by Ellen Sims
texts: Psalm 23 and Acts 9: 36-42
On third Sundays our contemplative service allows us to pray in varied and fresh ways–through song, silence, stillness, and scripture–and prayer stations. Context for one prayer station: I had asked Diane, one of our church council members who directs a Medicaid-funded program for the elderly, to speak about “today’s widows,” connecting those the disciple Tabitha cared for to Alabamians being affected by devastating Medicaid cuts. Diane also assisted at one of our prayer stations in a letter-writing campaign. My brief reflection on the scripture is shared below along with a description of the 4 prayer stations we used. Finally, I want to thank Eva Walton-Kendrick of the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama for a conversation that helped me better understand HB 158 and prepare materials our congregation used to urge our legislators to vote NO on a bill that discriminates against LGBTQ Alabamians.
REFLECTION ON TODAY’S “WIDOWS” IN NEED
REFLECTION ON THE SCRIPTURE
I never learned to sew. I can barely sew on buttons or repair a hem. I did learn to embroider when I was a child but lost interest by the time I was 12. So I’m not sure why, shortly after our daughter was born, I started embroidering a Christmas tree skirt to give my own mother for her Christmas gift. It took me a full year. But in that first year of motherhood, I was not only intensely in love with our baby but also feeling a fresh and deeper surge of love for my own mother. So I poured all that hormone-enhanced love into embroidering this very Christmas tree skirt that would be placed under the tree my mother always artfully decorated in a careful color scheme of gold and white. When Mother died this past summer, the Christmas tree skirt returned to me. It’s the only handiwork of mine that feels stitched out of pure love.
I have, however, received beautiful gifts others have sewn for me. One is this stole sewn and embroidered by the pastors of our church in Nashville for my ordination with signatures on the back of dozens and dozens of church members. Another is this Children of the World stole that our own Rosemarie made for me. They are precious gifts sewn by loving hands.
They help me appreciate the tenderness with which the widows in Joppa regarded the clothing Tabitha made for them. Tabitha (or Dorcas in the Greek) is named a disciple in the first verse of today’s lection. Then in the next sentence we hear that this disciple was “devoted to good works and acts of charity”–as good a definition of a disciple as I’ve heard.
So beloved was she that upon her death all the widows—who would have been the poorest people in the church—brought tunics she had made them to the gathering of mourners. There they held them out: mute eulogies for a beloved friend. We get the sense that Tabitha had taken care to make these tunics lovely. She had not passed along hand-me-downs to the poor. She’d probably spent hours sewing new and beautiful garments because the widows deserved to feel beautiful. You can picture these bereft women—young and old but all poor and dependent on the church for survival—mourning Tabitha and lifting up–not cast offs, not rough and hastily stitched and ill-fitting garments but clothing that reflected Tabitha’s love for them and for God. These tunics had told the women they were worthy of the lovely details and gracefully draped design and fine needlework. The poor were deserving of and needed beauty and love—not just mere survival. And as Dorcus/Tabitha pulled her needle in and out, in and out, I imagine her steady and quiet ritual was a prayer for that particular widow who had so little.
Imagine the joy when Peter’s prayer miraculously restored Tabitha to her community!
- Sewing Our Prayers. Take a white felt tunic. Careful in handling the needle and thread attached! Sew a design onto the tunic or a trim for the hem or in some way enhance this garment as Tabitha/Dorcas might have done before giving a tunic to one of the community’s widows. As you work, pray with thanks for those who have used their talents and time to care for you. Pray with resolve for opportunities for you to do “good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9: 36). If you wish, place the tunic your helped create on the altar.
- Acting On Our Prayers. Consider your response to two current pieces of legislation in Alabama. Cuts to Medicaid threaten the health of many in our state and jeopardize the PACE program for 170 senior adults in Mobile. In addition, the House may soon vote on HB 158 that sanctions discrimination based on religion and is specifically targeting same-gender couples and the LGBTQ community. Pause to pray for discernment about ways you might engage the political process to “do good words and acts of charity.” Feel free to sign one of the letters that will be sent to our legislators to urge reversing the defunding of Medicaid in a special session. You may also write a letter to your state legislators to express your opinion about HB 158 and/or Medicaid cuts. Please take with you materials explaining these two issues and contact information for legislators.
- Praying As We Receive. Prayerfully recall Psalm 23’s image of God preparing a table before us—with a cup that “runneth over.” Take the bread, dip it in the cup, and eat with a grateful heart as you remember the generous life, death, and life again of Jesus the Christ.
- Praying As We Give. Prayerfully contribute your offerings today as a sign of the ways you give to God’s movement in the world. Trust that all we need is found in God. Consider ways you will continue to give this week through “good works and acts of charity.”
O God, let the rhythm of prayer and action be stitched together in us to create a beautiful pattern for our lives.