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My Sheep Hear My Voice

Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23; Revelations 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

May 12, 2019 –Fourth Sunday of Easter

I promised you early in this Christian year, shortly after Christmas, that we would be spending a lot of time in Luke this year. Here we are this morning, reading from the gospel of John again this morning.

We read and pray and preach our way through the Bible in a three-year cycle and the third year we are in now, Year C, follows Luke closely. So where is Luke. We are also reading from Acts, also believed to have been written by Luke, the Greek physician.

In fact, some people refer to Luke and Acts together, as Luke-Acts. Here in Acts 9 we are hearing about the time before Luke joined the effort.

It won’t be until Chapter 16 as Paul sets sail for Samothrace that Luke’s narrative suddenly shifts from “they” to “we.” We are reading this morning, therefore, what Luke has been told, not what he has seen.

But even at this remove, he can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the witness his companions are sharing with him. He knows that voice and he wants to follow it.

As a physician he would have been keenly interested in what they have been telling him about Peter, the main character in our reading today. He was in the area when a good person passes away.

Tabitha was devoted to good works and acts of charity, and they went to ask Peter to come when she dies. He kneels and prays beside her body then says, “Tabitha, get up.” She opens her eyes and sits up.

It becomes known throughout Joppa. That is the kind of thing that would catch a physician’s interest. It is something that should catch ours, too.

Goodness is attractive, in an ambidextrous sort of way. It draws evil to itself. We saw that with Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion.

But it draws goodness to itself as well. We get to see that today with Peter and Tabitha.

A woman dies in Joppa. Certainly Peter is not going to travel from Lydda to Joppa every time a woman dies. He is busy telling the story of the risen Christ to everyone he sees.

But Tabitha was one of those special people. Because she was known for good works and acts of charity, the busiest man in the world drops what he is doing and walks 25 miles to pray at her bedside.

We know this is an extraordinarily good woman, too. All the widows are weeping when Peter gets there. They show him the things she made for them. He sees her good works and he knows that they have been given and received in love. They are acts of charity.

His trip has been worthwhile already when he kneels down and prays. We don’t know what he prayed but we know that he receives an expectation from somewhere and his faith must have been on a high energy setting. Tabitha lives.

Is it Tabitha’s goodness that saves her? Is it Peter’s power and faith that saves her? Or is it goodness upon goodness that saves her and makes him…and her…famous…

and shows God’s power to the world.

I am one birthday past my father now, but his mother lived to be 96. She was done with school at 10 because she was a girl and it was 1910, but she asked her teacher to show her how to knit and crochet.

Late in life she would make Afghans for all her grandchildren. Then she made them for friends. Then she made them for anyone who gave her the yarn, and she would crochet until she ran out of yarn.

Then she started again. It gave her a sense of self-worth. Strangers were kind to her. Everyone knew her for her blankets. She had a purpose in life. That made her kind. She got hugs when she went to the grocery store.

It made her happy to make people’s lives better and it gave her something to do while she watched Lawrence Welk and professional wrestling on TV.

Maybe she was one of the first multitask masters I knew. I know she was able to be one of the happiest people I knew. And she outlived both of her children. A good deed is its own reward.

I had a wonderful birthday last week, and I thank Barbara Athorn and her family for the blessing of co-officiating at Larry’s memorial service on Thursday.

I know that sounds odd, but celebrating a life that good was an affirmation of life for me, too. I had to be careful when people asked how I knew Larry and Barbara. I think they were surprised that they went to church somewhere else.

But I told them about the bridge club, too, and about Larry showing up to help out whenever the Masons put on one of our Thursday suppers.

I had a picture of him greeting Wai – who will be here this afternoon – at our Thanksgiving dinner and giving him some fatherly advice.

His good works showed through to many people. I shared with the pastor at First Presbyterian that Larry was ‘a calming presence’ in any room and an encouraging friend to everyone he knew.

