The Theme for This Year
The theme for this stewardship year is the climactic line from the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Go and Do the Same.” (Luke 10:25-37). The implication is that God calls us to “go and do the same” as the Samaritan with all our resources—material, human, and natural.
The theme “Go and Do the Same” is an over-arching theme within which to consider the particular texts discussed in the following pages in this resource. The preacher might look at the later texts through the lens of how each one helps the congregation want to “Go and Do the Same” with stewardship in view.
The Samaritan as Example of Behavior for Stewardship
When I first heard the theme, “God and Do the Same,” it sounded like a simple command to follow the example of the behavior of the Samaritan. Jesus used the Samaritan as an illustration of what it means to be faithful to God’s purposes. So, at this level, the message of the parable is “Go and do the same kind of things for your neighbor—and your church—that the Good Samaritan did for the person robbed along the road.”
In the context of a stewardship campaign, the line includes the meaning, “Go and give the same way the Samaritan gave.”
When the Samaritan saw the person who had fallen among thieves at the side of the road, the Samaritan stopped and helped. That earlier traveler was beaten up, bleeding, alone, and abandoned. Today, individuals, households, neighborhoods, and communities are beaten up, bloodied, fallen alongside the road of life, alone, and abandoned. An individual’s or household’s commitment of time, talent, and money can help the church help them. A pledge can be an act of neighbor-love.
The Samaritan did not have access to a cell phone and EMTs, so the Samaritan took care of the person at the side of the road. Look at what the Samaritan did. The Samaritan personally got involved. The Samaritan took responsibility. And going beyond the moment to a long-term view, the Samaritan wrote a check to the innkeeper to house and feed the person who fell among thieves while the earlier traveler was regaining strength.
Preachers can easily draw out implications for today. The congregation should go and do the same. The congregation should get personally involved. The congregation should take responsibility. Members of the congregation should write checks that care for our neighbors—for shelters for the homeless, food pantries, the NCAAP, the Legal Defense Fund, and yes, the church. And since we’re raising the budget, a big check to the church, please.
More than Example of Behavior
But, as happens so often, the Bible leans over my shoulder in the study and extends its finger to the sacred page, pointing out things in the parable I have not noticed. As the Bible taps its finger on the page, I hear a larger, deeper story.
At one level, the parable is a good example for behavior. That is implied in the last line, “Go and do the same.” But at another level, the parable is more than an illustration for behavior. The parable bespeaks deep response to others and to God’s presence and purposes at the center of the life of the individual and life in community. The parable invokes solidarity based on response to God’s purpose for all in community to experience as much blessing as possible.
An over-arching concern of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts is in the background. In the Garden of Eden, God intended for human beings to live together in a community of solidarity, mutual support, and egalitarian relationships. But since the fall, human beings and nature have been divided, fractious, and violent (Genesis 3).
God seeks to restore community through a great reunion of the human family so that all might live in solidarity, mutual support, and egalitarianism. In the elegant words of Marjorie Suchocki, God seeks “inclusive well-being” for all. One of Luke’s name for this quality of life is the realm of God.
Those who commit themselves to living according to God’s purposes in community, to the realm of God, find that living according to those purposes becomes a blessing for the community as a whole and for the individuals who live according to them. Indeed, the more people live into community life, they more they experience God’s purposes in their immediate worlds.
Samaritans, Jews, and God’s Purposes of Solidarity
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a relatively deserted descent of about 20 miles through arid land. The pressures of a rigid social structure, unending taxes, and a struggling economy in the Roman Empire left many people desperate, with some turning to robbery. In those days, the isolation of the road and the protection afforded by the landscape made it attractive for robbers.
We know nothing about the person who fell among robbers except that the robbers stripped and beat the person, probably drawing considerable blood, and left the person half-dead, alone at the side of the road. Most scholars presume the victim was Jewish.
A Samaritan came down the road and saw the person lying half-dead at the side of the road.
The Samaritan community was first cousin to Judaism, probably having emerged when members of Jewish households married Assyrians during and after the Assyrian occupation of the Holy Land several centuries before. The Samaritans also designated their own place of worship (Mt. Gerizim) and developed their own life as a community.
Christian preachers sometimes forget that the Samaritans had their own version of the Torah which, of course, centered in the experience of God’s gracious love and provident community. The Samaritan Bible included the centrality of loving the neighbor and providing for those in need as part of the community God desires for all. In this context, an individual act of mercy both provides care for the people involved, and represents commitment to the larger ways of love, mercy, material security, and supportive relationships that God intends for the larger community.
The Samaritan and Jewish communities went back and forth between living more or less peacefully and in degrees of tension. Given the multi-layered nature of relationships between Samaritans and Jews, preachers should avoid speaking in monotone or in caricature (e.g. as if Jews despised or hated all Samaritans, or vice versa). At the same time, given the differences in the two communities, preachers do need to acknowledge that the Samaritan is a surprise hero.
The Samaritan was Moved with Compassion
The NRSV says that the Samaritan was “moved with pity” when seeing the person along the road. A better rendering of the Greek splangnidzomai is “moved with compassion.” The ancients sometimes associated this word family with human inward parts or entrails. Many communities used it in association with the center of human feeling. To have compassion is to feel from the perspective of the other.
