foyer of what is now the administration wing of Johns Hopkins Hospital here
in Baltimore is a statue. Not all that long ago, this was the entryway for
every person seeking to be
to health at this institution. Coming through the front door each would
encounter this larger‑than‑life statue of Jesus with his arms open wide.
Etched in the stone at his feet are his words: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you
rest.” … Would you pray with me.
Lord God, we come to you as we are, seeking your wholeness in place
of our brokenness, your energy in place of our weariness. Speak to
us through your Word. Touch us beyond the words. Help us to release
those burdens that only drag us down, to put aside those struggles
that are counter‑productive to what you desire for us. Give us your
re‑creating rest. This we pray, in the name of the One who said, “Come
to me.” Amen.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, listen to the following story from holy
scripture. It tells some of what happened in the early days of Christ’s
church, how the good news of Jesus spread from place to place, person to
person. Don’t become so enthralled by the miraculous, though, that you miss
the important. Hear God speak through ordinary people.
stories about persons restored to health, one brief and to the point, the
other full of detail and quite impressive. If we focus on the illness
involved, we see a paralysis that lasted 8 years, and a death. In both
cases, a few simple words drastically changed a devastating situation.
Standing in this location, we hear these stories with a strange mixture of
awe and skepticism. These are not everyday occurrences in our experience. Of
course, our Pentecostal friends challenge us to open ourselves to the
possibility that such things still happen.
These are more than stories about illness, however. Those involved have
names. Even though the account of his healing is very brief, the paralyzed
man is known. Aeneas is his name. What’s interesting is that God moves
through a person living on the margins of a town. The ill, after all, tend
to exist out of our awareness. Isn’t that their major burden, to be
forgotten. Perhaps Aeneas was once an energetic, well‑liked man about town.
If that were the case, after 8 years in a bed it would be no longer.
Sickness marginalizes people. They lose their independence. They become a
“patient” on someone’s caseload. Families struggle to care for them. Much of
their life is spent, intentionally or not, behind closed doors.
wonder of this story is that God opens that door, seeking out a man who has
a name. In fact, his is the only name we ever associate in the Bible with
the town of Lydda, otherwise known as Lod. The disciple Peter encounters
this man at his bedside. Listen again, as God, through this simple
fisherman, calls the paralyzed man by name into resurrection life. “Aeneas,
Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!”
Remember that statue of Jesus at Johns Hopkins? “Come
unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,”
the inscription says. “Rest” is not limited to sleeping in bed, you know.
For Aeneas, it meant getting up after 8 years on the margins and coming to
Jesus. It meant independence after so many years of dependence, taking care
of himself ‑ making his own bed. A miracle. Of course, any parent will tell
you that making a bed can sometimes be a bit of a miracle for a young
There is further wonder in this account, though. This once‑marginalized,
perhaps forgotten man rises from his bed and becomes a witness to not only
his town, but the next. Because of Aeneas, many turn toward the Lord. Who
would have predicted such a thing only a few days earlier? After all, this
man was stuck in bed, out of sight ‑ out of mind, dependent upon everyone
else. Miraculously, he becomes an invaluable part of God’s strategy. God
moves in such interesting ways, don’t you agree? The focus of this story,
like most every story, is this: “Jesus Christ heals you.” It wasn’t that simple fisherman Peter, nor
is it this preacherman Pete.
The story goes on, both in our scripture passage and in our lives. In the
book of Acts, the scene shifts 10 miles down the road to the town of Joppa,
where lived a remarkable woman by the name of Tabitha. Her name means
“gazelle,” and her life was certainly as graceful as that antelope. She was,
herself, a believer in Christ. In fact, when this scripture says she was a
“disciple,” it is the only time in the New Testament that the feminine form
of that particular word in Greek is used.
Tabitha’s relationship with God in Christ was such that his grace overflowed
into her hands. As swiftly and beautifully as a gazelle, she made clothing
for others who were less fortunate. She was known for her charity. That’s
how God’s love illustrates itself it our lives. Love takes over. Look a bit
closer at this woman. She was a widow. While women who have lost their mates
fare better in our society then back in Tabitha’s day, widows still travel a
difficult road. They become marginal. My mother used to talk about how
friendships changed when my father died and she ceased being a part of a
One of the most profound things I remember from my spiritual upbringing was
my family’s attachment to several widows in our church. I don’t recall her
name, but I can still see this one woman’s home in my mind’s eye ‑ the times
we shared an evening. We often stopped and brought her and others to church.
In Tabitha’s day, widows were the most vulnerable in society. It was not
without reason that part of the mission given to the church by Jesus was to
care for them, along with children, and immigrants. Widows lived on the
margins, often poor and helpless. The interesting thing about this story is
that God empowered a widow to live out her name. Tabitha, God’s “gazelle,”
took care of those who were in a similar condition as herself. She was not
helpless. God made her a helper. God does work in interesting ways, don’t
Only Tabitha, this gazelle of a woman, became ill and died. Peter was called
from Lydda. “Please come without delay,” they said. Note, this rock of a man upon
whom Christ was supposedly building his church didn’t file the request and
attend to more important matters or persons first. When the widows called,
he came. In the upper room in which they laid her body, the other widows
showed him Tabitha’s handiwork.
Don’t misunderstand what’s happening, folks. This was not a viewing in an
art gallery. Nor were those women trying to impress Peter with Tabitha’s
worthiness of being saved. No, these were articles of clothing they
themselves were wearing. What they were trying to impress upon this male
disciple was the vulnerable position they were in. Their helper was dead.
What was God going to do about it? How would they survive in the world
without Tabitha? Do you hear? Do you see? No, not Peter ‑ you!
In a scene reminiscent of some of the stories of Elijah in the Old
Testament, similar as well to another room where Jesus healed the daughter
of Jairus, the fisherman Peter (who was not Elijah nor Jesus) asked these
others to leave the room. Alone, he knelt and prayed beside the body. Then
he simply said, “Tabitha, get up.” And she did. God would not leave these
widows helpless. This was not charity as we usually understand it. This was
love in flesh ‑ a widow raised from the dead with a purpose.
Is not this the promise of scripture? We speak of Jesus being raised from
the dead on Easter. We talk about dying and rising with him. “I
am the resurrection and the life,” we recall him saying, “those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.” Are
these just idle words? You decide.
As for me, I’d rather place my trust, my life into the hands of this God who
commissions a common fisherman to preach; this God who empowers a paralyzed
old man to get up and about and changing lives; this God who raises from
death a woman called “Gazelle” to continue heading a self‑help program among
the poor. God works in such interesting ways, wouldn’t you agree? This God
When there is someone I need to visit at Johns Hopkins hospital, if I have
time I often take a few minutes to wander over to that foyer of the
administration building and sit. Here is the One to whom the apostle Peter
pointed long ago when he said, “Aeneas,
Jesus Christ heals you, get up and make your bed.” Here is the One in
whose name Peter long ago spoke, “Tabitha,
get up.” Here is Jesus, who continues to say “Come
unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
I/we may not be paralyzed in quite the same way as Aeneas, but we may
be immobilized in other ways ‑ unable to “make our own bed,” so to speak.
Likewise, I/we may not have tasted death like Tabitha, but we may experience
gracelessness, brokenness, weariness ‑ that which pulls us down, and takes
away our meaning and purpose.
Well, listen to this preacherman Pete, as I speak some simple words that
don’t belong to me:
Jesus Christ heals you, get up.
may you, yourself, be as graceful as a gazelle!
Amen. Let it be so!