Home runs, fashion design and God’s Facebook status…
Unexpected Voices (video)
When your dreams involve hitting home runs and you are in a bit of a slump, sometimes you have to go to the batting cages with your dad to get your swing back… And sometimes going to the batting cages translates into an RBI single and a two-run homer that help your team win the softball game.
Milan Tapia had a different dream—to provide for her family in the Dominican Republic. After taking her first loan in 2000, she built a financially successful sewing business. She was able to provide for her family, but her dream was bigger than that. Milan wanted her personal dreams to be connected with God’s dreams. So she developed a vision for educating, feeding, and loving the most disadvantaged children in her community—many who lived on the streets. She began with a few students and has continued adding others. By 2007, her school served roughly two hundred children each day. Milan is an expression of new compassion as a teacher, mentor, and mother to these children.
Some unexpected voices enter the Story as witnesses after the Resurrection. First it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on the first day of the week. In today’s reading from Acts, it is a woman entrepreneur from Joppa named Tabitha. Later Paul will refer in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The early Christian community was a movement that made room for the gifts of men and women in the mission of God. Sometimes it is the unexpected voices, from unexpected places, that speak and act most clearly for God’s redemptive kingdom.
Tabitha is one of those kind of people. Tabitha is a businesswoman—a fashion designer who makes tunics and other clothing to market. She has done well with the business and has become wealthy. Tabitha is also a disciple of Jesus. She is devoted to good works and charity.
The Good News this morning is that whether you are a man or a woman—your dreams can flow into God’s dreams for the world. There is room in God’s dream for financially successful businesspeople. Whether your dreams are to be a fashion designer, or to grow a business around ultimate Frisbee or teaching soccer to pre-school children, your dreams can flow into God’s dreams. Whether your dreams are to go to the Middle East, the Midwest, or to be a soccer-mom, your dreams can help bring about God’s dream in the world.
But how does this happen? Our readings provide the key. Tabitha was a disciple. Her dream was not fulfilled when she made a lot of money. When she was recognized as a successful fashion designer. When she was able to buy the house she always wanted. When she was able to send the kids to private school. When she was able to take the trip to the Mediterranean she had always dreamed of. No, her dreams converged with God’s dreams because she saw her gifts being about more than her own achievements or financial security.
She was devoted to good works and acts of charity, because she knew that God’s dream involved more than her own life. She was a disciple, an apprentice follower of Jesus who was seeking to invest in God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. In biblical language, being a disciple means that you are a sheep. Jesus, the shepherd of the sheep, gathers you with other sheep who are led to green pastures, beside quiet waters. You learn to hear the voice of the shepherd.
What did green pastures look like for Tabitha? At the pinnacle of prosperity as an entrepreneur disciple, she became ill and died. She became ill and died even though she was devoted to good works and acts of charity. As disciples of Jesus, our faith does not teach us that bad things never happen to “good people.” Even when you are sheep, you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But when you are sheep who are learning to hear the voice of the shepherd, you fear no evil—even in that dark place.
Tabitha’s death is untimely. So Peter is called and they have a time of prayer for her. Her body is healed and she gets up. We imagine that she continues with her vocation until a more timely end to her life. Many believed in the Lord because of her story.
In our gospel reading, the Jews are gathering around Jesus in Solomon’s Porch (temple). Their question is one of timing. Jesus, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. At the beginning of Acts, the disciples also have a timing question. Lord, is this the time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know the times or the seasons (1:7).
It is human nature to want to know the timing of things. We want to know when our house will sell. When the boy in third period will look at us…ask us to the prom. When the economy will get better. When we will find a job. When the frivolous lawsuit for malpractice will be dropped against us. When we will be accepted into the service assignment…into our top choice for law school. When this bill in congress will pass…or be stymied.
Sometimes we go listen to out of town preachers who tell us in no uncertain terms what time it is. They tell us when, where and why God is sending another catastrophe—when the world is going to end and who is going to be left behind.
We wonder what time it is and what the world is coming to. Jesus, how long are you going to keep us in suspense? Jesus answers: You haven’t been paying attention. I have told you, but you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me…”
Questions: What time is it in your life? What are the timing questions you have for Jesus? What time is it for Sunnyside Mennonite Church? How do the works of Jesus shape our answers to these questions?
Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom…
When we see our dreams as part of God’s dream, we learn to let go of our need to understand what time it is in the Great Story. God’s dreams are not locked into the past. Nor are they reserved for future fulfillment. God’s dreams are for here and now. So we pray: God, may your kingdom dream come on earth as it is in heaven.
When we understand this, we read apocalyptic literature in a different light. In the reading from Revelation, John sees a vision. It is multi-cultural. He sees a great multitude that no one can count. Jesus, How many is that? The great multitude is from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.
The vision of John the Revelator calls us to live now into a multicultural future—as if this is that and then is now. So participating in the Race Against Racism has something to do with living into this vision. Partnering with our neighbors at a Sunnyside Community Meeting to set goals and vision for the future of the Sunnyside peninsula has something to do with living into this vision.
At the center of John’s vision is the Lamb. Not an angry, blood-thirsty warrior ready to bring natural disasters upon the earth as punishment. Rather, a Lamb willing to be slain for the life of the world. The vision is multisensory. We hear singing. “Salvation belongs to God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!” The angels and all those around the throne of God agree. “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
The vision concludes with worship translating into a relationship with God as the source of our physical needs. God shelters. God takes away hunger and thirst. It sounds like what Jesus does on earth is the ongoing vision of heaven. Jesus feeds the multitudes. He is the shepherd who guides us to springs of the water of life. He has compassion on the broken. He wipes away our tears. Maybe being the body of Christ is about providing meals on Tuesday nights, planting gardens, and joining Coalitions against Hunger so that no one in Lancaster County goes hungry.
So what is God’s Facebook status? What is the timing of this apocalyptic vision? Is this vision for yesterday, today, tomorrow or the day after that? Yes. This is that…then is now. When we are sheep…disciples who along with Tabitha are seeking to connect our personal dreams with God’s dreams for the world, we see this vision as connected to the unfolding story of our lives.
In this Season of Easter, may we be a people who embrace this vision of faith, hope and love. Not just for another time and another place, but for today, this week, this summer. May God’s Facebook status be updated through us.
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.