May 8, 2022
I’ve read that if the best-paid people were the people that worked the hardest, then the women of West Africa would be the richest people on earth. In fact, women around the world have a capacity for hard work. And it shows in the way that programs that provide microloans—small loans for small businesses in the developing world—show time and again how readily women can multiply the gifts that they have when they’re given the opportunity. So it’s little wonder that we should take the time to honor the women who move the world—mothers, mothers in spirit, and mother figures.
These women—y’all women—are the ones who hold communities together, strengthen ties, and make things happen. The women of the church show again and again how vital they are to the mission we share. 70% of the people who serve on the church committees and council are women after all. And that’s nothing new! The Bible shows us so many examples of strong women whose hard work made the story of God’s salvation happen. Miriam made sure Moses survived his river journey. Deborah defeated the Philistine army when Barak was too afraid to do so. Esther saved the Jews from destruction. Mary Magdalene shared the good news of the resurrection. And today, we hear about Tabitha, also called Dorcas, who supported the Christian community of Joppa.
Tabitha was a seamstress for the poor. The first thing the people showed Peter when he arrived was all the clothes she made for her community. She immediately makes me think of our quilters, who put out dozens and dozens of quilts every year to give warmth to the poor around the world; and of the seamstresses who sew pillow dresses for the kids down in Haiti. She literally clothed her brothers and sisters when they were naked. And while many of us are pretty far removed from having to make our own clothes, in her day textiles were a major cottage industry. It could get expensive to make so many clothes. So Tabitha wasn’t just a seamstress, she was a wealthy seamstress.
And she chose to use that wealth to clothe her neighbors. She used her position of wealth and privilege to make sure the ones who had little in her community had enough. This woman was the rock of her community. Whether she had children of her own or not, Tabitha was this community’s mother.
But the day came when she got sick and died, as was all too common in first-century life. She died, and the entire community felt the ripples of that loss. This mother who had clothed them, this woman who had supported her sisters and brothers in the faith—she was gone. We can all imagine the kind of hole that left, for someone who so completely carried her community to be taken by death. Someone who loomed so large in her community, that everyone knew her and had their lives touched by her in some way. So when Peter was called, the people were quick to show him how she was remembered: the rock of their community who literally put clothes on their backs. Now what were they going to do?
Now what usually happens when I’ve read traditional commentaries about this story of Tabitha is the focus turns on Peter. Tabitha fades into the background and it becomes a story of the miraculous work of the apostle. And, honestly, that feels unfair. Despite Tabitha’s hard work, her endless giving, her deep support for her community, the one who often gets the spotlight is the man. Peter swoops in to save the day.
But seriously, it’s God who raised Tabitha, not Peter. And God raised Tabitha because of the incredible work she did for her community. Whatever else we have to say about the craziness of resurrection miracles, it speaks to just how important Tabitha’s work was to God. God saw her work as so important that she was raised from the dead for the sake of others. She was raised from the dead to do the sacred ordinary work of clothing her siblings in Christ.
And that’s really what most of the saints of the church look like.
They look like quietly setting up the altar area, filling the pitcher for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, and making sure there are enough wine glasses and wafers for communion. They look like wiping down the tables after the fellowship of coffee hour and cleaning up the cups and plates and silverware. They look like praying regularly for coworkers and really listening to the things that those around them are worried about or happy for or anxiously awaiting. They look like teaching kids how to pray and reading Bible stories and teaching them to love and trust Jesus. They look like volunteering at the food shelf or the women’s shelter or the senior center because everyone deserves the dignity of someone who cares. They look like quiet, often thankless work that nevertheless makes the world a better place.
Tabitha made clothes for the poor. She reminds us that it’s in the ordinary things we do that God calls us to share the kingdom. She reminds us that God loves our small works that make the world a little bit brighter. She reminds us that our calling is one of service to the other, sharing our abundance without expecting to be praised for it, but making such an impact that the way we’ve touched the lives of others will be felt long after we’re gone. That’s what the life of the baptized looks like.
It makes me wonder about the multitude that no one could count in Revelation. What was their righteousness? What are the good deeds of the overwhelming majority of the saints throughout time? I’d bet that most of them made clothes, rather than raised the dead. They loved others, they shared what they had, they spoke up for the ones who were silenced by the powers, they listened to the ones who were told their experiences didn’t matter.
The Good Shepherd calls us to ordinary service. God makes the ordinary things we do holy, whether make sure our work is quality and our prices are fair, or if we sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief; whether we are called to teach children, or farm the land; whether we are called to visit the elderly, or be a mother. God calls us to do the ordinary things in the world in the name of Christ, and by that ordinary work we’ll make God’s kingdom known. That’s what our baptismal vocation is.
So may we all be like Tabitha in our baptismal vocations, hearing God’s call to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and support the poor. May we make our ordinary vocations shine the light of the kingdom of God in our midst. Because that’s how God is at work in the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.