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2024-05-05 Easter 6

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Last Sunday we delved into the Vine and the branches - Jesus and His people and this amazing connection that exists by faith. The branches grow precisely because they are attached to the Vine. They produce abundant fruit because they abide in Christ our Lord who gives them life. This is pretty easy to grasp I think, even for those of us who don’t have any green thumbs! Today’s lessons really build on these themes but specifically focusing in on the ultimate Christian fruit of love. Now generally speaking, I hate the word “love” in the English language! We say things like “I just love mini donuts at the fair!” Or “I love Taylor Swift’s terrible music!” But then we also say we love our kids, our parents, our spouse, our Lord and Saviour. We love mini donuts the same way we love our family?! … Maybe even a bit more so, depending on the day, I suppose! But you get my drift here. “Love” in English is used too broadly, too willy nilly to actually have any real concrete meaning.

And yet, our lessons today are chock full of it. St. John, especially in his first letter, makes a huge deal about love. One out of every 58 words is love in this letter. It’s mentioned 18 times in the little reading we had this morning! “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. … Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1JN 4:7-8;11). And of course, this love that St. John is going on and on about is defined in John’s Gospel reading: “12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13). Would you lay down your life for mini donuts?! Not even for all the cinnamon and sugar in the world! But your friends and family, that’s another story entirely. Jesus shows us the meaning of this amazing love of God. A love that embraces forgiveness, grace and mercy above all things, dying so that others may live. There is nothing more heroic or more commendable than this kind of self-sacrificial love that Jesus shows the world through His cross and resurrection.

So then what does this mean for us as followers of Jesus, those branches who are connected to the Vine? What does it mean to live a life that is defined by this specific kind of love that Jesus shows? Well, we can turn our attention to the first reading we had today from Acts: “Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity” (9:36). Tabitha, she was an amazing Saintly example of a follower of Jesus. Her name literally means ‘gracious’ and also ‘gazelle,’ so we can say she was a ‘dear deer’ of a disciple! Perhaps even more uncanny was that she is the only woman in the whole Bible who officially gets the title disciple. St. Luke uses the feminine form of disciple to describe only her. This certainly puts Tabitha on quite the pedestal!

But why this unique claim to fame?? She must have done incredibly amazing things to get such a distinction. And obviously she was well loved by her fellow Christians in Joppa. We are told she becomes ill and dies as so many unfortunately do. She is washed and anointed for burial which in Jewish and early Christian custom took place immediately. But in this case, they don’t bury her, instead opting to place her body in an upper room while they send word to Peter. He’s about a 3 hour hike away in Lydda, probably around 15km or so from Joppa. He hears the news and gets up immediately and goes with them. He arrives in Joppa and they take him to the upper room, this is what he sees: “All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39).

Tabitha was a seamstress. She stitched cloth together to make clothing that covered the naked and gave warmth to the cold. That’s it! It really doesn’t seem that extraordinary. I’m sure most ladies 2000 years ago did much the same for their families and friends. So what’s the catch? It most likely had to do with her motives. Consider the words of Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is my guess. Tabitha devoted her tasks to the Lord, doing it all to the glory of God. This motive really stood out. The amazing love of Jesus so filled her heart that all she did, the clothes she made and most likely gave away to the needy, were testaments to the great love of God! The spiritual fruit she sewed blessed others and showed them God’s grace through her actions.

You can see how much the people loved her. All the widows were gathered together weeping in the place where her body lay. She may have herself been a widow or she may have done a lot charity among this very vulnerable group of society. The Bible praises this kind mercy to those who need it most in high regard. St. James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). We don’t know for sure but we can guess that she excelled in this kind of mercy. The testimony of the mourners shows she was very well loved and already missed as these women are overcome with visible grief and sadness!

This calls to mind Proverbs 22:1 which says “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” The reputation and legacy of Christian people is worth more than all earthly treasure! It’s a very humbling thought. Some time ago there was a news report about a man who worked at the hospital maintaining dialysis equipment. One day this man got distracted and he didn’t remove the chemicals from the machine. The next person who went in for dialysis treatment immediately died from being injected with the cleaning chemicals! As you can imagine, the worker was absolutely sick and distraught over this heinous mistake and neglect. He panicked and wondered if he would go to jail for manslaughter! But as it turns out, the person who died was a 92 year old man that was so grumpy and ornery and miserable, everyone was glad he was finally dead! It certainly doesn’t excuse the neglect on the part of the worker, but it does teach us a valuable lesson about the kind of people we are and the legacy we leave behind us.

Obviously Tabitha’s legacy was massive. So important and well loved was she that they get Peter to come with faith and hope that he will work a miracle, not unlike what Jesus did several times during His ministry. And, this is exactly what happens. God hears Peter’s prayer. “Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40-42). Even from death and sadness, God can work great blessing. Many came to faith over Tabitha’s death and miraculous resurrection. Our lives in turn should be the same. Work towards this. A life so abounding with love and good works, works of charity and mercy, abundant spiritual fruit that many will see this and give glory to God, coming to faith in our Risen Messiah.

The same Vine connects to you as connected to Tabitha. The same amazing love of God that she showed forth in her life is the same that can be shown forth in yours. Little acts of mercy and charity are given huge praise by our God in His Kingdom. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:17). We do this with great joy because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

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