"Do What You Know!"
Church Street UMC
Rev. Sarah Varnell
Acts 9:36-42 The Raising of Tabitha
One Sunday, a young girl decided that she would actually listen to her pastor’s sermon. It was the first time, as she was coming to age, and to her Mother’s surprise, the crayons stayed put up. It was a compelling sermon, that particular day, as the pastor passionately spoke about God’s desire for us to do something... anything...for the kingdom. It’s simple, the pastor said, “Do what you know!” The young girl thought on this- what did she know? Her solution to the quandry? The next week, so got back to the crayons.
The story of Tabitha, the seamstress for widows, also encourages us, “Do what you know!” which begs the question, “What do we know?” It is my prayer that our conclusions today won’t send us literally, back to the drawing board, but will inspire and call each of us into action.
[Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.]
Someone once wrote in a letter to a colleague in response to his encouraging letter: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. (Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979).”
Do you hear the sadness? Sounds like one filled with doubt, discouraged, and questioning the existence of God. Reminds me of many of the blogs on the internet written by former Christians that have been hurt by God or the church and sought other forms of fulfillment. Those are the words of the beloved and well-respected, Mother Teresa. These are her words: “As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” She also devoted her life to service and acts of charity.
I remember when she died, this colleague published a book of personal letters exchanged between he and she. The world collectively dropped its jaw when we read that she doubted the existence of God, that she felt lonely and forgotten by the Lord she served so fervently. It just confirmed the post-modern, post-enlightenment drive in modern society to dismiss the power of God and the church, even Mother Teresa joined the chorus of doubters.
On the contrary, we are told that the story of Tabitha, another woman known for her service to others and acts of charity, calls people to belief in Christ. She also devoted her life serving the downtrodden and forgotten of her society- lepers without spots in biblical times-- the widows. Without their husband, they were stripped of their power in the culture and the larger society, the forgotten ones. After her death, the widows and other Christians in the area mourn the loss of this beloved saint. Peter is invited to come and pay his respects and his visit culminates in her being raised from the dead. The passage ends by reporting that “many heard and many believed.”
This is a very different report from the post-Mother Teresa death; however, the truth that is so easily overlooked about Mother Teresa is that even on her loneliest and emptiest day wondering about the Lord, she never hung up the towel. God would not let her forget the lepers, just as the Interpreter's Bible Commentary lovingly claimed about Tabitha’s being raise from the dead, “God would not abandon the widows.” Mother Teresa continued to give, day in and day out, she lived out her discipleship even when faith felt far away. Anyone that has ever had a mother, father, sister, brother, best friend or spouse knows that love is not always felt, faith is sometimes far, and to love that person is to choose them. To love and serve God, is to choose God, when we feel convictions strangely warm our hearts, and especially when our hearts are cold and we feel that God is far from us.
One day, I was thumbing around in the library at Duke, and a book title caught my curiosity, it was called “Awakening the Sleeping Giant (Alleckna, Mario C.),” and being a thorough literary scholar, I held it long enough to flip past the cover and read the first few lines. It was immediately evident that the sleeping giant is the church. I’ve yet to stop recalling those words and meditating over their insightfulness…
Fred Craddock, retired homeletics professor, from that other seminary- Candler- explains the same concept in a parable:
“I saw a 9-pound sparrow walking down the street in front of my house, and I asked the sparrow, ‘aren’t you a little heavy?’
The sparrow said, ‘Yeah, that’s why I’m walking, trying to get some of this weight off.’
And [Craddock] said, ‘Why don’t you fly?’
The sparrow looked at [him] like [he] was stupid and said, ‘Fly? I’ve never flown. I could get hurt!’
[Craddock] said, ‘What’s your name?’
And he said, ‘Church.’”
(Craddock, Fred B., Craddock Stories, St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001, pg. 128)
… what will it mean for the world if and when we wake up and realize that like birds on a wire, we have no idea the power beneath our feet?
God enters into a unformed world of negation, death, despair, nothingness... and from that God creates life, and newness. It is by the grace of God that we were no people, and now we are God’s people, that our abilities and talents can become for another a gift and a service. Tabitha was a seamstress, and her skill became a gift of time and service as she offered it to the community of widows. What skill do you have? You don’t even have to know how it will become a gift, just be willing to identify it... or better yet, look to your neighbors and identify the gifts within them. Often others see us more clearly than we can see ourselves.
Last week the Holston Annual Conference met at Lake Junaluska. Lay people and clergy gathered for a time of learning, study, reporting, worship, and voting. One of the speakers that addressed the Conference during a teaching moment was a pastor from Columbus, Ohio. He stood up and told the story of his church. Located in a forgotten part of town over-grown with sub-standard housing, in the midst of soil that was deemed unfruitful, the “Free Store” was born. The concept of the “Free store” was simple, (1) everything is free, and (2) everyone that is a child of God is welcome.
The store was stocked with clothing, electronics, food, toys, and all on the goodwill of others that will give the things that do not want. As you might imagine, the store was a huge success bursting at the seams with people every-time the doors opened. The pastor shared that even though they had a multitude of people taking advantage of the free stuff, that they never ran out. He explained that their shelves were always filled to the brim, but their greatest challenge was having enough people in the back to sort through the things so that they were buried in the sheer mass of stuff that was collected. He said, “we believe in abundance, God’s economy is abundance, not scarcity.”
As we look to our immediate community- what do we see? What does God see?
I believe that inspiration- like the story of the Free Store begets inspiration and passion. God has entrusted us, the Body of Christ, kingdom-dwellers, with the power and the tools to make new life. Do we have eyes to see it? Unfortunately we rarely know how our small offering or idea might affect the whole, so we do not share it.
One of the churches I visited in Durham had a soup kitchen like ours, and a member told me that it began with a child that handed her simply sandwich to a homeless man while her family picnicked on the church steps. What do we “do” and “know” and “see” already that has the potential to be shared? We are the answer to prayer, the response to the world’s needs... offered on behalf of Jesus as his hands, feet, and eyes.
Starting today, our youth group will begin their local mission project, called “MAD (Make a Difference) in the City.” The will work with the Wesley House and they will put on a roof. Our church has a longstanding history with the 100 year old Wesley House, and this week as our youth participate in sharing acts of charity and service with their sisters and brothers in the community, they will undoubtedly receive charity from the very people that they serve. They will all be changed, simply because they obeyed the notion that discipleship matters.
It is by reaching out and sharing our gifts that others come to know that God is generous, and that God will not abandon anyone. This may be Darryll’s story to tell, but I’m going to tell it anyway… A powerful thing happened in our church a couple of weeks ago. We sent nearly 100 food kits to Zimbabwe, through the Knoxville District… we also sent 3 of the men that benefit from eating at our soup kitchen every Thursday to help load the truck. Our discipleship draws others into discipleship.
Mission, service, and acts of charity are the building blocks of the Kingdom of God. Start by doing what you know…
In the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.