The work of the women disciples in the time of Jesus & the early church is often glossed over in scripture- which makes sense when we consider the place of women in society at that time. Knowing how little status women held in general, it makes the presence of women disciples in the bible all the more powerful. So hear this story today from Acts 9: 36-43 as inspiration to consider the unsung disciples YOU know who embody sacrificial love.
"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. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 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.” 39 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. 40 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. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner."
This is the pinnacle of a faith experience. Through the power of partnership and prayer, Tabitha’s life is restored. Peter uses his faith in Christ’s resurrection power to proclaim God has more good in store for the world through Tabitha’s devoted spirit. She was a true servant leader among the early church disciples, this much is clear. But what I hadn’t considered as much is Tabitha’s legacy as an artist. Cara Quinn highlights Tabitha’s story with her artwork & commentary on knowyourmothers.com What sets Tabitha’s story of creativity and faith apart, Cara says, “is how she gave her beautiful clothing–her works of art– to everyone who needed them, no matter their ability to pay her. She lived out Jesus’ message to love others and value them above herself. Why? Because she knew the skills and resources she had been given were meant to be shared for the community AND because she saw the divine in everyone, particularly those others did not.” This is the legacy of faith we bear witness to on Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day hasn’t always been flowers and chocolate. “Mothering Sunday” was an early form of Mother’s Day within the Christian church, inviting everyone to return to their mother church; Another precursor to today was Mother’s Friendship Day, established to unite women in a quest for post Civil-war reconciliation between their children, both confederate and union soldiers. Another historical marker of today’s celebration was Mother’s Peace Day, petitioning for an end to war & slavery.
These Mother’s Day roots are all about women empowering other women and the communities they knit together through right relationships and service to others- much like the disciple we celebrate today.. “Tabitha was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Other translations say, “She was always doing good and helping the poor,” “always doing kind things for others, especially those who needed it most.” We KNOW Tabitha prioritized her community because of the deep sense of loss displayed at her death. Even Peter, a high-profile disciple, drops everything to rush toward her side. It’s this display of affirmation between Peter & Tabitha as co-workers in the church that moves me most. Peter sees Tabitha’s ministry as equal to his, even though her steady work of empowering women wasn’t flashy enough to get the credit her male counterparts received.
You see, adventure and travel, exploring unknown places and people is exciting, mystifying work…and throughout our history, much of that work (including the disciples of the early church) has only been given to men. So Peter & Paul travel all across the Mediterranean world proclaiming Christ’s good news, and they get all the press coverage to match.
Meanwhile, women disciples like Tabitha, whose recognition is a brief paragraph in scripture, worked equally hard establishing a community of believers. Her local efforts of planting seeds of sacrificial love were no less worthy of Christ’s call, it just wasn't the glamorous work that made the history books. For most of human history, the accolades of (mostly) men traveling far and wide are recorded…but someone was hard at work raising those same boys into men. Someone was putting food on the table and doing the laundry. And while I certainly know men who do some of this work, our society remains largely dependent on women to complete the unglamourous domestic work.
Today is for every unsung woman who’s embodied sacrificial love without thought of recognition.
We need both the high-profile workers for Christ & the unsung heroes, doing their laundry & dishes. Peter’s relationship with Tabitha reveals not only how necessary BOTH roles are, but how fulfilling life can be when we acknowledge the contributions of each other. We need creative types and compassionate souls; extroverts and introverts, singers and cooks, teachers & gardeners, folks who are wanderers and those who remain rooted. We need everyone to give of themselves for the common good, allowing Tabitha’s legacy to lead the way. So if you work toward right relationships, nurture others in compassion and justice, develop community through acts of selfless love, then we celebrate YOU on Mothering Sunday; Mother’s Peace Day & Mother’s Friendship Day recognizes YOUR contribution to this world. We affirm the gift of all mothers & mother figures who ground our communities and families with the sacrificial work of love.
I’m wearing a new necklace today- it’s a gift Briggs made me in school. I’m delighted for a few reasons, it fits today’s message perfectly. First, other women made sure my son had a unique way to celebrate his mom on Mother’s Day (women empowering women), Second, here’s the note written in his handwriting on the glass: “I love my mom because she does all of the cleaning.” It may not be flowers or chocolate, but this simple reminder that my countless hours spent cleaning up other people’s messes has not gone unnoticed, at least not on Mother’s Day.
Whatever your unsung ministry within our community is, I hope you hear in Tabitha’s story an affirmation. The countless acts of devotion you embody are recognized and appreciated by your God, who works tirelessly to create new life in us and through us- lighting the way with sacrificial love.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.