October 10-11, 2009
Text: Acts 9: 36-43
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we are celebrating LWML Sunday. We do this each year to honor the service of our Synod’s Women’s auxiliary. This year posed a challenge, as neither the regular readings appointed for the week when we celebrated St. Michael and All Angels, which then we did not use, nor the readings appointed for this day seemed suitable. It has been the practice in the published materials to use the readings for the date they are suggesting for LWML Sunday. That would be two weeks ago when we celebrated St. Michael. But as I said, they seemed particularly unsuited. So in a departure from normal practice, I have selected a different text.
Years ago, many of our local ladies groups, were called the Dorcas Society. They were named in honor of the woman in our text. One of my tasks this morning is to disabuse you of the notion that she was some super Christian. She was in fact, very ordinary. But God used her in extraordinary ways.
This account takes place just a few months after Jesus’ ascension. The growth of the Church was explosive, rapidly spreading in the Jewish and Samaritan communities. They had not yet preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. One of the striking features of our text is the role played by the widows. In those days widows were often young women. The death of their husband would leave them destitute. Many were forced into prostitution. We see references to this already in the book of Ruth, about 1200 years earlier. But the Church, from day one, took in widows and provided for them. They already are playing a vital role in the Church in its first year. We don’t know if Dorcas or Tabatha was a widow. She might or might not have been a widow. But it appears that she had some means of her own. So if she was a widow she would have likely had a son. In that case she would have had control of her husband’s estate, to preserve it for her son. How do we know that Dorcas was a women of some means? She made garments for the widows, who had been left destitute. This was not just a mark of talent - that she was skilled with needle and thread - but that she had the means to afford to do this as well. Now in saying this, I don’t mean to imply that she was necessarily wealthy. She just had access to at least a small amount of funds. Had she been very wealthy they would have anointed her body with spices and oil, not just washed it.
Peter is nearby so they summon him to attend the funeral, which normally took place the same day. So there was some urgency. What is interesting, is that when the widows showed Peter the garments Dorcas had made, he put them outside. He wanted nothing to do with the praise party. At that moment, what Dorcas had done was not important. What was important was what Christ had done for her. Christ had forgiven the sins of Dorcas. If her sins were indeed forgiven, she was no longer bound by death. Now Peter, could have simply assured the mourners that Dorcas now lived with Christ in heaven. That would certainly have been true. Peter certainly did this on many other occasions. But Peter does something different. Peter is directed by the Holy Spirit. We know this from the outcome of the event. Without the working of the Holy Spirit, this does not play out the way Scripture tells us. Peter, instructed by the Spirit, raises her from the dead. This became a sign used by the Holy Spirit to bring many to faith in Christ. Peter does not raise Dorcas from the dead, because she was some special saint. She is raised from the dead so that others would turn to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
As I have noted, Dorcas was not a super Christian, saint extraordinare, or anything like this. The only thing that makes her stand out from the other women of her age is that we have her name. About now, you are ready to object saying, but what about all the garments she made? Yes? Your point? Let’s work this through. Why was Dorcas a Christian? Because Christ died for her sins and through the Holy Spirit gave her faith to trust in this for her salvation. In other words, she was saved by grace, as a free gift of God. Nothing she did earned any favor with God or even could earn any favor with God. I would go so far as to say that Peter was probably at the deathbed of dozens of women, just like Dorcas, even some that had done more than Dorcas. Only this one did he raise from the dead. She was raised, not because she was special, but because at that moment, this sign would bring many to faith.
What of Dorcas’ works? Surely this is worthy of something. I think if you would have asked her, she would have said, it is nothing. For if you know that Christ has made perfect satisfaction before God the Father for you, and that He gives this to you as a free gift, does this not prompt a response? Of course. We sing songs of praise to God. But we do something else as well. We give of ourselves, as Christ gave of Himself. Dorcas is just an example of the millions of faithful women in the history of the Church. She saw a need that she could fill and she filled it. She did this freely, as Christ had also given freely to her. Her reward was already hers before she did anything. It was because she understood that she was forgiven, that she was free to serve others.
And so to this day also. Christian men and women serve in response to what Christ has done for them. We serve because Christ has already served us. We don’t serve to gain anything for ourselves. Christ has already given us all that we will ever need. This too then is the way we must view the labor the LWML. This is a natural outpouring of love for the One who has saved us. This is just what Christians do. This is just what Christian women do. Because we are already saved by Christ, we serve those around us as we see that they have need. To assist our women in this, we have created the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Just like Dorcas, these women are very ordinary. They are humble children of God raised to life by Christ. They see a need and they fill it. This is not for any reward, for what reward could there be that is greater than what they already have? The women of the LWML do this simply because this is who they are as redeemed children of God. Yes, it is very ordinary, what they do. But God uses it for extraordinary things, just God used Dorcas’ for extraordinary things.