Acts is a book written following how Christianity moved from just a Jewish movement… to a movement for all people. Today, we read of one of its bridging women… Acts 9:36-43
The festival of the dedication is a long title for Hanukkah. Jesus is around the temple for the Hanukkah holiday in our John reading. We hear people ask Jesus to convince them he is the messiah — as they define messiah… John 10:22-30
My godmother’s name is (sign: A-Beautiful-Face.) She named me (Cat: W). She’s worked as an American Sign Language / spoken English translator and nurse for years. She is between two worlds: speaking, and signing. To be wholly in both, she keeps two names: this sign (sign) which means A with a Beautiful Face – the name given to her by a signer. And Amy. The name given to her by her parents.
It isn’t very compassionate to ask signers to sign out each letter of her spoken name just as it isn’t very compassionate to ask speakers to never call her a spoken name – only her signed name.
To honor both worlds, and bridge them, she has two names.
Dorcas-Tabitha does the same thing.
Dorcas is a Greek name. It belongs to a woman who understands how Rome rules, and speaks Grecian or Latin or both. It’s a common name meaning a beautiful gazelle.
Tabitha is an Aramaic name that means the same thing as Dorcas. It belongs to a woman who speaks Aramaic and understands Jewish culture and the hope in a messiah.
Now we don’t know if the woman in acts was born Dorcas, or born Tabitha. And it doesn’t really matter. She is of both worlds. And she assists both cultures and peoples. So much does she assist that our author calls her a mathetria – a disciple – much like any of the other named disciples.
What does it mean to straddle between two worlds? I think a lot of women do it. Many mothers I know are also working professionals. Constantly there is the pull between job, career, and home, family. How does any woman – or any man – balance those two worlds?
We country folk often are of two worlds. We understand the land and nature and rural ways… but where are you going to get work? Most of the time in the city, where we have to learn new culture and ways of interacting with each other and the land.
When I left for college, I went 20 miles off the farm into the strange land called Westerville. It had such strange things like sidewalk crossings, high speed internet, and instant pudding. All three things made me stop and think. I was horribly out of my element. Not only was I the farmer in the city; I was also the homeschooler among public school kids; and the painfully introverted teen with undiagnosed social anxiety. The alien world was terrifying.
My second year there, a professor took me aside and said, “Whitney, you were among the first homeschoolers we accepted. Many more are applying and coming for tours. I saw your struggles and know you’re doing much better now. But if they come, they’re going to have these struggles too. Will you be their bridge between worlds?”
I had to think about this. I didn’t value my experiences as I ought. What 19 year old does? But as I worked the next few years as the college’s unofficial home school liaison, I began to see the need for bridges. The very rural coming to college needed a how-to-navigate-crossing-the-road lessons as much as the very urban would need lessons on shutting gates should they visit farms. Basic things that each culture takes for granted, but which confound the other culture.
Bridges. A pastor friend of mine recently told me a story. The pastor read to kids from the preamble of the United Church of Christ that says it is each generations’ responsibility to make the faith their own. She asked the kids ‘How would you make this faith your own?’
One little girl stated, “I can’t. I am a scientist.”
“Tell me more.”
“I am a scientist and I can’t make this church mine. I believe in evolution, not Genesis.”
Now, this pastor likes science. And she asked the girl to take away the verses and just consider the story in Genesis. Then consider how long a day is for God, compared to a human.
The little girl gasped, and teared up, “Evolution and Genesis are similar stories! Pastor – can I be a scientist AND a Christian?!”
“Yes!” said the pastor. “I’m one!”
Bridges. A science-loving theologian, reading academic studies on cells one day and theological treatises on another. Bridging worlds like that is an important way we are evangelists – we are the messengers of Good News.
Many people only know Christianity as what they see on television, or the news. It is a very literal Christianity that attacks education, science, and independent thought. It is a Christianity that hasn’t room for diversity and bridges.
That is not who we are in this church, and this denomination. We are the church united and uniting. The church where you don’t check your brain in at the door. The church where God is still speaking, and still revealing, God’s self to the world.
The church where you can and are encouraged to be Dorcas-Tabitha, or Simon-Peter, or Amy-A, or Whitney-Sally. Where you carry two names – or more than two! – because you bridge many cultures and peoples.
Simon-Peter is who is called to Dorcas-Tabitha’s side when she dies. Here, we get a story of how Simon-Peter is like Jesus-Immanuel in a remix, a repeat, of Jesus-Immanuel’s miracle.
If I had a black board I’d gladly whip out some layout skills now… lacking that, let me use my hands to help.
Today: Simon-Peter comes and sees everyone weeping because Tabitha-Dorcas has died. He moves the mourners out of the house.
Last year: Jesus-Immanuel came to a house and saw everyone weeping because the priest’s daughter had died. Jesus moved everyone out of the house.
Today: Peter takes the woman’s hand and says, “Tabitha, koum.”
Last year: Jesus took the girl’s hand and said: “Talitha, koum.” A one letter difference in the phrase. One letter – from little girl to gazelle.
Both days – the dead got up and were presented to their joyful community.
Both days – the person brought back to life wasn’t the most powerful, the most wealthy, the most theologically sound or possessing the most perfect faith in Christ…
… No. Talitha the little girl had no power. A female child with no worth. Just loved by her daddy. And Peter raises Tabitha the windowed woman. A woman with no means to support herself. But loved by her community.
We are worth so much more than the money we bring in. We are worth so much more than the potential children we could birth. We are worth so much more than our bodies. We are loved by God before we are Christian. We are loved and valued by God! Women, females, girls, teens, widows and remarried and never married: we are daughters of God Most High.
Don’t accept anyone calling you less.
Men, males, boys, teens, widowees, remarried and never married, you sons of the God Most High – don’t let yourselves or others call any of your sisters in Christ less than beloved Daughter of God.
What a lesson we can learn from talitha and Tabitha about how a community should value each other – whether someone is a “productive member” or “respectable” or not!
What is productive in this world is not necessary productive in God’s world. For God’s world is about community. About building connections, and bridges.
Once, I didn’t really hold much stock in the Holy Trinity. It seemed… far-fetched and a corruption of trinity gods from other cultures. Currently, it is a central idea to my understanding of God. I understand God to be all about relationships. God with God’s self. God with us. Us with God. Around and around – connections and bridges merging worlds and ideas, cultures and peoples, experiences and theologies and perspectives – bringing about shalom. Completeness. Harmony.
You may have heard it said God doesn’t call the equipped… God equips the called.
Well… we’re all called by the Good Shepherd. Do you hear his voice? Do you follow him?
Since we’re all called… it means we’re equipped.
Dorcas-Tabitha, I imagine, saw her hurting world and looked in her hand to see what she was armed with to fight the hurt. She had a needle. God had equipped her with a talent for sewing. And so she used that needle. She used it to sew together a community literally with the clothes she made and figuratively by all the people brought together.
You are called to by Jesus. He has said, “Follow me!”
What is in your hand?
A paint brush? A wrench? A garden hoe or sheep sheerer or calculator or cell phone or ruler or…
… That interest of your’s, that background of yours, that culture and people you know that isn’t ‘Christian.’ … You’ve been equipped for just such a time as this to be a bridge. To take up more than one name, and carry the light of Christ to all peoples – wherever they are – whoever they are – for that light is Good News.
And the Good News is this: God loves the world.