Today is Mother’s Day. Now, Mother’s Day is not actually part of the Christian calendar. But Carrie tells me Mother’s Day is VERY important, and I want to state here, at the beginning of my sermon, with as much emphasis as I can manage, that I am on board. Mother’s Day matters. For the record, I am grateful both to my mother and to the mother of my children, for all that they have done and continue to do for me and for the rest of my family. And I want all of you to tell Carrie I said that the next time you see her!
I’m making a joke, but, of course, it is true. I am happy to honor the mothers and the mother figures in my life and in our Church family.
But more important for us right now, Mother’s Day reminds us to pay attention to the women not just in our own lives, but in the Christian story of salvation.
Our first reading comes from the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles. That might seem strange. Normally our first reading comes from the Old Testament. But in the Easter season, we focus on resurrection, and Acts is a resurrection book. Acts begins where the Gospels leave off, with Christ raised from the dead, and then tells the story of the early Church and its leaders, especially Peter and Paul.
Peter gets most of the attention in our reading, but the story revolves around a woman named Tabitha or, in Greek, Dorcas.
We’re not told much about Dorcas, beyond the fact that she was devoted to good works and acts of charity. But Dorcas was important enough that when she died, they sent for Peter. And Dorcas was important enough that Peter dropped everything to be with the grieving Church.
When Peter arrived in Joppa, he found widows from the Church keeping vigil with Dorcas’ body, weeping, and holding tunics and clothing that Dorcas had made.
Much of the drama of the story comes next. Peter raised Dorcas from the dead, which became widely known and led to many conversions.
But on this Mother’s Day, let’s stay with Dorcas.
These events probably happened in late 30s, which is to say, something like five years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Until the crucifixion and resurrection, there was no Church in the normal sense of that term. Jesus’ followers literally followed him. They travelled around with him from place to place.
Only after the resurrection did anything like a settled Church emerge. The first was in Jerusalem. After a few months or maybe years, persecution forced many Christians to leave the city, which led to the founding of new Churches in places like Joppa.
That means Dorcas’ Church in Joppa could not have been more than a couple of years old when she died. Right from its beginning, the Joppa Church included a group of women, many of them widows and probably older (although what counts as older then seems pretty young to me now!). These women were doing the work of Christian mission, caring for their brothers and sisters in Christ and for the wider community. The entire Church in Joppa valued these women’s work, and so did the great apostle Peter.
But we mostly don’t know about these women. When we, or at least when I, think of the early Church, we focus on the men, who really were great heroes of the faith. But our reading for this morning reminds us that faithful women were there too, mostly behind the scenes, but critical to the work and mission of the early Church.
And once we start paying attention to women like Dorcas, we can see them all over the New Testament. There are lots of women in Acts, but women appear in Jesus’ ministry too. As you may remember, women show up especially at the crucifixion and on the first Easter morning. We know the names of a few, especially the Marys: the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, although even they don’t get a lot of airtime.
But what changed my picture of Jesus’ ministry most was this passage from the first half of the Gospel of Luke: “The twelve were with [Jesus], as well as some women.” Luke names a few of the women, and then he adds “and many others who provided for [Jesus and his disciples] out of their resources” (8:2-3). Matthew and Mark confirm Luke’s report about women travelling with Jesus and funding him (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41).
When I picture Jesus walking around Galilee all those centuries ago, I normally imagine him alone or with the twelve male apostles. But Luke tells us that women were there the whole time.
Here's the take-away. Women were behind the scenes making Jesus’ ministry possible even before there was a Church. Women were in the early Churches, doing ministry. But mostly we don’t see them.
Many of the women were probably mothers in the sense that they gave birth to children and raised them. But they are also and, for our purposes more importantly, mothers in the faith, women who kept the Church going from generation to generation.
And it’s just as true today. Terry and I are normally the ones up front. But there are always women behind the scenes, doing ministry and keeping Saint David’s going.
Since our reading was about Dorcas, the tunic maker, I think first of our Prayer Shawl Ministry. But women are also our Office Angels, our Altar Guild, our Sunday School teachers, and the hosts of coffee hour.
Men and women do other things, too. But a lot of work that gets done here at Saint David’s is done by women behind the scenes and often with little or no recognition.
So, today, I thank all the many “mothers” of our parish family, the women who keep us going as a Church, who do the work of ministry, and who form the next generation of Christians.
I thank them for their faithfulness and also for their example. The often unnoticed women like Dorcas and the women who supported Jesus’ ministry during his lifetime are in many ways a better model of Christian discipleship for us than are the more famous men.
Peter and Paul are great. But I’m not likely to raise anyone from the dead in the near future or hit the road to form new Churches in virgin territories at the risk of life and limb. The apostles had a special calling, and not many of us have that particular calling.
Not many of us will receive great recognition or make the history books either. Future generations are not likely to be talking about Saint Harvey of Agawam.
Our calling is a lot more like Dorcas’. We may not receive much recognition in the world or even in the Church. But we should all be “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” We should support each other and reach out to a hurting world as we can.
And we should hold on to the Easter message of resurrection. Dorcas was raised from the dead. We will be too. And not just to resume life as we know it now, although that was Dorcas’ experience in our reading. Someday, we hope to enter into God’s nearer presence, and to hear Christ say “well done good and faithful servant.”
But for today, I thank God for the example of women like Dorcas. And I ask that God help us to follow their example of faithfulness and service.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan