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It's Time to Get Up!

Date:5/12/19

Passage: Acts 9:36-43

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michael L. Gregg

I often see memes posted on social media thanking God for allowing us to wake up every morning. Sometimes they’re catchy and cute like “Don’t forget to pray today, because God didn’t forget to wake you up this morning.” Sometimes they’re a beautiful prayer like, “Thank you God for the sounds that disturbed my sleep, for many woke today and could not hear. Thank you God for all the things I see around me, as many woke today and could not see. Thank you for muscles that move and allow me to get up, as many woke today and could not. I thank you most of all for allowing me and those I love to wake up, as this morning many woke not.”

For most of us, getting up every morning is a blessing. It means we got to leave behind all that was terrible yesterday, give our brains and our bodies some rest, and then begin the day fresh, with new and promising energy. And we all have different ways of getting up, don’t we? Some of us might spring out of bed at 5 AM, workout, eat breakfast, and move headfirst into the day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Others of us might hit the snooze button one too many times and sluggishly grab a cup of coffee before driving to work, bleary-eyed and dragging our tails. Some of us feel great in the morning and others might hear the popping and cracking of joints as we groan with every movement. But we all eventually have to get up and get moving into the day that God has provided.

Our Scripture lesson for today in the book of Acts is about getting up. There are so many interesting things in this text. The play on words is important. Do you remember in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus says to the leader of the synagogue that his daughter was healed? The man didn’t believe it so Jesus took Peter, James, and John and went to the house where the girl had died. Jesus reached out his hand and said, “Talitha Cum.” Or, “Little Girl, Arise!” Get up! And we get a similar phrase here in Acts. Peter says to the recently deceased Dorcas, “Tabitha, Get up!” Dorcas is the Greek name for Tabitha. “Talitha Cum or Talitha, get up” is so similar to “Tabitha, Get up!” And so, I think we are meant to see that Jesus and Peter both desire that the people of God, those who are desperate, sick, and even dead, and in this case, especially women and children, need to get up, to arise and continue their good and purposeful work in the world.

And we see why it was important for Tabitha to be raised from the dead. Because Tabitha did everything she could possibly do to love and help others. Tabitha understood what it meant to use her privilege in the service of the needy. Rev. Dr. Mitzi J. Smith, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary in Detroit says, “Tabitha understood the flip side of privilege to be responsibility to those less privileged, including the colonized and marginalized.”

Tabitha bore the burdens of being the first woman named as a disciple in the New Testament. And in those days, women were seldom seen as spiritual leaders. For instance, Tabitha was not said to have been full of the Holy Spirit, as that, during that time, was just reserved for men. But, it says she did good works and loved others. That was her passion and her calling. And I think that made her full of the Holy Spirit, maybe even more so than the men. I wonder if we all need to look toward Tabitha as what a disciple of Jesus should be, to be full of “good works” just as much as those who were full of the Holy Spirit. She spent all of her time and energy to benefit others and to help them get up. So, as she grew sick and near death, Peter went to her bedside in order to help her get up, once more.

I think it is extremely important to note that this woman in Joppa, Tabitha, was a disciple. She was one of the few women with that designation. She becomes a role model to us of what a follower of Jesus should be. And the author of Acts, whom we know to be Luke, says that she was a particularly good disciple because, as one translation says, “Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.” And those poor widows whom Tabitha helped and supported, widows whom Tabitha made clothes for, were right there with her at her bedside, weeping, after she died. Their hero, their helper was dead. And so, Peter entered the scene to restore this disciple to life. He told her to get up.

What an odd and wonderful story! Peter is the agent of resurrection, but the narrative clearly focuses on the disciple, Tabitha, and her good works. Because although the resurrection from the dead was an awesome miracle, the true miracle was that Tabitha brought resurrection to the widows and orphans and poor and outcasts where death had stolen their lives. And isn’t that what this time after Easter is all about? Isn’t that what the resurrection of Jesus tells us? Don’t we need to be shocked again by the power of resurrection, what it means, and how utterly strange and amazing it is?

Duke Professor Will Willimon says that the “world after Easter is not like the world before Easter. Before Easter, everyone who lived died, and all who died stayed dead. Before Easter, poor people are totally at the mercy of external forces over which they have no control. Before Easter there is much grieving as we bid farewell to those dear saints who depart us in death. But after Easter, after God’s great defeat of death in the raising of Jesus, death is not given the last word. After Easer, those who are poor and vulnerable have hope because there is a power for good let loose in the world that is greater than the powers of evil. After Easter, we are able to have hope that the future is not totally constrained by the past.”

