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Worship Series: Connected
Worship Theme: Connected by Love
- CW 491 O Master of the Loving Heart
- CW 497 This Is My Will
- CW 490 Love in Christ Is Strong and Living
Message: Connected by Love
Pastor Jon Brohn
Do you know what “Food Insecurity” is? It’s a new term in my vocabulary, but it’s really been prominent in the news the past few weeks. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people lost their jobs they turned to different charities across the Twin Cities to find food for their families. One group, Loaves and Fishes, calculated that they served 4.5 million meals last year, and are on pace to do the same again this year. Here in Stillwater Valley Outreach does the same kind of work. Thanks to our donations along with many others, they provide food, clothing, and rent assistance to people here in Washington County. The need is great and grows every year!
Helping the poor and needy isn’t new. Job described their plight in Old Testament times when he said, “The poor walk around naked, without clothing. They pick up sheaves but are still hungry” (Job 24:10 EHV). The prophet Amos described the way people took advantage of the poor. “This is what the LORD says: Because of three sins of Israel, because of four, I will not hold back judgment, because they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6 EHV). We shouldn’t be surprised that poverty continues to be a problem in the world. Jesus told his disciples, “Indeed, the poor you always have with you, but you are not always going to have me” (John 12:8 EHV).
Jesus always speaks the truth, and we see that here in Acts 9. The disciples didn’t have Jesus visibly with them any longer. He had ascended—gone back to heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. Jesus was gone. The poor—they weren’t gone. In fact, the believers in the early church had recognized how important it was to take care of the poor and widows. It was such a high priority that they had chosen 7 men to lead their own Valley Outreach type of effort. No matter how hard they tried to provide for people’s needs, there was always someone else who needed help.
Here in Acts 9 the setting is the city of Joppa. Joppa was an ancient city, already in existence before the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt. The Amarna Letters (1350-1330’s BC) mention Joppa twice with observations about the beauty of her gardens and the skill of her workmen in leather, wood, and metal. The Phoenicians had used it as one of their port cities, and cedar trees for King Solomon’s temple arrived there for transport to Jerusalem.
This thriving city had its share of poor and needy. One believer, a woman named Tabitha, saw the needs and willingly, lovingly cared for the people around her. She was a unique woman. Her name in Greek was Dorcas. The Aramaic and Greek words both mean “gazelle.” We don’t know if she was as graceful or as quick as a gazelle, but we do have this short description: “She was always doing good deeds and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36 EHV). In Greek it’s even more descriptive. Literally it says, “She was rich in good works and mercy deeds.” Dorcas used her gifts to help. She didn’t spend money on those in need. She didn’t go out and gather food to share. She was a gifted seamstress. So, she did what she was good at. She made clothing—soft undergarments that would keep skin cool and dry, functional outer garments for everyday use. Dorcas’ heart was filled to overflowing with care and concern, especially for the widows around her. They didn't have a husband to support them and make sure they had food and clothing. Dorcas helped. She helped because she loved Jesus, and loved having an opportunity to help someone else.
When Kay and I were serving in Houston, we had a Dorcas in our congregation. Dorcas Carlyon. She was Dorcas in every sense of the word. She was retired, and for most of the time we were there her husband Joe and her were shut-ins. Dorcas couldn’t do much to serve, but she used her gifts to bless others. She raised African violets in her living room window—rows and rows of pots—and gave them away as a little gift of life and color. She knitted baby blankets and washcloths and towels and gave them as gifts. Her heart was also rich in good works and mercy deeds.
Plenty of people need us to be like Dorcas. The poor, the needy, the widows, and the orphans are still with us. Are our hearts rich in good works and mercy deeds? I have to admit, my heart isn’t always. We are so blessed with all of the things God has poured out on us. I find myself looking at our kitchen, and in my very best HGTV voice say, “This is a total gut job. New cabinets, new flooring, new appliances, knock out this wall for an open concept kitchen.” I look at the bathroom and think, “This is so small. I can’t believe we have put up with this for so long.” Then there’s the bedroom. “Where’s our master bedroom with its en suite?” That’s just the house. So often I focus on what I want, and forget that I have everything I need. I am hesitant to bring food to the food shelf, or to share gifts with a group like Christian Aid and Relief because the food and the money are mine. I need it. I want it!
