4/21/23, Encountering Christ in Devoted Women

Acts 9: 36-43, Rev. 7:9, 14-17, John 10:27-30                                             

At the beginning of April I traveled to Italy, where I spent a few days exploring the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and his feminine counterpart, Clare.  While I was in Assisi considering the extraordinary commitment of these two medieval persons to following Christ, Methodist Pastor Courtney sent me an e-mail asking if I would be willing to fill in for her on a Sunday when the theme of the day would be “Encountering Christ in Devoted Women.”  Visiting the church of San Damiano where Clare’s community lived, it was apparent that this woman had demonstrated in her life of simplicity and humility an exceptional devotion to Christ.  For Clare, devotion to Christ meant imitating Christ as a way of life.  Being so inspired in the moment with Clare’s example, I was excited about being invited to share this message.

But I have since returned to 21st century America, where simplicity and humility are not easily discerned qualities in our way of life.  So I’ve had to engage in a little research asking myself exactly what it is that a devoted woman would look like today.

 The first thing I came across when I googled “devoted woman” was this story:

A devoted wife had spent her lifetime taking care of her husband.

When he was slipping in and out of a coma for several months, she stayed by his bedside every single day. When he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer.

As she sat by him, he said, "You know what? You have been with me all through the bad times.

"When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you gave me support. When my health started failing, you were still by my side.

"You know what?"

"What, dear?" his wife asked gently.

"I think you bring me bad luck."

Obviously, that story doesn’t provide an inspirational illustration for the theme of encountering Christ in devoted women.  What else can we say about our lesson for the day? Devotion, says the dictionary, is the act of giving oneself entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause or purpose.  Devotion means staying the course, even if the challenges are great and energy and will are weakening.  The woman in our story WAS an example of devotion!

Today’s reading from Acts invites us to consider the person of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas.  The text read from The Message says that Tabitha was “well known for doing good and helping out” but the more classic reading from the NRSV says “she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.”  Tabitha is not named as a heroic Christian; she’s simply a common woman of the community. She was a woman devoted to giving whatever energy and giftedness she had as means of expressing God’s love.  Apparently she sewed and gave away lots of clothing. By describing how beloved and deeply mourned she was in death, the writer of Acts shows us the importance of the life of simple goodness in the kingdom of God.

It is likely that Tabitha never met Jesus herself, yet she had been so won over to the stories she heard about his way of life that she committed herself to living in a way that fulfilled the law of love Jesus taught.  That’s all. “She devoted herself to good works and acts of charity.”

There are a host of women throughout history in whose devotion we know we have encountered Christ. 

Clare of Assisi understood such devotion.  She said, "We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation (of Christ) is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.”

St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Carmelite, left us a beautiful lesson in this poem: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours- no hands, but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world.  Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless humanity now.”      

And finally, our own 20th century Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded us: “Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.  Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” 

These examples from our feminine ancestors in the faith pretty much sum up how people encounter Christ in the 21st century, in both women and men.  In the common but diverse everyday ways we carry out good works and acts of charity like Tabitha did, we are to each other Christ’s hands and feet that go places and do things and touch people. We are Christ’s eyes of compassion that see the broken places in the world and take action to repair them.

 What is it that brings you joy simply because you love to do it and therefore have developed some skill at it?  This very gift that gladdens your heart is the spiritual gift that you are called to recognize as Christ’s image in you.  It is what you out of love can devote to the world that hungers for it.  This little bit of Christ in you is what creates beauty and makes music and loves the little children and feeds the hungry and heals the sick and brings comfort to the distressed. 

In this Cooperative community of Methodists and Lutherans and yes—even Catholics- we are invited to be the Body of Christ in its fullness by devoting each little gift that we have as individuals to the building of the Church as a whole.  Let’s take care to recognize and affirm those gifts in one another and then be about the business of enacting simple goodness in the Kingdom of God.

Go forth in peace,  for you have followed the good road.
Go forth without fear,
for God who created you
has made you holy,
has always protected you,
and loves you as a mother.
Go forth now, blessed to be living in the imitation of Christ.

By Sandi DeMaster