Easter 4

Sunday 21st April 2013

Easter 4

Readings: Acts 9:36-end, John 10:22-30

 Heavenly Father, as we come to hear your written word this morning, draw us ever closer to your Living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 I have been really impressed over the last couple of months to see how, when Clifford is preaching, he makes such use of visual aids.  I am conscious that that is something I don’t do very much but I thought today that I would give it a go.  I want to use something that is very close to the hearts of both myself and my children.

[Holds up Jaffa Cake]

Any idea why I may be holding a Jaffa Cake?

The story that we shall be thinking about this morning, from the reading in Acts, concerns the healing of a women who lived in the town of Joppa.  Joppa is the ancient name of the port town in Israel which is now known by the name of, you guessed it, Jaffa – which is the place after which the oranges are named.

[Eats Jaffa cake]

They didn’t die in vain.

So, todays reading from Acts concerns the apostle Peter being called to the town of Joppa because a disciple called Tabitha or Dorcas (which both mean Gazelle) had been taken ill and died and the church wanted Peter to use his healing power on her.  And I shall look at that passage in more detail in a moment but I wanted to think about this story in its wider context, because I hope that that will say even more to us.

We get so used to looking at short passages of scripture that we sometimes fail to join up the dots and therefore to appreciate the bigger picture.  So I don’t just want to think about Peter’s healing of Tabitha but I also want to think about the amazing journey of Peter himself, from what he was to what he became.

The first time we encounter the man Peter, also called Simon Peter, he was a fisherman who worked on the Sea of Galilee with his brother Andrew.  Jesus called both Peter and Andrew by saying:  “Follow me and I shall make you fish for people” and they left their nets and followed him.

The next we hear of Peter, in the gospel of Matthew, is when Jesus visits his Peter’s home and his mother-in-law is sick and in bed with a fever.  It says here “insert mother-in-law joke” but I would never insult my mother in law.  We have a very special relationship – it’s a bit like the one between America and North Korea.

So Peter’s mother in law had a fever and was lying in bed unwell and Jesus healed her and she got up and started serving them.  In the context of Peter’s healing of Tabitha this is interesting.

A few chapters on, in Matthew 10, Jesus called all 12 of this disciples together, including Peter, gave them authority to heal others and sent them out like sheep among wolves with explicit instructions to heal the sick and raise the dead.

Now it would have been very easy, wouldn’t it, for the writers of the gospels to have tried to portray the apostles and disciples as being saint like and perfect from the start.  However, one of the things that makes the gospels so authentic for me is that they don’t shy away from the human fallibilities of even people like Peter.

Can we think of some ways that Peter is shown as being less than perfect?

When Jesus walked on water Peter tried to copy him but had to be rescued by Jesus who called him “You of little faith.”

When Jesus took Peter up the mountain and was transfigured Peter started gabbling away about putting up tents for everyone.

Even though Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ following his arrest Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times and was nowhere to be seen at the foot of the cross – in fact he returned, briefly, to his old life as a fisherman.

This was no perfect Peter – he was a fallible human being just like you and I.

And yet despite his faults, or perhaps even because of them, and despite even his denial of Christ following the resurrection we know that Jesus not only forgave Peter but restored him as the rock, or the Petros, on which the church would be built:  “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”.

Following the Ascension of Jesus and the day of Pentecost it is clear that Peter has been transformed from fisherman to leader of the church.  And he is not only a church leader but he also continues with the healing ministry with which Jesus had empowered him – in the third chapter of Acts Peter healed a crippled beggar by the temple, in the fifth chapter of Acts we are told that people were healed simply by Peter’s shadow falling on them as he walked around the portico and in the verses that immediately preceed the healing of Tabitha in Joppa we are told that Peter healed a man called Aeneas and in that healing Peter said:

“Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!”  That healing not only brought about many conversions in the town of Lydda but it was what caused Peter to be summoned to Joppa to attend to Tabitha.

At the beginning of today’s reading we were told that Tabitha was already of disciple of Jesus and that she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.  Nonetheless she fell ill and died – and this was no swoon –  she was washed and laid out by the time Peter got there.  What did Peter do?  First he knelt and prayed and then he simply turned to the body and said:

“Tabitha, get up”

These words and the events of this healing may put you in mind of another healing of Jesus.  In Mark 5:41 Jesus healed a little girl and called her with the words:

“Talitha cum”  Which means “little girl get up”.

“Talitha cum”  “Tabitha cum”  “little girl get up”  “gazelle get up.”

And so the healing carried out by Peter very much echoes the healing carried out by Jesus but that should neither surprise nor worry us – we have already seen that it was Jesus who anointed Peter to heal, that Peter healed not in his own name but in the name of Jesus and that the results of this healing was not only the well being of the person concerned but also the conversion of others – i.e. the greater glory of God and not of Peter.

So what does all this mean for us, as individuals and as a church?

As fallible human beings we should take heart that Jesus can choose a simple working man like Peter and despite falling down again and again Jesus kept restoring him and forgiving him and not only that but gave him great power and built the church upon him.  Although it is not recorded in the bible you no doubt know the church tradition that Peter later travelled to Rome and became the first overseer or bishop of the church in that city and started the line of bishops which leads to Francis 1.  God works with ordinary humans because, despite everything, we are made in the image and likeness of God.  Peter’s journey started by simply responding to the call of Jesus and that is where each of us starts.

As a church we should also take seriously the healing ministry that Jesus bestowed upon the apostles and thence to his church.  Some churches may place more emphasis upon this than others, and some perhaps too much or in the wrong way, but the fact is that we are called and empowered to seek healing in the name of Jesus.  Each week we pray for the sick but the church even anoints oil for healing.  In my previous church we had a person licenced to the healing ministry and each week during communion he would be in the side chapel to pray with and anoint any in need of healing that week.  If anyone feels called to offer themselves for that ministry perhaps that is something we could do in St Mary’s – it is certainly not something that we should be ashamed of, rather it should be clear that healing lies at the core of both Jesus’ ministry and of the ministry of Peter and the church.

In any event know this – God calls you to follow him, to be healed, to heal others and to give glory to God.

Amen.

People of God – Get up!

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