Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dead Raising Church, Part 1

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Our sermon from last week, by our own amazing Pastor Cindy...

Mary Burgess and Mabel Mitchell, two of the saints that I met when I first came to Jeff Street, spent every Wednesday morning for I don’t how many years working in the Clothes Closet that we had when we were in the other building. They would sort and bag and fold and hang, and sort and bag and fold and hang.

And there’s no telling how many people benefited from their faithful ministry, how many kids were able to go to school wearing something new, or at least different, how many men were able to find jobs because now they had a clean shirt and tie, or a pair of pants that fit.

Cheryl Bone, one of the saints of Jeff Street that we are privileged to have in our midst now, spends five mornings a week down at the Golden Arrow, which sounds like a nightclub, but is instead a ministry that provides clothes and diapers and bottles and formula and all kinds of other stuff for expectant and new mothers.

Like Mary and Mabel before her, Cheryl sorts and bags and folds and hangs, and there’s no telling how many people benefit from Cheryl’s faithful ministry.

Tabitha, in Aramaic, or Dorcas, in Greek, lived in a time, I would venture to say, before Clothes Closets. Some of us, by the way, think that BC means “before Christ,” but those of us who are thrift store aficionados know that it really means, “before Clothes Closets.” Or maybe not.

At any rate, she was indispensable to her community. She made clothes for them, which is something that most of us just take for granted, being clothed. But when you don’t have clothes that keep you warm, or clothes that fit, then you know just how important a woman like Dorcas could be to a community.

And that’s evidenced by the description here in the story of how the women are showing Peter every piece of clothing that Dorcas ever made, each one with a story behind it, each one with Dorcas’ loving care and kindness stitched into it.

This story is one of the post-Easter lectionary passages not because it happens in the weeks directly following the resurrection, but because it’s about resurrection. Dorcas is raised from the dead. Now the more pragmatic ones among us will instantly move to questions like, how could that have happened? Maybe she was not dead at all. But if we want to be faithful to the story, we have to start out with her as dead. And I know that some of you are already thinking about the Monty Python parrot skit…

Dorcas, like the parrot, was as dead as a doornail. And that she was raised from that, well, that should surprise not a one of us, metaphorically speaking, anyway. We’ve all seen people who were dead and raised to life.

Once I was visiting our beloved brother Larry Burke at University Hospital. He was in intensive care, and I noticed in the room across the way, that someone had died, and that they had covered him or her with a sheet. I found it strange that they’d left the door open, but then they didn’t really have solid doors on this intensive care unit, and as I was thinking about all of this, suddenly the man sat up, and I almost had a heart attack.

When the nurse came in, I said, “I thought that man that was covered up with a sheet was dead.” She said, “Oh, he does that all the time.”

Robert and I were in Malaysia once for about three hours, and we spent about thirty minutes of it standing on a corner with a slew of other people who were watching a man do mumbo jumbo over another man who was presumbly dead and lying under a sheet. He was, according to the English speaking man who sidled up to us, going to raise the man back to life. “He is raised from the dead every night,” he said, with great humor.

We didn’t have time to see the actual event, but judging from the crowd, I’ll bet that it was pretty exciting.

In this story, though, it’s not through the act of one person that Dorcas is raised, it is through the power of the gathered community, who, out of their love for Dorcas, do the only thing they know to do on her behalf and call in Peter. Dorcas couldn’t raise herself. She could not call for Peter. But the gathered community could. And, says Stephen Jones, they were unafraid to wade into each others’ lives in transforming ways. And so they did.

They were unafraid to wade into each others’ lives in transforming ways. That phrase reminds me of something that happened just this week. The Coordinating Council approached Diane Moten recently with the offer, having seen her abundant gifts for ministry, to ordain her. We suggested that she pull together some folks from the church to help her discern whether or not she wants to pursue this, and she did, and we met on Thursday night.

This time of discernment, which sometimes ends with a decision to continue with the process of ordination and sometimes does not, is always a holy time. At the end of this particular time, Diane, being Diane, went around the little circle, and told each of us why she had chosen us to be a part of her discernment process.

I was a little surprised by what she said when she got to Andy. She said, “Andy, sometimes you just make me so mad.” She’d been saying all this nice stuff to the rest of us, and she said, “Andy, sometimes you just make me so mad. You remember that day at church, and I had to just walk away from you and go outside because I was so mad at you?” Andy nodded, yes, he did remember that. “But you and I were able to work it out, right? And the reason I wanted you here tonight is because you always push and challenge me, and because you always have a different perspective from mine, and because you make me a better person.” That’s not word for word, but it the gist of it.

