Below is an audio link to the sermon by The Rev. Posey Krakowsky on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
Easter 4 Year C
Good Shepherd Sunday
In this morning’s first reading from the book of Acts, we hear about Dorcas, and how the disciples in Joppa asked Peter to come be with them after Dorcas died. Peter does come, and through fervent prayer he is able to raise Dorcas, just as Jesus raised Lazarus.
What a miracle and a joy it must have been to see Dorcas returned to them!
As a needleworker, I was intrigued by the reference to the many widows in Joppa who showed Peter the tunics and garments Dorcas had made while she was alive. Her handwork was a testament to her generosity — but also to her desire to serve her community and to help those who were seen as the least of these – the widows in their midst. And while generosity and service is the most common interpretation of her acts, I also find myself wondering if there was more to this than an example of Dorcas serving them — it could also be that Dorcas was one of them — a widow herself, and that this group was lifting each other up, that they were part of a collective of women working together in their community. Because needleworkers have been known throughout history to create community. Needleworkers get together to stitch, and while they are at it, they also like to — excuse my using this word here: “bitch.” But contrary to how it is often characterized, a “stitch and bitch” is not just a chance to gossip and to complain. What’s it really about is a way to share our lives and life experiences as we work with our hands. It’s a place to talk safely about what is real and true and in our hearts.
So let’s pause for a moment and give a shout out to the most obvious exemplar of this in the scriptures — someone who is, of course, a man. I’m speaking about Paul of Tarsus. And really, are we surprised that once again, we see the male example of what women do all the time lifted up as if it were a man’s idea? Of course not. History has too often been written by men. But if you think about it, St Paul really is a member of the global needlework tribe— as a tentmaker, he was stitching too. I often imagine him sitting around, just talking to people about what was in his heart as he worked. That was how he did evangelism. What a perfect, non-threatening entree into a community! Those of us who do needlework in public know that it engenders lots of curiosity. “What are you working on? How long does it take you to do that?” people will ask. But just because St Paul is the only one we actually hear about doing this kind of evangelizing work not mean that women were not doing the same thing. So today, let’s put Paul aside and celebrate a different needleworker: Dorcas. On this day in particular, if feels appropriate to put her at the center of what should really be her story — not Peter’s. Peter was the agent of the miracle in the story, but who was the one doing the constant, loving, endless groundwork to build Christian community in Joppa?
Today we also celebrate the mothers in our midst and all over the world. And it is fitting that we have the story of Dorcas on this day — Mother’s Day — because her story is one of both sadness and also joy. Dorcas dies, and then she is raised again. And while mother’s day is a joyous occasion for many, for others, it can be a disorienting and poignant day. Some people wrestle with the knowledge that their own mothers were not or are still not able, for whatever tragic reasons, to be the kind of nurturing presence they may have needed to be in order to help their children thrive. Others worry that they are failing their own children. Others are sad because their mothers are no longer alive to share the day. Others may feel conflicted by their relief that their mothers are no longer present. Others may be happy to celebrate the non-biological mothers they found in their lives, while still regretting the ones that were unable to be that anchoring home for them. Others grieve the children who are no longer with them. Others may be wishing that specific and individual personal circumstances had allowed them to be mothers. And still others may be frustrated by our culture’s tendency to lift up the patriarchal essentializing focus on motherhood as the “ultimate” (translation: only real) function of being born into a female body — especially when we women all know that the beauty of our well lived lives is far more nuanced, complex, and extraordinarily diverse and rich than any one idea can encompass.
So I offer you all good wishes for a blessed mother’s day – wherever you are on your own journey in relationship to the concept of “motherhood.” Because wherever you are, you are not alone, I assure you. God, whom Jesus tells us comes to us as the brooding mother hen, the great mother of us all, sees and knows the secret places in our hearts and the joys and pains as well.
