Legacy (Message for April 17th, 2016)

Scripture: Acts 9:36-42

I am a little nervous to talk about it, because I know that it might not last.  I do not want to jinx myself, but I am currently enjoying one of the best experiences of being a parent.   My son enjoys one of the same things that I enjoy, and we get to share that together.  Specifically, he is really, really into Star Wars right now.   For the past couple of months we have watched the movies together, played Star Wars video games, played with Star Wars toys, and had numerous lightsaber duels.   I have loved every minute of it.    I treasure looking through Star Wars books with him, having him show me how good he is at Star Wars Angry Birds, and putting his spaceship drawings on the refrigerator.   I realize it may not last.   In a couple of years something else will be his newest obsession, but I hope that does not happen.   I really love the idea that no matter what happens over the years from now, we might always have this one passion that binds us together.   Thinking about this also made me realize that Star Wars has the potential to truly become one of those pop-cultural landmarks that goes beyond generations.   Star Wars is well on its way to becoming something that outlives and takes on a greater life than its creators ever thought possible.   I believe that Star Wars will have a lasting legacy.  Like Batman, Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, and Shakespeare plays Star Wars is going to become one of those cultural milestones that nearly everyone has some sort of knowledge and appreciation of.    It is curious why some creations take root in our collective consciousness and others go away.   For example, Disney’s first major character was not Mickey Mouse it was Oswald the Rabbit.    However, only the most hardcore Disney fans know who Oswald is.   In the same way, one of the influences that led to the creation of Batman was the Phantom Detective.   The Phantom Detective had his own magazine that was published continuously for twenty years from 1933 to 1953.   In his heyday, the Phantom Detective clearly had a lot of popularity, but for whatever reason he never gained the same public appeal of Batman.   Oswald the Rabbit, The Phantom Detective, and the hundreds of other creations that have been forgotten about never managed to achieve a legacy.    Their impact did not last and their cultural footprint faded.   As we consider this morning’s scripture, the question it raises for us is what kind of impact have we made and does our faith leave a legacy?  

            This scripture is a somewhat obscure story from Acts.   Acts is short for “Acts of the Apostles” and this morning’s scripture is one of the stories that establish the kind of miraculous Acts that the Apostles did.  In the grand scheme of Acts, this morning’s scripture is almost like a throw-away anecdote.   Peter just happens to be in the neighborhood, raises a woman from the dead and then continues on with the greater narrative.   This story is stuck in between the conversion of Paul and a very significant vision that Peter has, which is then followed by a miraculous jail break.    Tabitha is raised from the dead but then never mentioned again.   When all of this is considered, it kind of makes sense that this is a part of Acts that gets skimmed over more often than not.   That is unfortunate, because I believe that Tabitha is a person we can relate to and that we should emulate.  

            Verse 36 tells us that she was always doing good and helping the poor.   While it is not explicitly stated, we get an idea of the kind of good work that she did.   Verse 39 tells us that all of the widows were mourning her death, and they showed Peter the clothing that she had made.   In first century society, widows were some of the most destitute and impoverished people in society.   If their husband died, then the widow had to rely on their son, but if the widow did not have a son or the son did not fulfill his obligations, then the widow was in very dire straits.   Tabitha cared for and provided for the widows.  Part of her work was clearly making clothes for them.   Yet that must have only been part of it, because the bible does not state that she “did a lot of carrying for the widows.”   It states she was “always doing good works and helping the poor.”   The work she did for others and the care she showed the poor was what defined for.  It is what she was known for, and we get the impression that is what she was loved for.     It was Jewish burial practice in the first century to bury very quickly.  It was common to bury a body the same day that the person died.   Given that, it is amazing how fast they got Peter there.   Lydda was about 12 miles from Joppa.   Even at a marathon running pace, it would have taken nearly two hours to get there and another two hours to get back.    They really wanted Peter to be present, not so that he could attend the funeral but so that he could prevent it.    Tabitha made such an impact on her community that they did not settle for mourning her.   They were willing to go to any lengths to get her back.   When people gathered after her passing they did not start sharing condolences, their first thought was how can we fix this.   The impact that Tabitha made was so great, that they could not fathom being without her, at least not yet.    She was missed so greatly that God raised the dead.             

