Good Grief And Holy Fear
October 6, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
GOOD GRIEF AND HOLY FEAR Acts 9:36-42
What on earth was God thinking about? Why did He permit the sweeping sickle to cut down the self-giving, cheerful little lady, Dorcas, but pass by the helpless invalid, Aeneas? For eight years Aeneas had been confined to his bed with palsy, and no sign of death was in sight. On the other hand, who would not miss Dorcas, who was everywhere doing everything? On the other hand, would we really like it if God were more predictable? Is it really so bad that he has some mysteries up His sleeve? Sinners that we are, if we knew how the sickle was going to swing, wouldn't we plan our lives around that instead of God's Commandments? Would we think about God at all? Suppose everybody lived to be 65, then died. Those who knew the time was getting close would try to wring as much out of it as possible, and probably ruin their health. Those who knew it was a long way off would never repent, and therefore never receive forgiveness. So perhaps we ought not protest too loudly. Uncertainty gives us a reason to fear God.
When Dorcas died, the people of Joppa mourned. This exemplary lady may not have been married, but she had the biggest family in the world, the widows and orphans of the city. She did charitable deeds for them every day. So, was that grief good? Was that fear holy? Obviously crying tears cannot be a sin, for Jesus Himself who knew no sin wept in public when Lazarus died. We cry when people we love die. This does not mean that we question God's judgment. Maybe the widows and orphans of Joppa needed to lose Dorcas. Maybe they were making an idol out of her, shifting their anchor from the rock to the quicksand. We don't know what would have happened had Dorcas never gotten sick. But God had created her for something bigger, as an instrument in a miraculous outbreak of grace. Before we can tell whether or not this was good grief, we must look at Peter's visit in context. It was an advent of goodness into a world of evil. Peter represented Jesus of Nazareth.
Several years earlier Peter had been with Jesus when the Twelve were approaching the city of Nain. The story in the traditional Gospel tells what happened then. A funeral procession was coming out of town, bearing a widow's son. Jesus went straight up to the widow and told her not to weep. That looks strange. It should, because we aren't used to seeing the kingdom of God. Peter watched as Jesus made the pallbearers stop. The widow kept crying, because she was alone in the world, dependent for the rest of her life on the charity of others. If you had to live on the alms you have given to others thus far, how long would you last? But Jesus was making an exchange with the widow that day, God's Son for her son. God's Son would die, her son would live. The second proposition would become obvious very quickly as Jesus raised the youth. The first would have to wait until Holy Week, when Jesus would fulfill the Passover.
Death is more than just the destruction of life. God can always create life. But death is bound up with sin. If you don't think you are a sinner, then stop aging, show me your immortality. Remember the Fall: God said …you are dust, to dust you shall return. After clothing our first parents with skins, He spoke within the circle of His own sacred Persons and said …man has become like us, knowing good and evil. Now lest he take from the tree of life and live forever… Moses did not complete the sentence. The Holy Spirit knew what came next. To become Adam's Savior He would become Eve's Offspring. All mortality has but one purpose -- to make the sacrifice of redemption possible. Neither Dorcas nor Aeneas had any right to be healthy. They were sinners like us, and mortal like us. God chose not to punish sins except in the sacrifice of His Son. Our grief is slight compared to His. Likewise, His forgiveness dwarfs our best.
So, what makes grief good? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and frequently He giveth once again. Through Peter, Jesus reached out to both Aeneas and Dorcas, and the people of Joppa. They had accepted their loss, but they sent for Peter because they believed the promises of Christ, they had hope in Him. They were not asking for a miracle. They wanted to hear the Word. The news they heard was even better than what they expected to hear. Six miles away at Lydda, Peter healed the palsied Aeneas, then traveled to the port city to the house where Dorcas was laid out. Then Peter opened up the fountain of grace for the widows and orphans of Joppa, showing them the depth of God's love. Peter sought the Father through the Son, and applied forgiving grace to Dorcas. As he raised her to life, and told her to speak to all of her friends, He was bringing the kingdom of God. That was a lot more than they came for. They were looking for a eulogy, and got a resurrection.
Why doesn't this happen all the time? Would our grief be good if it did? We do expect a resurrection, but not right away. We don't expect it to happen while we're watching. We look back to the Lord's resurrection, and forward to the general resurrection, for the former is the guarantee of the latter. We must not try to justify ourselves, but rely on God's forgiveness. Otherwise we have bad grief. Bad grief causes us to say things like … I've been good all my life … this isn't fair… why is this happening to me? You know you haven't been good all your life. Don't deceive yourself. And don't confuse the children by telling them that their dead relatives were good all their lives, because the children already know better. Now if those people did the sort of thing Dorcas did, they would not be forgotten. But the resurrection must wait. Good grief says, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here and now we can be sure that death does not come between us and God's love. Holy fear is a confident fear, that welcomes God's chastisement, while looking forward to being holy.
Our confidence makes us open and ready to what God wants to do among us. Dorcas was handy when God needed a resurrection to happen. We're on hand now. We cannot tell God what to do, but we should build on the Rock. What would He have you do? His will has not changed. What was a sin in Jesus' day is still a sin now. We become holy as we gradually emerge from the cocoon of sin. We have the Commandments given to Moses, and the Commandments of Christ - what we call the Sacraments. By raising Jesus God assured us that the whole reason for mortality has been fulfilled. The sin of Eden has been forever canceled by the righteousness of Calvary. By raising Dorcas Peter assures us that it is all for us.
As we experience grief, we want it to be good grief, to take us where God is taking us. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. God wants to take us down that road, especially around the bend marked "forgiveness." Good grief leaves all the rebellion and idolatry behind, lets the tears do their appointed work, then stops them with the prospect of fulfillment. Even if it does hurt us, the Firstborn from the dead intends our ultimate good. To Him be the glory. AMEN.