A sermon by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43
I remember a time when I often grew impatient listening to older people discuss their bodily ailments. During visits to my grandparents it seemed like we spent 60% of the visit reviewing their various and sundry aches and pains. Of course over the years I’ve also heard many a church member describe in detail their medical conditions, procedures, and surgeries. And I confess to sometimes judging people for being selfabsorbed whiners as they waxed on about their bodily breakdowns.
But a funny thing happened. I turned 40, then 50, and then 60, and now I hear myself complaining about the chronic tendonitis I have in my right elbow, and that back pain that just won’t go away. Suddenly I am more sympathetic to complainers because now I am one!
But I am also keenly aware of how obsessed we Americans are with the state of our bodies, and how oblivious we are to the state of our souls.
This past Wednesday night a large group of us discussed our souls. Many of us grew up in Baptist churches that spoke regularly of “saving souls”, as though God was finished with us when we gave our lives to Christ. Of course, making a profession of faith in Jesus is a life-altering, destiny-changing moment!
Yet “getting right with God” does not mean our soul work is done. It just means it has begun. The fact is you can be a believer and still be prejudiced in your treatment of others, hardened because of abuse you’ve suffered, and broken because people who
should have loved you abandoned you instead. You can be baptized and still live with chronic fear and discouragement and doubt. The work of healing and transforming our
souls is a massive project that requires a lifetime, maybe even an eternity.
And yet we should not be discouraged, because according to the scriptures soul healing and transformation is our primary calling in life. The most popular, most reassuring psalm in the bible declares the Good Shepherd can do many things for us, but none more important than anointing us with his healing power and restoring our souls. In the New Testament, Jesus is that Good Shepherd, the Savior, the Healing Salve who not only heals our bodies and exorcises our demons. He saves and restores our souls.
Eventually God demonstrates that not even death is final when he raises Jesus from the dead. After Easter and especially after Pentecost, the Spirit of the Risen Christ is on the move, particularly through his apostles who teach and heal in his name. Simon Peter is one of those apostles, and his healing of Tabitha, “aka” Dorcas, is a great case in point. Early in Acts we read that Peter is such a proficient faith-healer that people crowd in around him hoping he might touch them, or even that his shadowmight fall upon them so they might be healed. Then in Acts 9 Peter heals a paralytic who’s been bed-ridden for eight years in the village of Lydda. When a dearly beloved woman named Tabitha dies in nearby Joppa, two men run a 10-mile marathon to Lydda and beg Peter to return with then to Joppa. Peter complies, raises Tabitha from the dead, and 2000 years later we’re still talking about this miraculous healing!
Of course, what grabs our attention first is the stunning miracle of resuscitation from the dead. But in fact there are many types of healing in this story that speak to the different kinds of healing needed for our souls.
For example, did you notice that Tabitha is called a disciple? In fact, this is the only time in the New Testament a female is so identified. That doesn’t mean Tabitha is the only female disciple in the early church (e.g., Phoebe is identified as a deacon in Romans 16). But it’s still fascinating that the author of Acts, traditionally known as Luke, goes out of his way to describe Tabitha as a disciple.
And it’s a big deal because Jesus’ world was clearly a man’s world, and yet in Jesus’ church women were already being viewed as significant leaders. Just that quickly the disease of sexism was being addressed, and the soul of the church was slowly being
healed around the issue of the value and role of women, a healing that frankly continues to this day. And I for one am so glad to pastor a church that has for decades recognized and valued the leadership of women.
What made Tabitha stand out was her service to others. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity, especially to the widows of her community who were often penniless and defenseless. Evidently Tabitha was a seamstress extraordinaire who
provided an extensive line of clothing to the widows.
And in so doing Tabitha demonstrated that her own spiritual transformation was not
just for herself…it was for the sake of others. She had been healed of her own native
narcissism…a narcissism we all have…so that she did not hoard her gifts for herself, but eagerly shared them with others.
Peter, the miracle healer in this story, is himself the object of healing. On more than one occasion Peter had allowed his fear to get the best of him, but none more obvious then when he denied he even knew Jesus three times before the crucifixion. Now Peter willingly put himself in a place where had he failed he would be the laughing stock not only of Joppa but all Judea.
I try to imagine the courage it took for Peter to dismiss Tabitha’s mourners so he might pray she would rise from the dead. Sometimes I struggle to pray for the living, much less the dead! But Peter dared to pray such a prayer, proving that the fearful part of his soul had been exposed to the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
Tabitha, of course, is healed of death…at least temporarily. She will eventually age and die again. But in this moment the Risen Christ proves that death is not final…for him or us!
Notice that Tabitha’s resuscitation from the dead became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. In other words, many found salvation, found the ultimate healing for their souls that frankly is far more important than the healing of our bodies.
And there is one more kind of soul healing evident in the last verse of this famous passage: Meanwhile, (Peter) stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
So what? Well, no religiously clean, respectable Jew would hang out with an unclean tanner who worked with the hides of unclean animals. And while Peter’s ultimate breakthrough with his attitude about unclean foods and people will come in the next
chapter of Acts, his decision to live with Simon demonstrates he is already being healed of his prejudice that previously prevented him from seeing that God loves all kinds of people, not just Jews.
Now, I don’t know what kind of healing (Physical? Mental? Emotional? Attitudinal? Relational? Spiritual?) you need today. But God knows. And the ultimate healer of souls is present with us today, which is why in a moment I will invite you to allow someone to pray, like Peter did for Tabitha, for the healing of your soul.
Will you let someone pray for your healing on this day?