Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Third Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, June 30, 2019

Text: Acts 9:36-42

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If your funeral were today, how do you think people would remember you?  How’s that for a morbid thought to start the day with?  But it is an interesting question, isn’t it?  I remember my grandfather’s funeral a number of years ago.  After the worship service, there was a meal at the church and gathering for family and friends.  And during that gathering, people shared various stories of experiences they had with my grandfather during his life.  I found it fascinating, because I think I learned more things about grandpa on that day than in the previous 25 years that I had known him.  There were a lot of people who had been affected by him over his nearly 80 years of life!  I’m guessing many of you have attended a funeral and have probably experienced something similar – when a person dies, it’s then that you have the chance to take stock of things and notice just how much God was accomplishing through them.  So what kinds of things would people remember about you?  What would people say about you?  In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Hallowed be your name.”  Will your life be remembered as one that brings honor and praise to God’s name?  So what kids of things would people remember about you? 

I suppose there are a lot of possible answers to that question, and I think we would hope and aspire to be remembered for good things, for honorable things, for things that do bring honor to the name of the God we worship.  But, even though I doubt anyone would actually come out and say it at a funeral, I would bet that every one of us knows at least one person, likely more than one person, who may not have the most flattering of memories of their interactions with us during life here on earth.  Maybe it goes back to your school days and there was a classmate who was the butt of everyone’s jokes, and you usually joined in, or at the very least, didn’t do anything to stand up for them.  Maybe it was that family member you are estranged from, and you know deep down that the broken relationship is probably mostly if not entirely your fault.  Maybe it’s a co-worker you stepped on as you climbed the corporate ladder, or the parent or child you never gave the time they deserved.  Maybe in some cases relationships have even been damaged so much that we might wonder if some people would, while they might not say so publicly, be happy to see us gone!  And even if you’ve managed to avoid that kind of turmoil, you can still look back and see things that will tarnish your legacy, even if no one would dare to mention them at your funeral.  Missed opportunities.  Selfish choices.  Poor judgment.  Sinful decisions.  We’ve already lost the opportunity to live a life that brings glory and honor to God’s name, because we have already done sinful things and there’s no going back.  So what then are we praying for in the first petition?

Today’s scripture reading, recorded in the New Testament book of Acts, shows us the answer.  Luke, traveling companion of the Apostle Paul and the writer of the book we know as the Acts of the Apostles, takes us to a funeral in the city of Joppa, about 35 or 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  A small Christian community had sprung up there when persecution forced Christian people to flee Jerusalem for the surrounding cities.  One Christian woman who lived in Joppa was named Tabitha, if you used her Aramaic name, ir Dorcas of you prefer her Greek name (most people at that time had both).  Luke tells her story: “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.  About that time, she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  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!”  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 Dorcas had made while she was with them.” (Acts 9:36-39 – NIV84).  Apparently this woman named Dorcas had some talent as a tailor, and she had put that talent to use helping the poverty stricken widows in her city.  Because of that, she was going to be greatly missed and many people obviously felt that her life had been significant and her death would leave a huge hole. 

God Accomplishes…

But what about before God?  Did Dorcas really bring any more glory to God’s name than any of the rest of us?  After all, she was a normal person just like any one of us here today.  It’s not recorded here, but she did sinful things.  She was selfish at times.  It’s probably not a huge leap to assume that there were some people who she rubbed in the wrong way.  But despite that, you get the impression that God is holding up Dorcas as an example of a person whose life did bring glory to his name.  So what’s the key?  Listen to the way Luke initially describes her.  He says, “There was a disciple named Tabitha…” (Acts 9:36 – NIV84).  A disciple.  Someone who believed in Jesus as her Savior.  A child of God.  No matter what her past had held, that little detail makes all the difference.  On a different occasion, Jesus had told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16 – NIV84).  And what is that fruit?  Well, any activity that brings glory and honor to God’s name!  And Jesus chose you to do just that – to demonstrate his mercy and his power by making an impact on the world through us, despite our flaw and faults!  That brings glory to God’s name, and that’s exactly what Jesus had been doing through Dorcas, because this account isn’t ultimately about Dorcas herself, her ability as a tailor, her personality, or her generosity.  This is an example of God accomplishing his will by working through one of his people – and that’s significant!  God was the one who gave Dorcas her life, her faith, and her opportunity to put that faith into action.  God was ultimately the one responsible for her significant life of service and the powerful impact she had on those around her.  And he wasn’t done doing that.  “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.  He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.” (Acts 9:40-41a – NIV84).  God had more planned for Dorcas, and her life would continue to bring honor to his name! 

