Friday, February 28, 2014
“Full of Good Works, Dearly Missed, in Resurrection Hope” (Acts 9:36-42)
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. –Acts 9:36-42 (ESV)
She was a woman whose life was full of good works. She was a woman who, at her death, was dearly missed by all who knew her. And she was a woman who lived and died in resurrection hope.
Who is this woman I’m talking about? Was it the one we heard about in the reading from Acts, that woman named Dorcas? Or is it Elaine that I’m talking about? Answer: Yes. Both Elaine and Dorcas could be described as women “Full of Good Works, Dearly Missed, in Resurrection Hope.”
The other day as I was thinking about what to preach for Elaine’s funeral sermon, I was scanning my mental files for possible biblical texts to work with. And my mind landed on the story about this woman named Dorcas from the Book of Acts. I saw such strong similarities between the story of Dorcas and Elaine’s story. They had so much in common.
You can see it in the life of good works they both lived as Christians. You can see it in the reaction of all who knew them, how dearly they were missed. And you can see it in the hope of the resurrection, the knowledge that death is not the end of the story for those who fall asleep in Jesus. Let’s take those three points one at a time.
Starting with Dorcas. She’s known by a couple of names, actually. Her name in Aramaic was Tabitha. Translated into Greek, that’s Dorcas. And translated into English, the name means “gazelle.” But most commonly we refer to her as Dorcas. And hers is a much honored name in Christian history. Many women’s groups in churches are named after her, the “Dorcas Circle,” and so on. She is seen as a woman who exemplified a living Christian faith that issues forth in works of mercy and service in the church. She was “full of good works and acts of charity,” our text describes her. One of the specific things that Dorcas was known for was her needlework and weaving. She made tunics and other garments, presumably for the poor and needy.
I think you can see why I see Elaine when I read about Dorcas. If ever I’ve known a woman who could be described as full of good works, it was Elaine. She did everything in our church. And very humbly, too. She never tooted her own horn. She just did what needed to be done, quietly and tirelessly. A very humble servant spirit. Choir, Altar Guild, Ladies’ Guild, and all the little things that we don’t have a guild for, Elaine did it. Even the needlework and the working with fabrics. Elaine sewed a button on my clerical shirt. This white alb that I’m wearing? Guess who cleaned it? Yep, that’s right. You can see hanging in front of you a couple of the banners that Elaine made for our church. And I’m just scratching the surface. There were so many things you didn’t hear about. Like the woman Dorcas, Elaine was “full of good works and acts of charity.”
And I haven’t even mentioned yet Elaine’s primary vocation, which was as wife and mother and grandmother. I’m sure you family members have many stories you can tell about what a wonderful blessing Elaine was to your family. How she untangled your fishing lines, Arnold. You boys, how your mom gave you such beautiful memories to look back on. You grandkids, what a joy it was for you to come down to Grandma and Grandpa’s home for the holidays. These are treasured memories that you will have with you for the rest of your life.
Now all these good works, as good as they were, did not contribute one iota to Elaine’s salvation. And she would be the first to tell you that. No, Elaine knew where her salvation came from. Not from anything she did, but rather, from what Christ her Savior did for her. That was it. It is his good works, not hers, that saved her. Or that save any of us. Christ Jesus, he is the one on whom Elaine relied. His righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, provides all that you or I or Elaine needs to be right with God. Christ, the Son of God, lived that perfect life of love that we so often fail at: love for God, love for our neighbor. Jesus did this, without sin or blemish. And none of us, not even the best of us–Elaine, Dorcas from the Book of Acts–we cannot claim that.
And then, to pay the penalty for our sins, to clean the slate for us with God, Christ our Savior went to the cross on our behalf. There he shed his holy blood, to redeem us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Jesus did this for you, my friends, just as he did this for Elaine and Dorcas and for all the sinners in need of forgiveness who have ever lived.
So these good works that Christians do, that Elaine did so beautifully–these are the outgrowth of a living faith, the fruit of faith. We are not saved by them, but because we are saved, now we do them. We serve, in lives “full of good works” that the Lord works through us. That’s Elaine, that’s Dorcas–that’s you and me, too, by God’s grace.
