, first we need to live lives of deep faithfulness. First, we need to take time for prayer, for silence, wonder, and praise. First, we need to make time to hear God’s still speaking voice, feel God’s still speaking love. First, we need to abide in God, connect with God so that as we walk through life we feel God holding us, we feel God hugging us, we know we are forever loved and never alone.
We don’t nurture deeper spiritual lives only so we have more capacity for service, though, so we can bear more and more fruit like a service robot. We seek lives of deeper faithfulness because this connection to God’s unconditional love made known to us through Jesus Christ gives us the strength to walk through life with generosity and with faith and hope. This deeper connection to God gives us what we need to walk through life and thrive, like a branch connected to the vine.