Throughout the Season of Easter, we've been talking about the stories we tell and why they are important. So far, we've focused on the popular stories within our families and within our church family too. When you take the time to look, it's easy to see how they have shaped and influenced us.
But what about the stories we don't hear time and again? What about the stories and the characters in our past and in our world that go overlooked, ignored, neglected?
I have always found that we can learn even more by looking at who or what it is we overlook.
Have you ever, for example, spent an hour watching a spider spin a web? You should do it sometime – not only is it beautiful, but it will make you feel pretty humble about your own abilities… what a spider can do is pretty amazing.
Or have you ever been in a place where the person you least expected to have anything to say says something really, really wise and changes everything?
Today we are going to think about some of the simpler ways we can be disciples. The question we need to ask is whose voice we should listen to, and where do we see people who are listening.
Jesus said they would know he was connected by God by the way we care for people… People can see God in the way we care for other people and the planet.
Listening to the Voice
So what does it mean to be someone who is important to God? That is actually at the heart of this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees… who is the most important person in the church? Who should we look up to? And Jesus answers in a really different way – he says, “…my sheep hear my voice”
What? What is this supposed to mean? Well, how about this, the people we should be listening to are the people who listen to God.
Now, here is the trick, those people are not always the obvious ones. They might be the people who seem crazy, or they might be the people who are outcasts… or… as we are going to see… they might even be women. *gasp*
This might sound like an obvious statement… but it was not the way the world of the Pharisees worked… and to be honest, it is not really the way our world works. What they said was that you should listen to the priest, who should listen to the High Priest. That you should listen to the people who are put in charge… and we think that too don’t we, the people who have the education, or the money, or the political office… those are the people we should be listening to…
But what if we made it simpler… listen to the people who seem connected to God.
What we have to understand it that Bible is actually filled with stories of underdogs, it is filled with characters who are on the outside, who seem not to be important, or who people often overlooked… but the thing is, when we read these stories we come to see a simple truth – that in God’s eyes everyone is important; and these people were really worth paying attention to.
So I want to introduce you to Dorcas… a woman, a widow, someone who is not really too important it seems, since she is almost included in the story as an afterthought….
After all, this is a story about Peter… a story about one of Jesus apostles, the big guy…. And the focus of the story, at least for Luke as he wrote it, was on the miracle, on the idea that Peter could do just as good as Jesus, and bring Dorcas back to life… It would seem at first glance that Dorcas is just a random bystander… a woman who died, conveniently, to give Peter someone to heal…
But think of this – this was 2000 years ago when women had almost no importance, in fact, they were often seen as property and treated just a little better than animals.
And even if Jesus was clearly counter-cultural, he clearly cared about women and he had female followers and friends… there is still the truth that most of the women he dealt with never even get a name…
The woman at the well, the syro-phonecian woman, the little girl who Jesus raised from the dead, the woman who was bleeding… we know the stories… but what are their names? No one knows….
So, the fact that Dorcas' name is recorded in scripture is, of itself, a big feat.
But what do we know about Dorcas? Well, some things we know for sure; other details we have to imagine. What we know for sure is that her name Dorcas is the Greek version of Tabitha, which means "gazelle". And we know that she was a disciple who lived in a place called Joppa. What we can assume is that she was a widow. It says in Acts that when she died, she was mourned by "all the widows... crying and showing Peter the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made when she was still with them."
So, she was either a widow or she joined the widows in their works of charity. She likely wasn't just any average woman. The Bible rarely describes the average woman. It basically talks about people with exceptional personalities. Someone once said, the only women mentioned in the Bible are saints or prostitutes... and I don't think they're too far off. There's nothing to indicate that Dorcas was the least bit sinful so we can assume that she leaned more toward the saintly side of the spectrum.
Another good indicator of her importance was that Peter travelled from another town to come to mourn this death. He would have only come to the deathbed of someone of significance.
Unfortunately, this is all we know about Dorcas.
Putting it Together
But here is the thing… that is enough… even this little bit goes a long way in helping us to understand the role of women in the early Church; there were women who were out there, meeting together, helping each other… in fact, when you look at Paul’s writing you find that women often had house churches in their homes…
Dorcas was one of those women who made a real difference by living our Jesus’ legacy. She was spreading Jesus idea of love. She was caring for others. She was bringing God to life for those around her; and she was doing it in a way that was spreading the message of Christianity.
Not only that, but she was important to the church. Peter heard of her death and left, came to her funeral, resurrected her. She was important enough for him to change his plans.
Paul mentions women like this in his letters to the various churches, like Lydia, who ran a church.
See, right from the beginning there was a strong message that anyone, literally anyone who was listening to God’s voice and living in God’s way was important.
As people of God, we are called to love and cherish everyone - like a shepherd tends for each and every sheep - like a gardener looks after each and every plant.
We are called to listen carefully so that we can hear every story - even the ones that are whispered or incomplete. All of our stories are important.
You might have to listen extra carefully to hear some of these stories - the stories of those losing their jobs right now, the stories of those suffering from mental illness, the stories of refugees and prisoners and those unjustly wronged, the stories of the earth. But listen to the whispered voices...because they are speaking to us.
What is Dorcas saying to you today?