He asked me if I had already seen the bulletin. When I told him No he told me that he had titled his meditation “A Calming Presence” and he selected Mark 4:35 as the gospel reading, the disciples out on the sea of Galilee, waking Jesus in a storm to save them.

He demands that the storm be still …and it is. Then he turns to the disciples and demands of them, “Have you still no faith?”

The pastor looked at me after we had shared these stories and said, “I love it when this kind of thing happens.” I told him I did, too. I didn’t take anything for granted but coincidences make me feel alive when they happen, and it happened again this Thursday.

There were two pastors getting ready to celebrate the life of a good, good man…and a fellow pastor at that. As we put on our robes, we thought we might have heard the shepherd’s voice coming to us.

You never know. As my mom told me one time, “I guess that’s why they call it ‘faith.’” I think my life expectancy went up because of it, and I know the meaning of it all seemed to get deeper and richer.

We read in Revelations today, too, that Jesus’ goodness has shown through, here on earth and in heaven, too. All the tribes and people, and angels and the elders are giving thanks for the lamb. Jesus heard his shepherd’s voice, God’s voice, too, and he knew to rally to that banner always, no matter what the cost might be.

It turns out that Jesus doesn’t ask anything of us that he was unwilling to do. He walked the walk while he talked the talk. We might think it was an impossible thing he did, but he has gone on before us to show us the way.

When Amanda was little, we played pitch and hit with a whiffle ball and a plastic bat. Amanda was always the batter and she got good enough to hit me with the batted ball more often than anyone would have expected.

She started T-ball when she was 6 and the last few innings of the last game, they took the tee away and pitched to the girls. They other team was up first and none of the girls on that team had ever tried to hit a tossed ball before. They couldn’t hit a thing.

They gave them more than three outs, but no one could hit the ball. Then Amanda’s team got up and as fate…or faith…would have it, she was the first batter. This is going to be interesting, I thought.

Sure enough, Amanda smacked the first fair pitch right through the infield, catching the outfield by surprise and she ended up at second base. Everyone was astonished. But it got more interesting still.

The next girl smacked the ball, too, and the next and the next. They had finally seen someone do it. They knew it was possible, and they knew they could do it, too.

That isn’t always the case. There are people who had seen Jesus do many wonderful things and they thought there might be some other explanation. They ask for a sign today and Jesus replies, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”

But there is someone we see today who believed and was willing to step into a place of unbelief and let the Lord take care of the rest. Peter restores Tabitha. He has seen it done. Somehow he knows how to do it.

No wonder the physician Luke chooses to set sail with Paul and the people who follow Jesus and Peter. Paul would have healed a lame man by the time Luke joined them, so he would be traveling with a second disciple who had healing powers, and then at Troas, in Chapter 20, he revives a young man who dies.

We can be too literal about these passages in the Bible, I suppose, but we can be too skeptical, too. If an old woman’s knitting or a young girl’s batting can change lives, can transform our understanding, we can, too.

I don’t have time to tell you all of the ambiguous situations I have found myself in since I became a pastor, but there have been many of them.

You might think you have to raise someone from the dead to really have faith, but you just need to knit …or hit…or share an encouraging word with someone who is doing a lot of good already.

This week I saw a pastor I had visited with only briefly come up with a meditation title that turned out to be first words I told him as the visiting pastor about the great friend we had both been called to honor that day.

People think that prayer is a matter of choosing the right words to speak to God, and prayer does have a way… hopefully…of making us think about the gifts we have already received before we speak.

But prayer is also an invitation to listen for some clarity in our lives… as the world conspires to distract us from something that is important to us…so that we will be hooked by something that is profitable to someone else. Buy this. Vote for me. Call now. Not sold in stores. Operators are standing by.

So I thank you for taking time to gather again this week to sing and pray… to hear the Word…to love our neighbors…to listen for the Shepherd’s voice. It calls to you because he loves you.

Listen. Hear. And live.

O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.