The Samaritan did not simply feel sorry for the person alongside the road. The Samaritan felt what it was like to be in that person’s situation (insofar as one can imagine such a thing).
The Samaritan then responded out of the depths of God’s purposes described above. The Samaritan sought to join God in restoring the life of the traveler, and in helping the person experience care, support, and security in community.
The Samaritan engaged in stewardship by correlating need and resources.
“Go and Do the Same” on the Deep Level: Key Questions for Stewardship
To go and do the same as the Samaritan is to feel the world from the standpoint of others, and to respond in accord with God’s realm purposes of restoration and renewal.
The preacher can help the congregation experience the world from the perspective of others, and help the congregation correlate its resources accordingly (e.g. time, talent, money).
Key questions for preaching on stewardship are:
· How can I (the preacher) help the congregation feel the world from the standpoint of others?
· How might I help the congregation imagine how to respond in ways that participate with God in helping the world become more like the realm of God?
Stewardship, as we make clear at the beginning of these resources, involves the whole of life. These questions, then, apply to the full spectrum of existence. Insofar as the stewardship campaign usually highlights the financial life of the congregation, the preacher might particularly help the congregation feel its own life, the life of the neighborhood, and the lives of the wider church and world, and imagine how to make commitments that help the congregation embody God’s purposes in its own life and in its mission in the world beyond.
The parable of the Samaritan highlights responding to the difficult circumstances of others. But the same structure of response can apply to the full range of life experience. We can feel as much as we can of the experience of others, enter into solidarity with them, and respond appropriately. When I feel the experience of joy in the life of another, my joining in the joy intensifies the experience of joy for the other, and adds joy to my own life.
The Samaritan as Surprise Model
Even if the Samaritan and Jewish communities were not constant antagonists, as preachers sometimes like to portray, the Samaritan was still a surprise hero The preacher might look for people and groups outside of mainstream Christian consciousness who, like the Samaritan, are unlikely models of stewardship today.
Multiple Levels, Multiple Sermons
The theme “Go and Do the Same,” then, has multiple levels of meaning. Given the particular context, the preacher might focus on a particular layer, or might draw on several layers simultaneously.
FOR THE REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY
Six Sermons in Six Months
Three Sermons in Three Weeks
Three Sermons in Three Months and Three Sermons in Three Weeks
Foundational to Christian thinking is the conviction that God loves each and all with gracious love. This unmerited love calls for a response embracing heart, mind, soul, will and body. Our response to divine love includes the appropriate use of material resources, including money. When we respond fully to God’s life-giving intentions, we respond with all that we are, all that we do, and all that we have.
Using material resources in response to God’s grace contains a symbolic element. Such actions represent our life-deep commitments. What we do in miniature (both when we make an offering in worship and when we engage in single acts of giving during the week) represents what we want to do with our whole lives. When we use material resources in the service of God’s gracious presence and purposes, we embody our response and actively participate with God in loving one another, the church, and the world. We actively and materially join with God to become part of the personal, social, and natural movement from this broken world to a renewed community (human, natural, cosmic) in which God’s love shapes all personal lives, all relationships, all social contexts and nature.
When we place money in the offering plate (or drop a check in the mail, or transfer funds electronically, or use the ATM machine in the church lobby), we say “Yes” to God. We commit ourselves to join with God in a divine-human partnership to re-shape the present and the future according to the vision of God’s love in complete and full embrace of all; according to God’s purpose that people and nature live in relationships of love.
When the subject of stewardship comes up, many preachers are quick to emphasize that these matters embrace much more than money. They include time, talent, and the full range of material resources, as well as money. For example, as I write, the Green Movement has captured the attention of many Christians and congregations. Human communities are seeking more mutual partnership with the natural world in all its dimensions—birds and bees, rocks and trees, skies and seas. How the human family relates to the natural world can be interpreted as part of stewardship, generosity, or faith and giving. Regardless of the language preachers use to speak about how the human family relates with the natural world, that subject is a key part of our material response to God’s unconditional love for each and all (nature included). .
Preachers need to keep these broader perspectives on the congregation’s big screen.
Money, of course, is a significant aspect of life in the early twenty-first century. It has inter-related symbolic and material power. What we do with our money represents our values. How we spend our money indicates what is really important to us. In the pre-historic era of financial life, I used to look at the stubs in our checkbook to see where we were really spending our money; I could then ponder what these expenditures said about the coherence between what we said we valued and how we actually used our money. Similarly today, I write few checks, but I look at the items on our credit card bill and on our debit card records.
What we do with our money can have material outcomes. Our giving can make certain things possible (or deny their possibility). For example, the congregation to which I belong sends backpacks of food for the weekend home with grade school students who might not otherwise have sufficient and nutritious food over the weekend. It takes money to buy the food that goes into the backpacks. The food makes a material difference to the families to whom it goes.
A Story that Catches the Spirit of this Resource
Here is a story that catches the spirit that we hope permeates this resource.
My spouse and I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. We get most of our food from a nearby farmer’s market. In the late summer, the sweet corn comes in. I do not mean to cast aspersion on any other state, but Nebraska is the only state that grows better sweet corn than Indiana. Round, full kernels—moist, tender, and sweet, truly sweet.
