Today’s message draws inspiration from the story of a relatively unknown woman named Dorcas (or Tabitha) from the first century church (Acts 9:36-43). She probably didn't think of herself as that significant, but she impacted the lives of many people through her faithful service.Her Conversion
The story begins with a description of Dorcas as a “disciple” of Jesus (Acts 9:36). Somewhere along her journey she had heard of Jesus and had become a Christian. We know that the good news about Jesus spread over time from the Jewish community in Jerusalem out to various Grecians or Hellenists. Dorcas heard and responded. This resulted in a ‘conversion’ in her life – a transformation from the inside out.
Conversion can be described as ‘waking up’ to God and the life he has for us. Some people have an ‘alarm clock’ conversion (like Paul on the way to Damascus) while others simply find themselves gradually awake to the love and grace of God. Either way, conversion usually involves (1) Admitting our need for God, (2) Believing in Jesus, and (3) Choosing to follow him. When we do that, a transformation occurs that changes everything. That’s what happened to Dorcas and it can happen for us too.Her Compassion
Dorcas’ conversion immediately released amazing compassion within her for the needs she saw around her. We are told that she was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). In the same way that Jesus had been moved by compassion when he went out and saw multitudes of people wandering aimlessly (Matt.9:35-37), Dorcas’ eyes were open to the needs in her own world. In this context, it was some widows in the local community, who may have been left destitute without husband or even children, thereby being vulnerable and open to abuse.
To be compassionate means to suffer or feel with another person. It means to be moved by the needs, hurts or challenges of another. What do we see today? Who do we see today? What crises in our own world call forth a response of compassion from us?Her Contribution
Dorcas didn't just feel sorry for people nor allow her emotion to overwhelm or paralyse her. She translated her emotion into action, her compassion into contribution. She started “doing good” and actually “helping the poor” (Acts 9:36), and she made robes and other clothing for many widows (Acts 9:39). Jesus’ brother James would later write, “Faith without works is dead!” (James 2:20).
We can’t do everything but we can all do something. Dorcas didn't write a book or preach a sermon. She did what she was able to do – with what was in her hand. There are so many ways to contribute today - giving money to people or the work of the church; giving food, drink or clothing to the needy; showing hospitality to newcomers; visiting those who are sick or in prison; helping orphans or widows; doing good to our enemies and those who hate us; or using our gifts to serve others. Jesus calls his disciples to a life of contribution not consumerism!Her Courage
We can’t assume that life was easy for Dorcas. She was a woman, which was not a favourable identity in the first century Roman Empire. She was possibly a widow herself, as we have no mention of a husband or of any family members. If so, her own life would have required great courage, persistence, determination and tenacity. You will also notice that she was “always” doing good and helping the poor. A single serve or a one off offer to help is quite easy but serving for the long haul – day in, day out – that takes courage!
Living for Jesus requires courage today. We all have our own challenges and personal limitations that we have to rise above. Even when we do choose to serve, it’s so easy over time to become weary in doing good. Like Dorcas, may we take up our cross daily, pick up the towel and faithfully serve others in need as Jesus has called us to.Her Connection
Dorcas didn’t do all of this alone or in isolation. She served in, for and with the church community she was a part of. When she died, people grieved – not only because she had served them, but because she was known and loved by the people she did life together with.
If you or I disappeared, who would miss us? Would there be tears? What would people say? What kind of eulogy would our life evoke from other people in our world? We live in such a fragmented society – crowded yet lonely in so many ways. Church provides one of the best places to find and be part of a community and experience a real sense of HOME. Belonging is a primal human need. Our brains are wired to connect socially. We long to belong yet that requires “being long” with people - doing life together over an extended period of time.Conclusion
The story of Dorcas inspires us in our life of serving as disciples of Jesus. I don't think Dorcas woke up one morning thinking, “Today, I am going to do some sewing, then I’ll pass out and die, then Pete is going to come running and raise me from the dead - and then I’ll be in the Bible for 1000’s of years and have great influence!” Dorcas was simply a faithful and somewhat ordinary woman who decided to follow Jesus and take the call of discipleship very seriously. In the end, she had an extraordinary impact on those around her ... and here we are 2,000 years later, talking about her.
Dorcas’ friends celebrated her miraculous resurrection from the dead through Peter’s prayer (Acts 9:40-41). A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself but when something supernatural intervenes into the natural order. Miracles come in many disguises – an inner conversion through faith in Jesus, compassion moving to contribution to the needs of others, courage rising above challenges, and deep friendship and connection in a world of selfishness and isolation.Discussion Questions
1. Have the Christians in the group shared their conversion
story of “waking up” to Jesus?
2. Have someone in the group read then tell this story
of theological students stepping over a sick man to present their ideas about the Good Samaritan. Discuss what we can learn from this story about living a life of compassion
3. Have those in the group who are volunteering in a ministry (inside or outside the church) share their experiences – especially the joys and rewards of contribution
4. Discuss the ways in which serving requires courage
. What are some keys to keeping enthusiastic about serving (either at home, work, church or the local community) over the long haul? How do we handle seasons of discouragement and/or weariness?
5. In such a large church community we are faced with the challenge of helping people connect in a meaningful manner. Discuss what it takes to move beyond the ‘tip of the iceberg
’ when it comes to belonging and having a genuine sense of connection