Archive for April, 2016

Church of Tabitha the Sheep vs. Church of the Good Shepherd

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Acts 9:36-43


I have a six-month old daughter named Erin, and before she was born I was over at my parents’ house going through old children’s toys and books with my mom that she had saved for grandchildren. We came across this stuffed sheep, and I as I was preparing for this sermon today, I realized that this sheep, which we had received from a dear family friend and that my daughter now plays with, this sheep I had named “Tabitha.” Truth be told, when I was four or five years old and named this sheep, I was not thinking of the Tabitha from first reading from Acts – I was thinking of Tabitha, Samantha’s daughter from the old TV show Bewitched…my dad watched a lot of Nick at Nite! But it struck me as I asked the question to myself about what this first reading has to do with sheep or shepherds for this Good Shepherd Sunday, that Tabitha is a sheep.

Tabitha is a sheep. We are sheep – Jesus reminds us. He is the shepherd. Here in Nebraska, the name Tabitha as one of the first faithful Christian disciples is celebrated with the social service organization Tabitha Elder Care providing hospice care, in-home support, and senior living communities across Nebraska. Some of our women of the ELCA circles may still be named after Tabitha, in honor of her faithful good works and acts of charity which included the clothing she had made for others, as Acts tells us. Certainly as we gather this weekend to talk about being relevant in our communities and turning our congregations around to be more service-oriented, outward focused, we can hold Tabitha up as a faithful example of a disciple of Jesus who served people not just in a church building but out among her neighbors. But Tabitha’s story in Acts is not just about all the good stuff she did – it’s about how she died. And how the power of the resurrection was so real for that early Christian community that Tabitha did not stay dead, but was raised to new life. The story is about Tabitha, and Peter, and the widows, and the other disciples who participated in God’s kingdom work as they were able to share the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed. But notice the end of the story: When people catch wind of what the disciples are up to…how Tabitha has experienced the resurrection first hand…it became known throughout the town of Joppa and MANY believed in the LORD. Tabitha was the sheep…the Lord Jesus Christ is the great shepherd of the sheep.

I wonder if the disciples were tempted to forget this after Tabitha was raised from the dead, that Jesus is our shepherd and we are sheep? I mean, Peter must have felt pretty good about himself after Tabitha sat up. No need to wonder about who would replace Tabitha and take over her responsibilities caring for her neighbors through her clothing ministry and other acts of charity after her death…cuz she’s back! In our congregations, too, I wonder if we are sometimes tempted to forget that we are the sheep and Jesus is our shepherd, the Lord, the giver of life. How many women (and men) do we have like Tabitha, who work hard every single day in our churches and in our communities to share the gospel in word and deed whom we would have a hard time replacing if they died? How many women (and men) do we rely on to do most of the work of being the church and forget to train up and raise up new leaders? And how many times if we DO have a new leader step in and volunteer to help, especially a newer member of a congregation, we expect them to be and act just like Tabitha and do exactly what she did, trying to replicate rather than adapt and change to the gifts and ideas that the new person brings to our community? How many times do our congregations become more like the Church of Tabitha, the Sheep, than the Church of the Good Shepherd, a Church that looks to Jesus Christ and his leadership as the source of our life and the guide for our journey?

My guess is that Tabitha, Peter, and the rest of those disciples in Joppa were changed after Tabitha was raised. Ministry didn’t happen in the same way after that event. And we know that eventually Peter, Tabitha, and the other disciples eventually died and experienced a different kind of resurrection on the other side of the grave. The Church, however, did not die. The Church is still alive! The Church is still alive because Jesus Christ the great shepherd of the sheep continues to call new disciples to believe in him and to do good works in their communities in Joppa, in Lydda, in Omaha, in Council Bluffs…wherever there are sheep ready and willing to follow. These ministries certainly look different from the way Peter and Tabitha did it. But the message remains the same. When we are willing to die: die to our way of doing things, to let ministries that are no longer effective or relevant die, to let hardworking volunteers die so that a new generation can inspire and lead, to even let the church as we know it die, that’s when Jesus’ resurrection becomes real for us.  New people, new places, new ways of doing ministry, new life enters in…not because of Tabitha, not because of you or me, but because of our Lord Jesus Christ and the God who gives us all life. We can strategize, and plan, and try new things as we listen to Jesus’ voice calling us to venture out into the new life that he gives. Ultimately, though, all that we do, all that we say is for this purpose: so that what God has done for us might become known throughout our communities, so that many will believe in the Lord and follow. Amen.

