Once again, I doubt that anyone from Ft. Bragg is going to see the sermon I intend to preach this Sunday before I give it.  (If I’m wrong, and you plan to be there Sunday, probably you should skip reading this for now.)  Also, I apologize to any followers who read “Thrift Shop Resurrection” – most of which is given again here.  So here it is:

Easter 4 C

 

I have problems with this morning’s reading from Acts!

Is that allowed – to have issues with scripture?

Here’s this poor woman, I want to think of her as Tabitha (because, frankly Dorcas sounds dorky in English), who’s worked her whole life for the good of the Church.  She was, in fact, devoted to good works and acts of charity.  She made tunics and other clothing for the widows in need in the congregation.  And that was probably just for starters.

I can’t prove this, but the text suggests to me that she was an older woman – maybe an old woman – considered indispensable in the life of the congregation.  And she had the gall to die!

She’s worked her fingers to the bone all her life for these people.  And she’s finally gone to her well deserved rest and reward.  And what do these people do?

They send for Peter.  And they ask him to bring her back from the dead.  So they can put her back to work!

Death is a terrible blow to us in this world.  But we believe in resurrection, don’t we?  Which means, in the final analysis, death is not to be feared.  Doesn’t it?  You can’t have resurrection without death.  And we all hope for resurrection.

So it seems to me, if they really loved her, they would have let her go.  They would have mourned her death.  They would have given thanks for all she contributed to their common life.  They would have praised God for her new life in Christ.  And they would have looked for the new life, the resurrection experience in their congregation, made possible by hear death.

There may be no one to carry on the work she was doing within the congregation after her death.  So what!  God is calling forth something new.  If we are faithful, there is resurrection.  There are people with gifts that need to be used within the congregation.  Maybe there wasn’t room to use these gifts under the old guard.  Maybe if there is no one to carry on her ministry it’s a ministry that’s run its course.  Something else, something new, is needed now.

Or maybe what was being done just needs to be approached in a new way.

On my blog, not long ago, I posted about something that happened back when I was serving in Wyoming.  Some time before I arrived, the congregation had opened a thrift shop for the community (population around 500).  One woman had spearheaded the project.  Her family donated the building.  And she ran the program her way.

I got to thinking about this because I read a blog post from my friend, Joe Duggan, the Priest in Charge at St. Francis in Fair Oaks, where he said:

“I have had an epiphany in my prayer today. I am no longer going to talk about ‘at risk congregations’. At risk of what? At risk of dying or closing? There is nothing to fear in the death of our congregations.”

Why does he say this?  Because he believes in resurrection.

That got me thinking about the thrift shop.

That thrift shop had run effectively for years, filling a need in the community.  But the folks running the shop were getting older.  In fact, while I was there, they got old enough that they couldn’t keep it going without help from the younger women in the congregation – who were unwilling to sign on under the current format.

It’s not that they wanted the shop to close.  But they wanted a cleaner and brighter place to work in.  And they wanted a say in how the shop was going to be run if they were going to work in it.  The founder was having none of it.

So the shop closed.

The ministry died.

After a while, the younger women (by design) started fixing up the building.  They cleaned it up.  They put in new lights.  They put in better fixtures.  They made it a place they would be comfortable working in.

Then they created a board for a new thrift shop.  They invited the founder to be on the board, but not the chair.  If she’d been chair, things would have gone back to how they were before.  Then there really would not have been a thrift shop.  There would have been death without resurrection.  Instead, they invited the one younger woman who had been part of the old operation to chair the board.  And they filled out the third position on the board with another younger woman.

Resurrection!

New life.  Bigger and better and busier than ever.

But the shop had to die before it could experience resurrection.

It seems to me that in most of our congregations, the faithful old guard is so busy trying to find spare parts to keep what they love and cherish going the way they like it, that there is really no place for new life to take root.  That’s a path to death.  And if we follow that path, we will need to die in truth in order for God to bring new life through resurrection.

But we don’t have to go it alone.  Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  I know I always used to picture biblical shepherds (and thus Jesus as our good shepherd) as driving sheep from behind with dogs the way it’s done here in the western United States.

Back in the Middle East, where Jesus lived, shepherds lead the sheep from in front.  Each shepherd has a unique call, and their sheep learn to trust and follow that call.  So the sheep literally hear the shepherd’s voice.  The shepherd leads the way.  The sheep know the shepherd.  And they follow.

In our gospel this morning, this image is used as a picture of how we are lead into eternal life, following our Good Shepherd who died, and then rose, resurrected into new life.

But I don’t think that’s just a promise of life in the world to come.  I believe, I firmly believe, that if we listen faithfully in this world, we will be led, continually, through death into new life in this world.

God is always looking to bring forth something new.

In our personal lives.

And in our lives together.

If we listen, if we follow where we are led, God does not promise us that we will never experience loss and death.  God promises us that out of our experience of loss and death God will bring forth something new.  God will bring forth new life in this world, which advances God’s reign here and now.  And God will bring us into new life, fulness of life, when we at last come home to our own rest and reward.

Poor Tabitha!

It’s like they were holding on to what they had so tightly that they had to take that away from her.

Maybe, following the lead of her own Good Shepherd, she loved them enough that she was willing to let that happen.  To suffer and die again for them.  To live, again, for a little while.  Until they could begin to see the new life God was leading them into, and release her into the new life God had prepared for her.

And to release them into the new life God had prepared for them.

Maybe they could learn to hear and follow his voice …

 

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

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