4/21/2013 Alive in the Lord

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36–43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9–17, John 10:22–30

We stay in the book of Acts this week for our primary lectionary reading. Acts is not always a place where some Christians are comfortable, perhaps because it describes situations within the emerging Christian fellowship quite different from what we ordinarily experience today. Our focus scripture bears this out:

4nantavithaNow in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 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. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. –Acts 9:36-43 NRSV

Even though Jesus had told his closest disciples they eventually would do even greater acts of ministry than had he, this passage may make us squirm a bit. You mean, we perhaps wonder, that Jesus should be taken literally at his word about all that?

Yes, maybe we should. But even if we take this story as metaphor (and that’s also an appropriate way to read ancient scripture) it’s pretty powerful stuff. Peter, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought a woman back from the dead–just like Jesus had done with Lazarus!

This past week I’ve been a delegate at my denomination’s World Conference, which is held once every three years at our international headquarters in Independence, Missouri. There’s been some pageantry, with the display of dozens of flags of nations where the church is located (we may be relatively small in number, but we have a fairly broad presence in the world). I’ve sung powerful and moving hymns along with 5,000 or so of my fellow church members, accompanied by two of the great pipe organs in the USA, as well as numerous gifted musicians. And, yes, I’ve sat through lengthy legislative sessions, at times interesting and at others times far less so.

We witnessed together ordinations of leading officers of the church and heard prophetic words of counsel from our prophet-president. Of course, we’ve all greeted old friends we haven’t seen in quite some time and made a few new ones, as well. It’s been quite different from what I ordinarily experience on a typical Sunday morning or in “normal” congregational life. For those who’ve come from small, isolated congregations in North America or villages and cities on every other continent, it’s been quite the culture-shock and religion-shock experience, I’m sure.

In light of all that, though, I keep coming back to this passage in Acts, which raises this question: Have we domesticated the church, or has the church domesticated us? Either way it’s an uncomfortable question but one that calls for an answer as we all attempt to live out our discipleship in the early years of the 21st century. What if, either literally or metaphorically, we were experiencing in our discipleship what Peter and his contemporaries were experiencing in theirs?

About Rich Brown

Rich Brown is a writer, blogger, editor, and publisher. His most recent book is "Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile" (Isaac's Press).
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