Your works testify to Jesus
Our theme for this, the 4th Sunday in Easter, is ‘Your works testify to Jesus’.
St. Francis of Assisi, the name that the new pope has chosen for himself, becoming Francis 1st, is credited with saying: ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.’
Our actions, our deeds, will always speak louder than our words. The great Jewish prophets, the forerunners of Jesus, had a common message which went something like this: The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land and the quality of justice in the land will be judged by how “widows, orphans and strangers” (biblical code for the three most vulnerable groups in society) fared while you were alive.
In His ministry, Jesus didn't disagree. When He describes the Last Judgment at the end of Matthew’s gospel, He tells us that this judgment will not be, first of all, about right doctrine, good theology, church attendance, or even personal holiness or sexual morality; but about how we treated the poor.
Nobody gets into Heaven without a letter of reference from the poor. Jesus and the great Biblical prophets make that clear.
Now, this challenge to justice doesn't negate other religious and moral obligations, but it does remain always as a fundamental, non-negotiable principle: We are going to be judged by how the most vulnerable groups (widows, orphans, strangers) fared while we were alive and practicing our faith. The challenge is a strong one.
It seems to be a challenge which Tabitha, in our reading, grasped with both hands and I want to suggest this morning, in the context of ‘your works testify to Jesus’ there is a Tabitha in each of us and the challenge is to let God fire up the Tabitha within us.
To fire up within us works, good deeds, actions, which testify to the Jesus who is in us and working through us, works which have the result that people don’t say: ‘Wow, what a great guy Cedric is’ but rather “Wow, what a great God Cedric serves.”
‘Your works testify to Jesus’.
Tabitha’s works testified to Jesus – the first thing we are told about her is that she was a disciple of Jesus. What an amazing start to her eulogy at her funeral. When someone stands up to speak at your or my funeral, will their first words be: “He/she was a disciple of Jesus.”? (It occurred to me while preparing that you and I are actually writing our eulogy up until the day we die.)
Tabitha, we are told, was a disciple. What is a disciple?
A disciple is someone who chooses to come under and submit to, the influence and teaching of another person in order to become like that person.
Tabitha was a disciple of Jesus, which means that she was a person who was becoming like Jesus. Who was Jesus a disciple of?
He was a disciple of His Father in Heaven which is why He could say on one occasion ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father because I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’(John 14)
We as disciples can say: “I am in Christ, and Christ is in me.” We sing a song:
‘It’s not longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me.’ But does the world see the Christ who lives in me, and in particular, do the poor, the widows, orphans and strangers, see Christ in me, in you?
Our works testify to Jesus.
Tabitha’s did. After being told she is a disciple, her eulogy goes on: “She was always doing good and helping the poor.” She knew the poor, and the poor knew her.
Her faith, which saved her, led her to the poor. As she became a disciple of Jesus, she became like Jesus, and so, like Jesus, she developed a heart for the most vulnerable in society – the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger/foreigner/alien. Our faith should do the same. It’s one for the reasons why, as Jesus prophesied, we will always have poor people among us, so that they can provide God with a reference for each one of us.
Living here in Alberton, you and I all ‘know’ poor people, vulnerable people, outcasts from society. You can perhaps see them in your mind as I speak.
You can’t get into or out of the shopping centre next to our campus, or through the intersection on our corner, without seeing the type of people that Jesus had the most time for… poor, rejected, outcasts,...... sinners, prostitutes and drunkards. These are the people who Jesus was accused of spending His time with, and the respectable people of the day hated Jesus for this.
When Tabitha died, God could go to the poor of Joppa and say ‘Tell me about Tabitha’........and they no doubt provided Him with a glowing reference.
When you and I die… never mind you… when I die… if I die tomorrow… God won’t come to Alberton Methodist Church and say ‘tell me about Cedric’ .....No… He’ll go to the streets around us, to the most vulnerable in Alberton, and say: ‘Tell me about Cedric, did his faith make him more like my Son?’
You see, in the world's scheme of things, survival of the fittest is the rule. In God’s scheme of things, survival of the weakest is the rule (Alphonse Keuter) and for survival of the weakest (here in Alberton), He has given birth to His church (here in Alberton), where hopefully followers of Christ become disciples of Christ whose works testify to Jesus.
Now, perhaps you're tempted to ask: ‘So tell me God, must I now reach out to every suffering or vulnerable person in Alberton?’
It’s probably not possible to create an Alberton where no people suffer, or where no one goes hungry or cold,..... but with the power of God it is possible to create an Alberton in which fewer people suffer, or go hungry or get cold.
Peter got down on his knees and prayed and then he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
And while it’s not recorded for us, we know what Tabitha did with the extra time she was given until she died again.
We know, don’t we?
She lived a life whose works testified to Jesus.
May we also.