The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Bold Women, Bold Sheep

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

The Women of the ELCA designate one Sunday of the church year as Bold Women’s Day. At Bible exploration on Tuesday, Bev Jaksoniak informed me that, technically, it was supposed to be last Sunday, but as we were busy celebrating one of the bold women among us, we postponed it to this week. This did not burst my bubble in any way, because in my not-so-humble opinion, every day is Bold Women’s Day! But I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.

So, in Judea, there was a coastal town called Joppa, and in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha. She was devoted to good works and to acts of charity. She became ill and died. Peter was nearby, in Lydda, so they sent for him right away. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Tabitha had made while she was with them.

This would be a lovely story of one of the first followers of Jesus, even if it ended here. Tabitha was devoted to good works and to acts of charity. Her fellow widows and dearest friends were devastated at her death. They celebrated her life among them by sharing with Peter the tangible proof of all that that she had given to them when she was alive. This is all that we know for certain about Tabitha. She was well-loved and a devoted disciple. But her story is not in our scripture because she was a nice lady. Her story is in our scripture because Peter was called out to Joppa to resurrect her.

In this season of Easter, we’ve heard a pretty big resurrection story. And we often hear of another, the raising of Lazarus, which is important, too. But here, tucked away into the 9th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles is the quick, quiet story of the time Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Did you know this story before today? Did you know there was a woman so devoted to the Christian life that St. Peter himself drew upon the power of God to bring her back to life? In all likelihood, Tabitha was a bold woman.

Now, in El Salvador, there is a bold woman named Sandra Carolina. She is devoted to good works and to acts of justice. Her people are suffering because their farmland has been stripped of its fertility as it is mined for precious metals. Her people are without food, clean water, or means to provide for their families. This is a humanitarian crisis, an environmental crisis, and a political crisis. Sandra Carolina advocates on their behalf, testifying in court and standing up to the government of El Salvador and these mining giants, at great personal risk.

Now, in Portland, Maine, there is a bold woman named ­­­­Leslie. She is devoted to good works and to acts of justice. She’s the president of the Maine Council of Churches, and she’s a leader in the Society of Friends, or Quaker tradition. In the last several months, she and her people have led the charge to end hunger for their school children, reduce violence against prison inmates, and eradicate gun violence from their community. They held prayer vigils in the capitol rotunda that went on for days, with legislators and the press spending time in prayer alongside them.
Now, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there is a bold woman named Venus. She is devoted to good works and to acts of justice. She runs a community farm and helps low-income women make connections to each other and to their health and to the earth. She believes that there is a major intersection of food-related injustice and gender-related injustice—because women are disproportionately forced to make hard decisions about the health of their families. Venus leads this farming community and advocates on their behalf for a better system that does not leave them hungry.

Now, in Boston, Massachusetts, there is a bold woman named Carrie. She is devoted to good works and acts of deep love. She was on the sidelines at the 25.5 mile marker of the Marathon on Monday, to support and photograph a friend who was running. Before her friend had crossed the 25.5 mile marker, Carrie heard and felt the twin blasts, just under a mile away at the finish line. Alongside the Boston Police Department and other first responders and spectators, Carrie ran toward the chaos. Carrie loaned her cell phone to dozens of people, desperate to reunite with their loved ones. Carrie gave her coat to a shivering stranger, never intending to get it back. Carrie held the hand of a weeping mother who had yet to find her daughter in the aftermath. Carrie, like all bold women, did what she could, with what she had, where she was.

In North Minneapolis, MN, there is a bold woman named Maria. In the Bronx, NY, there is a bold woman named Gretchen. In Boston, MA, there is a bold woman named Jocelyn. In Washington, DC, there is a bold woman named Bianca. In Austin, TX, there is a bold woman named Jodi. In Basalt, CO, there is a bold woman named Kelsey. In San Jose, CA, there is a bold woman named Laura. In Seattle, WA, there is a bold woman named Jill. And in Littleton, CO, there are countless bold women.

Here in this place, each and every day, there are women making a difference in the life of this congregation and in the life of this community. To name any of you would lead to naming all of you, because there is not one woman among us who is not worthy of praise. Bold women, from Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Mary Magdalene, to Tabitha, to Sandra Carolina, Leslie, Venus, Carrie, and all of the bold women you and I know and love—all these women have responded to the call of Jesus to care for our neighbors and our communities and our planet by whatever means we have available—doing what we can, with what we have, where we are.

In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice—I know them, and they follow me.” These bold women have heard the voice of Jesus.

And so in addition to celebrating Bold Women’s Day, the lectionary designates this as Good Shepherd Sunday. Our readings included the 23rd Psalm, some of the most familiar words in the Christian tradition, as well as a little metaphor from Jesus about sheep. Good Shepherd Sunday is always a really fun learning experience about sheep. Since I don’t know any sheep, personally, each year, these texts remind me of our dear woolly friends and their contributions to our story.  

I learned this year that sheep have very poor eyesight—they struggle to see more than a few feet in front of them. Very easily, sheep can get separated from the herd and from the shepherd, just by wandering a short distance. We may not want to compare ourselves to the decidedly unglamorous sheep, but the truth is that we have more in common than we think.

How often do we struggle to see what’s right in front of our faces? How often do we wander off on a path we think is safe, only to find we’ve completely lost our way? How often, when we think we’re lost for good, do we just need a little nudge from a metaphorical sheepdog to find ourselves back where we belong? Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows that we mean well. Knows that we do not intend to get lost.

And our Good Shepherd is so invested in each and every one of us, that when we do falter, he leaves the 99 to go in search of us, the missing one. I’m about as far from a sheep expert as it is possible to be, but it sounds to me like Jesus is an exceptional shepherd.

So, knowing this, we must take the hint. We must take this page out of Jesus’ book, quite literally, and be sure that we, as the body of Christ, are not forgetting about the one who is outside the fold. We, who hear the voice of Jesus, are called to pull all those who have fallen by the wayside, all those who our culture has forced to the margins, all those who our systems fail to support, all those who our own hearts often keep us from including—to not quietly nudge them back into the herd, but to lift them up onto our shoulders and celebrate them, that that which has been lost has been found again! That never again can they be snatched from the Father’s grasp.

We cannot be content to be safely among the herd, with no regard for those who have faded from our field of vision. We cannot be content to let those who are at great risk become lost. We cannot be content to feed only those who have made their way to our table—for God has set us a table in the presence of our enemies.

And we have spent much of this week in the presence of our enemies. The bombing of the Boston Marathon and the ensuing chaos and eventual manhunt do not call to mind the green pastures and cool water of the 23rd psalm. There were explosions and gunfire and weaponry beyond our wildest imaginations. And yet in the midst of all of this darkness, there were human heroes—the first responders, law enforcement, and resilient residents of Boston have proven that terrorism does not have the final say.

The American people have been bloodied by the brutality of a few, but we as the people of God know that death, while very real, is not ultimate. The courage displayed by those who ran toward the explosions and into the firefights reminds us that the human spirit will not be crushed by fear. These heroes, in service to their neighbor, have inspired in all of us a boldness we did not know was lying dormant.

We are bold women, and we are bold sheep, and we are bold to proclaim that, like Tabitha, the power of the holy spirit has given us new life, and new life abundantly. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Running Shoes

"God's Gift in the Midst of Violence," Walter Brueggemann