Andy and Diane are unafraid to wade into each others’ lives in transforming ways.

And the widows are not afraid to wade into Dorcas’ life, either, and they call for Peter...

Dead Raising Church, Part 2

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The rest of the sermon...

Katie Huey, at her excellent website, tells us that “Joseph Harvard suggests that the story ‘challenges our assumption that we are left to our own devices to fix our predicaments – or, more to the point, that our predicaments are not fixable at all.’ He says that we live in a ‘Humpty Dumpty’ world in which we are convinced that things can not be put back together again, but the book of Acts tells a different story, about people who were empowered to 'turn the world upside down.'”

And the so widows call for Peter, and Peter comes in, and wades through the widows, through their stories and their tears, and then goes in to where Dorcas is, and raises her from the dead, and presents her to them alive.

I love that! He presents them to her alive. Have you ever met someone who used to be dead, and I’m not talking physically dead, I’m talking spiritually or emotionally dead, someone without a spark of anything in their eyes, and then later you meet them again, and you see that something has happened to them, that they’ve been made alive? Or maybe you see them as they’re being made alive.

I remember there was this man who used to come to our Hospitality Program. He was there every morning for years, and he never said a word to anybody. He just sat there, long beard, long fingernails, dirty face and hair, just sat there and drank his coffee. We’d say hi to him, “Hi, Doyle,” every morning, and he’d just sit there.

Then one morning, and this was after he’d been coming for years, he said, “Hi.” You coulda knocked me over with a feather. He eventually warmed up to the point that he taught me how to play spades one morning, if you can believe that. I saw that man with my own two eyes go from dead to alive.

William Willimon tells the story of a church that he once pastored in rural Georgia. On his first visit to the church, he found a large chain and padlock on the front door. It had been put there by the Sheriff the week before when the church members got mad at a board meeting and started ripping up the carpet and dragging out the pews that they had given in memory of their mothers. (Hopefully that won’t happen at our business meeting today.) The Sheriff said that he’d keep the lock on the door until the new preacher could come in and settle everything down.

Willimon says that that rather typified his whole time at the so-called church, what with the arguments, the pettiness, the fights in the parking lot. He spent a long, hard year there, and on his last day, as he drove away, he muttered, “You call yourselves a church!”

A couple of years later, he ran into a young man who told him that he was pastoring the same church. Willimon’s heart went out to him. “Remarkable bunch of people,” the young man said. “Yes, remarkable,” replied Willimon.

“Their ministry to the community has been a wonder,” he continued. “That little church is now supporting, in one way or another, more than a dozen of the troubled families around the church. The free day care center is going great. Not too many interracial congregations like them in North Georgia.”

Willimon could hardly believe it. “What happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know. One Sunday, things just sort of came together. It wasn’t anything in particular. It’s just that, when the service was done, and we were on our way out, we knew that Jesus loved us and had plans for us. Things fairly much took off after that.”

Willimon says, “I tell you what I think happened. I think that church got intruded upon. I think someone greater than I knocked the lock off that door, kicked it open and offered them peace, the Holy Spirit, mission and forgiveness. And now, they are called ‘church.’”

Church, how sweet it is to be called church, church, with the power of the Risen Christ behind us. Church, with the courage to wade into each others’ lives and into this world in transforming ways. Church, with the power to love people into a whole other space, to grace people into new life.

Church, locks knocked off, doors kicked open, life-giving, dead-raising church. Church, God-blessed, Christ-peaced, Spirit-blown church. That’s Peter and Dorcas and her widowed friends, that’s Mabel Mitchell and Mary Burgess and Larry Burke, that’s you and me, folks. Church, life-giving church. Church, dead-raising church.

Sermon by Pastor Cindy

Friday, April 09, 2010


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He is risen!


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There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.


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After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way.

Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.

Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?"

They answered him, "No."

So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.

So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.

The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.

Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."

So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast."


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A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away."

At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed.

Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly...


When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.

They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so."

And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer.

Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?"

But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed...


Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him.

They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.

Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"

They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him...

...And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left...

...Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"


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On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'"

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching...


...When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

"Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.

Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.

Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, 'They will respect my son.'

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'

They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?"

They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."

Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'?

Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit...

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them.

And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet...


The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward who stated, "This man said, 'I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'"

The high priest rose and addressed him, "Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?"

But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God."

Jesus said to him in reply, "You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'"

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?" They said in reply, "He deserves to die!"