The first time we visited the farmer’s market during sweet corn season I sidled up to Dad’s Sweet Corn, in part because I love sweet corn (four ears make a complete meal), and in part because Dad is from Tipton County where my spouse serves the West Street Christian Church. I wanted to contribute to the local, local economy.
The sweet corn is in bags of a dozen. I called out, “I’ll take a dozen.” Dad the Daughter gave me a bag. When we got home, I took the ears out of the bag to put them in the fresh vegetable basket on the kitchen counter. Mindful that vendors all over the country are reducing the sizes of their products, I counted the ears. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . .six . . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . . ten . . .eleven . . .twelve . . . thirteen . . . fourteen.
I know that Tipton High School would never graduate a student who does not know that “a dozen” is “twelve.” So I assumed a worker had lost count when putting the ears in the bag.
When I returned the bag to Dad the Son the next Saturday, I called for another dozen. I gave Son the price of the twelve plus an extra dollar for the two extra ears of corn in the previous week’s bag. “Oh no,” he said, “I can’t take that money. We give extra ears to everybody.” Sure enough. We have never received fewer than two extra ears, and we have received as many as six. Yes, that’s a total of eighteen ears in a bag labeled “A Dozen.”
Dad’s generosity not only brings us back to Dad’s truck every Saturday during sweet corn season, but it is now in the back of my mind all the time. What can I do . . . at home . . . in the classroom at the seminary where I teach . . . in relationship with our children and grandchildren . . . in the congregation . . . in the neighborhood . . . in regard to the policies and practices of the various levels of government . . . to put extra ears in the bag of life?
I know how I felt when I discovered those extra ears. I would like for other people to feel similarly in other arenas of life. If enough people catch that spirit, we will have a different world, a world more like the one the Great Parent seeks for us.
Three Approaches to Preaching on Faith and Giving in this Resource
We suggest three approaches to preaching on faith and giving in theologically reflective ways from passages from the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts in the Revised Common Lectionary. In a congregation that does not use the lectionary, worship planners could choose these passages as the basis for preaching in the patterns below. .
The three approaches are discussed in detail below. They are:
- six sermons in six months
- Three sermons in three weeks
- Three sermons in three months and three sermons in three weeks
Biblical Texts from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts
The biblical texts for this resource all come from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts as selected for the Revised Common Lectionary. While nearly all biblical texts have implications for the use of material resources, this concern permeates the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. To be sure, focusing on Luke’s literature limits the range of biblical materials before the congregation. But, such a narrow consideration also allows for depth of encounter, especially as a community lives with Luke over Year C.
Six Sermons in Six Months
Many congregations have long had a single campaign each year intended to underwrite the budget. We note the advantages of such an approach in connection with “Three Sermons in Three Weeks” (below). However focusing on the budget for a single campaign once a year sometimes has unintended consequences. People can come away from such a campaign with a compartmentalized understanding. “We only need to think about these matters once a year.” They can also easily equate these matters primarily, even exclusively, with money.
Congregations need to understand that stewardship, generosity, and faith and giving are woven totally into the total fabric of Christian life and witness. As a way of embodying this integration, a preacher might explicitly devote a sermon a month to these themes. We use the designation “Six Sermons in Six Months” as a slightly catchy way of helping remember this approach. Of course, a preacher could develop such a focus once a month for any number of months.
By preaching six sermons in six months a preacher seeks to nurture the congregation’s consciousness of stewardship year round. It brings faith and giving into the regular course of preaching, and demonstrates that our material response to God’s is a continuous part of Christian life. We should not sign a pledge card and act as if we are done thinking and acting on these matters until the next campaign.
A congregation that wants a Commitment Sunday might designate one of the Sundays late in Ordinary Time for this purpose.
The preacher wants the congregation to develop a theological lens through which it is able to interpret and identify the appropriate ways to engage in stewardship, to be generous, and to give in response to faith.
When I put on my glasses in the morning, I see the world differently than when I leave them under the bed. Preaching every month on the use of material resources helps a congregation see the world from the perspective of how our use material resources can make a difference,
The Sundays and the Lections
Towards this end, the Center for Faith and Giving identifies six texts as foci for preaching about once a month during the Sundays after Easter and during Ordinary Time. The selections begin in April and continue through November:
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17. Acts 9:36-43:
God brings Tabitha back from the dead to continue leading the widows
Proper 6, June 12. Luke 7:36-8:3:
A woman anoints Jesus, and women provide for Jesus and the disciples out of the women’s own resources
Proper 13 (18), July 31. Luke 12:13-21:
A wealthy barn builder is called to account for misusing material resources
Proper 16 (21), August 21. Luke 14:1, 7-14:
Jesus gives instructions for eating at a banquet
Proper 20 (26), September 18. Luke 16:1-13:
Jesus calls the disciples to be faithful stewards
Proper 26, October 30. Luke 19:1-10:
The tax collector Zacchaeus repents and restores
Reign of Christ, November 13. Luke 21:5-19:
Jesus’ prepares the disciples for the second coming
Three Sermons in Three Weeks
Some congregations prefer a concentrated emphasis. Towards this end, we offer three sermons in three weeks for the spring, and three sermons in three weeks for the fall. In each case, the final Sunday could be a Commitment Sunday.