And we are totally aware that Tabitha eventually died again and was buried. That’s what happens to all of us. We all must face death, eventually. We all end up dying in the end, unlike the resurrected Jesus. But that’s just the point the raising of Tabitha makes. The life-giving resurrection practiced by those early disciples was not about life everlasting, it was about life right here and right now. It was about restoring life where death had happened. It was about making complete where things were broken. It was about making whole things that were torn apart.

Mary Newbern-Williams of Princeton Theological Seminary knows that miracles and life are needed for people suffering under the weight of deathly oppression and overwhelming need. She says, “For many who live in poverty in our world, justice is a miracle. It may seem far off in the distance, too far removed from the truth of their lives.” And the miracle of life shouldn’t be so far away and too far removed from those in dire need. That is why it is up to us, disciples of Christ, to reach out into the world and to help people get up.

And this is good news, Church. This is good news because what happened for Peter as he raised Tabitha and what happened for the little girl raised by Jesus can still happen today! Right here, right now. We have been empowered as Easter people to bring life and hope and resurrection to those who have been put down on their backs by the powers of this world. Dr. Willimon sees the value in texts like this one after Easter. He says, “And this practice makes sense, as if the church means to say, ‘You know the resurrection that occurred in the raising of Jesus Christ? Well, it continues. Easter is not just something that happened to the crucified Jesus; resurrection is a power let loose among Jesus’s followers.’” We have been empowered to not only bring the Holy Spirit to a broken people, but we must bring good deeds, charity, hope, and healing to the needy. We must reach out our hands, lift them from the grave and say, “It’s time to get up! It’s time to change the world!”

And friends, we mustn’t get confused about what resurrection really means. You see, we all know resurrection is something that happened to Jesus in a way that hadn’t happened before and will never happen again. We don’t really think the raising of a dead individual is something that can actually happen today. Early Christians tended to focus on the fact that all people would be resurrected from the dead at the beginning of the new and wonderful age. It would be the time when everything would be made right by God. And that since Jesus was raised, we could all be raised and go to heaven to be with God. But, that’s not the resurrection of the first followers of Jesus. You see, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven as something that needs to happen right here and right now. That is the true power of resurrection, of being in this post-Easter season, that there is life-changing, wonder-working power present in our world today and it is through you and me, as Easter people, to know that we have been resurrected from our sorrow and our sinfulness, and that it is our job to bring new life to the world.

In John Masefield’s book The Trial of Jesus, the character Longinus was made to represent the centurion who stood guard at the foot of the cross. In the Gospel of Matthew, we have the story of the centurion who looked up at Jesus, believed, and said, “This is God’s Son.” In Masefield’s novel, he returned from his guarding duties on that Friday of Jesus’ death. That evening he was summoned by Pontius Pilate to give his report of Jesus’ death at Calvary. When he finished, Pilate’s wife wanted to know more about the crucifixion and this prisoner who died. After Longinus told her, she said, “Longinus, do you think he is dead now? Is he dead and gone?” “No, ma’am,” he replied. “Then, where is he?” she asked. He said, “Let loose in the world, where neither Roman nor Jew will every stop his truth.”

And this is why we have the power of God through the resurrection of Jesus to get us up from everything that holds us down. This is why we have the power of God through the resurrection of Jesus to reach out to our community and lift up those who need life. We have the power of God to change lives for the better and bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the broken-hearted because Jesus the Christ has been let loose in the world and it is time for us all to get up!

Life is difficult, folks. We feel as if we are on our death beds most days. We are totally and utterly spent by our medical problems, our financial problems, our relationship problems, our community problems. We feel like we are in the grave of despair. We feel like we are in the tomb of depression. We feel like we can’t get anything right. But we must remember that we are resurrection people. Resurrection didn’t only happen when Jesus was raised from the dead. Resurrection continues in each and every one of us, in and through the work of the church. John Holbert agrees, “What I celebrate on Easter is not the miraculous resuscitation of a corpse, an event so far out of time and space that it beggars any hint of human reality. What I celebrate is the reactivation, the representation of the power of resurrection in the world, as that power has been seen in Elijah/Elisha, in Jesus, in Peter, and in countless other agents throughout history.” And that is a good reminder for us on this Fourth Sunday of Easter. That we are part of the countless agents who must bring the power of resurrection to the world.

It is up to us to continue to defeat death and despair, to continue to defeat evil and hate. Yes, Christ was raised, but we are being raised as well. We are being raised up as a faith community to change our city and bring people back from the brink of death. It is up to us as a church to reach out our hands and tell the poor, the broken, the lonely, and the marginalized that it’s time to get up. It’s time for us to get up, Church, and lift up the lowly and heal the hurting. It’s the Easter season and resurrection is all around us, moving through us. The life-giving power of God continues. Church, it’s time to get up!

Amen.