Saturday, April 27, 2013

Come Pray Act

Acts 9:36-43
21 April 2013
Celebrations worship, message by Michael Greek
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In reading this passage, I expected to speak on the wonders of God, the Miracle of resurrection.  I though that I would touch on the power of the Holy Spirit and on healing through Jesus' name.  However, when I read through the passage with those things in mind, none of them really hit a place within me.  So I read it again.  In preparing for this sermon JP and Laura and I discussed the story of the healing, and how it closely related grammatically and in form and style with several other stories of resurrection from other points in the bible, new and old testament.  I found these links to be particularly interesting and thought that maybe I would dive into them deeper and speculate on the similarities and differences, but when I read through the text no spark was kindled in that particular arena.  So I read it again.

I read the text over and over.  I read some of the chapters leading up to it and some of the chapters proceeding it.  I looked into a concordance or two, thought that maybe there would be some great insight that someone else had wrapped up for me and tied with a bow, “Here, here is your sermon”.  But my imagination was somewhat stagnate.  Until I read again, and took notice of something I hadn't.  A semi-colon.  I saw a semi-colon and God began to nudge me.  And so while there are probably volumes that can be written on the miracle the God did through Peter on raising Tabitha from the dead and volumes more on the news of her resurrection and how it spread al throughout Joppa and on I will unashamedly be speaking today on a thought that all comes from noticing a form of punctuation that did not even exist when this story took place. 

You have been warned.

But I apologize for nothing.

We are given very little to preface the story before it gets down to the nitty gritty and Tabitha dies.  We are told that she was a disciple of Christ and that she was full of good works and charity.  The author felt that that was all we needed to know about Tabitha: that she was a Christian, and that she not only talked the talk but she walked that walk (They will know we are Christians by our... love).

Tabitha becomes ill and dies, very matter of fact-ly, and from the writing we infer that it was a swift process.  Her loved ones go about the business of mourning her and putting her remains to rest.  They also send for Peter, they heard he was close by and urged him to come at once. 

When first reading through the story my mind, knowing the outcome of Peter's visit, assumed that they called on Peter in urgency because they knew he would come resurrect Tabitha.  I don't know why I placed that expectation on them, its just a connection my brain had always made.  However, I believe that they called Peter as a mourning family would call their Pastor upon the death of a loved one.  “Come quick, we need your guidance” sot of a thing.  Peter was well known, he had been traveling around a large area preaching and teaching and helping to raise up new believers and was simply a giant in the faith.  I imagine that the loved ones of Tabitha were just looking for a leader, looking to be comforted and consoled.  I doubt they imagined that Peter would be raising the dead.

And Peter, I don't even think he came to the house thinking “Hey, I've got a job to do.  Someone died, that's an issue”.  People die all the time.  People fell ill and passed away all the time in those days, it still happens at alarming rates today.  I think Peter went out of the love he had for his fellow believers, out of the duty he felt as a leader and a man of God to help them in whatever way he could.

But that brings me to the first thing that struck me about this story:  Peter was called, and he went. 

Peter arrives at the home and goes to the upper room where her body was and finds himself essentially in the middle of a viewing.  The scripture says that the widows were gathered around the body holding clothes that Tabitha had made for them during her life and weeping.  Does that sound familiar?  In our talks of preparation Laura pointed out that we do the same thing today.  We will gather mementos or trinkets, bits of endearment that remind us of the passing of a loved one to place in their coffin as we mourn.  Does it sound like these people were preparing for a resurrection?    Or were they accepting a death?

Peter sends everyone out of the room and, we're told by the text that he kneels down and he prays and turns to the body and says “Tabitha, arise.”  And every time I've read through or heard that story my brain just accepted that Peter's prayer was just that: him raising Tabitha from the dead.  But this time, this one time, this is where I noticed our friend the semi-colon.  Because the texted doesn't state that Peter prayed the prayer “Tabitha, arise”, the texts states that Peter prayed ::SEMI-COLON::

A semi colon is used in a sentence to support two closely related, but independent, clauses.  The reason this semi-colon struck me is because for the first time I realized that Peter wasn't sending everyone out of the room so he could bring a dead woman back to life.  Peter sent everyone out of the room so he could pray.

And that was the biggest smack in the brain I've had in a long time.

In this action we see how far Peter has come in his faith, how he's matured in his walk with Christ.  This is the same Peter that ran impulsively into the fray when Jesus was being taken and cut off a man's ear with a sword.  The same Peter who, even with advanced warning, impulsively denied even knowing the man he most loved in this world.  Passionate, headstrong Peter walks into this sad, tragic scenario and instead of making a snap decision on how to deal with it, how to console these disheartened and broken people and but a happy face on all of this, he sends everyone out, and he prays.  He seeks his Father's will.  He looks to God for His reaction.

Peter came when he was called.  Peter prayed for direction.

And then Peter acted.

And the God moved.

We know the rest of the story, Peter speaks the words and Tabitha is brought back from death.  From death!  I cannot gloss over the miracle that took place, though my mind tends to because its never seen it happen.  I have no experience with raising someone from the dead.  But I believe that God has shown me a bit more of why that miracle took place.

Peter came when he was called.  Peter prayed.  Peter took action.

How simple it all seems when its broken down.  We are constantly looking for formulas, for a step by step directional on how to be the perfect Christian and how to work the miracles and how to give God the glory by doing mind blowing things in His name, its a desire of all our hearts.

But I think what we see here in this story is that A: its a process.  Peter the impulsive man who goes in swinging was just as much of a believer in Christ as Peter the Rock of the Church in action, baptizing in the Holy Spirit and raising the dead.  He was still as beloved by God before Christ died as after.  He was simply further along in his process.

And B:  There is no secret ritual or step by step instructional for growing up in Christ and doing mind blowing things for Him.  We simply have to practice our hearts, practice what men and women of the Faith and ultimately what Christ modeled for us:

Be willing to go when and where we are called.  Even if we don't know what we're supposed to do or what's to happen.

Pray.  Pray not for our will or for what we'd like to see happen or for what we think we're supposed to pray for.  Just pray, in our quiet place, for the heart and will of God.

Take action.  Once we have the direction, once we've communicated with God and submitted ourselves to His will, follow through.

God might ask us to raise the dead.  He may ask any one of us to do something radical that the world has never seen before, or that people say shouldn't be possible.  If that time comes for me, I want to be strong enough to act.

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