The immersive learning experience is a model here. When learning a particular subject matter students sometimes immerse themselves in a setting in which they focus only on that subject matter. For example, a college student learning Spanish might live for a semester with a family in South America.
Similarly, the preacher might help the congregation immerse in a single subject matter for three weeks. As a student comes away from an immersion with a heightened consciousness of the subject matter and how to put it into practice, so the congregation comes away from the immersion into the world of stewardship, generosity or faith and giving.
A spring campaign from spring texts:
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17. Acts 9:36-43:
God brings Tabitha back from the dead to continue the work of leading the widows
Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 24. Acts 11:1-18:
God blesses the gentile mission
Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1. Acts 16:16-34:
God liberates a young woman who had been a slave and liberates apostles from prison
A fall campaign from fall texts
Proper 20, September 18. Luke 16:1-13:
A servant who writes off debts, climaxing, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Proper 21, September 25: Luke 16:19-31:
The parable of the rich person and Lazarus
Proper 22, October 1: Luke 17:5-10:
Faith can move the mulberry tree
Three Sermons in Three Months and Three Sermons in Three Weeks
Of course, a congregation could combine six-month emphasis with a three week campaign by focusing on stewardship once a month on biblical materials during the spring and summer, and then sponsoring an intense campaign in late spring or late fall.
Exegetical Comments and Preaching Possibilities Combined
In the materials that accompany each Sunday, exegetical comments and preaching possibilities are combined in one flowing discussion.
How to Talk about Our Material Response to God’s Overflowing Love?
The church in the second decade of the twenty-first century is unsettled with regard to the language we use to talk about how we respond to God’s love and leading. Christians now speak in at least three ways about our response to God’s grace: stewardship, generosity, and faith and giving. We employ all three expressions (and others) in these materials, but it is worth noting that each has strengths and weaknesses.
For much of the late twentieth century the church borrowed an image from a strand in the Bible to speak of “stewardship.” Preachers encouraged congregants to see themselves as stewards.
The steward in antiquity was the manager of the affairs of a household that belonged to an owner. The steward managed the other servants and animals
, and was responsible to the owner.
The steward-manager had to give an account of what she or he had done with the owner’s resources. By way of contemporary example, a steward on an ocean liner is responsible for managing certain things on the ship for the comfort of passengers (and the profits of owners).
Theologically mature preachers remind congregations that “Stewardship is not just a matter of money. It is what we do with our whole lives.” However, churches sometimes think of stewardship in more limited ways with raising money for the budget, as in “the stewardship campaign.”
The language of stewardship reminds the creature of the difference between creature and creator, and of the creature’s purpose in serving the creator. However, a good many Christians have become uneasy with the language of stewardship because it is managerial in tone. It is individualistic in character (the steward typically acted alone); and it suggests a hierarchy of relationships in the human community. Stewards typically think of themselves as managing limited resources. The notion of accountability easily lets the element of fear shape too much perception of stewardship. “I will give so I will avoid condemnation.”
In large measure, this resource continues to use the language of stewardship, but we also use the language of generosity and faith and giving (per the comments that follow).
A movement today promotes the language of “generosity” and “being generous” as ways of speaking of a person’s response to the unearned goodness of God at work in the world. One of my colleagues, Carol Johnston, has studied generosity from various standpoints, including interviewing people who give generously in give congregations. She sums up:
Generosity arises from the arithmetic of grace: Grace plus gratitude = generosity. When you experience and receive the unconditional love of God through compelling preaching of that love and the practice of authentic Christian hospitality, you are both healed and led beyond yourself. The dozens of people I interviewed in five diverse congregations rarely spoke of “stewardship.” Instead I heard heartfelt testimonials to the transformative power of receiving God’s love and learning to share it far beyond the church walls; using all the gifts one has received, including money. (Correspondence with author).
The generosity of God’s gifts is apparent in the abundance of the world. To be generous is thus not only to be like God but is actively to join God in giving generously out of one’s own sense of divine provision and providence. When we have the self-image of being generous, we see ourselves less as managers and more as full-bodied participants in a community of caring, caring which often has joy at its heart.
Even if particular parts of the human population or particular parts of the natural world suffer from a shortage of resources (e.g. food, income, rain), the world itself provides more than enough,
(at least for the present population ). The issue is not over-all shortage, but distribution—getting pieces of material abundance to all who need them.
When we act generously with a spirit of joy and openness towards the other, a sense of community often results. Moreover generosity often begets generosity. I was recently at a meeting to plan for raising funds for a campaign. It was really an organizational meeting. It was not an “ask” meeting. But, one of the participants volunteered, “I will start out things with a gift,” and announced an unexpectedly large amount. Almost everyone did the same. The generosity of the first donor inspired increased generosity in others.
Generosity often breeds generosity and sense of mutual participation. I like the feeling I see in those with whom I am generous, and I like the feeling that I get as a result of being generous. Often a sense of community develops among those in whom generosity occurs. The act of giving and receiving sparks a bond.
Of course, thinking in terms of generosity can quietly play into a charity mindset. The charity way of thinking presupposes, even if unintentionally, a hierarchical perception of relationship: the giver has an upper hand in making the hand-out. I, who have abundance, give out of my treasure to those who have less.
