Return to Sermon Archive
Your 60-second Life
May 6, 2001
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 36-43. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
37 And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
38 And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
40 But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
41 And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
42 And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
43 And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Sixty Second Writer
Dan Hurley wears a jaunty yellow fedora, yellow silk butterfly bow tie, yellow blazer, two- tone saddle shoes and a button-down shirt, but it was not his clothes that won him notice in USA Today, Wired, Reader's Digest, Fast Company, CNN.com and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Dan Hurley made his name and his fame as a sidewalk performer. He is not a mime, or a juggler, or a folk singer, or a trumpet player. Hurley plays the typewriter. He is a "performance writer." He is The 60-Second Novelist. Hurley is good and in demand. He has an enormous following from homeless street people to Hollywood stars to New York City penthouse CEOs.
Dan Hurley will write your story, poignant and true, on one page, in under a minute. So far, he has written twenty thousand one-page, one-minute biographies.
He wrote one for a man named Clement. This is Clement's biography:
I'm Really Satisfied With the
Way I'm Living Now
Not Happy Happy
Clement is forty years old and living in a dumpster. "It's shelter and I don't feel bad," says Clement. "It's four walls and a ceiling and a floor. The only thing it's missing is a kitchen and a bathroom." Clement says these last words with an impish smile. His unlined face seems younger, except for his graying beard. Clement has lived here in this dumpster, in a lot where dumpsters are stored at the corner of Bay and Court streets in Brooklyn, for a year and a half, since breaking up with his wife and discovering that he really didn't like the shelters. He is not a drug addict or an alcoholic. "The only vices I have are cigarettes and a little marijuana," he says.
Clement makes his money as a "scrapper." He finds cans, bottles, and semiprecious metals - anything he can turn in for cash. He also cleans out people's basements or whatever they want. Amazingly, he earns up to $800 or $900 a month and saves it in a bank account his sister keeps for him. He's not on welfare and does not beg, he says, mostly as a matter of pride.
"I know I could do a whole lot better," Clement says. "But I'm content the way I'm living. Not happy happy. Just content."
Now I confess that when I first heard about Dan Hurley, I was pretty much turned off both by the way he dresses and by what he does, but having read about Clement and Clements sixty second biography, I think that Hurley may be on to something. He seems to have a unique ability to sum up an entire life in few words.
Sixty seconds is not much time, but good stories do not have to take long to tell. Take Dorcas, for instance. The writer of her story did not have a typewriter or a word processor, nor was he wearing yellow clothes from head to toe. It does not matter what the writer looks like. What matters is the story and the telling.
Dorcas lived with sincerity, but we would never know it except for the 94 words written about her.
Tabitha is Aramaic for gazelle. Dorcas is Greek for gazelle. That was her name, Tabitha, Dorcas, gazelle.
Tabitha's story takes place at a critical juncture of the story of Acts. At the beginning of chapter 9, Saul of Tarsus is still an active threat to the Christian church, but by verse 30 he had had his experience on the Damascus road, and we are told in verse 31 that the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria now had peace and was flourishing. These three territories constitute the Jewish homeland. The church was flourishing there and now the stage was set for expansion into Gentile lands.
The two miracles that follow the conversion of Paul in chapter 9 clearly demonstrate that the church is filled with the power of Christ and prepared to convert the world. The two miracles are the healing of Aeneas in vs 32-35 and the resurrection of Tabitha in vs 36-43.
Both the raising of Tabitha, and the healing of the paralytic Aeneas, echo miracles performed by Jesus in his earthly ministry. The paralytic is told to rise and make his bed, much like the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26 is told by Christ to "take up" his bed and walk. Tabitha's healing echoes the healing of Jairus' daughter in Mark 5. Jesus takes the girl's hand and says in Aramaic, "Talitha cumi," "Get up little girl!" In Acts 9:40, Peter says to Tabitha in Greek, "Tabitha anasteythi," "Get up Tabitha!" In another interesting parallel, Mark tells us that Peter witnessed the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Another similarity to the gospel miracle is the fact that before raising Tabitha, Peter is said to clear the room of nonessential persons just as Jesus did in Mark 5:40.
