Lectionary Reflection: Acts 9: 36-43 Listen to God

            Peter was still kind of new at all of this.  Ministry itself was a whole new idea.  There were Jewish Rabbis and Elders in the synagogues.  There were no doubt programs of one sort or another, even if informal, for the community that was linked to and associated with the synagogue.  But ministry, in particular in the sense of evangelism, was something new.  The Jews were a people of blood.  They were not trying to convert the heathen.  And while some outsiders became converts to the monotheistic way of life, it was not something the Jewish community strived for.

            Peter, by contrast, was sent out to bring people to the Lord.  He was to evangelize – to tell the good news.  His job, in a sense, was to make disciples  This was different, but as his words and works went out ahead of him, I have no doubt he achieved a certain notoriety – good in some circles and not so good in others.

            Some people strive for fame.  Peter does not strike me as one of those kind of people.  When the disciples in Joppa came to Lydda and asked Peter to come with them, after the surprise of strangers knowing his name, I would guess Peter asked himself, “I don’t know what they think I can do.”   Nevertheless he went with them as a sign of good faith in the growing Christian community.

            What did he think when he was on the road?  Yes, I walked with Jesus, and saw him raised from the dead, but there are hundreds who can testify to the resurrection.  Sure, I know stories I can tell about Jesus’ words and good works, but I am not the only one.  Of course, I have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but so have all the disciples who have been baptized and received the laying on of hands.  None of that makes me special in any way.  It is Jesus who is special.  It is Jesus whom the people must love and trust.

            I imagine he never thought about this as an opportunity to evangelize – that being such a new concept – and especially since they must have told him plainly, the woman is dead.

            When Peter arrived, he heard the wailing, and probably thought nothing of it.  The country at that time was full of professional mourners who for a coin would stay up all night wailing and weeping for the dead, whether they knew the person or not.  Now, in this case, there were widows who did know Dorcas, and they were quick to show what good things Dorcas did for them.  Frankly, there are many ministers in our day who might jump to a conclusion.  “You see what a good example Dorcas set for you?  Now it is your turn to go out and do good for others in the same way (the same spirit)” … and that would be the end of it.

            That isn’t what Peter did.   He went up to the room, asked everyone to leave, and prayed.

            Now again, there are many ministers in our day who would not ask peope to leave and make a show of prayer.  Not necessarily because they are thinking what makes them look good, or even what their duty might be, but (hopefully) with the notion that their words might offer some level of comfort to the bereaved.  The minister might asked for a miracle, some would certainly, but then they might end the prayer with “Thy will be done.”  That is tantamount to saying that this woman’s death is (obviously) God’s will, so deal with it.

            I know a whole stream of Christian thinkers who hate the phrase, “Thy will be done” at the close of prayer.  They will tell you that the phrase is like a chink in the armor of faith.  They say if you ask for a miracle and expect a miracle, you need to have solid faith and give God no opportunity to do anything different.  Of course, this isn’t faith.  It is more like a magic formula where one wrong word or thought will somehow break the spell.

            But in any case, this is not what Peter did.  Peter sent everyone from the room and prayed  And I wonder what he might have prayed, what I might have prayed in those circumstances. 

            Do you imagine he prayed, “God, give me the strength to deal with this terrible tragedy?”  How about if he added the phrase, “and turn it to your glory.”  No.  Fortitude is a good thing to have, but that is more the kind of prayer a minister might pray on Sunday morning before the sermon … to deal with that terrible tragedy, if you know what I mean.

            Do you think he prayed, “God, give me the words to bring comfort to your people and let them really understand that you are with us, always?”  I don’t think so.  Peter was no intellectual wordsmith, but in the face of the death of a loved one, and it is something we all face at one time or another, there really are not any good words.  Our best words of sympathy and compassion run dry very quickly and often sound hollow even in willing ears.

            Might he have prayed, “Lord, tell me what I can do here.  What can I possibly do in these circumstances?”  I believe that is closer to the right answer, but it is still missing the mark.  You see, all of these prayers have one thing in common.  The focus is on me.  Strengthen me, give me words, tell me what to do. 

            I am convinced Peter never thought that way or was capable of thinking that there was anything he could do, say, or be that would make any difference.  He was a poor, uneducated fisherman, and while not ashamed of that, I feel he carried that to his grave.  What could he possibly be, say or do that would matter here? 

            But there was one thing Peter did know.  He had traveled with Jesus indeed, and watched him work.  He knew there was nothing that appeared certain in this life that God could not overcome.  The blind received sight, the possessed and oppressed were set free, the deaf could hear, thousands were filled with only a few loaves and fishes, and even the dead were raised.  Nothing was impossible for God.  Peter had his own evidence for that when he gave the name of Jesus to the cripple in the gate and the cripple got up and walked.  But precisely because of that, there really was only one thing Peter could ask in prayer.  “God, what is your will?”

            Peter had to turn the “Thy will be done” right on the head of the faith people.  He did not end his prayer with that.  Thy will be done is, I believe, is where Peter started.  “Lord, what is your will here and now, in this situation?  What is your will?”  And I believe Peter stayed there and continued in prayer until he received an answer.

            God might have answered that his will was to let Tabitha sleep (be dead) until the time of the resurrection.  I know in our day, ministers have used that kind of testimony in a kind of evangelism.  But here, God had something else in mind, and Peter listened.  People, if there is one thing to know about prayer it is this: that prayer is not just our talking, it involves, and always involves some intense listening.  And then, when we become and say and do what we hear, miracles happen.  In this case, word was spread all around the town and many people came to believe in the Lord.  Evangel, (good news).

            I believe God answered Peter something like this:  “It is my will that Tabitha be raised.  You tell her to rise, and then bring her to her friends.”  And Peter, at is eloquent best, said, “Tabitha.  Get up.”

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