Faith and Giving
“Faith and giving” refers to the giving that results from faith. In the broad sense, faith is trust in the presence and purposes of God. The person who has faith has confidence that there is a living presence we call God who loves each and all (animals and elements of nature included); and seeks for all to live in relationships of love. People who seek to be faithful seek for this trust to permeate their lives and to embody loving values and practices. In this sense, faith includes working on behalf of justice, which is the social form of love.
Giving is a way of expressing faith in God. A giver can give because the giver has confidence in God’s presence, purposes, and providence. A giver counts on God. We might even see the degree to which we give as an index of our faith (trust) in God and of our commitment to God’s purposes of love, peace, justice, mutuality, and abundance.
When we take something over which we have control that we could use to support ourselves and give it to others, we are saying, “Your life—as individual, congregation, group movement—is so important to me that I share with you something that could support my own life. Our life together is that important to me.”
In the strange logic of these things, giving can help increase faith. When we give, even when we have questions about whether we have the resources to do so, we often discover blessing and support that helps us believe that God really is present and providential. When we take a risk in giving, we sometimes become more aware of the divine presence supporting and extending us.
I oversimplify the theological issues with that I am about to say in order to make a point. Throughout more than 40 years of ordained ministry, I have heard people from all walks of life say, “I thought we could not afford to tithe. But we made the decision to do so. We set aside our tithe first, and we have nearly always had enough money for all our other expenses.” For such folk, tithing was a risk. But the practice of tithing reinforced their confidence in God.
Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of all three ways of speaking, we use all three expressions in these materials—stewardship, generosity, and faith and giving. Since we focus on biblical readings from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, we will relate these notions to particular themes in that Gospel. However, since the different expressions have somewhat different associations, preachers and worship planners may want to focus on one language family for Year C—stewardship, or generosity, or faith and giving—as the leading way in which speak about these matters in the congregations
Additional Resources for Preaching on the Lectionary and the Use of Material Resources
David N. Mosser, provides exegetical, theological, and homiletical insights in The Stewardship Companion: Lectionary Resources for Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007
The Center for Faith and Giving provides another set of materials for short-term campaigns, such as the program entitled From Bread and Wine to Faith and Giving. This program focuses on stewardship implications that follow from the Sacred Meal.
Go and Do the Same campaign materials include Keys to Success, Electronic and Generational Giving insights, three different Campaign Calendars, Targeted Campaign Letters, Pledge Cards, Letterhead, Posters, and additional resources.
Below is a brief look at the resources that surround a single text – in this case, Acts 9:32-43
which appears on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 17).
This is a sample of the over 95 pages of exegetical and homiletical commentary…
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 17, 2016
Exegetical and Homiletical Comments
The stories of Aeneas and Dorcas (Tabitha) may seem like odd passages with which to begin a season of thinking about generosity. But several themes characteristic of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts appear in this passage, all of which with implications for the faithful use of material resources. The interaction of these multiple dimensions invite the congregation into a comprehensive way of thinking about stewardship, beginning with God’s gracious initiatives and including responses that involve our whole lives as individuals and communities
In the background of this study is the idea that the ministry of Jesus is the model for the ministries of the apostles and the church. The apostles and the church do everything that Jesus does, including serve as agencies through whom God heals the sick and raises the dead.
Stories of Healing and Raisings from the Dead
For this discussion, we distinguish between the resuscitation of a corpse and a resurrection. A resuscitation of a corpse occurs in the midst of the broken old age, with the person returning to life in the same body in which she or he died. The person who was resuscitated would die again (unless the Apocalypse occurred before the repeat death occurred). Resurrection refers to coming back from the dead in the revitalized body in which the self would live in the full and final completion of the Realm. The resurrection body is a material body but it is not subject to decay.
In this text, God raised Dorcas (Tabitha) from the dead. The only person already resurrected is Jesus who came from the tomb in the resurrection body and whose resurrected body (self) ascended to heaven to the right hand of God.
Healing stories and raisings from the dead in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts have multiple functions. Of particular importance both for exegesis and preaching: the healings and the raisings from the dead give evidence that the realm of God is actually present through the ministries of Jesus and the church. The healings and the raisings are signs in the midst of the broken old age that the power of the new world is already here, although it is still fully to be revealed (after the Apocalypse).
Moreover, the healings and raisings embody the character of the Realm. Sickness and death point to the broken nature of the present age. The healings and raisings reveal that God intends to end brokenness, disruption, pain, and death and to replace them with a world of wholeness, continuity of purpose, joy, and life.
In these stories
, the Spirit often works through the material agency of Jesus and the witness of the apostles, the disciples and the church. Jesus and the church put their basic material resource—their bodies—and their other material resources in the service of the Spirit who manifests an aspect of the Realm
Stewardship, Generosity, and Faith and Giving as Healing and Raising from the Dead
The stories of Aeneas and Dorcas suggest that when the church puts its material resources in the service of the Realm, our ministry can express signs of the Realm. Through us, the Spirit can do things that demonstrate the believability of the claim that God intends to bring about a new Realm. Our ministries can also point to the character of that Realm.
When we make a financial commitment to support the congregation, we make a commitment to the qualities of life represented in the Realm. We make a similar commitment when we put ourselves into other forms of stewardship, generosity and faith and giving.
