Last Fall, when Kathy Heinz let me know the UCT Search Committee wanted to meet with me, I did what you all probably did when I became your pastoral candidate: I stalked you. That stalking process included searching for United Church in the Tallahassee Democrat. There, I found an article about the quilt you made and auctioned off in support of Restorative Justice work last Fall.
I was struck by a quote from Janice McClain, one of the quilters. Of the quilting, she said, “In this way, a bit of my love will live longer than I will.” In this way, a bit of my love will live longer than I will. Isn’t that beautiful? It reminds me of a line from the Indigo Girls’ song, “The Power of Two”: If we ever leave a legacy, it’s that we loved each other well.
That might be a good way to describe our work as a community of Jesus-followers: creating a legacy of love. A legacy is what you leave behind after you’re gone. Sometimes, it refers to monetary gifts. We are blessed and grateful when people remember UCT in their wills.
But legacy goes much deeper than simply leaving money behind when we die. Legacy has to do with how we’ve lived our lives, what we’ve done, as poet Mary Oliver says, with our “one wild and precious life.” When I hear you talk about Agnes Furey, when I read Wildflowers in the Median, the book Agnes co-authored with Leonard Scovens, when I hear about the profound work you’ve done with Restorative Justice…Though I never got to meet her, I know: Agnes Furey has left a legacy of love in this congregation and in the wider community.
In today’s Scripture story, a beloved member of a community of Jesus-followers in Lydda dies. Based on the community’s response to her death, I suspect Dorcas was a lot like Agnes–a wise, beloved, and loving one in their midst.
Luke tells us Dorcas was devoted to good works and acts of charity. When she becomes ill and dies, her friends take her body upstairs and wash it, preparing it for burial. When Peter arrives from Joppa, he’s taken to the room upstairs. The widows stand beside him, weeping and showing him tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.
Come with me to that upper room. Let’s stand among the women, distraught over the loss of their friend. It’s likely that the others sent for Peter because he’d been present for several bodily resurrections already. Perhaps they hoped he could raise Dorcas, too.
But here’s what’s interesting…Dorcas’ weeping friends don’t ask Peter to bring their friend back to life. Instead, they show him garments Dorcas had made, the seams she’d stitched with her own hands, the materials she had created to assist in her good works and acts of charity.
In this poignant gesture–showing Peter the garments Dorcas had made–we see the women’s deep grief. It’s as if they are saying, “Look what we have lost!” At the same time, we see Dorcas’ legacy…her legacy of love. This is who Dorcas was. With her death, we have lost so much. In talking with some of you, I hear a similar sentiment about Agnes. Oh, my. I do wish I could have known her!
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Peter raised Dorcas from the dead. She came back to life. In that season of resurrection after Jesus’ resurrection…yeah, it’s an appropriate story for Luke to include in his book about the birth of the church.
But there’s something about Dorcas’ resurrection that’s a little, what? Unsatisfying. When our loved ones die…they don’t return to life, do they? Those loved ones are gone. And they just keep being gone. And their gone-ness breaks our hearts a thousand times a day. Sometimes, all we can do is clutch a garment they made… or wore…and feel the emptiness of their absence.
Once the initial waves of raw grief pass, when the veil of sadness lifts a bit, then we begin to see all our loved one left behind…the pieces of their love that outlive them…their legacies of love.
Which makes you wonder…What legacy of love are we creating here at UCT and in the wider Tallahassee community? As I read through UCT’s history and hear your stories about this community’s devotion to good works and acts of charity–like, feeding the residents at City Walk next week–your legacy of love already has a really good start. People feel welcomed and loved in this space. We will do well to celebrate the legacy we’ve been creating since our church began in 1975.
So, the question for us today isn’t, “How do we start a legacy of love?” The question for us today is, “How will we build on that legacy?” How might we–as a community–ensure that our love outlives us?
Vibrant communities intent on thriving must keep that question in front of them every second of every day. Because just when you answer the how-do-we-share-God’s-love question for one set of circumstances, those circumstances change, right?
And, let me tell you, we’ve got some circumstances going on these days, don’t we? War in Ukraine. Laws in our own country against bodily autonomy, including for women and people who are trans. Continuing oppression of people of color in our country. Continuing oppression of people who don’t fit the hetero norm.
(By the way, I know I’m supposed to be wearing a white stole in the season of Eastertide. I want you to know that I’m wearing this rainbow stole because every time I step into this pulpit, I want to say gay. As a cic-gender, white, straight woman, I want everyone to know that I am an ally. Every time I step into this pulpit, I want people who love differently than the hetero norm to know that God loves you…just as you are. Amen. Which means, so be it.)
Oh, we’ve got some circumstances going on these days. We can’t even do math in the state of Florida any more! God help us.
Yes. God, help us. Help us–in the midst of all the assaults on human dignity going on these days, help us, as a community of Jesus-followers, to create a legacy of love. (Invite children and parents to come forward.) Help us to continue working to create a world that welcomes every single one of these little ones. Give us the courage and imagination we need to respond to assaults on human dignity. Help us to help our planet heal from our assaults on it so that it will be a safe and healthy place for these little ones to live and grow and thrive. Help us, God, help us…help us in everything, everything, every single thing we do to create a legacy of love. In the name of the one who showed us best how to create a legacy of love, Amen.
Music for Reflection: Little Children, Welcome
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2022