Acts 9:36-43 New Living Translation
36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas[a]). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. 37 About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. 38 But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”
39 So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them. 40 But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive.
42 The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed a long time in Joppa, living with Simon, a tanner of hides.
John 10:22-30 New Living Translation
22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[a] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Today we welcome B into the family of God through baptism, and the set readings for this Sunday couldn’t be better. They contain a promise, some advice and an example.
The promise is simple. To those who choose to follow Jesus, there is eternal life. This is something not best understood simply as going to heaven when we die, but a fullness of life NOW, the assurance that even in the face of the deaths and destructions of this world, we can have hope – God’s life and God’s love will never fail us. And this hope can never be taken from us. We will not be snatched from God’s hands. As the words we will say later in the service assure us: Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever. Or as St Paul in his letter to the Romans proclaims: NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The advice is simple too. For those who seek to follow Jesus, we need to get to know his voice, like a sheep learn to know their shepherd. Although not exactly the same, it reminds me of a story told by Yorkshire vet, James Herriot, in one of his books of life in the Dales. He was conducting some treatments at a local farm, and to do this the mother sheep have to be separated from their lambs for a short time. There was utter chaos as hundred of distraught sheep baa-ed for their lambs and their equally distraught lambs baa-ed back. “How on earth are we ever to reunite them all”, he thought, “it will take forever!” But within a few short minutes of putting sheep and lambs in the same space, each mother was reunited with their offspring. They knew one another. I had a similar experience as a new mother almost 19 years ago. I left my sleeping baby in her cot by my bed to have a very quick shower. On my return, from the reception area, I heard my baby crying. There were dozens of crying babies in that ward at any given time, but I knew that cry was mine. God only knows what mixture of maternal hormones made that happen, but it did.
God enables us by the Holy Spirit to hear Jesus’ voice: to just “know” as I knew my new baby’s cry that something is right or wrong or needs doing. But we can work with the Holy Spirit to become better at listening. Reading the Bible, or in Benjamin’s case Bible stories, help us know God better and recognise that this is just the sort of thing God would say. Prayer and worship – spending time with God – helps us to tune into God’s voice and hear it better through the rest of our life. And being part of God’s family where we are helps us encourage and advise one another when we might not always hear clearly.
And lastly, the example – Tabitha. We might not have known Tabitha’s name if it were not for the miracle God enabled Peter to perform, and that would have been a shame. Tabitha uses her skills and abilities not just to promise people a happier life in the hereafter, but to contribute to their fullness of life now. In short, in the light of heaven to come, she works to bring a little bit of heaven’s peace and joy to those around her. And what a testimony to her work – the people of her community, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, grieve her and long to have her back among them. And God hears them. There is a beautiful quote which goes something like “A local church should be able to get a reference from their poor neighbours”. Tabitha had a glowing one, and that sort of recommendation is a delight to God our Father. Tabitha wasn’t doing anything grand – she wasn’t an Apostle or a church leader or someone who would otherwise make their way into the Book of Acts – but God honoured her and made her a way that many came to believe in Jesus for themselves. It is probably too early to know exactly what B’s gifts and skills will be, but if he uses them well to help others in whatever way he can, God will see and rejoice.
So, these readings contain much wisdom and encouragement for B as he begins his journey of faith. Now, at St Paul’s, we rarely have a baptism in the main 10am service, for a million, good practical reasons, but it is nice when we do, because this wisdom and encouragement is not just for Benjamin, but for every baptized person here. Whether you began your journey of faith last month or 80 years ago, today is a chance to renew our commitment to follow Jesus: to trust in his promises, listen again to his voice and commit to using whatever skills, gifts or opportunities we might have to bring heaven’s hope and joy to those around us.
May we all leave here ready to shine like stars in the world – radiating God’s life and love – to the glory of God our Father.