Sermon: Please Come to Us

May 12, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43

by Eric Anderson

I’m sure you’ve received the call.

You know the one: not the call to some great task with the prospect of honor and reward, not the call to a new vocation (sorry, graduates), not the call to some new deeper relationship with God.

The call to help out a friend, neighbor, or family member in some rather dull and probably pretty onerous way. “Hi, I could use a little money. I’ve been caught short.” “Hi, I need somebody to help me fix a leaky sink.” “Hi, I’ve got company coming and I need help cleaning the house.” “Hi, I’m moving. Can you come and bring your truck?”

You might remember the Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith, who gave the charge to the pastor at my installation? He told me not to lead with a pun, which is very good advice and you probably wish I took it more often. Well, Paul and I have lost count of the number of times we’ve helped each other move. Neither of us owns a truck, but we’ve been known to rent them. The hands that have played together so many times as Boys in Hats have also carried a lot of boxes and furniture for one another.

Those phone calls, or visits, or text messages usually have another feature: you’re not entirely sure you can do what you’ve been asked. The timing might be awkward. The truck might be in the shop. You’ve got some bills to pay yourself. You might be wondering if you want to do it – and for certain you’re wondering if you can do it.

You know. That call. You’ve had one or two. Or more.

Simon Peter was in Lydda, north of Jerusalem. He had just successfully healed a paralyzed man named Aeneas, and was probably hoping for a few days rest before setting off to visit other congregations of the People of the Way, as Christians named themselves in the early days. In Peter’s case, the Way came with a lot of traveling. Then a woman in Joppa died, about ten miles to the west on the Mediterranean coast. Peter set off.

Who was Tabitha? We know more about her than most of the people whose healings are described in the New Testament. Her parents had named her “gazelle” (which is what Tabitha means in Aramaic and what Dorcas means in Greek), suggesting they thought, even as an infant, that she was light and graceful. She was known by both Aramaic and Greek names, so she lived in touch with both societies. She made clothing fine enough that those mourning her may have been wearing it when they came to grieve. She was devoted to good works and charity. And she was a disciple. That is important.

April Fiet writes: “I have heard it said that women cannot be in positions of leadership in the church because if Jesus had wanted female leaders, he would have chosen some female disciples. Not only did Jesus have many women who followed him and learned from him, the early church had at least one female disciple – Tabitha, a woman who made tunics and clothes, and was grieved over by the widows.”

In these days when some men claim with increasing volume that women are not entitled to full leadership in Christ’s Church, let us remember Tabitha and reject those claims.

Here’s where I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind. This is where it starts to feel like one of those calls to me. Peter had brought the power of the Holy Spirit to the healing of a number of people at this point – Aeneas was one of many – but raising the dead? That was something only Jesus had done.

He’d had the call. He’d made the trip. He brought all the resources he had. Could he possibly have known in that moment whether it was enough?

What he did was to imitate Jesus. He sent everybody out of the room as Jesus had done in the house of Jairus, at the bedside of Jairus’ daughter. He knelt and prayed. Where Jesus had said, “Talitha, cum,” which means “Little girl, get up,” in Aramaic, Peter said, “Tabitha, cum,” or “Tabitha, get up.”

You and I may not have recognized the similarity, but Luke certainly did while writing the book.

Then Tabitha rose.

I still wonder if anyone was more surprised than Simon Peter himself.

“Please come to us,” they said. He made the journey. He made the difference.

As Jennifer T. Kaalund writes, “It is not enough to simply know. Once we become aware, it is imperative that we, too, act to improve the conditions of those who are suffering. Our actions can be the difference between life and death.”

I venture to guess that our lives are full of those calls right now: requests for our time, requests for our industry, requests for our energy, requests for our skills, requests for our resources, requests for our money. The simple truth is that we can’t meet them all. We can’t. We are finite people, with finite strength and finite means. Obligations will conflict. We can’t do it all.

Let that never be an excuse, however, for discerning what we can do when we can do it.

I never owned a truck, and during at least one of Paul’s moves, I could only give him a day’s worth of help. I was there that day, however. When I moved here, Paul couldn’t pack boxes because of the regulations about things traveling on container ships. But he could, and did, help me cart loads of things to the dump and to storage.

As I think about Jennifer Kaalund’s words that “it is imperative that we, too, act to improve the conditions of those who are suffering,” I think about the families seeking shelter along the US southern border, waiting until they can apply for asylum in the United States, fleeing the violence and hardships of their homelands. I think about those who have applied and are now held in detention, some literally beneath highway bridges, held despite following the law. I think about our own church families with medical crises, or in grief, or awaiting a loved one’s death. I think about the refugees from last summer’s eruption who still seek permanent shelter. I think about the most difficult of our homeless neighbors, whose mental illnesses or addictions don’t help them find or keep a home.

I think about all this and I think, “I can’t fix this.” And I’m right.

But I can improve the conditions of those who are suffering.

At the least, I have to try.

It is written in the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Let me pose to you these questions from Kathryn Matthews: “Is the church continuing the work of Jesus today? Is the church acting like the ancient prophets, our ancestors in faith? Would those who hear about us, and those who watch what we do, hear and feel echoes from the story of Christ? Would they recognize us as prophets, filled with the power of the Spirit?”

Would they think to call, “Please come to us”?

So there you are. There I am. There we are. Summoned to do things we may or may not be able to do. Summoned to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit – an uncomfortable thing – without knowing for certain whether the Spirit will fill us in any given situation or not – a deeply uncomfortable thing. We are called to the bedsides of the ill and the dying without knowing what healing, if any, we can bring. We are called to help pack boxes without knowing whether our arms will hold up and without being sure that the pickup truck will start. We are called to write futile letters to unresponsive governmental officials to remind them, once again, that they do wrong. We are called to do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.

We are called to act like those ancient prophets, our ancestors in faith.

We are called to bring what we can, when we can, when we’re called.

So, a little footnote.

It’s a funny thing. Despite the fact that I don’t resemble a brawny moving guy in the least – some people out there are smiling and others have not noticed that I’ve told you something unexpected here – we always got each other moved. All the stuff made it. It always happened.

I don’t know if that’s the power of the Holy Spirit or, in my case, sheer Yankee stubbornness, but it always happened.

And I know that when you get that call, and you bring what you can when you can when you’re called, something will make a difference. Something will.

Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.

And be the bearer of the blessings of God.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Please Come to Us

There were enough changes “in the moment” that portions of this text have been edited to reflect the sermon as actually preached. Portions: not all of it.

The stained glass image of Dorcas is found in All Saints Church, West Stourmouth, Kent, England. Photo by Acabashi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on May 12, 2019

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