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.

Get Up—A Sermon Decidedly Not About Sheep

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

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

We didn’t read the psalm assigned for today, Psalm 23, the Lord is My Shepherd, so you may not have been clued in that this set of texts qualifies as this year’s “Good Shepherd Sunday” lectionary. [You may have noticed that we sang Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us at the beginning, yeah?]

There are a handful of stories that Jesus tells about sheep, and so we have this week every year where we read one or two and then all preachers have to somehow figure out a way to tell people that they are or are not sheep, and that this is good news! Aside from the fact that I definitely befriended a sheep at the petting zoo on Picnic Day, I don’t really know a whole lot about them, and I don’t imagine that you do, either. [Unless, of course, sheep were under your care in FFA, Kenton.]

The interesting thing about this sheepy text is that it is paired with one of the most interesting and underrated stories in the whole New Testament. [Were you listening carefully during the reading from Acts?]

The story goes that 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. This is, to my knowledge, the only story about her. We know, from its few verses, that she was well-loved and a devoted disciple. Tabitha sounds to me like a classic church lady.

How many of you can think of someone from your home parish, or the parish you attend here in Davis, or the parish you work at, that you think resembles Tabitha? A sweet, kind woman who knits or sews or whatever the textile project of choice is in your congregation, and everyone loves her. And she’s like maybe 1000 years old. Okay, so picture her playing the role of Tabitha. When she dies, people will come to talk about the ways that she made their life better, and show off the quilt she made them when they went away to college. She’s a really nice lady.

But Tabitha’s story is not in our scripture because she was a really nice lady. Her story is in our scripture because Peter was called out to Joppa to resurrect her.

In this season of Easter, we have recently 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 that 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?

Maybe our dearest Catholic brothers and sisters in the room are more familiar with her, as she is sometimes referred to as Saint Tabitha; the very unthorough google search I did of her was inconclusive as to whether or not she is, in fact, a saint. My main man Martin Luther, though, would certainly call her one. One of the most memorable things Marty left to us was the notion that each one of us is simultaneously saint and sinner.

I think that’s so helpful for us, living in a world of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, Republican and Democrat. It is possible—it is necessary!—that we understand ourselves to be more than just one thing.

We can be all the things that we feel we are, all the time. We can be happy about something while being sad about something else. We can be excited about the future and worried about it at the same time. We can be grateful for the relationships that we have, and long for the ones that we don’t. We can be pretty confident right now, and have some doubts tomorrow. We can be kind in one minute, and snap at someone the next. None of these things make us only a good or only a bad person.

Like Sirius Black once said to Harry Potter, “the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us.” He goes on to say that it only matters which we act on. That’s true, except we act on the light and the dark inside us, all the time. There’s no switch to flip. And that’s okay!

That’s sort of how grace works. We are beloved children of God, no matter what. Because we know that we are beloved, we are more able to act on the goodness we know to be somewhere in there. But we’re not completely sin-free, and we never will be. God knows that. God’s love is beyond that. Because Jesus lived, died, and lived again, we know that God has power over all the things that our world can throw at us.

There’s an awesomely bad hymn that I grew up singing called Every Morning is Easter Morning. Do you know it? I like it because it sounds like Jesus was resurrected to star in a Broadway musical. Hear me out:

Every morning is Easter morning, from now on!
Every day’s resurrection day—the past is over and gone!
Goodbye guilt, goodbye fear—good riddance!
Hello Lord, hello sun!
I am one of the Easter people; my new life has begun!

It helps if you pretend to tap dance while you sing it. Okay, so, this song is like as cheesy as it is possible to be, right? Welcome to church music in the 1970s, I guess. Cheesiness notwithstanding, the lyrics of this song are right on. Every new day,  you are alive. Every new day, you are free. Every new day, you are so beloved by God, that the Holy Spirit is at work in you—as she was in Peter and in Tabitha—to show the world that they, too, can be alive and well. As the Easter people, you are literally shining examples of the love of God through Jesus. The powers of this world—fear, oppression, death—do not have the final say. God has the power to breathe new life into all of us. 

Our world has a habit of knocking people down. But like Peter said to Tabitha, God says to you, so simply, “get up.”

Because Jesus is risen, and Tabitha is risen, you, too, are risen. Thanks be to God!

Breathe — An Audience-Participation-Required Sermon on Peace

Verb My Nouns—A Sermon for Episcopal Service Corps Program Directors