God’s great story for us!

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31

Baptism of Erin Christine Sheridan

Many people have asked us how Erin got her name, and I always find stories about people’s names fascinating. “Erin” means “Ireland,” which we liked because it complemented our last name and Rich’s Irish heritage, Sheridan being an Irish name. My grandma Helen’s middle name was Irene, which is a form of “Erin,” and my other grandma Leona’s middle name is Christine, so her name was a way to honor my grandmas. “Christine” of course is the feminine for Christian. But “Erin” also means “Peace” in Gaelic, and in Greek…being pastors we wanted a name that would carry some theological meaning, too, of course. Since Erin was born we’ve sometimes thought a better name would be the Greek for “terror” or “discontent,” but we hope and pray she’ll grow into that namesake of a Christian peacemaker. As Christians, we pray daily for peace. I find it very appropriate then that we hear Jesus say to the disciples three times in the gospel for this morning, “Peace be with you.” In a world that seems to be coming increasingly less full of peace, we pray that Jesus’ peace might be with us and with future generations as we seek to raise our daughter in the faith.

Now, my friends and family know this well – I’m not sure all of you here at Bethel have found this out yet about me – I am terrible about taking pictures, and I’m also terrible about doing anything really crafty. So centerpieces for the lunch downstairs today, for example, were very much designed and put together with help from my more crafty friends! Each month I try to take a picture of Erin but it’s nothing fancy, often “5 months” written in pen on a piece of scrap paper – I do realize some parents go to much greater lengths creatively for these milestones! I’ve also tried to keep up with Erin’s baby book. I’ve done pretty good with that, actually. In fact, when I sit down to write, I often find I need more room than what’s been given. I was sure to write down how she got her name, for example, but other cherished memories are up here, not in any book.

In the gospel this morning we also heard one of my favorite passages at the end of the doubting Thomas story: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” I’d like to think that we have a lot more to write about the wonders of what God has done in our lives than we have room for in the pages of any book. Certainly, John had that problem of deciding what milestones in Jesus’ ministry he would write down. Whenever parents and sponsors come to the font with a child who cannot speak for herself yet, they make certain promises, which include bringer her to the word of God and the holy supper and placing in her hands the holy scriptures. John reminds us today that the Bible is the written record of the acts of God throughout history, from Genesis to Revelation. But as John also notes, what we have in these written pages can’t contain all of what God has done throughout the ages and is CONTINUING to do now, today!

It is a HUGE privilege to be able to preach at my own daughter’s baptism. We know it’s a privilege even to be parents, through sharing the struggle of becoming parents with others. The journey of parenthood so far for us has been an awesome and yet also challenging one. We are sure that there will be more challenges and joys ahead! Today, we bring Erin to the font to declare our intentions to God in front of you all – that we plan to do our best as parents to raise our daughter in the faith by teaching her scripture, helping her learn how to pray, bringing her here to church to live among other Christians, and also teaching her to work for justice and peace so that she might one day live up to her namesake!

But we also bring her to the font today to recognize that there is so much that we CAN’T possibly do. Pretty much daily I hand this parenting thing over to God. I recognize that God our heavenly parent knows a lot more than I do about how to raise my daughter in the faith. And I cherish those words that remind me that we have a living God who will continue to work wonders in our lives and especially in Erin’s life, wherever she goes, that may not be written in any book, but are truly signs that Jesus is the Son of God, that we have life in his name. Today God gives Erin the name, “Christian,” the name that we all share, to remind us that we have life in Christ’s name.

You all, have a story of how God has been at work in your life, too, from your baptism until your dying day. Some of that story you might not even remember – so ask a sibling, a parent, look back in YOUR baby book! Some of that story exists now only in God’s memory…and some of it is important enough to write down and to share. Our life of faith doesn’t end with our baptism. That’s just the beginning – God has a much bigger story for us. Jesus is doing way more in our lives than we could ever write down in a book, but what are some things you might want to write down or to be sure to share, so that others could come to believe and have life in Jesus’ name? Today, we thank God for the gift of baptism, that we have life in Jesus’ name, and we ask God to give us the strength, courage, and grace, to live out that name we received in baptism, “Christian,” for the sake of that same name, Jesus Christ. Amen.



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