While guarding against rhetorical excess, a preacher could speak of a pledge, to the budget or some other act of stewardship, generosity, or faith and giving, as healing or even as raising from the dead. In some congregations a preacher would need to call attention to the metaphorical character quality of such an assertion.
A congregation in Indianapolis used the slogan, “Miracle on 86th Street” to describe an outstanding fund-raising campaign. Preachers could use that saying with their own congregations, perhaps as the title for an annual budget-raising campaign or for a special fund-raising endeavor (e.g. a new building, a new mission program).
The preacher can point to examples from the local community and from wider communities of ministries funded by the congregation that result in healing and raising from the dead, that is, in bringing about more Realm-like conditions of life.
When we make a commitment to give, either formally with the congregation or within our own hearts, we make a commitment to participate with God in working for a more Realm-like world.
Through the Name of Jesus, Aeneas is Healed
Although the story of Aeneas is short, it implies the purposes above. More specifically, Aeneas was paralyzed. The story refers to paralysis of the body. Peter was the immediate agent through whom Jesus Christ restored Aeneas.
Figuratively, a preacher can imagine other ways that people are unable to move—especially with regard to giving. The preacher can explore how Jesus can help us move again with regard to giving, and other aspects of our lives that have become immobile.
Today’s world places ever greater emphasis upon what people who a differently abled can do. A preacher wants to speak about Aeneas in a way that honors these things.
Indeed, the preacher could help the congregation see solidarity with persons in situations similar to Aeneas as part of the congregation’s commitment to the present and future.
God Provides for Widows through the Leadership of Dorcas
The situation of widows in antiquity could be quite difficult and even precarious. Under the usual practices of Jewish tradition, a widow became the responsibility of a male relative. In the absence of male relatives, a widow could be left virtually alone in the world. Consequently, the Jewish community had laws intended to provide at least a subsistence-level existence for widows, orphans, and others in the extremes of life.
While the text is not clear that Tabitha was a widow, many scholars are inclined towards the view that she was. Whether or not she was a widow, she took a lead among widows in behalf of establishing their own security. The early church had an order of widows who worked in that way. Dorcas likely helped the widows work together making tunics and other garments.
Although the widows were themselves in situations of distress, they worked with one another to relieve their distress. In the language of today, they organized for liberation. From Luke’s perspective, God used the widows working with one another in making and selling clothing as a means to provide for them.
A preacher could help the congregation identify distressed groups today who, like the widows in antiquity, are organizing to provide for stability in their worlds and thereby for the larger world. The congregation could participate with God in these efforts by entering into solidarity with such groups.
Tabitha may be been a woman of means. The text is not clear on this subject. If so, she exemplifies how Luke
If Tabitha was not a woman of means, then she illustrates a person who is in a personally difficult situation, but who still responded to the leading of the Spirit to be in solidarity with others in need.
Remarkable Points for Preaching
Here some remarkable points for preaching: The church cared enough about Dorcas to send two people to Peter, and they urged him to come “without delay.” The situation of the widows was precarious enough that they wanted the agent of resuscitation to come as quickly as possible.
Even more striking: God cared enough about the widows to raise Tabitha from the dead
It probably never entered Luke’s thinking, but in my mind as a preacher. I know people who have been effectively dead to certain aspects of life. For example, I know people who have been dead to a purpose for life. They felt directionless. “There must be more to life than this.” “What am I doing with my life?” Even, “Why am I here?” But when they have engaged in giving, they have come back to life.
The same thing can be true of congregations. Without intending to do so, we can effectively become dead when we become institutionally self-centered, especially when a congregation becomes preoccupied with its own survival.
The story of Dorcas can be a lens through which a congregation can think about its own situation. If we are dying or dead and if we join God in mission, life may come our way. For Dorcas, her life of giving became the reason her life was revived.
A long-time friend in the ministry, now retired, told about receiving a call from the denominational executive in that area and asked my friend to serve to serve as an interim for a congregation “in hospice.” According to my friend, the congregation was small, aged, and depressed. But they decided that even if their days were numbered, they could focus on what they could do. They had resources for ministry to senior citizens: offering “Let’s do lunch,” arranging trips, working in a local food pantry and a homeless shelter, sponsoring a workshop on Social Security and another on health. Some members observed, “We may not have a lot of young families in our area, but we seem to have an inexhaustible supply of senior citizens.” The long-term future of that congregation is uncertain, but doing Dorcas-like things in their situation have not only helped others but revived the spirit of the congregation. Giving is their pathway to life.
Dorcas Then, Dorcas Not so Long Ago, Dorcas Now
In my lifetime (I am mid-sixties), many congregations had a Dorcas Class or a Dorcas Circle, a women’s group that met weekly or monthly for study, fellowship, and mission. Indeed, many such groups were exemplars of their era in the support of mission. If the congregation had such a group in years past, a preacher might be able to use it as an example; the congregation could easily identify, of women who sought to pursue realm-like purposes.
In a congregation with a big screen, a preacher might be able to project pictures of the Dorcas Class and the mission projects it supported. If the congregation could give birth to such efforts in the past, it can do so again.
A preacher might also find representations of Dorcas in art—paintings, statutes, stained glass windows, weavings. The congregation might project these on the big screen.