            Some of it comes with the territory of professional ministry, but I feel like I have attended more funerals than the average person my age.   At a funeral the most common thing that is said about the deceased is that they were a good person.   In the casket, everyone is a good person.   This is why my favorite part of a funeral is when there is a time of witnessing where people stand up and share stories, because it is in these stories we learn how the deceased was more than just a good person.  We learn about how they made an impact and a difference in the life of another person.   I do not know about you, but when my time comes, and people come to attend a funeral or visitation I really hope that I was able to live my life in such a way the people can say more than I was a “good person.”   We should seek to emulate Tabitha and live in such a way that our lives make an unforgettable and irreplaceable impact in the lives of the people we care for and help.  The good deeds and love of God that we share, should make such an impact that they outlive us.   Our lives should have a legacy that goes beyond our earthly lives.       

            The bible records that Tabitha was a believer in Jesus, and it was this faith that motivated her to do good and help the poor.   Tabitha is an example that is worth following.  Tabitha was not an apostle.  There is no record of her doing amazing, supernatural miracles.  There is no record of her going on globe hopping missionary trips or preaching to auditoriums fully of people.   No, what the bible testifies about her faith is that she was always doing good and helping the poor.     Her faith motivated her to actions, which defined her and made a real and lasting impact on those around her.   Can we say that?   Are we as individual believers defined in our community by the good we do and the way we help others?   In other words, can we truly say that people know we are Christians by our love?    I believe that Tabitha could say that and that is why she is a disciple that is worth emulating.  

            As believers today we have a huge hurdle to overcome in being like Tabitha.   Doing good and helping are actions that require energy and time.   More than that though, they require investment.    The widows did not come to mourn Tabitha’s death because she had helped them in passing.   They came to mourn because they knew that Tabitha cared about them, and building that kind of relationship requires more than donating a few bucks or a couple of hours.    The hurdle we have to overcome is that we live in an on-demand society.  Nearly any form of entertainment we want is available to us when we want it and how we want it.    In the United States 64% of adults have a smart phone now, which means the majority of us have a device in our pockets with which we can get the answer to any question in a matter of minutes.   Shockingly, these wonder devices are built so that they usually have to be replaced every two to three years.   This all adds up to show we live in a society where we assume everything is disposable and we expect everything to be instantaneous.    In this sort of environment taking the time to invest in doing good is foreign to us.   We want easy answers to complex problems, and we want to be able to accomplish them in an afternoon.  Tabitha did not turn in a time sheet to be included in the bible, but we can easily imagine that she put in hundreds and hundreds of hours in her caring for the poor.   Tabitha found a specific need that she had the skills and passion to meet.   She provided clothes for the poor widows.   We live in a fallen world where there is no shortage of needs, so here is a challenge for you.   When you go home this afternoon make a list of the needs that you are most passionate about or that you feel the most able to meet.   Pick one:  see that need and meet that need.  It is that simple.  Just do it.  Or better yet, bring it back to your church family so that we can join you and we can all work together at it.   

            Identifying and meeting specific needs in our community, country, or world is a good way that we can follow the example of Tabitha and give our faith to have a lasting legacy.   However, it is not the only way and it is not the simplest way.   There is no reason to overthink this.  The easiest way that we can let people know we are Christians by our love, the easiest way that our faith can make a real and lasting difference is just to be kind.  Nashville based pastor Todd Stevens does a great job at defining kindness.   He wrote, “when I take action to help someone deal with a struggle or hurt, I am meeting a need.   Kindness is different because it helps someone who may not be dealing with any sort of crisis.  Kindness is simply doing something that benefits someone else.”   Kindness is showing the love of God to another person without an agenda.   A life that is defined by kindness is synonymous with a life defined by God’s love.   Even better, kindness, even small acts of kindness, has a lasting impact through a ripple effect as this video shows: 

 

            Imagine what would happen, if each and every one of us intentionally made it our daily mission just to perform three different acts of kindness for others.   Imagine the kind of ripple effect that would have.   Also imagine, how doing that would impact you.   It would change how you look at the world.   Instead of being focused on yourself, you would become more focused on how you can help others.   In short, like Tabitha the good you do and the way you help others would define who you are.    People will know that you are a Christian by how you love them.    You would be establishing a legacy of kindness.   So that is the challenge.   For the next two weeks do three acts of kindness every day.  Your life will be changed.

            What kind of faith legacy are you building?   Do people know what you stand for or only what you stand against?     May we all follow the example of Tabitha.   May we make such a positive impact on the world around us that our presence is sorely missed.    May we be kind, may we meet needs, and may be known by the good that we do.   May we be the kind of disciples that transform the world, and may we continue to establish a legacy of love and kindness.