The theme of women’s witness also feels fitting to me because I spent last weekend leading a women’s retreat for St Michael’s church — a weekend when all kinds of women gathered to think about scriptures, lift each other up and share experiences as well as to rest and play. On Sunday, during the homily at the eucharist — when Jesus asks Peter to “feed my sheep” — I asked them, “what does it means to feed others and what does it means to allow ourselves to be fed. How do we sustain each other in community? How do we nurture one another? How do we allow ourselves to be nurtured?”
Jesus has a lot to say on that subject, and today is also, coincidently, Good Shepherd Sunday. In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that his sheep are nurtured by hearing his voice — they recognize the sound of his voice. And let’s take a moment before we go forward to remember that our passage today is one of the ones that can be seriously misconstrued — one that can be used to incite antisemitic hate. When Jesus says that “his sheep hear his voice” it is not because they are specially chosen by God to be part of an “in crowd.” Even more specifically it is NOT a passage that Jesus uses to tell us that this “in crowd” does NOT include Jews. Jesus does not ever exclude the Jewish people from his message. What Jesus is saying is that God’s voice, no matter how we name it, is available to all who choose to hear it. That the idea of recognition of God’s authentic voice is the key. Recognition means tuning in to hear God’s call to us. And God’s call comes in all religious traditions. That is why Jesus references the call as the Father’s call. No one is excluded by God. Though many may make the choice to stop up their ears so that they cannot hear God’s call, the call itself is always there. The possibility that they will hear it is also always there. God is patient, like a mother, she will wait. And lest we forget — those with blocked up ears come in all shapes, sizes, religious traditions, and from all nations. Including many who call themselves Christians, by the way.
One of the other things I challenged the women’s retreat group to consider is that Jesus’s image of the brooding mother hen — the one who hovers over her nest with tension and strength and uncertainty — the one who hopes her eggs will hatch — also knows that not all of the eggs will prosper — that not all of that which she nurtures will become fruit. And those eggs that do not hatch are every bit as beloved as the ones that do. That possibility itself is also valued. The raising of Dorcas also speaks to this concept — of the fecund delight of possibility. Even when we think of something/someone as dead, they are still beloved, capable of growth, and have eternal life. Even when something does not come to fruition, it is still necessary and good. Other religious traditions share this insight, but our particular Christian word for it is resurrection. Whatever does not come to be, and even whatever ceases to be and is described as dead — there is always resurrection present — that is what our tradition teaches us.
“No one will snatch them out of my hand,” Jesus says in John, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no on can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”
All creatures, even the ones that do not come to be born, are valued. All things, even the possibilities that do not happen, are valued. God sees them all, God loves them all, and God understands that whatever does not come into full bloom, or even start to bloom, is still sacred. Some things are not meant to come to fullness. Or wait, here’s a better way to say it — some things are full and whole and good and worthy, just as they are, in their unrealized, unformed and unfinished state. Because the road not taken is still a road. The egg not hatched is still beloved. And the child not born is still a child that has been blessed.
And not one of these sacred things needs to be rescued by those intent on using their power inappropriately to assert that they know better. Those things which are unrealized are still complete and beloved just as they are.
We, who are human and need timelines and linear time to make sense of material reality, are unable to see from God’s perspective — from the perspective that encompasses all that was, is, will be, might be, almost was, and always is. We have one lens, and not a very good one at that. But God sees more. Much, much more.
“The works that I do in my Mother’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Mother has given me is greater than all else, and non one can snatch it out of the Mother’s hand. The Mother and I are one.”
I will finish with a prayer from Janet Morley:
O God my dark my silence
Whose love enfolded me
Before I breathed alone
Whose hands caressed me
While I was still unformed
To whom I have been given
Before my heart remembers
Who knew me speechless
Whose touch unmakes me
Whose stillness finds me
For ever unprepared.
Spirit of comfort and longing,
Enfold my fear,
Unclothe me of my pride,
Unweave my thoughts,
Uncomplicated my heart,
And give me surrender:
That I may tell my wounds,
Lay down my work,
And greet the dark.