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Don't Go It Alone: A Sermon for the 215th Anniversary of the Dorcas Society

Don't Go It Alone: A Sermon for the 215th Anniversary of the Dorcas Society

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Have you ever been so tired you felt like you were going to die?


Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you wanted to?


Years ago, I was flying home from a pastor’s retreat and I realized that I wasn’t afraid of the plane crashing. This was a little unusual. I’m not a particularly nervous flyer but, like anyone, I worry. And yet on that particular flight, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a part of me that would have been relieved if that plane had gone down.


You see, I was a year and a half into my first call and I was doing everything in my power to save the little church I was pastoring in the face of impossible odds. Everyone in the congregation knew I was doing my best and God bless them, they were content to let me.


They’d put all of their faith in me as their best hope and, if I had died on the way home, that’s how they would have remembered me. Not as someone who had tried and failed. Not as someone who had let them down or disappointed them. But as someone who had done her best and unfortunately, for reasons beyond her control, died tragically before I could fulfill my promise.


It is embarrassingly grandiose thinking. It was clearly a sign that I was burned out of my little gourd. And it was a sign of just how unhealthy and dysfunctional my relationship to my first congregation and my understanding of leadership was at the time.


I honestly thought it all depended on me. I took on the responsibility of saving that little church, my people let me, and truthfully, if I had died on that trip home, there’s a pretty good chance that the congregation would have too. It wasn’t a healthy, sustainable, or life-giving arrangement for any of us.


I bring this up not just to embarrass myself, but because I’m pretty sure this isn’t a particularly unique situation or dynamic in most of our churches.


We expect a lot of our leaders within the church - and by leaders, I do not just mean the pastor. We often allow a small group to carry the lion’s share of the work in our congregations.


I know that no one is irreplaceable, but I also know that every single one of us is irreplaceable. (Yes, I’ve also learned that two opposing things can be true at the same time.)


Life goes on and people manage no matter what, but something is lost forever when any one of us dies. And there are certain key people whose loss is simply too much to bear: people whose loss brings the house down, people whose loss overwhelms us because we had no idea just how much they were carrying on behalf of us all.


I think Dorcas was one of those people.


She was so important to her community that they couldn’t function without her. Her loss brought their whole ministry to a standstill. Today is all about celebrating the spirit of Dorcas that lives on in our church, a spirit of loving service that is too important to let die. But my friends, we remember Dorcas because she did.


She died! And I can’t help but wonder if she died from exhaustion or the weight of expectation her community had placed upon her. Did she just work herself too hard? Did she have a problem saying, “no”?


Was it her heart that gave out from loving too much or caring too much or breaking too much in the face of unending suffering and need?


Or was it the fact that she was not just the first female disciple, but the only female disciple that ultimately did her in?


While I was preparing for Bible Study I learned that Dorcas is the only woman who bears the designation of “disciple” in the whole of the New Testament!


You know as well as I do that people are not always kind to “the firsts:” the first black president, the first woman doctor, the first queer pastor. We may celebrate them, but the accolades come at a cost and, more often then not, are posthumous. (Meaning that we’re really only nice to them after they die and can’t trouble us any further with their amazing example.)


Firsts have to be better and work harder then their peers to justify their place and prove that they belong, all while bearing the burden of mentoring the ones coming up behind them. Any mistake, no matter how small, can be used as justification to discredit them or tear them down.


Being the first is, by its very nature, hard lonely work; work made all the more difficult by the people who want the first to fail because they are threatened by the change a first represents.


Dorcas was a first. Dorcas was an only.


We don’t know why Dorcas died so suddenly, but the stress of being the first, the loneliness of being the only, that alone might have been enough to take her down.


And so I wonder, when Peter raised her from the dead, when the power of God brought her back to life, if the community around her didn’t change things up a bit. I wonder if losing Dorcas helped them realize that they had depended too much on her and her alone and taught them to spread the responsibility around a little more.


I love that we’re celebrating the work that our Dorcas Society has accomplished over 215 years and that we model that work after Dorcas’ own heart for service. But I wonder if part of the legacy and wisdom of this story is not just about the importance of the work itself, but the idea that the work is best done by a group rather than any one individual.


Imagine how different things would be if, back in 1809, Sarah Strong had approached the church and asked them to found a Dorcas position rather than a Dorcas society?


Imagine what would be lost if we designated one woman at a time to be our Dorcas? Imagine what it would cost her? How much harder, lonelier, and less effective she would be?


That sounds a little silly and yet, if you look around, even here in our church, you’ll find a handful of people - women and men - who are carrying more responsibility then they should simply because they’re willing to bear the load and we’re willing to let them.


They’re people after my own heart, the ones who never complain and are always willing to help. The ones who will work and work and work to get it done “even if it kills them?”


I’m thankful for those people. I honestly don’t know where the church would be without them. But I think we need to do better for their sakes and for ours and I think Dorcas - not the woman but the society - shows us how it’s done.


I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t be a Dorcas. Don’t.


Don’t be a Dorcas…be a part of a group like Dorcas.


Before you step up to lead here in the church or step out to serve on behalf of the church, ask yourself, “Who can help me with this?”


Take along someone else.


Mentor a person you trust to carry on the work you love so that when it comes time for you to lay it down there is someone to hand it off to.


Find a buddy. Make a friend.

  

There is an old proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Our Dorcas has gone far because they have gone together and they have done more good as a society over the last 215 years then any one woman - even the original Dorcas -could have done alone.


Church, if we follow their example, we can too.


Amen.

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