Sermon: Making an Impact

Making an Impact
Acts 9:36-43
RUMC April 17, 2016

During the Civil War, a Union nurse treated wounded troops in a military hospital.  Though she cared deeply for her patients, this nurse was very much aware of her physical appearance because her face was disfigured when she was younger due to a fire.  When asked why she volunteered to work among so much death and carnage, she said, “The wounded soldiers don’t notice my scars as much as the others.  To them, I’m beautiful.”

And so it is when we have faith and do things for God, he doesn’t look at our sins and short coming, but when he looks into our souls, we are beautiful in his sight.

My scripture text, Acts 9:36-43, is about a woman named Dorcas who was known for the wonderful miracle that took place in her life, but also for legendary acts of service.
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. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since 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.” 39So 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. 40Peter 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. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Her Greek name was Dorcas and her Jewish name was Tabitha.  Both names mean gazelle.  In Biblical times, it was common to give an animal nickname to a woman.  A gazelle was a creature that had black stunning eyes and swift feet.

Now, if you read between the lines, it seemed that Dorcas died a premature death in the prime of life.  This must have greatly startled the entire Christian community of Lydda in that God would allow the death of someone who was still productive, kind, and had much to offer.

You see when Dorcas was alive; she found ways to serve the Lord through the skill of sewing.  She did what she could to make life easier for those in need.  Dorcas was the only woman in the New Testament who was identified as a disciple.  It is amazing of all the women mentioned in the New Testament, the title of disciple was given only to Dorcas.

Acts 9:36  Dorcas was devoted to good works and acts of charity.

The Bible does not give us a record of what she said, but we know a lot of what she did.  Her good deeds are what made Dorcas standout in her Christian community.  And whatever she did was used to reach others for the gospel.  Another way we can look at this, Dorcas was moved by the needs of others and was she quick to respond.

If you really think about it, a Christian disciple is one who not only has faith, but is a doer of good deeds.  When we lend a helping hand, it often softens a hard heart.  So whether we make meals, sew clothes, fix cars, hang drywall, work in a food pantry, or drive someone to their doctor’s appointments, God can use our service.  It can be used to point people to Christ.

Whenever our District Superintendent attends our worship service and gives the benediction, he usually quotes Francis of Assisi who said, “At all times, preach the gospel.  When necessary use words.”

Over the years, I have noticed that those who were greatly mourned in funeral and memorials services were people of faith and known for their service to others.

James 1:27  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters if you say you have faith but do not have works?

One person who was universally recognized as a person of outstanding faith and service to others was Dr. Albert Schweitzer.  Earlier in his life, Dr. Schweitzer was a first rate theologian and accomplished musician.  Amidst the protest of his family, friends, and colleagues, he resigned his teaching post at the University and reentered the University as a student in their medical school.  Schweitzer did this with the express purpose to spread the gospel through medicine, and he completed his studies, in 3 years.  Dr. Schweitzer traveled to what is now known as Gabon where he built a hospital and a house for lepers.  For 50 years, he and his wife totally gave of themselves as they cared for thousands in a most difficult environment.

One of the strengths of the United Methodist Church is faith and service.  I personally find it is the best way to live and share the gospel.  Just like Dorcas in the book of Acts, we need to have faith and to be a doer of good deeds.  A true measure of our effectiveness as a church is not defined by what happens “in here” but what happens “out there”.

Most of you know that our church supports Dr. Belinda Forbes, who a dentist of the Accion Medica Christiana in Managua, Nicaragua.  There are also thousands of worldwide UM missionaries who spread the gospel; they do this is through health care, agriculture, teaching and disaster relief.  Their philosophy is this:  When the physical needs of people are met, they become spiritually open to the gospel.

Here in this church, many have become involved in the following:
Tri-Care Shelter, Hockanum Valley Community Council, Habitat for Humanity, Hockanum Valley Food Pantry, Kids Safe, Imagine No Malaria, Cornerstone Foundation Soup Kitchen, Winter coat and blanket drive, Holiday Gift Fund, and there are many others.

In several weeks, Hartford Catholic Charities will be with us to talk about how we as a church can help Syrian refugees.  I was told by the Catholic workers that the many Syrian Christians, the moment they arrive in country, will ask to be taken to a church just to give a prayer of thanksgiving.

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in Heaven. 

Let me get back to Dorcas.  She was not known as a great bible teacher.  I doubt she was a huge financial contributor, but her legacy was the compassion that she showed others.  It’s funny, after she was raised from the dead, we don’t hear what happened next.  I doubt she went on a speaking tour to other churches in Asia Minor.  I seriously doubt she wrote a pamphlet of her resurrection experience.  But what I am certain of is that after she regained her strength, Dorcas went back to her quiet way of making things for the needy.

Let me close with the words of John Wesley.
Do all the good you can.  By all the means you can.  In all the ways you can.  In all the places you can.  At all the times you can.  To all the people you can.  As long as you ever can. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, give us grace to serve our neighbors as did Dorcas in the book of Acts, as did the Union nurse during the Civil War, as did Albert Schweitzer to the people in Central Africa, as Dr. Forbes and her family in Nicaragua and to many in our congregation who serve in our community.  Speak to our hearts that we may be of service to you.