So the first point of comparison between Dorcas and Elaine: their life of good works. The second point these two beautiful women have in common is in the reaction of those who knew them. The people who knew each woman were broken up, they missed them so dearly. Of Dorcas it is said that all the widows in the church were there weeping, that’s how dear she was to them. And I can tell you, as the pastor of our church, that’s how dearly Elaine will be missed. In the hours after her death on Tuesday I heard the reports. One of our members said, “St. Matthew’s won’t be the same without her.” Another member told me that the ladies of our church are “very, very upset.” “She will be missed.” “So many people Elaine touched with love.” And you could multiply these reports many times over. Much weeping.
But don’t cry for Elaine, dear friends. She is with her Lord now, free from the pain and the suffering of the last few months. She now rests from her labors. No, it is for us that I think we are weeping. We feel the hole in our heart, that big space that Elaine occupied. In the home, in our church, in her extended family–we will all miss her very much.
But be comforted, my friends. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We have a hope, a living hope, a great big hope that is bigger than any hole in our heart. Death is not the end for those who fall asleep in Christ. You and I have a resurrection hope, and it is firm and secure and solid.
The story of Dorcas demonstrates this hope that we Christians have. It is the hope of the resurrection. It is the hope of everlasting life. It is a sure and living hope.
Just to remind the Christians of the church there in Joppa, just to remind all the Christians who have read this story in the Bible ever since then, just to remind us of the power of the gospel of Christ, the power of Christ’s resurrection, God did a special thing in the case of Dorcas. He brought her back to life. Raised her up.
Just like Jesus himself raised up Jairus’s daughter, just like Jesus raised up the widow of Nain’s son, just like Jesus raised up Lazarus of Bethany, so now the ascended Lord Jesus Christ sends his apostle, Peter, to do a similar raising in the case of Dorcas. Like Jesus said to the little girl, in Aramaic, “Talitha, cumi,” “Little girl, arise,” now Peter, likewise speaking in Aramaic, says, “Tabitha, arise.” Talitha, Tabitha, either way it works. The Word of God has life-giving power, power to overcome even death itself. The little girl gets up. Dorcas gets up.
And so I tell you today: Elaine will get up, too. Elaine was baptized into Christ, joined to Jesus, in his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit kept Elaine in the faith, throughout her life, even unto the end. And so Elaine will share in Christ’s resurrection victory.
Yes, on the day our Lord returns, on that “great gettin’-up day,” our victorious Lord Jesus Christ will come with his heavenly angels, and he will speak his mighty word: “Elaine, arise.” And she will arise, physically, bodily, her body made new and glorious, glorified, no longer subject to disease or death. Together, all of us who trust in Christ will experience eternal life, in a restored creation, with all the saints who have ever fallen asleep in Jesus.
And I suspect Dorcas and Elaine will run into each other, somewhere along the line. I’m guessing they will compare notes on the beautiful white robes they are wearing, robes made white in the blood of the Lamb.
Two women “full of good works, dearly missed, in resurrection hope.” This is the story that both Elaine and Dorcas have to tell us today. It’s a beautiful story, of a beautiful Savior. And all the glory goes to God.
– – – – –
We now sing the next hymn listed in your bulletin, number 552, “O Christ, Who Shared Our Mortal Life.” Stanzas 1 and 4 are in your hymnal, and we will insert as stanzas 2 and 3 of this hymn the two stanzas printed in your bulletin:
In Joppa lived a Christian saint
Whose living faith did shine;
Full of good works and acts of love,
Her faith wove God’s design.
When Dorcas died, her friends all wept,
This sister was so dear;
But then to show Your Gospel’s pow’r
You brought Your servant near.
“Arise, dear sister,” Peter spoke
With Your life-giving Word;
So Dorcas rose, her friends rejoiced
And praised the living Lord.
Today we mourn our sister here,
And tears may fill our eyes,
But born into a living hope,
We know that she will rise.