Sermon for Sunday, April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43

“Healing The Healers; Serving The Servants”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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In a little church in Boston’s Back Bay area there are hidden treasures of vast beauty.  The Church of the Covenant, a congregation of both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ, sits on the corner of Berkeley and Newbury Streets.  Nestled in its unassuming (and all-too-familiar) Gothic exterior are 40 windows designed and created by the acclaimed 19th century artist Louis Comfort Tiffany and the staff of his studios.  Not only are there amazing Tiffany windows surrounding the perimeter of the sanctuary, but hanging above the transept floats a six-by-12-foot angelic sculpture chandelier that had been a star of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition and is today considered the preeminent exemplar of all Tiffany lamps.

This church has a special place in my life.  In this sanctuary in 1990 Craig and I, along with several dozen of our dearest friends and colleagues, committed ourselves to each other in Holy Union.  A few years later, in 1993, Craig was ordained into Christian Ministry in the midst of this diverse and progressive community of faith.  In between these two sacred ceremonies the Tiffany windows underwent an extensive and expensive restoration project, along with the sanctuary as a whole.  In both instances it was an awesome experience being in a space saturated by the matchless atmosphere created by this master artist.

DorcasAfterVandalismOne of the windows that looked down upon us on both days was the Dorcas window, created to honor the woman of today’s DorcasWindowPiecesscripture text from Acts 9.  Much like our own Widow’s Mite window, the Dorcas window remains one of the few stained glass windows that remembers and honors a lesser-known woman of the Bible.  That is why it was especially painful when the church’s administrator walked into the nave on November 10, 2011 and discovered that vandals had broken through the Dorcas window, most likely using a fire extinguisher, in order to steal from the church.  This beautiful window, with its rich gold, green, and amber hues had a gaping hole where the bottom of Dorcas’ robe would have been, with twisted leading gruesomely sticking out.  The congregation, much like ours with a wide diversity of folks from all economic strata, was aghast.  Insurance would not cover the entire cost of truly restoring it to its original Tiffany-level of beauty and quality.

But through the hard work of the congregation, the dedication of a wonderful stained glass studio, and the generous donation of an anonymous donor in addition to many, many smaller individual gifts, the Dorcas window was “resurrected” and dedicated on November 28, 2012.  To the professional eye, as well as the casual observer, Dorcas’ former tragic state would not be obvious and she would return amongst the pantheon of 19 biblical figures who stand witness to the congregation’s powerful work and witness.  (1)DorcasAfterRestoration

Echoing the story of Dorcas, the window found new life and new hope through the devotion of those who loved her and the touch of a healer’s hand.  In Acts 9 Dorcas, also called Tabitha, is portrayed as a hard working woman, “devoted to good works and acts of charity,” the New Revised Standard Version tells us.  Peter, one of the disciples, was called upon to come to Joppa.  We do not know exactly why they called Peter.  Perhaps they simply wanted this apostle to know and honor the memory of one of the saints amongst them.  Perhaps he had a special bond with Dorcas, having worked alongside her on one of his apostolic missions.   Or maybe, just maybe, they might have thought that his close relationship with Jesus might have conferred some healing powers on him, that he might bring their loved one back to life.

Whatever the case might be as to why they called him, they did, and he came.  What happened next is one of the most beautiful testimonials to the richness of the grief process.  The text describes the scene exquisitely in verse 29: So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.”  As if to memorialize their beloved friend, they showed Peter the work of her hands.

MyHandAs I read this, I just imagine all the saints that have gone on before us, and those who sit beside us.  I envision the amazing works of their hands… and hearts, and voices, and backs, and minds.  What if every funeral and memorial service were done in complete silence, and the only thing offered were the works of our lives?  Perhaps it might be cloth woven or clothes sewn, like Dorcas had created.  But it could also be clothes redistributed, meals served, and groceries given out.  I’m sure it would be children taught, youths coached, and adults trained.  The works of our lives given in service to others includes so many things: babies birthed, metals forged, books checked out, houses painted, bank accounts kept safe, trees planted, and yes, even sometimes sermons preached.  Just imagine the people of your life lined up at your memorial service with symbols of the works of your life, offered in love and through tears of remembrance.  What would be brought forward for Peter to see at your funeral, I wonder?  Mine?

And then Peter, after having witnessed this outpouring of love made real for this woman devoted to “good works and acts of charity,” turned to her body and said quietly, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opened her eyes, and sat up.  New life, whenever it comes to us, is always a mystery and always a mystery to be celebrated.  We never know why this person is brought back to life and this person isn’t.  The uniqueness of this story is that someone other than Jesus is the instrument of resurrection.  In this case, Peter, the one who said to his friend, “You are the Christ!” yes, but PeterHealsDorcasalso the one to whom Jesus exclaimed “Get thee behind me, Satan!” So, there remains some sense that God can work through all of us for healing, even those of us of less saintly persuasion than Christ himself.  And the fact that this is the only instance named in scripture where Peter raises someone from the dead also calls us to be cautious about simplistic platitudes about how and why God heals.  Even the works of the hands of Peter doesn’t answer the question, “Why this person and not that person?”