Towards the Restoration of Relationship of Women and Men
Luke identifies Tabitha simply as Tabitha. Luke does not identify her in relationship to a male. She is an agent of providence in her own right.
While Luke may not expressly imply complete egalitarianism and mutuality between women and men as part of the present manifestation of the Realm, the writer does have a strong impulse in that direction. In addition to focusing on women with their own agency, Luke points towards egalitarianism as God’s purpose
is by pairing similar stories of women and men. Not only does Luke identify Tabitha as a person in her own right, but Luke pairs the story of Tabitha with that of Aeneas.
To be sure, the church specifically, and North American culture more generally, have taken significant steps towards better opportunities for women. But opportunities for women in many fields are still limited, even disadvantaged, including, sometimes especially, in the church. “Good old boy” networks abound, and many young men participate in the old boy networks.
An individual or a household makes a public statement in behalf of the liberation of women by making a commitment to the budget, by supporting the wider life and witness of the congregation, and by standing in solidarity with efforts for witness in the larger culture. By so doing, congregation and wider world respond positively to God’s lure for mutuality in community.
This is a sample of the over 45 pages of worship resources, one resource for each text.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Easter glow is still on our backs. What better time to turn our attention to these three short weeks in which we think about what we can do together in the next year. We are focusing especially on supporting our budget, but that is just one small piece. How can we as individuals and households, give to the congregation so that we as a community can give to the world beyond the church parking lot?
Many years, we have begun this campaign with biblical texts that focus expressly on giving. “Give and it will be given to you.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But this year, we are taking a different approach. We are looking at biblical texts appointed in the lectionary and asking, “What can we learn about giving from these passages?”
All the passages come from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, both written by someone we call Luke.
Our guides today will be a man named Aeneas and a woman named Dorcas. You may also know Dorcas by the name of Tabitha. God healed Aeneas. Dorcas was known for good works and acts of mercy, and when she died, God raised her from the dead.
During this service think about ways that our giving can be healing. Think about ways that our giving can participate in the raising of the dead.
Think about the possibility that giving can be healing for you. Think about the possibility that giving may be a way whereby God brings you back from the dead.
Call to Worship
One: The Easter glow is still in our midst.
Many: We feel the resurrected Jesus with us.
One: What better time to turn our attention to what we can do as congregation in the coming year.
Many: We come to offer ourselves to the leading of the Spirit.
One: We come because we want God to use our giving in healing ways.
Many: We come because we want God to use our giving to raise the dead.
Generous and giving God, we thank you for the resurrection of Jesus and for the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit that continues his ministry of witnessing to your Realm. We give thanks that this Realm brings about healing and raising from the dead. We thank you for the ways in which we encounter the Spirit through this congregation, especially for the ways in which this community helps us discern the leading of the Spirit. Help us be open afresh, now, to ways in which the Spirit can lead us in regard to giving. We offer this time of worship to you, praying that we may grow in the ways in which our giving honor you, and can serve your purposes of healing and of raising the dead.
Invitation to the Offering
Dorcas and the widows come to mind as we prepare to receive this offering. Dorcas was known as a woman “of good works and acts of mercy.” I would like to be known that way. And I would like for our congregation to be known that way. Giving is a key. It makes good works possible. And it enables acts of mercy to take place. Someone has to give. You can be that someone today.
Invitation to the Table
Dorcas not only gave from her own material resources. She also worked with the widows to become a community of mutual support. Their giving to one another was so important that when Dorcas died, God raised her from the dead. Of course, she died again.
In giving herself for others, of course, Dorcas followed the way of Jesus. He gave himself to the Realm of God, a cosmic community of mutual support. When that giving brought him into conflict with the rulers of the old age, he was killed. But his giving was so important that God brought him back from the dead. Whereas Dorcas returned to life only to die again, God brought Jesus back so that he would never die. And his living presence meets us at this table.
With the Bread and the Cup, you hold in your hand and put to your lips a promise from God to you: giving is the way to life.
Possible Hymns and Songs
“O Christ, the Healer, We have Come” New Century Hymnal, 175
“Bless God, O My Soul,” New Century Hymnal, 549
“Out of the Depths, O God, We Call,” New Century Hymnal 554, Chalice Hymnal 510
“Lead Us from Death to Life,” New Century Hymnal, 581
“Healer of Our Ev’ry Ill,” Chalice Hymnal, 506
This is a sample of the over 40 pages of small group/Bible study resources, one lesson for each text.
Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
Now 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.
Point of Inspiration:
God’s abundance in all its manifestations comes to humanity when we are willing to leverage all of who and what we are for the betterment of the community. Our gifts, talents, and financial resources can bring health and restoration to the brokenness surrounding us.
God, open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to the message You would have us learn and live today. Amen.
Reading the Scripture
1. What stands out for you when you read/hear this passage?
2. What questions do you have about this passage?
3. Where else do you find accounts of healing and the dead brought back to life?
4. What is similar or different about this passage?
Studying the Word
This scripture deals with the healing of Aeneas, the paralytic, and the raising of Dorcas (Tabitha) from the dead. Little is revealed about the life of Aeneas, his role, vocation, relationships, or status in the community. It is presumable, however, that eight years of bedridden paralysis had negatively impacted his household. The family may have found themselves slipping “through the cracks” of society with very minimal support systems in place.
