“The Easter Gift of Empowerment”
Ps. 23 & Acts 9:36-43 ~ Northwood UC ~ May 8, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. I’m sure you remember that poem…reciting it to your children or grandchildren, or perhaps even memorizing it yourself? Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.
While this nursery rhyme might conjure up wonderful memories, it is not a particularly ‘happy’ nursery rhyme, when one listens to the words. This rhyme is one which has seeped into our consciousness teaching us how powerless we are to restore that which is broken…the brokenness in our lives…to ‘put things back together again.’ Not even the Kings horses and the Kings men could put things back together again. The Humpty Dumpty rhyme teaches us of our powerlessness; it speaks to the dilemma of our being weak individuals…unable to act amidst the brokenness around us. And this morning’s two texts take this Humpty Dumpty theology head on, and say “HOGWASH!” This morning, we are going to unpack the gift we each have of Easter power! Let’s focus this morning on the Easter gift of empowerment.
As we have been following selections through the book of Acts this Eastertide, we have been exploring the nature of what the resurrection does in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Last Sunday, we unpacked the Easter vision that Saul received as he encountered the Risen Christ when something akin to scales fell from his eyes and Saul was transformed. He received the Easter gift of vision, took on the name of Paul, and began to see with the compassionate eyes of Christ. This morning, we focus on the empowerment of Peter who receives Jesus’ healing power. This morning, we focus on our empowerment as Easter people. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. Yet…with the presence of the Risen Christ, we learn that there is hope!
So, what does empowerment mean for the follower of the Risen Christ? Looking back a little earlier to the third chapter of Acts, we see the beginnings of the Risen Christ working in Peter. A man, lame since birth, sitting at the gate to the temple was asking for alms – donations. When Peter and John receive his request, they say “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” As people were praising them for this miracle, Peter preaches a sermon teaching the source of their healing power. “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this? Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety, we had made him walk…” Peter goes on to preach a sermon proclaiming that the source of their power is from the Risen Christ alive and working within them! Peter was empowered by the Risen Christ. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. Yet, with the presence of the Risen Christ, the man walked again!
Let’s stay with Peter’s story as we jump ahead six chapters into the 9th chapter. Here, we find more stories of empowerment by the Risen Christ. Earlier in this chapter, Peter next heals Aeneas who had been bedridden for eight years, saying “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” This healing was so powerful that the people of Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. Yet, with the presence of the Risen Christ, Aeneas walked!
This morning’s healing passage builds upon those earlier healing stories with some interesting additions. Peter, in this morning’s text heals a woman named Tabitha. Tabitha, as we hear, is one of the ‘saints’ of the community. She spends her days making tunics and other articles of clothing for the widows…Tabitha is busily supporting them with her love and devotion. And Tabitha has a very unique role throughout the entire New Testament. You will never forget her when I tell you…Tabitha is the only place where we see the feminine reference of the term ‘disciple’. Throughout all of the New Testament, all references to disciple are in the male form: ‘mathetes’; however, with Tabitha we see that women in Jesus’ world are disciples ‘matheteria’ too! On Mothering Sunday, we are given insight into a valued form of ministry that is named completely on par with the male followers of Jesus ~ Tabitha is a beloved disciple in her own right! It is important for us to hear the power of Tabitha’s inclusion, especially on ‘Mothering Sunday’, for it is the call to ALL of us as disciples. I am very proud of our denomination’s inclusion of all people to be called into a variety of ministries. But this was not always the way, was it? We all have long enough memories to recall the statement that ‘women in ministry is not biblical’. The naming of Tabitha as a disciple ‘matheteria’ shatters this argument! God needs ALL people to engage in ALL forms of ministry in order for ‘thy Kingdom come’. Tabitha’s ministry highlights that…on ‘Mothering Sunday’ or any ANY other day of the year!
The story of Tabitha takes a very sad turn. Tabitha falls ill and dies. We can only imagine the mourning…the sadness…the cries of ‘why her Lord? Why her? After Tabitha’s death, after her dead body had been washed and prepared for burial, and laid in a room, we see a very significant development in the story of Peter. Reminiscent to Jesus’ healing of Lazarus, Peter quietly goes into the room and restores her to life! This is the other aspect of this text that I wanted to explore. It is the important shift that we are seeing to Peter’s empowerment as a disciple. As I mentioned earlier, in chapter 3, Pether heals the man who was lame from birth saying “I have no silver or gold, but what I give you, I give in the name of Jesus Christ.” And following this healing, he proceeds to preach a sermon on the power of the Risen Christ. At the second healing, in the 9th chapter Peter heals, this time without a sermon, but continues to draw upon the power of Jesus. In this morning’s text, we see a shift in Peter owning and claiming his power as a healer.
There is vigorous theological debate about Peter not openly calling upon Jesus’ power to perform the healing. Did he no longer need to call on Jesus’ name? Did he no longer need to preach a sermon after the healing was performed? The argument that I favour is the speculation of what happened in the quiet of the room as Peter began to offer healing. Something happened to Peter over time. Something happened as he received the Easter Gift of empowerment. It began slowly at first. He needed to speak it out loud to be sure. He healed the lame man from birth by publicly proclaiming “I have no silver or gold, but I do have the power of Jesus Christ.” And over time, he realized how much power the Risen Christ was giving him to put things back together again! The second healing comes even more naturally as he publicly draws on the power of Jesus, and puts things back together again. This time, he has fully realized his power as one of Jesus followers. He quietly goes into the room; he prays over her and he restores the brokenness into the way of new life.
I think this is exactly how we should see the 23rd Psalm. It is that inner spiritual strength to proclaim that we can walk in the presence of our enemies; we can walk in the valley of the shadow; we can walk through the challenges…and KNOW that God walks beside us. This is what Peter is now doing…he is empowered to walk in the light of Christ, and BE that light of Christ to others whom he is called to heal. This is what the Psalmist proclaims as he sings of Shepherd Lord walk with you; accompanying you; empowering you.
What Peter does, and what we are called to do, is humbly open up to the empowerment that God offers in the living of your life. Frederick Buechner, in his book The Sacred Journey writes “when it comes to putting broken lives back together - when it comes, in religious terms, to the saving of souls - the best, the human best tends to be at odds with the holy best. To do for yourself the best that you have in you to do - to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst - is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you, and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself. Against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from.”
We don’t know what miracles God has empowered each of us to work. But we know that the Easter gift of empowerment came to Peter and to Tabitha…and to each of us! Some people in the medical community have seen miracles happen and ~ literally ~ witnessed life after death has been pronounced. But what about the many other miracles? What about the miracles YOU have been empowered to perform of accompanying someone through a very difficult path? Accompanying them through pain, and suffering…THAT is a miracle you are empowered to perform! What about the miracle of forgiveness ~ this gift you can give to a broken relationship and allow for new life to be created! What about the miracle of empowering others when they are ready to give up? You can be someone’s lifeline…someone’s heartbeat, when they are heart-broken, or ready to give up.
One of the beautiful parts of ‘Mothering Sunday’ is that it is a call to celebrate the mothering, nurturing way of God that each of us are empowered to live. We just need to, as Fredrick Buechner says, to not let the human best get in the way with the holy best. We must open our hearts and our spirits to receive this Easter gift of empowerment and allow it to further flow into the world.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses, and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. However, YOU have been empowered with wonderful Easter gifts. May each one of us use them in service of God’s healing; God’s grace; and God’s love.