Yes, scripture is less worried about the “why” and the “who.”  And scripture is certainly worried far less about the “who gets credit” and much more about the “who do you say I am” when it comes to healing.  So with Dorcas we must resist asking too many questions.  As with all the healings and resurrections of the Bible and in our lives we must worry less about the why this person and not that person, and worry more about actually being the agents of healing and care in this world.  If you were to look at this passage as literature, you would see immediately that the importance of who Dorcas was when she was previously alive is as significant, perhaps even more so, as the actual resurrection.  Knowing that she was devoted to good works and acts of charity and that she had developed a deep friendship with women who would so intentionally want Peter to know and see who she was is as critical as the fact that she was brought back from death to life.

Not too many streets over from Church of the Covenant in Boston a horrific tragedy occurred this past week.  You surely know that on Monday two bombs exploded on Boylston Street where the Boston Marathon was concluding.  This week has been a painful exploration of the depth of human sinfulness and the evil of which we are capable of doing to others and ourselves.  But it has also been a week of observing the breadth and height and depth of human compassion, courage, servanthood, and unity.

Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Sean Collier.  We could spend a lifetime trying to decide why these four persons were killed and others weren’t; why hundreds were maimed and hurt while some just as close were not.  We might also brood over why on the other side of the world on the very same day bombs killed 42 people and maimed and hurt over 250 more across Iraq.  But not only would that be time wasted, but it would most likely set us up for some pretty shoddy spirituality and some terrible theological pronouncements.

Carlos Arreddondo (Huffington Post)

Carlos Arreddondo (Huffington Post)

Rather, what if we looked at the work of the hands of the servants of God to see how healing truly comes.  If we look at the hands of Carlos Arreddondo who was at the Boston Marathon with his wife.  They lost their son to a sniper bullet in Iraq in 2004 and a second son to suicide a few years later.  “Why our boys?” they surely wondered!   But after the grief and depression, Carlos now spends his time working on peace activism and with vets coming home from war.  He was handing out American flags at the Marathon that day to inspire people.  When the blast went off, however, Carlos’ hands went into action.  He ran toward the danger, found a man on the ground with both legs blown off, suffering from severe shock.  He got him into a wheelchair and pinched the man’s artery closed with two of his fingers.  This man is alive literally because of the works of Carlos’ hands.  Why this man and another?  No one knows!  All I know is that Carlos’ hands did the work of God. (2)

Likewise I watched an interview with the staff of the Forum restaurant, which was at the epicenter of the second bomb blast that went off on the sidewalk ForumRestaurantBombingimmediately in front.  Once the patrons of the restaurant were ushered safely out the back door, the entire restaurant staff ran back to the front sidewalk and immediately began doing everything in their power to help the wounded.  One man, the bartender I believe, told of finding a woman in shock and simply cradling her head in his lap and stroking her hair while the medical personnel did what they could to save her.  Why this woman and not that man.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that at a critical point in the middle of a horrendous catastrophe the work of this bartender’s hands soothed this woman’s soul as much as it caressed her hair. (2)

When I first envisioned this sermon it was to be a word of healing to all of you who do the work of God day in and day out, within these church walls and, most especially, beyond in the midst of a world in need.  I titled it “Healing The Healers; Serving The Servants” to give all of you my word of profound gratitude for all that you do to make this world a better place.  I hope you hear that this still is a word of gratitude to you, for if we remove the question, “Why do I help this person and not that person,” and instead focus on celebrating the work of your hands whomever and wherever they serve, then we can be relieved of any guilt, anxiety, or stupid theologizing and simply be God’s servants.  If all of us spent less time on trying to figure out who and why and when and where someone deserves Peter’s resurrecting, Carlos’ healing, our serving, then we will be freed up to simply restore, simply heal, simply serve.  In a word: simply love.  Which is surely all God’s handiwork made real through you and through me.

And, like the woman in Joppa, the window in Boston, the strangers on the street, God’s work will be done… one hand at a time.


(Ed. Photos and links of the Dorcas window and the restoration project will be posted on my pastor’s blog at

(1) Boston Globe Article:

Serpentino Stained Glass:

(2) Carlos Arrendondo:

(3) Forum Restaurant: Restaurant staff springs into action after bomb blast – Fri, Apr 19, 2013  The reference I make is at minute 6:20 in the piece.