On the other hand, Tabitha’s position is well documented. She is described as “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Her loss to the community was significant and a threat to the livelihood of the widows with whom she worked. When she died, the widows clung to the tunics and garments she had made. The clothing was not only proof of her creative ability but also affirmed her com-passion towards them and their welfare. Her tangible legacy of good works and acts of mercy was held in their hands.
A benevolent entrepreneur, Tabitha had used her gifts to assist those most at risk, such as the widows, to engage in a profitable cottage industry. It is believed that in the early church, these orders of widows worked together to make tunics and other garments to provide income for themselves. Individually they were vulnerable, but with their unified efforts, they became self-sufficient. The widows, who easily could have been the marginalized of society, seemed to have forged a meaningful sisterhood for their shared emotional and material needs. Security was in their collective work and industry.
Whether found by Peter, or sought out by friends in the community, both Aeneas and Tabitha are the recipients of shared generosity. Peter is simple and direct in shattering the bondage of disease and death with the statement “get up.” That is the essence of the gospel message, to raise and awaken us from the dead places in life to a higher spiritual and physical realm in the presence of God.
Read Verses 32-35.
How does the statement, “there he found a man” impact your understanding of this healing?
The Holy Spirit had compelled Peter and the other apostles to share the good news throughout the region. It is apparent that any apprehension or hesitation about their role in the spreading of the message had been resolved. Peter and the others put their resources, in totality, to the spreading of the message of Jesus Christ. There was an overwhelming urgency to their work and they, and the early church, thrived. Wholeness and restoration are significant indications of the realm of God; sickness, disease, and death are not. Was Peter specifically looking for Aeneas, or was there a heightened awareness that any sickness or disease were inconsistent with the intent of God? How does the church and community respond to those who are “paralyzed,” whether physically or otherwise? Why do you suppose Peter said, “Jesus Christ heals you”? Does it make a difference in your response to the passage? How does the community respond to the healing?
Read Verses 36-43.
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha.” How significant is it that Tabitha is identified as a disciple? The Jewish tradition noted that “good works” and “charity” suggested a sense of compassion, solidarity, or identification with those who are in need or impoverished. What does it suggest that men were sent to petition Peter to come to Tabitha? Why do you suppose Tabitha worked with the widows? How has the status of “widows” improved? How does your congregation relate to any group of people who are seen as “at risk” or marginalized? How does your life story, or that of your congregation, influence acts of good work?
In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is fully operational in the activities of the apostles as they spread the good news. It is the comfort and the power of the Spirit that compels the acts of grace and mercy that had been witness with Jesus to continue without his physical presence. The apostles used their assets, their physical and spiritual presence, to bring life and “life more abundantly” to the entire community.
Generosity is present not only with the sharing of gifts and talents for the community, such as the work of Tabitha with the widows, but with the words of hope and healing. When one in the community is restored, the entire community lives in a state of peace and prosperity which best represents the kingdom of God.
O God of liberation from every bondage, your generous grace and mercy brings healing from disease and allows us to rise to new life. Help us to speak and act in the power of the Holy Spirit which transforms lives and communities. Amen.
This is a sample of over a dozen children’s sermons, each related to the campaign texts.
This story has a lot to it and can raise some questions, especially for concrete thinkers, about healing and raising from the dead. It also, however, introduces our theme of “Go and Do the Same”. As Ron Allen points out, “In the background of this study is the idea that the ministry of Jesus is the model for the ministries of the apostles and the church. The apostles and the church do everything that Jesus does, including serve as agencies through whom God heals the sick and raises the dead.” So, for children, what if we focus on the idea that we can continue to do the same work that the early followers did and that Jesus did?
Because this scripture is so broad, the Children’s Sermon here is focusing on one specific detail: the description of Tabitha/Dorcas.
Wow! Those stories we just read were pretty amazing. One was about a man who was healed after being paralyzed – unable to walk – for eight years. The other was about a woman who died and was brought back to life. I have to tell you, I have never seen anything like that happen.
When we read these stories, it is pretty easy to get caught up in asking how it happened and why for those people. But I want to point us to another detail in today’s scripture that I don’t think we should miss.
Do you remember what we learned about Tabitha, the woman who was brought back to life? (Let the children answer: they might say her name was Dorcas, she was a widow or friend of widows, she was a Christian, she did good works and acts of charity).
We learn several things about her, but what I want us to notice is what it tells us about how she spent her time. In Acts, we are told that she “was devoted to good works and acts of charity” (9:36b, NRSV).
What is charity? (Let the children answer) Yes, charity is caring for others – we often think of it as giving our money or time to help care for those who have less, but it can happen in lots of ways.
Over the coming months, we are going to look at many scriptures written by Luke – we find those in both the Gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts from which we read today. As we do we are going to ask how we can “Go and Do the Same.”
So, that’s my question for you. Think of how Tabitha spent her life – doing good works for others. How can you go and do the same? (Let the children answer) I’m going to encourage you to choose one act of kindness or charity that you will do this week. Then next week, find me at church and tell me what you did. Okay?
Prayer: God, you give us good examples like Tabitha and many others. Help us to choose to do good works and to take care of those in need. Amen.
Additionally, there are bulletin covers and inserts for each Sunday in the program (eleven in all).