Life-giving Acts / Calling Us Each by Name

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome!

Life-giving Acts / Calling Us Each by Name

Clarence Jordan, once said, "The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church."

-Br. Mark Brown, SSJE said this about the Body of Christ, “The resurrection appearances continue in us—we’re the risen body of Christ. Each of us, in a sense, and in a very flawed way, is a resurrection appearance. The story continues—there is no ending to the gospel, because resurrection continues in us.”

    And my friend Kate said about this week’s reading from Acts that we imagine the earliest Christians listening, and like us, being amazed, and eager to hear what happens next in the exciting and inspiring account of the "Adventures of the Apostles." Here we are, in the Easter season, with resurrection on our minds. However, like those earliest Christians, including Luke himself, we more likely hear in this story of the raising of the saintly widow Dorcas/Tabitha (many scholars note the lovely meaning of her name in both Aramaic and Greek: "Gazelle") the echoes of other stories from both the Old and New Testaments: most dramatically, the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Luke had described that miracle in his Gospel (8:40-56) but must have also known about it from the Gospel of Mark, whose account so closely parallels this one that even the name of the dead person differs by only one letter: Talitha/Tabitha. That's probably not an accident, because the story happens the same way, the command is the same, and the results are the same, as well. 

Luke's point is clear: Peter, and the other disciples, the early church, are continuing the work of Jesus. (It helps us better understand the term, "Body of Christ," to describe the church.) However, Carl Holladay takes us back even further, recalling the ancient story about Elijah raising a widow's son from the dead, which puts Peter in a direct line stretching back to the Old Testament prophets. We might ask ourselves, then, the following questions: 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? [Kate Huey]

How do we continue to describe the miracle of the resurrection? How do we describe being called by name out of death into life? A way we can describe the gift of the resurrection is to understand how we relate to God and how we carry that relationship into our day by day lives, give that gift of relationship to others. We do things, good things for others, each and every one of us, that reflects our gratitude to God and the miracle of the resurrection. For example, how many of us, either through St Barnabas or independently, give to The Haven, be it clothing, food, our time, treasure or our talent? How many of us have brought in a pot for the collection for the refugees who come from faraway pain-filled places to settle here in VT? How many of us have gotten up early in the morning to be able to walk in the woods and pray? How many of us give time to an elder person or shut in, even when that elder is younger than us? We all do things that help others see the resurrected Jesus in the world alive today. What voice do we hear that guides us to these ministries of love? What name is ours alone by which God is calling us into the love of God and the love and care of God’s creation?

I want to tell you a little about my late father, J Timothy Anderson. My father was a very accomplished architect, and he had a calling not only to design buildings but to preserve the design work of others and to reuse structures that were not only sound but had strong bones to give shelter to people for generations to come. His talent was great and his successes were many. But, to me, he was my dad and I knew his voice! I knew his name, and he knew my name. I knew the sound of his singing voice, his speaking voice, his laughing voice, his hollering voice and even his cough and his sneeze! I knew my father’s voice and when I heard it, it called to me, into my heart. The sound of his voice was, for me, the sound of love.

This to me might also be a little bit about what the lessons today are referring to, that we know the voice of God in our hearts just as I know the voice of my father. My father would always know me. It is through my father’s love that I hear my name. I have had many nicknames in my life, mostly to do with my first name shortened or lengthened. Jen, Jen-Jen, Mac, Andy, Jemma, Miss-Jen, Jam, and some of these nick names were special to me because they were formed out of the love of knowing me, and not just my given name. I wonder though, what is the name way in my heart that God has for me. How does God call my name and what is that name spoken in the deepest love and compassion? What is your name by which God calls you in your heart? When you hear it, where does the calling of your name lead you?

I like how in last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. He says it three times and each time Peter is a little more annoyed and a little more frustrated. Although Peter, the rock, or the “blockhead” as I sometimes like to call him, is miffed, don’t you think Peter knows the voice of Jesus very, very, well? In this week’s gospel lesson, the people who remain strangers to Jesus, those who can’t hear the love in his voice, are the ones who ask about whether Jesus is the messiah. It’s kind of strange that so many of the faithful Jews couldn’t hear his love, but Peter the blockhead, hears it plainly, “you know that I love you!”… “Feed my sheep!”

Tabitha, Dorcas, Peter, Simon…Jennie… Jean, John, Jean, Libby, Burton, Blanche, Flora, Tom, Richard, Harold… Gabrielito, Alfonse, Jeremiah, Isabell… 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? Does the church invite others to hear their name being called by God?

    Let us pray. God of comfort and compassion, through Jesus, your Son, you lead us to the water of life and the table of your bounty. May we who have received the tender love of our Good Shepherd be strengthened by your grace to care for your flock. Amen.