May 8th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Seasons of the Spirit had as part of their created prayers for today, this image… “
An upper room
where feet are washed
where food is shared and the Messiah declared in the spilling of wine
and the taking of a cup.
Where bread is broken and people made whole.
The upper room of the Last Supper
the upper room of a home in Joppa
the upper room of many a new disciple
become places of resurrection and new birth
a time to get up and live.
to get up and go out into all the world
with the good news of joy, commitment, hope
Upper rooms. Often, especially after Easter, our push is out, out out. Hear the gospel, go out to the world, go out and tell the world, go out and change the world. Today, I hear a story of “don’t forget that sometimes the world is already right here.”
Isn’t the world right here where there are people in need in our own backyard, maybe in our own house? Isn’t the world right here when we talk about systemic injustice, which might mean we need to “clean up” our own brains, our own ways of thinking, so we can more clearly see how injustice has been baked into the very order of things? Isn’t the world right here in needing our gifts, even the ones that seem so small, that seem so mundane?
Upper rooms are not front doors, or marketplace squares where the apostles have been telling the good news of Jesus to everyone who happens to be in their hearing in the stories of the book of Acts. Upper rooms are more private, not everyone gets entrance. Upper rooms are more sheltered, not everyone can see in. Upper rooms are where family gathers, where holy meals are shared, where laughter and tears mingle together.
We have almost codified the upper room to mean the one that Jesus and the disciples used on that night before his arrest, his torture, his crucifixion, his death, his being laid in the tomb, his resurrection. I don’t believe this would have been the case for the early church. Because they didn’t have sanctuaries, designated meeting spaces—the early church met in homes, in upper rooms, away from prying eyes, but also as any extended family would do.
And these upper rooms, so it seems in our story today, also were places where ministry took place. Not the flashy ministry of tussling with the authorities. Not the heady ministry of trying to figure out how Gentiles and Jews could worship together, eat together, be together. Not even the bloody ministry of standing up for your faith, standing firm in your faith, even when faced with a martyr’s death. All of these ministries were important and essential for the early church. All of these ministries are important and essential for the church today. And all are talked about in detail in Acts.
What is not talked about as much is the life and work of normal people. People like us. People who live and work, are born and die, in upper rooms. Because Upper rooms are less flashy. Upper rooms might have heady discussions, but also were used as places for those pesky necessities of life—eating, sleeping, and for many women, working.
We get a small window into what Jesus’ revolution has wrought for a regular person in the story of Tabitha today. We have to read between the lines, because this isn’t the flashy or heady story—Peter’s raising Tabitha from the dead is.
But most of us are not going to live those flashy, heady, bloody lives of faith. We need to see that what we are going to say in our ordination/installation service is true.
Jean: There are different gifts,
People: But it is the same Spirit who gives them.
Leader: There are different ways of serving God,
People: But it is the same Lord who is served.
Leader: Each one is given a gift by the Spirit,
People: To use it for the common good.
Leader: Together we are the body of Christ,
People: working for God in our world.
I often think we forget about those quieter gifts, those gifts of the Upper rooms, those gifts that Tabitha symbolizes so well.
Let’s take her name. Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. Why is that unusual addition there? Is it because we are seeing the “heady” working out of the blending of Jewish and Greek (Gentile) community members? Why would some know her as Tabitha and some as Dorcas? We don’t know. But maybe this upper room woman had decided that she wasn’t going to take sides in the Jewish/Gentile fight going on. If you spoke Aramaic, maybe she introduced herself as Tabitha. If you spoke Greek, maybe she invited you to call her Dorcas. A way of saying, “I’m with you. I’m a part of your community, our community.” (And both names share a common meaning, gazelle). And so, when the story was told of her rising from the dead at Peter’s prompting, both her “given” name and her “taken” name had to be included.
Let’s move onto her ministry—using the gifts the Spirit had given her, for the greater good. Tabitha/Dorcas (I’m going to nickname her TD for short) could sew. This was something that women in the household had to do, (or have others do for them). There were no stores to buy clothing—it had to be made.
And that wasn’t cheap, either in procuring the materials or the time taken to create clothes. This is something that people in earlier generations would understand much better than we do today.
TD didn’t just make clothes for herself. She looked around at her community and saw a need. The Bible reads “she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” The fact that she is laid out in her upper room (and there is no mention of her family) suggests that she is a single woman of means. And since all the saints and the widows, the Christian community and the last and the least that had been invited into this community, are gathered in this upper room where TD has been laid out, maybe TD had been hosting services there, like Lydia did in a prior story.
Whatever the case, TD is beloved by this community. Those that have power, send for Peter who is known to be nearby—hoping for a miracle. Those who have little power, the widows, show up, wanting to testify to all TD did for them, to witness to her ministry.
TD had a gift, or the gift of means and time, and she used it for those who most had need—widows. If you were a widow in this age, you had almost no standing in society. And with few exceptions, you were the poorest of the poor. TD looked around her community and saw something she could do.
I know there is much discussion about whether injustice can be changed at all by addressing the pressing needs of those at the bottom, or whether you have to go after the top people, the laws, the systemic-ness of how our world is constructed. I don’t know which is more important. Two things I do know are true. 1) You can’t ignore the needs in front of your face. 2) You have to try to fix what has created those needs to begin with.
TD, as a woman, didn’t have the systemic power to change much. But she did have a needle and thread, and the ability to get fabric, and to sew, and she changed the lives of the widows in her neighborhood. TD stands as a testament that each of us has a job to do for Jesus.
Maybe you are one of those who is gifted with a flashy way—on social media, or with words, or with actions. Use your gifts.
Maybe you are one of those who is gifted with the ability to think out a path to solutions to the tangled problems of systemic injustice—by writing, by organizing, by engaging. Use your gifts.
I hope none of us need to be martyrs in this day and time. But if you feel gifted with being able to give deeply, use your gifts.
For the rest of us, there is good news. We too have been given gifts by the Spirit. We too are desperately needed. We cannot think we can go to upper rooms and hide, or shelter from all the stuff that is happening out there. No, upper rooms are just another place, another way to live in “the way.” Upper rooms are just another place, another way to follow in the footsteps. Upper rooms are just another place, another way to fulfill our calling as disciples of the Lord.
May each of us continue to discover our Spirit-given gifts.
May each of us be prompted to enter into God’s service.
May each of us find ourselves in upper rooms
as together we work for God in our world.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.