What’s your purpose in life? You get up every morning to do what? Go to school perhaps. But for what purpose? You go to school to get good grades so you can get a good job…but for what purpose? To make lots of money? What if you don’t achieve that goal? Will your life be meaningless? To be sure, life without a purpose is a drag. Just ask any child on summer vacation who has nothing to do. But we do have a purpose in life. Through the example of a woman named Tabitha, we’re going to see that our life will be full of meaning when we realize that our purpose is to serve others as we serve the Lord.
Tabitha lived in the Israelite city of Joppa. She’s described as a disciple who was always doing good and helping the poor (Acts 9:36). What Tabitha did was sew clothes for other people. She made quite an impression because when she died all those who had benefitted from Tabitha’s service showed her handiwork to the Apostle Peter when he came to Joppa. At first glance we wouldn’t expect the true story of Tabitha to be included in the Bible had Peter not raised her from the dead. We’ll talk more about that miracle in just a minute but the Holy Spirit must want us to learn more from this story than God’s power over death. It was no accident he included the details of Tabitha’s service, for in Tabitha we have a Christian who exemplified Jesus’ words from our Gospel reading this morning: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
What is perhaps startling about Tabitha’s service is how, in the world’s eyes, it didn’t amount to much. She sewed clothes, not eradicate world hunger or discover a cure for cancer. In the same way, Brothers and Sisters, you don’t have to do something that’s worthy of winning a Nobel Prize for God to take note of what you have done. What are you gifts and talents? Sewing? Encouraging? Cooking? Organizing? Leadership? Fixing things? Whatever they are use those gifts and talents to serve others. When this service is done to God’s glory and not to win praise for ourselves God considers what we have done to be pleasing to him.
But wasn’t it easier for Tabitha to serve others than it is for us? I mean look at how appreciative the people were of her efforts. “I’d serve more too if people were appreciative of my efforts.” Ever entertain that sinful thought? Ever pull back from helping others because you never get a word of thanks from them? But don’t thoughts like that show that the reason we were serving in the first place was to get thanks instead of to give thanks? What was it Jesus said in our Gospel lesson? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Because we are loved by Jesus. Because he saved us from our sins. Because he provides for our daily needs. Because he has won heaven for us. That’s why we serve others. Sure, it’s great when people recognize our acts of service but that’s not our goal. In fact Jesus tells us to do our acts of service “in secret.” Jesus said: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Tabitha knew that her purpose in life was to serve others. She did that faithfully and humbly but that didn’t spare her from sickness and death. That fact highlights the truth that no matter how many good things we do it can’t make up for our sins. Tabitha herself still had to face the consequence of her sins, whatever they were. Although Tabitha died she didn’t remain dead! Through God’s power the Apostle Peter brought Tabitha back to life. To be sure it wasn’t Tabitha’s good works that earned her this blessing. She came back to life because her Lord and Savior Jesus had already defeated death for her, and he’s done the same for you. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that all your sins of tainted service have been forgiven – like receiving a hug from your spouse or parents after you have said something to hurt them. That hug assures you that the relationship has been restored.
But now don’t you wonder what Tabitha thought about coming back to life? The world thinks death is terrible but that’s not what the Bible teaches. Death brings relief to those who trust in Jesus, as did Tabitha. She was finally at the Lord’s side. She was home in heaven where there was no more pain or suffering. No more needle pricks on her fingers. No more mornings where her fingers wouldn’t work right because of arthritis. No more frustrations with the clerks at the fabric store getting her orders wrong. What would you think if you finally made it to heaven only to have Jesus ask you to go back to earth and continue to serve him there? Would you feel the same way you would if the office called you back into work after you had just spent a day of wearying travel to get to an all-inclusive resort in Cuba for a two-week vacation? Leave the sun and sand you’ve been looking forward to for months to go back to work? I don’t think so! But go back Tabitha did to serve her Lord by serving others on earth.
Although none of us here (that I know of) has died and come back to life some of you may be wondering why the Lord is still keeping you around down here. The answer is simple really. This is where he wants you to serve him right now. He wants you to love the people he puts in your path everyday. That includes the busy and seemingly uncaring doctors and nurses, your noisy neighbour, and the grumpy cashier. Show them love because God loves you. No you may not be able to do today what you had the energy to do 20 years ago – like cook meals or shovel sidewalks but you can pray for others and encourage them. This is God’s will for you.
Of course God didn’t bring Tabitha back to life just because he wanted her to sew more clothes. Word spread about Tabitha’s resurrection and many were brought to faith as a result. It just demonstrates again how God can and does use everything for the good of his people. Tabitha’s friends must have questioned why God took such a caring woman from their midst. God took her because he had bigger things in mind. He wanted to use her resurrection as a way to expose more people to his saving message. And so you too have a purpose, dear Friends. In good health or bad, in life and even in death we are God’s servants.
Although no one now may acknowledge all that you do as a servant, Jesus will. On the Last Day he will say to you: “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Do you see why we’re eager to serve? We’re eager to serve because we have a God who has been serving us since the creation of the world by preparing a special place for us in heaven – a place purchased by the blood of God’s Son. Keep serving this Lord by serving others right up until the time he calls you home to heaven. Amen.