Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dorcas Circle Prayer Group

Abounding in good deeds. 

Acts 9:32-43

New International Version (NIV)

Aeneas and Dorcas

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

 Lydda is almost right smack in the middle of this strip of land known as Israel, northwest of Jerusalem towards the Mediterranean Sea. Lydda is today known as Lod. Most famously, Lod is known as the place of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948. Which is also the year that Israel was put back on the map as a country once again. Jewish settlers, mainly from Arab countries along with a count of 1,056 Arabs who chose to stay, went in and replanted a Hebrew culture into the land once again. 

It is through this region that much history has happened over the years. "Lod" was destroyed not long after Jerusalem when the Romans attacked around 70 AD, but was soon rebuilt, and became the seat of a famous Jewish school. A Christian church was here, organized, and was in existence A. D. 518. Lydda is often mentioned in the history of the crusades. It was situated in the midst of fine and extensive plains, the soil of which is a rich black mould, that might be rendered exceedingly fertile. The ruins of a stately church of the middle ages, called the church of St. George, preserve the name of a saint and martyr said to have been buried here in the third century. The English crusaders adopted him as the "patron" of England, and many fabulous legends tell of his exploits. Yet it is a small enough place that it hasn't gotten much recognition. It is only mentioned a few times in the Old Testament basically with a census statement. Just one time is it mentioned in the New Testament in reference to our scripture today in Acts. 

It is, however, to the small and insignificant that we should pay particular attention.
One of those lesser known people is someone named Aeneas. His name is said to mean "praised" or "praiseworthy". And, wouldn't he have much to praise God about after this day. Could you imagine being bedridden for eight years? Not being able to walk. Not being able to get up and go anywhere. I know a few in my congregation who not handle this well at all. Being denied the basic ability to move around can be debilitating to the point of mental instability. Most recently one of our own dear ladies in this congregation fell and broke her leg. The ordeal puts her in bed not being able to walk. The long trial and recovery was hard, but she came through it and has gotten back on her feet. 8 years. That's how long Aeneas has been down and not gotten up. This day, though, the Apostle Peter has decided to visit and all is changed in the twinkling of an eye. In Jesus like fashion Peter tells this man to "get up and roll up your mat". Just like that Aeneas' life is changed. 

The books of Acts is full of the supernatural. God is moving mightily through the believers. They are simply praying and asking. I wonder if someone in Joppa was praying for an answer because that's where Peter heads next. It's a simple trip, from Lydda to Joppa. Mileage-wise it's about the same as taking a walk from Thornville to nearby Mt Perry. Sure, lets just get out on the road and walk it. Few of us in our current society would simply walk somewhere because we feel led to do the work of the Lord. In Peter's time it was the only way to do things. 

Think about how long this would have taken. Our scripture says that people heard through word of mouth that Peter was in Lydda. That means some people would have traveled, walking, to Joppa. They spread the word about Peter being Lydda. Two men from Joppa take off walking to Lydda in order to find Peter. However long it took to find him and persuade him to come back to Joppa, then they have to get back on the road and get to Joppa. If all of this happens in the same day it has to be late when Peter finally gets to Joppa. Which would make sense if we fit this in with the story of a lady who has died. 

The lady is named Tabitha. In Greek, though, her name is translated "Dorcas".
She might seem like an insignificant person. Just pronouncing her name doesn't leave a very enticing or admirable thought in the mind. "Dorcas". Sounds rather silly. Sounds like someone who might not seem very smart or well read. But, it is exactly this kind of person with this kind of name that our God can use to express real love. There is a reason why our scripture says that the ladies are showing Peter all the garments and items that Dorcas has made for them over the years.
She seems to have had some means and also to have been a leader in the Christian community. Dorcas was beloved for the manner in which she used her position and means, since she "was full of good works, and almsdeeds which she did." Among her charities was the clothing of the poor with garments she herself made, and by following her example, numerous "Dorcas societies" in the Christian church perpetuate her memory. There is a local memorial in the "Tabitha School" in Joppa devoted to the care and education of poor girls.

