Acts 9: 36-43. This sign is reminiscent of the raising of Lazarus by Jesus and the thrust of the message is that the power of God exhibited in Christ is now present within Christ’s body on earth – the church. The raising of Tabitha is an acted parable and we embody his authority and power on earth and can discern the difference between spiritual life and spiritual death. Tabitha is called a Disciple here in the correct feminine form. This is the only instance of this happening in the New Testament.
Revelation 7: 9-17. The near conflation of God and Christ predates orthodox Trinitarian theology here in Revelation. As is commonly supposed the book was written in a time of great persecution – the great ordeal referenced in verse 14 – but are all now in heaven, their robes washed in the blood of the lamb. After enduring the traumas on earth, they have inherited a blessed existence, free from all hunger and thirst and pain or suffering. These words are an encouragement to all Christians suffering persecution in John’s time, that no matter what they are enduring now – in the end they will be vindicated.
John 10: 22-30. The questioners demand a straight answer to a straight question but one that fits their pre-conceived notion of who or what a Messiah ought to be. Jesus transcends all those categorisations (as He does ours today) and His answer also makes it clear that discerning his status is not just a question of having the right information. Repentance requires a complete re-orientation of life. Someone must “belong to my sheep” to fully appreciate the status of Jesus. The last statement says that functionally God and Jesus act as one.
No-one expected the Messiah, the anointed one, to be born into an ordinary family that wasn’t rich or influential; whose family had neither position or was particularly learned. Most certainly they didn’t expect Him to suffer and to die a criminal’s death as part of God’s plan.
As Isaiah prophesied about him in one of the suffering servant passages (Isaiah 53:2) “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”
Jesus never wrote a single word in his life as far as we know, and
ever held any office, either civil or religious and there is no account of what he actually looked like.
But because of all those reasons He can represent any race, any culture, any person no matter what their social class or education. Jesus is a truly universal figure who transcends all attempts to put him into a box and classify him.
People now think it a terrible thing that we depicted Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes in some of our art – or in medieval paintings Jesus and the disciples wearing medieval clothes - but all that was being done there is appropriating Jesus for a particular time and place and culture. People will say that Jesus couldn’t possibly be like that as he was a near Eastern Jew. But that misses the point. I’m sure you will also have seen Chinese, South Asian and black and female representations, but Jesus wasn’t South Asian, Black or Chinese or a women either. The point is, Jesus represents the human condition of any and every cultural, social and ethnic group in the world.
Just like God does.
In the reading from John today Jesus sidesteps the demand to say whether He is the Messiah because to do so would simply be an exercise in seeing whether he fitted their pre-conceived idea of what a Messiah ought to be.
It is then that He says that his followers recognise his true identity because they are a part of his flock. This means that they have undergone a transformation, a re-orientation of life that Jesus called repentance. They have been born from above just as he told Nicodemus (John 3) he must be in order to see and recognise the Kingdom of God.
It is this re-orientation of life when we start to do and say and embody the things Christ did and said that we become his body on earth.
This is the spiritual meaning of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead, just as Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus. His disciples are so at one with Jesus that they emulate even the most spectacular signs performed by Jesus. And they become the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
The messages contained within the readings today are that Christ can represent all and any people anywhere – He is a truly universal figure – and that anyone and everyone can be Christ in the world today - He is every man and every woman.
Another important point is that knowing Jesus is more than just head knowledge.
Knowing Jesus is being in an active ongoing relationship with God through Jesus. That relationship lives and grows in the same way as all your relationships live and grow. It is achieved through spending time together, talking to each other and getting to know each other. Prayer and worship and seeking to discern God’s will in the world, and through engaging with sacred writings, especially the Bible record.
There is no end to this process. We are all learners and we all grow at different speeds depending on many different factors. But if we want to get close to God we do so by emulating and learning from Jesus because as Jesus said in the gospel this morning “The Father and I are one”. “God is as Jesus is” as Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said.
I always encourage entering worship or any “religious” activity with a sense of anticipation that you will not escape from the encounter unmoved or unchanged. God is working here this morning. God is here and we are here to actively engage with Him. Any true engagement with anyone doesn’t leave you unchanged so how much more will an encounter with the creator of all things.