Thursday, March 09, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Acts 9:36-43

The Bible lesson for this weekend's worship celebrations at Friendship is usually one of the readings during the Easter Season in Year C of the lectionary cycle. (We're in Year B right now.) But during this Lent this year, we're involved in a special emphasis we're calling Forty Days to Servanthood. (You may have read something about that here already!)

We began Forty Days to Servanthood in earnest this past weekend with a breakfast. The congregation was presented with short readings for the first twenty-one days of our emphasis. Another packet of nineteen will be forthcoming.

In addition to the readings, members are also being asked to attend four Wednesday night Soup, Salad, and Servanthood gatherings. The first one was held last night. We prayed, enjoyed fellowship over some wonderful Italian Wedding Soup and salad, then sang a hymn, read some Scripture, and discussed our reactions to it and the first four of our readings.

Our aim during this Lenten emphasis, which will also incorporate helping our members find their passionate areas of Christian service and training for specific ministry opportunities in which folks can be involved after Lent, is to help our congregation pursue our mission as summed up in our mission statement:
Friendship Church is a welcoming and caring people who seek to share the kindness of God so that all metropolitian Cincinnati may grow in the faith, hope, and love of the living Jesus Christ!
The Bible Lesson:
36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

A Few General Comments:
(1) The New Testament book of Acts was written by the same author behind the Gospel of Luke. It represents then, the second volume of Luke's account of the early years in the new covenant God makes with the people of the world through His people, Israel.

(2) The first Christians were all Jews who, because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are part of God's ministry of reconciliation and love first initiated through Abraham, continued to live as faithful Jews. They did this even though they were spurned by many of their fellow Jews, as well as by the Roman authorities.

(3) Believers in Jesus Christ, initially composed of 120 people, the number that first-century custom said was required to form a separate synagogue, didn't originally call themselves the "church" (a word that translates the Greek term, ekklesia, meaning the called out). They were just followers of "The Way" who saw themselves as loyal Jews and lived according to Jewish customs and laws.

(4) It took a while for the early Christians to understand the universal mission of God in Jesus Christ and in His Church. They had Jesus' words that they were to be His witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:8) and Peter himself had quoted from the Old Testament during his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) that all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. But it wasn't until believers began to experience persecution (triggered by the martyrdom of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christian, Stephen) that Christians began reaching out to Gentiles with the Good News of Jesus.

(5) Persecution sent the early Christian believers away from Jerusalem, into the rest of Judea, to neighboring Samaria, and eventually, beginning with the elder Philip's encounter with a court official, to Ethiopia. This is exactly what Jesus said the Church would do, but few who first heard this directive (Acts 1:8, again) would have imagined the means by which the Spirit would make it happen. The Church always thrives and grows in the face of persecution. Among the places where Christianity is growing the most quickly today is China, where all but the domesticated, state-sanctioned churches are growing. These house churches are growing at amazingly rapid rates.

(6) This Bible lesson is part of a brief narrative Luke presents on the preaching and mission of Peter, mostly to his fellow Jews, but also eventually to Gentiles (non-Jews), before recounting the conversion and eventual ministry of Saul (later called Paul).

(7) Acts tells how God's community, the Church, reached out with compassion to the world around it and about the life that God created among its members. According to Acts, to be a follower of Jesus Christ is not a "Jesus and me" life. Christ calls us into community with other believers who serve one another and serve their neighbors. We see this communal, upward- and outward-mindedness in our lesson.

Specific comments:
v. 36: (1) Joppa's modern name is Jaffa. It sets on a cliff close to the beaches of Tel Aviv. Like Lydda, where Peter brings healing in Jesus' Name to a paralyzed man, Joppa is part of the coastal plain called Sharon.

(2) The crossroads quality of Judea is here seen in the fact that Tabitha, an Aramaic designation, is also known by her Greek name of Dorcas. Both mean gazelle.

(3) Throughout the book of Acts, we see how highly the Church regards giving and charitable acts. The person who militates against the world's worship of money to render worship to the one true God of the universe through love of God and love of neighbor is filled with God's Spirit. Another spirit fills those who serve themselves.

v. 37: This was the customary care given to the bodies of the deceased. The body was laid out in this way so that, as in America today, mourners could "pay their respects."

vv. 38-39: (1) I'm always struck by the fact that Peter seems to show no hesitation about going with these emissaries. In a period when the Church was subject to persecution, this is either amazingly reckless or amazingly faithful.

(2) Widows were disdained and marginalized in first-century Judea. But not so within the Church. In fact, the widows, beneficiaries of the Church's decision to pool all their resources and only live on what was needed, were provided with food (and presumably, other essentials) by the Church. (Check out Acts 6, which records the first church fight and its successful resolution.)

(3) In fact, the grateful widows present were lauding Dorcas for her faithful servanthood. In Dorcas's case, the ministry involved making clothing for the widows.

That's all that I can write this week, folks.

No comments: