Does Good Work

(Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43) – J G White
11 am, E4, Sunday, May 12, 2019 – UBC Digby

I’m starting with a little show-and-tell today.  So first, this little quilt, handmade by Joan White in 1984 for me. Then there is this blue, zippered hoodie she made me a decade ago, I suppose, on her sewing machine and surger. And this sweater; she hand-knit this about thirty years ago, and it is rather fun. It is pretty much the one thing she knit me that I do wear.

This is just a sampling of my mother’s good work.  I can also show you lovely things made for me by other dear people. This glass mosaic made for us as a Christmas gift last year by my sister, Michelle, in Ontario. This cross-stitch of the Prayer of St. Francis, by my friend Frank, in Halifax, as an ordination gift in 1998. This poster to celebrate me (and my friend, Nancy) walking 80 Kms in one day, last Nov., created by our friends Jonathan and Meghan and Catherine.  

All these handmade gifts are rather happy momentos, and all the creative gift-givers are still alive. Today’s Gospel story has a sad and poignant moment, when the handiwork of a woman who had just died, is on display.  The legacy of Tabitha, of Joppa, was the clothing she made. Her weeping friends celebrate her life by bringing it all out. Tabitha’s legacy also was the kind and charitable deeds she was known for, mentioned here in Acts 9.

Tabitha, we are told, had become a disciple of Jesus, a follower of the new Way.  In a sense, the Easter story continues here, as we see life-giving power displayed, when she is brought back to life.

But before that happens, the mourners and visitors take note of Tabitha’s legacy.  The good she did in her life. The things that made a difference in her world.

I sometimes wonder what my legacy is, at this point in my life. What good little things have I left behind?  What difference have I made in the life of others, so far? And I see plenty of other people wondering the same thing about themselves.

I think of John.  He wheeled into our congregation in Windsor one Sunday in his motorized wheelchair, and joined in. He was a talkative Cape Bretoner. He came to us as a man who had started the lay-pastor training program. He had led some Bible studies and even preached in other places. But he had a chronic disease that was slowly ravaging his body. Along with his increasing physical problems, mental health issues were at times quite serious for him.  

John wanted to be in ministry, he wanted to do some good work. I helped him organize a mental health support group in our church. It got off to a good start, I thought.  For about a year, it served a real need for some people in our community, who got together each week in the Church Parlour, to be heard and to encourage one another.

But it was hard for John to lead the group. Often his mood and his depression almost shut him down.  His physical abilities were decreasing. He moved to a different apartment in a different town. I lost touch with him, eventually. Curious, I looked him up last year in the obituaries, and found him there.

Did John, at times, wonder if his life was worth it?  He worked so hard to carry on, so hard at following Jesus, so hard at making a difference and at being a leader. I hope he knew, at his better moments, that his life did make a difference. He has a legacy.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10)

I think also of another person from that far end of the Valley. A middle aged, single woman, she came to the church in a time of emotional crisis. She had so much care and compassion to give, so much time to volunteer and help. These are her gifts. She really had no money – she was barely getting by – and she likely has some learning disabilities.  I found her language skills, both written and spoken, rather poor. She had suffered abuses and tragedies.

But she always believed in herself.  She often dreamed big dreams of things she could do and of new career paths. She was often longing to do what she saw her friends do: who were pastors and chaplains, firefighters and prison ministry volunteers.  She overestimated her capabilities regularly.

But, as I say, she believed in herself.  Others inspired her. And she overflows with compassion for other people.  Her life still makes a difference.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:38)

I wonder about myself, my legacy, the difference I have made in this world for Christ. I have moments that I fear my efforts and my effects have been feeble and few.  It is likely true that our day and age, here, is a more difficult one for Pastors than the past century.

I go back to the town where I first served as the Minister, and meet people I baptized. The ones who quit taking part in church in the years since I was there. And the folk who left the Baptist Church and went to something else in town. Did I succeed in keeping the people in the pews safe and happy while I was there, but the real spiritual transformation of souls that could have happened, never happened?

I don’t always think this way, but I often wonder these things. Then I recall Isaiah’s poetry (49:3-6):

And he [God] said to me, “You are my servant,     [Israel,] in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…”
And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant… “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

In my heart of hearts I know and believe that our lives matter.  We all do good work. It may be often that we don’t reach our potential, and that is not only sad but, at times, even a sin. Not reaching our potential can be against the will of God. Being a mediocre me is cooperation with the evil one.

Then I get inspired. Praise God!  Like at the Fresh Expressions Vision Day in Halifax on Thursday, put on by our Baptist convention.  Or Dr. Harry Gardner’s sermon in Wolfville on Friday evening, at the service for the Divinity School graduates.

Or, when I remember the little devotional reading that sparked my long-pondered decision to answer the call to the ministry, in 1991.  

Many of us have a sort of vision of the kind of person God wants us to be.  We must be true to that vision, whatever it is, and we must try to live up to it by living the way we believe we should live. We can believe that God has a vision of what he wants us to be like.  In all people there is the good person which God sees in us, the person we could be and that God would like us to be. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Dec. 2)

I want every one of you to be inspired to ‘be all that you can be!’  To know the difference you make. And to grow that inner confidence that is both humble and hopeful. Christ in you is the hope of glory!

The wise Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes said: I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. (E 3:14)

Once Peter performed the miracle, and Tabitha is seen to be alive again, Christ gets the attention.  Luke does not say, “This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in Peter.”  Nor does Luke write, “and many believed in the Church.”  Luke tells us, “many believed in the Lord.”  

This is Jesus. Jesus, who once had said, No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mtt 5:15-16)

Yet this Jesus also taught us to pray secretly, quietly; and to give to help the needy in secret.  

This is all so that the good we do will point to the source of goodness, spelled with a capital G.  So, each daily task you do, each moment of helpful action, makes a difference in this world, in God’s Kingdom.

Thanks be to God that ‘she does good work,’ he does good work, they do good work, we do good work. Thanks be to God!

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