Other echoes of earlier Scripture resound through this passage. The widows, who were supported and cared for by Tabitha, and their obvious distress at the death of the one who so helped them, remind one of 1 Kings 17:17-24, in which Elijah is called on to raise the son of the widow of Zarephath from the dead. Again, here is a poor widow, robbed of her only support in the world, who finds salvation in the power of the prophet to raise her lost loved one from the dead. Similarly, Elisha raises the only son of the Shunammite woman from the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37). Jesus, of course, also raised people from the dead, most notably Lazarus, who seems to have lived with, and perhaps helped to support, his two single adult sisters (John 11).
In all of these stories, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Peter perform two acts simultaneously which are basic themes of both the OT and NT--that the poor (personified by the widows) should be cared for, and that death should lose its power over humankind. Those two themes are close to every human heart. We live in fear of death, and we know that those who are unfortunate have a claim on us. The story of Dorcas is the gospel answer to both those themes.
If Dan Hurley was writing Dorcass story perhaps, this is what he would write.
What Dorcas Did.
How She Lived,
Then Lived Again.
A somewhat longer version might read this way: Dorcas devoted her life to good works and charity. She did a lot for people and did it all the time. She sewed cloth together, turning out tunics and other comfortable clothing that friends wore and admired. Sewing is sort of a lost art today, isnt it? Who knows how to sew nowadays? Or knit? Or hook? Or braid? Or give time for good works and acts of charity? Who takes the time? Dorcas does. We ought to be like Dorcas. We ought to do random acts of kindness because we can never tell what results those acts might have.
Random Acts of Kindness
Paul Myers tells the story about how a few years ago he was buying a newspaper at the airport in Bangladesh when a man tapped him on the shoulder. Myers said, "I recognized his face but couldn't recall his name. He looked at the two men behind the newsstand and told them, "This man saved my life." He explained: "Several years ago, I had lost two children because I couldn't feed them. This man gave me a job. Today, all six of my children are in school, and we don't go hungry." Myers went on to say, The man hugged me and began to cry. Myers worked for six years in Bangladesh with locals to develop sustainable micro-enterprises. He said, "I was reminded daily of the value of providing people with an income. Jobs that pay fair wages enable people to live with dignity - and to arrive at a point where they, too, can contribute to their community and to society. ["Be more intentional about where you buy," Fast Company, December 2000, 126.]
Or how about this story:
In 1990, Bea Salazar had back surgery and went on disability. She was depressed and just trying to get through each day. One afternoon, when she was putting out the trash, she saw a little boy digging in a dumpster for food. She took him inside, made him a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and sent him home. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and Bea opened it to find six more kids standing there. "Is it true that you're giving away peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches?" one of them asked.
She could not believe that there was no one caring for these kids. It was summer, and school was out. They told her that their parents had to work. The next day, more children showed up, and more arrived the day after that.
When school began again, kids came and asked for help with homework. Volunteers and supplies from local churches and schools poured in. Beas landlord donated an apartment, and soon she had 100 children coming to visit each day. Ten years later, five of the kids have begun community college.
Bea Salazar said, "I never thought that making one peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich would grow into something that would affect so many lives - especially mine. Those kids pulled me out of myself. There was a point when I stopped thinking about my own pain and started concentrating on somebody else's. It's true that when you help others, you help yourself." ["Is it true that you're giving away peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches?" Fast Company, December 2000, 108.]
Let us talk about Dorcas. Her sewing made her famous in Joppa, but her acts of kindness made her beloved. It may be strange to say it this way, but she was, like all of us, unique. And she was, to an extent - irreplaceable, indispensable. She did what others could not, or would not do.
One day Dorcas got sick and died, leaving her community weeping and wondering - How are we going to replace Dorcas? Who can do what Dorcas did? Who can fill her spot among us?