Even today the name is still at the center of our Christian, and especially, our Methodist culture. Take the time to search the words "Dorcas Circle" on Google and you'll find a long list United Methodist Women's groups bearing the name. The picture on the front of our bulletins this morning is the symbol used by the UMW group at the Elyria Community UM Church in Elyria, OH. "Dorcas Circle" "Dorcas-Ruth" is very popular UMW group name you'll find if you take the time to search. Our church has two groups for a long time until the Dorcas Circle became the main group. It is the things that Dorcas UMW groups have stood for an supported over the years that have made them what they are. Groups of women devoted to making the world a better place to live in. The social causes that these women have taken upon themselves to minister in and finding ways to be help and hope are the very reason we have such a creed to stand upon in the UM Church.

It is no wonder that these people of Joppa take the time to seek out Peter and bring him back. Dorcas is a woman they have grown to admire and depend upon. It's never easy to say goodbye. Even when you know that the person has been sick and death is most likely expected. When Peter arrives, he is introduced to the society that has been formed around Dorcas' hospitality. These ladies are in mourning over the friend that have lost. Peter sends them all out of the room. The apostle has been here before. Remember the little girl and the parents came to find Jesus. The Messiah sent all out of the room except for the "inner three", Peter, James and John. And, so, the apostle follows the order he has witnessed. And, just as he has seen his Savior and Lord do, Peter simply whispers the words.

"Tabitha, get up."

It is said that the event became well known all over the area.
Maybe not just because it was Peter who came and whispered a command, but because of a woman who took it upon herself to make sure that other needs were met. Dorcas helped create something in the midst of her society that would be missed if it ever came to an end. We all get old and die. That's just a universal truth. Dorcas is blessed with a while longer to live. And, while she is there in the place called Joppa she plans to use what she has and who she is to be a blessing to other people.

It is the emphasis of the UMW to become disciples of Jesus. We can learn much about our Christian journey from the work we see going on in the realm of these ladies. Look at all our own ladies have accomplished just this year at Thornville United Methodist. Bereavement dinners alone can serve as a beacon of hope. Over the years there have been dinners that have fed hungry families and brought comfort to people who have been grieving. Food is a central ministry to not just our ladies, but to our church. However, the ladies have led the way on this. Our "hospitality room" during the heat of July at the Thorndunker event has been a major source of relief for people. The food coming out of this kitchen during the Thornville Country Fair is another moment when people talk about our church and the lore spreads. Now, we have a Backpack Ministry and ladies across our church have been dropping food outside the office door in order to help feed hungry kids at the elementary school to help them make it through the weekend.

Cancer is an ugly mark on the life if human beings. I wish that no one would have to deal with this hideous disease. And, so do the ladies that make up Team Deidee. Many of our UMW ladies have come together with a strong front of prayer and support to help each other and to lift up those who are going through the trials and tribulation of fighting for their own lives. This team of women make their way to New Lexington each spring to rally with our people across Perry County in order to bring awareness about the disease and remember those who have battled with this deadly illness. Some have survived. Some have passed on. All are winners. And everyone deserves reinforcement through prayer and a hand to hold.

Most recently these ladies have stood together as they have packed the school kit bags to send off to Church World Service as part of the Festival of Sharing. These school kits go all over the world to help kids who are struggling just to get the simplest supplies together to start the school year. And, here I see someone in our midst who could be a modern day "Dorcas". Our prayers go out to Louise and Tom Beckett. As life goes on for these two in the midst of age and pain this lady still finds a way to go out and buy material to make the bags while seeking out the supplies to fill those bags. She gives all she has for this purpose. Someday we'll have to say goodbye to her. In the meantime, let us join in with her goodwill and self-sacrifice as she seeks to put other peoples needs above her own.

In the midst of our small insignificant town, how can we follow the example of Dorcas?
How can we be people of the sacred and the holy as we seek to give our lives as a living sacrifice?
How can we give all we have to make sure that others have enough? There is much to pray about. There is much to lift up before the Lord. There is much to bring life to, just as life was given to her.

Let's spend some time in that sweet hour of prayer. Lord use us and make us your own.

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