I am not very Dorcas-like. I need to pray along with the hymn writer: “Forgive us, Lord, for shallow thankfulness, For dull content with warmth and sheltered care, For songs of praise for worldly wealthiness, While of your richer gifts we're unaware” (CW 482 v.1). On Thursday I met a Nigerian man who is studying to be a pastor. When he was in Nigeria, he was beaten because he was a Christian and could have been killed, if not for God’s protection. He is here in the Twin Cities, and hoping to bring his family here to safety where they can freely express their faith. As we talked about his situation he shared a Nigerian proverb: “A problem shared is a problem half-solved.” That’s true for any need. When we share the problems we face, we have started to work together for a solution. How can we support the poor and needy in our community? Bring food and supplies here to Salem and leave them on the food shelf in the corner of our gathering area. Give direct monetary gifts to Valley Outreach. They can get more food for the dollar than we can. Look for opportunities to share with those in need. When you’re cleaning out closets and storage areas, take those items to our New Day Thrift Store in Little Canada. That store supports the work we do through Christian Life Ministries. We have so much, and as Jesus’ love fills our hearts, we can be rich in good works and mercy deeds!
The believers in Joppa had an even greater problem they were dealing with. Dorcas had become ill and died. The woman whose heart overflowed with love for the people around her, the woman who had given so much, was dead. Her friends were heart broken. They had a problem. They also had hope that if they shared it, their problem would at least be half-solved. They gently and lovingly washed Dorcas’ body. They laid it in an upstairs room—they weren’t going to bury her, not yet!
About 9 miles from Joppa, in a town called Lydda, the apostle Peter had been preaching and teaching. He had even performed a miracle, healing a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for 8 years. “When the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, who urged him, “Come to us without delay!”” (Acts 9:38 EHV). They shared their problem with Peter. Problem half-solved! Peter left with them. The journey back to Joppa took at least 5 hours. As soon as Peter arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. “All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothing that Dorcas made while she was still with them” (Acts 9:39 EHV). We’ve been there, haven’t we. Hearts breaking, eyes leaking, mouths keening. I can picture Peter offering them comfort—words of hope, words of life, Jesus’ own words, “Don’t be afraid, only believe!” (Mark 6:36 EHV).
Peter knew his Bible stories. What had Elisha done when the Shunammite’s son died? Elisha “prayed to the LORD” (2 Kings 4:33 EHV). The LORD had answered Elisha’s prayer. Peter had been in this situation before—several times. A little girl lying on her bed. A young man being carried out to the cemetery. Lazarus’ tomb, sealed and stinky. What had Jesus done? He had sent all the mourners out of the room. So, “After Peter sent them all outside, he got down on his knees and prayed” (Acts 9:40 EHV).
What could he say? What could he request? We don’t know what Peter said in that prayer. We can know the faith and hope that he had. Peter shared the problem, and in sharing it the problem was half-solved. Jesus took care of the rest. “Then he turned toward the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. After he called the saints and the widows, he presented her to them alive” (Acts 9:40–41 EHV). What a striking miracle! First, it sounds so much like the miracle Jesus performed with Jairus’ daughter. He told the little girl, “Talitha koum,” which meant, “Little girl, get up.” Jesus gave the command, and she came back to life. Peter did the same, but he didn’t use the same word. He used the same word angels used on Easter morning. “He is not here, he is risen!” Peter said, “Tabitha, Rise!” Dorcas, the gazelle who had been dead for almost 24 hours in that upstairs room, sat up. Peter helped her get up, and showed her to her friends ALIVE! Risen!
The problem shared was a problem no longer half-solved. Jesus solved it completely. He gave Dorcas victory over death and restored her life. Dorcas could continue with a heart rich in good works and mercy deeds. Her love for Jesus kept her serving and sewing. Even better, more people came to know Jesus and his power! “This became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42 EHV).
A problem shared is a problem half-solved. What problem weighs on your heart today? With whom have you shared it? Start with Jesus. Take it to him in prayer. A well-used meme says, “Jesus answers knee-mail.” It’s true. When we tell Jesus about the problems weighing down our hearts, the problems are half-solved. The rest of the solution comes from the people Jesus has put in our lives. What makes it so hard for us to ask for help, or just to share what we’re struggling with? Pride? “I have to do it myself!” Fear? “What will they say when I tell them?” Inadequacy? “No one will understand—I’m the only one who has ever dealt with this.” A problem shared is a problem half-solved. As soon as Jesus enters the equation, he uses our situation along with friends and family to provide a solution!
This is the goal behind our growth-groups here at Salem. Growth groups are a safe place to share our problems and have the support and encouragement we need. The apostle Paul encouraged, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 EHV). There’s only one law of Christ that we fulfill. We heard Jesus share it in the gospel this morning: “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 EHV). When believers get together and love each other with Jesus’ sacrificial love, incredible things happen! Right now we have 6 active groups. 4 of them are full, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started. Dan and Katie Gruba are looking for people to form new groups, so that we can do what the believers in Joppa were doing—growing in God’s Word, encouraging each other, and sharing problems in order to solve them together. Please join a Growth Group so that we can keep growing as a congregation, as a church family, but best of all, as the body of Christ! A problem shared is a problem half-solved. Share with your fellow believers, share it with Jesus, and watch how he provides the solution! Amen.