"Peter!" they cry, "Dorcas is dead! Come save her! We need her!"
He comes. He prays. She lives again. Her good works and acts of charity continue. Her sewing continues, and the community survives intact. They do not even have to try to replace her - which might have proved impossible, because who could ever do the good works Dorcas does!
These days, it is fashionable to say and to believe that no one is indispensable. "You don't need me. You'll get along fine," anyone might say.
Wrong. We are each uniquely gifted persons, particular creations of God, with a certain skill sets, certain abilities, certain aptitudes, and if we don't serve God, our families, our church or our communities in the way only WE can uniquely serve, then the job will not get done the way only we can do it. It will not be done the way our Creator intended.
We are not carbon copies of each other. If Dan. Hurley were to write a sixty-second novel for each of us, the stories would be different, even if we all think we are pretty much alike. We may be similar, but we are not the same. Each story would be distinct because God has made each of us unique. We say that each of us is replaceable. It is not true.
Think about it. Who could replace the love and caring of your mother? Another mother? Any other mother? A stepmother?
Who could replace your daughter? Any other girl?
Who could preach like Paul or pray like Peter?
The early church could have survived without Dorcas. But do not say that her death would not have made a difference. Do not say the church would not have been weaker. Do not say that just anyone could have done what she did. Do not say anyone can serve like you can serve.
One person and one person's gifts can change the world, can change a community, and can change a church.
Think about the one person who was present at the right moment when you most needed help, whose presence changed your life. Who could have replaced that one? Likely, no one.
Think about yourself and the kind deeds you have done, known only to God. Who could have replaced you?
If you could have Dan Hurley write about you in 94 words or in 60 seconds, what would he say? Would he speak of a life that - had you not lived it - others would have suffered? Would he speak of a life of love and devotion? Would he show you as unique? You bet he would! Listen to the story of Honest Abe by Dan Hurley. This is another Abraham who was also honest.
Abe is honest. He is a man of his word. As a CPA, he had to be honest. People depended on him. He was honest, too, when he promised to Margery 58 years ago that he would always love her and stand by her. They have been married that long, and they now have two children and three grandchildren. But he was never more honest than the day, six years ago, when his oldest daughter's husband, Fred, was in the hospital and Abe went to see him. You need a haircut," said Fred, joking. But Abe replied in utter seriousness: "I won't get a haircut until you walk out of here." Fred never did walk out of there. He was carried out. He died. And so Abe felt that he owed it to Fred to keep his word. That is why he has never cut his hair, why he has a long white ponytail - this conservative CPA. It is his white badge of honesty, devotion and love.
May our lives be marked by the same qualities, and our stories be told in the same way.
Let me conclude then with a story about a Dorcas of prayer. We think of Dorcas as a woman of good deeds, but a prayer is a good deed also. By the way, I told this story at the Wednesday Bible study, but it is worth repeating.
A young daughter was going on her very first camping trip. Her mother was much concerned that her daughter would be out in the dark woods all night in a tent. The mother could imagine all sorts of bad things happening to the daughter. So she went to the Lord in prayer. Her prayer was simple but fervent. Lord, she prayed, surround that tent with your power and keep away any possibility of anything bad happening to my daughter. Next day the daughter came home, bright, shinning, and unharmed. The mother asked, "How was last night in the tent?" The daughter said, well it was kind of boring. As soon as we got into the tent, two skunks came out and began to circle the tent, so that no one else in the camp could come near us. Those skunks went round and round that tent all night, and all we could do was go to sleep.
So you see that mothers prayer was answered, though perhaps not in the way she intended. She was a Dorcas of prayer. She prayed about specific practical things and got specific practical answers. We need to be Dorcass of prayer, as well as Dorcass of other good deeds. Amen.
Hurley, Dan. The 60-second Novelist -What 22,613 People Taught Me About Life. (Health Communications, 1999).www.InstantNovelist.com
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 07/18/01