The Dorcas Circle

Now 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. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since 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.” So 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. Peter 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. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Acts 9:36-43

As many things in the church are, this quilt was made by a group of women.  It has their names, right here in this little pocket. It’s hand stitched, having been pulled out over a large quilting rack in a corner room in a church in Pennsylvania.  This was a gift for me after a summer internship. I think I did an okay job at that internship, but it’s a real gift of love to pass a quilt like this on. As I can imagine the mentor I had during that internship, Matt Deal, saying, “You must really rank.”

What I love about this quilt is not that it was beautiful or just a gift.  It’s that these women also taught me how to quilt. Because in a group like their quilter’s group, you don’t just show up.  You join in. These women were doers, sharing stories of how to keep rodents out of their garden while perfecting those tiny, even stitches.  I loved having lunches with them as we compared sandwiches and talked baseball. They were always up on who was in the hospital, who needed a friend to take them to dinner, who needed a hug.  But after lunch it was always back to work, admiring one another’s neat and even stitches.

Now, this quilter’s group didn’t officially exclude men.  Rather, no men ever showed up. And with the reality that comes with aging, this group was primarily widows.  That was never an easy truth, yet they had found community and companionship with one another.

I know exactly who to imagine gathered around Dorcas’s deathbed.  I know these widows, holding on to the garments Dorcas had made, maybe even quilts.  I know how they pointed out and shared, “Look, look, at her stitches. So small, so even, so straight.”

I know that Dorcas, or Tabitha, depending on what you want to call her (I call her Dorcas because it’s funny to say), was raised from the dead.  That’s tremendous, really. But I’m maybe just as interested in her life. Her life seems to have been best summarized and grieved by a group of widows holding onto handmade clothes.  But we learn another thing about Dorcas. You see, Dorcas was a disciple. Did you know that this scripture here is the only time that the feminine Greek word for disciple is used? To be the one singled out for being a disciple, I’m desperate to know about this woman.  And the details that we get? Well, she was loved by the widows and she made clothes. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but for my life, that paints a vivid picture.

I wonder what it was in this early church that was drawn to these people who used their hands, Dorcas the clothing creator, Simon, the tanner.  I wonder why it even matters to know these details, when there are miraculous events like being raised from the dead happening.

But isn’t this so much like God to show up in the actuality of our lives?  God certainly doesn’t wait for what we consider holy moments. God is present in all that we do, our work, our play, our living, our dying.  Discipleship is a whole life dedication, which may just be why we get such a practical and specific glimpse of Dorcas’s life.

Dorcas has been a name that women have gathered around as long as we’ve known this story.  This is true in my home church, where a group called the Dorcas Circle meets. My grandma was a member.  We tended to make fun of it a bit, because you know, Dorcas is a funny word. From what I can gather, their whole purpose these days is pretty simple.  They make soup and then they donate the proceeds from their soup sales. This is a church that might have 15 people in worship, and that’s including the dog.  But they still know how to get together, throw a bunch of soup in giant pots, and sell it by the quart in mason jars to anyone who stops by. Sounds like discipleship to me.  

If you ever hear of another Dorcas Circle, or Tabitha Group, or anything like that, it’s probably a group of church women getting things done.  I can’t hear the name without thinking of the women, including my mom, who have shown me that church might be about belief, but it’s certainly about showing up and doing something, making, creating.

Don’t wait for a miracle to create a life with God woven into it.  It’s as simple as having God bless that which we create, that which we’ll be remembered for.  The Spirit breathes through the hum of your sewing machine. God can be found found in meticulously created model trains and arduinos.  Jesus is present in the meal kit you prepare.

This is why I’m never shy about our Stewardship season.  Talking about money and asking people to give to the church can seem embarrassing and crass.  But to me, we ask you to give so your weekly tithe becomes a prayer written into your checkbook, okay, online bank statement.  Stewardship is an invitation to create your life with time spent tidying our building so when folks come to pick up food for their families, they are welcomed with a clean scent on the air.  You are invited to spending hours sewing or cutting out detailed and beautiful banners for worship. You are called to write prayers for our community, or bring what you consider to be a mediocre singing voice to add to the choir.  You are asked to pray over money that simply passes through this church to go on and support disaster relief and refugees. Simply put, you are invited to not think of God as something extra, but integral to your life. Stewardship isn’t just one more thing, it’s blessing what we already have and letting it loose to the Spirit.  It’s tending to the gifts that create our lives.

Dorcas’s story is maybe a strange one, for the life she created wasn’t quite over yet.  The Spirit came and granted her a few more years. Did she make more clothes? Did she gather with the widows to chat about what they were growing in their yards, about who had the neatest stitches?  Did she know that even if hers was the miracle story, they were all just walking miracles. Just fragile beings, creating beauty and crafting lives all held together by the love of God.

Rachel McDonaldacts