Sermon:  “Women’s Mission Sunday”

25 April 2010, Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2010

Acts 9:36-43

“Women’s Mission Sunday”



Introduction:  Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia, Senior Pastor

Prayer:   “May the words we speak, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

This is a great story for Women’s Mission Sunday, I thought, because it lifts up the importance of WOMEN apostles in the Acts of the Apostles.  The women who followed Jesus were indispensable in the mission of the early church, as Christianity spread so rapidly west from Jerusalem into the wider Mediterranean world.  And this Dorcas, like so many other women who loved and supported Jesus, was remarkable.

Translated from the Greek, Dorcas means "gazelle" – in spite of what "dorcas" sounds like to us, as in "I was such a dorcas I tripped on my own microphone wire!"  In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the name is Tabitha.  Whatever her name means, though, she clearly was a grace-filled and valuable "pillar" of the first church there in Joppa.  Her handiwork with cloth was so legendary that even today many churches have women's sewing circles they call “Dorcas Guilds.”

Luke, the writer of Acts, refers to her as a "disciple" here – which is actually the ONLY time in the whole New Testament a woman is identified by the Greek feminine form of the word “disciple” (mathetria). And, as we know from our own church experience, the death of people like Tabitha makes a huge impact on a community of faith, because people like her do so much for everyone else, and their leadership often becomes indispensable.  Well, Tabitha was one of those special church people.  Her life had such an impact on her church and in the community around her that they can't bear to let her go. So they send for Peter and he accomplishes the amazing miracle of raising her from the dead – which not only restored this beloved woman to her church family, but provided the church with yet another sign of the power of the Risen Christ among them.

But for our purposes today, I wanted to focus on what special something made Tabitha such a valuable disciple in the early church.  And I think that “special something” was that her ministry was NOT one of words, but one of action.  The way that she bore witness to the Risen Christ was with the loving way she offered her spiritual and artistic gifts to the world.  And that is something we can all do.  However we offer our gifts in mission to the church is sacred work, work to be celebrated and lifted up, as our speakers from this winter’s Women’s Mission Trip to Rhode Island will do for us today.



Speaker:  Sally Markiewicz, Chair, Church-in-Society Committee. 

I’ve been asked to talk with you about the women’s mission trip that took place Martin Luther King weekend in January.

When Marianne Gaffey came to the Church-in-Society meeting in the late fall and told us about the plans for a women’s mission trip, a lot went through my brain.  First, I thought, OH NO.  Not ONE MORE THING TO DO!    She mentioned that, in addition, we would be checking out the Irons Homestead as a possible women’s retreat site.  The word “beach” was mentioned.  I figured, being chairperson of CIS, I was sort of obligated to go, so I put it on my “to do” list and made tentative plans to attend.  When I found out some folks were going that I wanted to get to know better, I finalized my plans.

See, I made it 45 years without going on a mission trip.  Other than offering to chaperone for the youth – they never took me up on the offer – I was not searching out the opportunity.

As time went on, the details were ironed out.  About 20 of us were scheduled to go and a mission in Providence was willing to put us to work for one day.  Apparently, because of the Martin Luther King holiday, there was a citywide volunteer day approaching and it was a bit more difficult to find places to help out than usual. 

I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.  I like working by myself or in small groups.  I’m a pretty good delegator, and I’m an efficient worker bee.  Rather than jump in and choose a project, I prefer to hang back and see what area needs the extra help.  I like to feel useful. 

We arrived at the Camp on Friday night.  During the caretaker’s welcome speech, I discovered the “beach” I had heard about was a boat launch on a pond where there is no swimming.  I was a bit disappointed, but realized that, like Silver Lake, Irons Homestead is a special place.

On Saturday morning, a man gave us an orientation and tour of the Providence Rescue Mission.  This homeless shelter was designed to help men find Christ and get their lives back together.   They provide 6500 meals a month and provide beds for 40 to 60 men and half that number of women every night.  The mission provides a free dental clinic and runs a thrift shop they call “Blessingdales.” 

Our jobs that day were to:

·         Clean up the thrift shop

·         Buff the floors

·         Send out a mailing

·         Make beds

·         Help with a luncheon

·         Set up for dinner

We were also invited to participate in two worship services.

I’m a thrift shop connoisseur, but a whole slew of very organized women went in that direction.  There was only one floor-buffing machine and I was not about to tackle that learning curve, so I left that job to Sue Bonn.  I figured my best bet was making beds.  There are 30 top bunks at the mission, and Kate Luce and I made them all.  Four of us tackled the 60 beds in the bunkroom. 

We finished in time to help some women set up a luncheon.  I was talking to a woman about crafty things.  She mentioned that her craft items were in storage.  It took me a few more minutes before I realized that she was homeless.  She was well spoken, temporarily out of work, and had no place to live.  Wow.  Being me, I grilled the women who were running the program and asked how and why they got involved.  One woman felt called to work with the homeless and others from her church take the time to help out.

I went to check out this “Blessingdales.”  We learned that it is more of a clothing distribution center than a thrift shop.  The dust from the thorough cleaning was beginning to settle.  Yes, REAL dust.  The space had been used as a Christmas Boutique in the weeks before Christmas, then as a depository for junk.  After a few trips to the dumpster, there were labels on the empty shelves and boxes and bags of items to be sorted.  There was a small food pantry space.  Many hands were working hard organizing, sorting, and throwing away junk.  Ask Lucy Brown about the potatoes sometime.  At the end of the day, the men who run the shelter were awed at their new space.  They’ve never seen the likes of the women from the Congregational Church of Brookfield.

I attended both church services that day.  We were invited over and over again, so I figured it must be important that at least one of us attend.  The service before the luncheon was lay led.  Women from a local church sang karaoke style and prayed with the visitors in the sparse congregation.  Three women sang a beautiful contemporary song by Cece Wynans called “Pray.”  I still hum it sometimes.  Instead of joining my compatriots for PB&J, I attended the luncheon.  Mostly, I just sat and listened.  There were people who needed to tell their stories.

The second church service, the one right before dinner, was packed.  The congregation was mostly men, but there were a handful of women and children.  Admission to supper was attendance at church.  This service was also lay-led, and much more formal than the mid-day service.  A few people sang the acapella hymns from the hymnals.  Some listened to the sermon and most bowed their heads in prayer.  I looked around and noticed that none of the other women in our group had stayed for the service.  When I asked about it later, more than one admitted that the smell of body odor was overwhelming and they had to leave.  See, I have no sense of smell.

We left after setting up the beds for the dozen or so female guests in the sanctuary / all-purpose room.  Soon there will be a separate shelter for women and children, also run by the Providence rescue mission.  In our later discussions, we recognized that we had given the regular staff a day off.  The staff is comprised mostly of men in a “Discipleship Program,” which helps them to learn to get clean, gives them counseling, helps them to connect with Christ and reconnect with their families.

Back at the camp, we enjoyed conversation, pizza, a discussion, and board games until we were too tired to function.

On Sunday, we got up, ate breakfast, and got our marching orders from the caretaker of Irons Homestead.  A group of women went down to “organize the barn.”  I never got down there to see it, but I heard our group did a wonderful job.  They found stuff that had been lost for years!  Some of us strung colored lights on the outbuildings.  Lucy and Sue worked the staple gun.  I untangled and held up the lights.  After lunch, a group of us painted the halls and doors of the building we stayed in.   We left before dark before the upcoming snowstorm.

A mission trip, I discovered, is like a retreat with a purpose.  In our hard work and in the daily efforts of the organizations we helped, I could feel God’s presence.  I would do it again. 



Acts 9:36-43

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.





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