God plans to do the same thing with you and me.  That’s why, in a spiritual way, he raised you to life as well.  All the grudges, all the self-centered behavior, all the times of ignoring the needs and desires of those around us all the other sinfulness we see in our past, all the things that would taint our legacy in the world – Jesus suffered the punishment for those at the cross and they are gone.  They’re off your record.  They’ve been forgiven.  And now, your Savior works through you to influence the world by sharing that love with others – and that brings glory to his name.    

Significant Things through You

In the life of Dorcas, the significance of what God was accomplishing was particularly easy to see when her funeral showed the impact she had on so many.  But who is Jesus trying to impact in your life and in my life?  Maybe you don’t feel terribly significant from your little corner of things.  As a teenager or young adult, maybe sometimes it seems like everyone tells you you’re too young or too inexperienced to really understand or really accomplish things that matter.  Maybe in the family stage of life you feel like you’re just too busy chasing kids all over the place to volunteer for any kind of meaningful service.  Maybe you just don’t have the energy and strength to do things like you used to, and so many of the things that you do find yourself filling your time with just don’t seem to matter all that much.  But dwelling on those kinds of thoughts show that we don’t completely understand how God works through his people. 

Maybe you can see the point if you think about it like this: what is NOT recorded for us to remember about the life of Dorcas?  We really don’t know all that much about her personally other than that she seems to have been a kind person.  Her family, her income, her friendships, her appearance, her personality – all the kinds of things that we might consider important and significant – the Holy Spirit didn’t record any of these things for us.  All we see here is a woman who trusts Jesus as her Savior.  Some widows and poor people.  The skill required to sew clothes.  Nothing extraordinary, and yet look what God did with it.  God gives the lives of his people significance by working through the ordinary, everyday opportunities he places before us.  This account concludes with these words:  “Then [Peter] called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.  This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.” (Acts 9:41b-42 – NIV84).  By raising her from the dead, God once again made the life of Dorcas a significant thing.    

The same thing is true for us today, many years later.  It’s easy to think of somewhat big and challenging things as the most significant ways that we serve our God.  Things that are intimidating, like going to a foreign country to talk to people about Jesus.  Things that are painful, like standing up under persecution.  Things that require great sacrifice, like giving huge sums of money for God’s work.  And don’t get me wrong – those are great ways to serve.  But very often the opportunities God places before us don’t look spectacular.  They don’t always look newsworthy.  In many cases, they don’t even look all that significant.  And yet, they are, because they have been placed there by our God and he uses them to influence the world through us.  You can think of all kinds of examples.  Young people show their faith in the face of a hostile culture.  Parents get to be the first ones to tell their children about Jesus.  Older people can demonstrate how a Christian handles adversity by looking to God.  The lists can go on and on – God’s name is honored when his people trust him.   

So what will your life be remembered for in the end?  Maybe the opportunities God gives you will be publicly remembered like those Dorcas had, or maybe it will be much lower key and very ordinary.  But in either case, it really doesn’t make that much difference – and we pray in the first petition that God would help us see that and find joy in sharing his love in whatever ways he give us the opportunity.  At the end of your life when you stand before God he’s going to look back at the faith he created in your heart, and he’s going to look at the way he influenced the world through your life, even through things that seemed small and insignificant, and then he’s going to turn to you and say quite simply: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and share in your master’s happiness.”  That too, will bring glory to his name.  Amen.