I feel that I need to begin this morning with a few words about recent developments in our Country.
As you are all aware, the Supreme Court of the United States is poised to make a radical change to women’s health care. I say radical because it has been considered, and the last three Supreme Court nominees agreed in their hearing that the rights under attack should be regarded as settled law.
Let me state as clearly as I can; I support anyone’s right to choose. However, my opinion on the matter does not come into account when it comes to another’s decision. The position of this Church, or any Church, should not come into account when it comes to another’s decision. I hope that any decision is made after much consultation with medical professionals and others and after much prayer. Still, in the end, it is a decision that the individual must make.
I do not stand in judgment of anyone. As your pastor, I am here to support you and help you in any way. I never have and will never force my personal beliefs on anyone; in fact, this is the first time in my 17 years of ordained ministry that I have ever spoken in a sermon on this topic.
My desire is for everyone to have access to whatever they feel they need and make whatever decision they think they need to make that is best for them and their families. If you don’t like abortion, that is your choice but do not try and take that choice away from someone else.
We enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom in this Country, more freedom than many others. But, part of that freedom is to allow others to have freedom. We may not always agree with the choices that others make, but quite frankly, it is none of our business; personal freedom is just that, personal.
Just a quick word on the so-called pro-life movement. If you genuinely wish to be pro-life, your concern for the unborn needs to extend to the entire spectrum of life. If you are truly pro-life, you should be concerned with affordable health care for all, affordable housing for all, jobs that pay living wages for all, education for all, ending state-sponsored murder, child poverty, war, and getting vaccinated! All of these are life issues, and we should be concerned about all of them. Stop using religion to push your political agenda.
Today’s story from the Acts of the Apostle begins at a funeral. Tabitha has died, and the others have come to pay their respects. Tabitha was an amazing woman. She made clothing for those who could not afford them. She was described as a disciple of the way, and she obviously took Jesus’ command to love others and clothe the naked seriously. In addition, she specifically helped the widows in her community, another command of Jesus. Many of these widows had no one to care for them, so Tabitha stepped in and became their family.
Tabitha’s friends had laid her out and had sent word to Peter. It is unclear if her friends felt that any miracle would occur, and I am not sure what their expectations might have been, but another had just been healed, and we do all we can for those we love. So, they sent for Peter.
Just as Jesus had done when he healed the daughter of Jairus, he sent the mourners out of the room. He prayed, and then he said, “Tabitha, get up.” And she opened her eyes and sat up. I can only imagine the joy and fear that her friends must have had. Many became believers after this took place. One life was continuing to change the lives of many. God’s raising of Tabitha was a deed of compassion that turned the existing world order on its head. The message of Jesus continues to change the way we think about everything.
Perhaps while Tabitha’s friends were gathered, they prayed the 23rd Psalm. This is one of my favorites of the Psalms, and I use it a lot at funerals and other gatherings. It uses the motif of the Shepherd tending to their sheep. Sheep rely on the Shepherd for everything, and if the Shepherd cares for the sheep, they will lack for nothing.
This Psalm raises an interesting distinction between a want and a need. We do not always see this clear distinction, especially when it involves us. We may feel we need something, but it turns out to be a want.
I believe in the idea that God knows us better than we know ourselves. We might pray to win the lottery, but God knows what we will do with it, so it does not happen. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that God answers every prayer; sometimes, the answer is no. This is a simplistic illustration, but I think you get the point. God, the Good Shepherd, provides those things we need; the want is a different story.
But are the things we need going to fall from the sky? Well, maybe, but not usually. God has given us skills to earn a living, put a roof over our heads, and put food on the table. God has given the farmer skills to grow that food and others to make clothing as Tabitha did that keep us warm and protected. If we lack these things, or the ability to produce these things, there are other means to find support. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
But this Psalm is not just about God providing material things; it is about the spiritual provision that comes from our relationship with God.
With God, we can experience love. The Shepherd is always one step ahead of the sheep making sure the path is safe. Sometimes, we neglect our health in our quest to accumulate more, and stress begins to mount. If we find those times and places that help us “restore our soul,” we will be better off in the long run.
With God, we have someone to place our faith in. God will never leave us and is with us in the good times and in the bad. I think of that poem called “footprints in the sand” you all know it. Sometimes we walk with God, and sometimes, God carries us. The assurance that God, the Good Shepherd, is walking beside us should bring us comfort in those times of trial.
In God, we have reason to hope. I know it can be challenging to have hope, and it has become even more difficult these last years for some. But our hope should be in God and in God alone. The friends of Tabitha had hope, they placed their hope in God, and God was faithful.
Many people have lost their faith in God for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was the institutional Church that let them down. Other times it was individuals’ association with the institutional Church that let them down. I have been there, and I have experienced the hurt that comes when these things happen. My faith wavered, and for a time, I lost my faith. But I was drawn back because someone cared enough to reach out.
Perhaps you have been hurt or have lost your faith. Maybe you know someone who has been hurt or lost their faith. The invitation is there for all to come and find rest for your soul. We need to let others know that God cares and loves everyone, even in times when it appears that those who claim to follow God do not.
The Psalmist says the “Lord is my Shepherd” the Psalmist makes no claim for the Church or others, only for God.
Today I invite you to come and find that rest. Come all who weary and are heavy laden. And I hope that each of you will extend that invitation to others. So maybe we can be that Shepherd for someone and lead them to the place of their refreshment.