Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Last week we witnessed an intimate conversation between Peter and the resurrected Jesus. Three times Peter responded to Jesus’ questioning about his love for him in the affirmative. Each time, Jesus responded to Peter with call-to-action commands, “Feed my lambs;” “tend my sheep;” “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17). In our first reading in Acts, we witness Peter doing just that. In the verses just before our passage , Peter had healed the paralytic, Aeneas, in Lydda, with the words, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” That healing brought all of the residents of Lydda and Sharon to the Lord.
Many of us have heard the saying, “it’s not about what you know, but who you know.” Peter, along with the other apostles, were certainly in the know—they knew Jesus and they knew that he had been resurrected. After many years of navigating corporate networking circles, I’m convinced that the power of anyone’s impact is rooted not in what you know, or who you know, but who knows you.
Who knows you long after you are out of sight; who knows about you, through a third party, having never met you.
This is what has happened in the passage in Acts. Peter’s healing of the paralytic in Lydda increased awareness—evangelism—about the works he had been empowered to manifest in Jesus’ name. Something tragic had happened in Joppa. As a result, the disciples in Joppa sent two men to bring Peter from Lydda, which was nearby. The illness and death of a disciple by the name of Tabitha had compelled those with hope in the resurrection of Jesus to find Peter.
Peter arrived to a scene taking place in the upper room with weeping widows honoring their beloved friend by showing Peter the clothing that Tabitha had made. Tabitha’s body had already been prepared for burial. Her death was real, and was deeply felt.
And yet, in the aftermath of Tabitha’s illness and death, in the midst of the dark cloud of death, the hope that death was not the final answer remained. The disciples knew that there was a reality greater than death, and that the Apostle Peter, witness to the resurrected Jesus, could bring forth belief in that new reality.
Peter cleared the room, knelt down and prayed. While the passage says nothing about power of silence, I recall times when I needed to clear the room of a recently-deceased patient so that I could pray with the body in the unique silence and stillness of death. What I know to be true is that the Holy Spirit still moves in that silence and in that stillness.
Turned toward the body, Peter commanded her by name, “Tabitha, get up,” and she did. He then restored her to her community by showing her to be fully alive to the saints and widows present. The resuscitation of Tabitha brought many to belief in the Lord.
Tabitha was described as one who was devoted to good works and acts of charity. As a disciple of Jesus’ Tabitha’s care for others might be seen as an expression of feeding Jesus’ lambs, tending his sheep and feeding his sheep. But, she was first Jesus’ beloved sheep—a sheep that heard Jesus’ voice and followed him. Tabitha’s transformation from death to life pointed to Jesus and testified to His truth.
Our Gospel passage in John underscores the human participation factor in being a part of Jesus’ sheep. As Jesus was walking into the temple the Jews demanded that he tell them plainly that he was the Messiah. Jesus said, “I have told you, and you do not believe.”
They were deaf to the voice of Jesus; no spoken words could bring them belief. The Jews did not even believe the works that Jesus did in his Father’s name because they were blind to the mighty works of God.
The Jews in Jesus’ presence were not his sheep. They had neither heard his voice nor followed him while he was living among them. Perhaps they had set in their minds what they wanted to hear and what they needed to see in order for them to accept the truth of Jesus’ identity. If so, they were waiting to believe not in God’s truth, but in their own truth—the truth of man.
The shepherd feeds and tends the souls of the lambs and the sheep. And, the way to hear Jesus’ voice and to be one of his sheep is to participate in his self-giving love through belief in him, calling on him by name, the name that God established as the name above all names—Jesus Christ.
There are people in the world who, when Jesus calls to them by name into a new life of abundance, liberation and healing, choose to be deaf and blind to the truth of God in Christ. But Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Jesus died on the cross once for all for the salvation of the world. Spiritual deafness and blindness need not be eternally-terminal conditions.
As 21st century disciples you and I share the burden of salvation as willing instruments of God’s calling out to his people to bring those suffering from the spiritually-terminal condition of faithlessness to the spiritually-enlivened condition of faithfulness.
Like Peter and Tabitha, the way that anyone truly knows that you belong to Jesus is not how much you proselytize or how many crosses you wear around your neck or have tattooed on your body. The barriers of deafness and blindness are broken and the truth of Jesus becomes the new reality for lost sheep, who are impersonating other animals, is how closely we imitate Christ. We are to seek, find, tend and feed his sheep—those with whom we journey through this life.
The faith community of Wesley Chapel Episcopal church that I know, is and continues to become, a spiritual home that imitates the love of Christ. We know one another. We call each other by name. And, we care for one another. In the short time that we have been forming, there have been serious illnesses, broken feet, knee surgeries—and the visits to the sick, the transportation for the shut in and the calls to the isolated happen. In this same short time, we have shared corporate worship and fellowship—our first Christmas and Easter and, in a few days, a Confirmation. Heeding the voice of our Good Shepherd, we continue to step out in faith as we prepare to move into our new church home.
Let us continue to nurture this faith community to the full stature of Christ so that when those who seek Christ cross the threshold into our church, they may hear Christ’s voice calling them by name, through you, and see the face of Christ shining forth from your face.
May it be so. Amen.