(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

As I have written before - the book of Acts is not an easy book for me to comment upon because so many of the recorded incidents are outside my experience. Today, miracles of healing are very rare. Paralytics remain paralysed and dead people stop dead. My aim is to draw lessons from Scripture that will help us to please God now. That is how I will approach these two miracles God performed through Peter.

(B) It is important to give Jesus the credit.

Peter said to the paralysed Aeneas: "Jesus Christ heals you." As a result of these words many people in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord. They didn't turn to Peter because Peter did not take the credit for healing Aeneas. It was Jesus who healed the paralysed man.

We love to take the credit. In my experience head teachers take the credit for the success of their schools and heads of departments for raising standards in their subject areas. I have known schoolmasters exult over succeeding with a difficult pupil where all others fail. Sadly some Christian leaders are not much better. They love to beat their own drum. They are quick to tell you how the church has been built up during their ministry. Few of us take much notice of Paul when he says: Honour one another above yourselves. Rom12v10.

It was very difficult to heal a paralysed man. It could only be accomplished by Peter in the name of Jesus. There are still very hard tasks facing Christian workers in Britain. It is not easy to raise: the sights of an inactive church, the morale of a defeated church or the spirits of disappointed and discouraged Christians. If these tasks are accomplished Jesus should get all the praise.

(C) What sort of reputation do we want?

Do you ever wonder how you will be remembered? Would you like to be remembered for:

    (a) Your successes?
    The Daily Telegraph obituary of Leo McKern, the character actor, highlighted his successes. He shone with the Old Vic and at Stratford. He won acclaim as Rumpole of the Bailey on TV. I was pleased by the passing reference to his sense of humour. He had a glass eye that he would tap with a ballpoint pen or put in his bowl of spaghetti before calling a waitress to complain. However the obituary consisted, in the main, of a long list of Leo McKern's memorable acting performances.

    What are our successes in life? I used to enjoy my successes as a cricketer but the memory of them is beginning to fade! I cannot honestly say that I have had many successes lately. When I asked my two Japanese visitors in January what they liked about England they did reply, "Your breakfasts." They might remember me as the man who knew how to grill kippers and poach a piece of haddock. There again, the Japanese are invariably polite without being consistently sincere!

    Recently I conducted Ruth's funeral. I asked her son, Robert, what he most admired about his mother? He said, "For looking after father.." Ruth's husband had Alzheimer's disease for a few years before his death. Ruth nursed him alone until the end. That was her greatest achievement. Perhaps it was mine too.

    (b) Your competence.
    Dorcas was a very competent dressmaker. The mourning widows would not have shown Peter the clothes she made if they had been of poor quality. Dorcas' handiwork was a credit to her.

    I think it is meritorious to do good work. In the summer I watched my neighbour lay a new brick path to his house. He made an excellent job of it. I know several craftsmen like my neighbour. They take a pride in all they do. I always marvel when I watch Tiggy manoeuvre his lorry. I was grateful to Denis, a star electrician, for mending my ancient oven. I was amazed with what speed and skill my friend Mervyn could produce engineering drawings on his computer. On every occasion that my brother comes down from London to preach Jesse makes us an apple tart - and such an apple tart!

    No Christian should be a bodger! The writer of Ecclesiastes gives us good advice: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.... Ecc9v10. Paul tells Christian slaves to Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Eph6v7.

    It is not for me to say whether or not I was a competent teacher. One of my pupils did tell a visiting inspector, "Whenever I come out of one of Mr Reed's lessons I have always learned something new." I certainly would like to be remembered for being proficient.

    (c) Your character.
    Dorcas was always doing good and helping the poor. v36. She was a woman of sterling character - hardworking, caring and kind.

    I recently attended the retirement party of a former colleague. I took him a card. He was very keen to see what I had written in it. I wrote: 'A happy retirement for a top teacher and very helpful colleague.' I wonder which of these two compliments he valued most?

    What is more important - character or competence? C.S. Lewis deals with this matter. He imagines an island with just two doctors. One is loving and gracious but incompetent and the other is a thoroughly nasty individual but highly competent. Lewis asks rhetorically - to which of those doctors would most of the islanders go?

    What Lewis failed to recognise is that there are sick people that no doctor is able to cure. There are lots of folk in our society sick like that today with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Motor Neuron disease. It is then that compassion, pity, patience, gentleness, fortitude, and faithfulness come into their own.

    I have visited the website, 'friendsreunited,' once! I was interested to read the comments old pupils made about my colleagues. What surprised me was that one or two thoroughly useless teachers were recalled with gratitude and affection for their good characters - for being sympathetic and kindly.

    Yet it isn't so surprising is it? I remember with gratitude my old friend Len Pawsey, the village blacksmith, not only because he made me laugh but because he was never too busy to stop and help.

    What would others say about our characters? When Tommy Bamber and I were drinking coffee in January with our Japanese friends we happened to bump into my brother and his wife. The Japanese were very pleased to meet my brother, Philip. They asked him, "What's your brother like..." Philip responded, "He's very strong willed and bossy." For some reason the Japanese found this funny! Well, what do others say about us? I wonder if they could say: he/she was always doing good and helping the poor.

(D) Would we be missed?

Dorcas was missed: All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made. v39. There are three groups of people whose absence we really miss:

    (a) The loveable.
    It is possible to give away coats and cloaks and not be missed. Charity can be cold. The beneficiaries of Dorcas charity wept for her. We weep at the departure of the loveable.

    The apostle Paul was not respected by all his fellow Christians. The church members at Corinth thought he was rather a poor specimen. But there is a telling little passage in Acts20. After Paul had delivered his farewell message to the Ephesian elders at their meeting at Miletus we read: They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Acts20v38. Paul may have been undistinguished in appearance and an indifferent speaker but he was loveable.

    We have a lady in our church who is very loveable. Every one is fond of her. Yet she is by no means perfect. Ivy talks the hind leg off a donkey and not everything she says is edifying! But she is loveable. I have actually thought quite hard about what makes her so popular. Ivy is warm, naive, guileless, natural, humorous, generous, unthreatening and takes people as she finds them. She would be the same with anyone - from the highest to the lowest - which gives her a kind of integrity. We know that the men Jesus despised were those with no integrity; those who were not what they seemed.

    (b) Those who care about us.
    Dorcas cared for her widows. Dorcas was there for them. How they missed her!

    My cousin Hilda missed our Uncle Joe when he died. He was very helpful and kind when Hilda's mother passed away and they remained close through the years. Joe cared about her. I felt the same way about my Uncle David. He gave me a lovely holiday down in Devon the year my father went to glory. He was interested in me and showed me great affection. I still feel the loss of David. I haven't so many people that care about me that I could spare him!

    (c) The reliable and dependable.
    There are some individuals who are utterly reliable and who never let us down. We miss them when they are no longer there. It may be a valued employee or a dependable tradesman who, perhaps, we should have shown more appreciation when we had the opportunity.

    For two years after my mother's death I both worked and cared for my invalid father. I employed Henry and Jesse to come in for two mornings a week to do some housework and keep an eye on father. They never let me down. What a tremendous relief it was to know that I could rely upon them.

    We need loyal, trustworthy, reliable people in the church. We have some like that in our small chapel - Roger who keeps the graveyard tidy, Pat who looks after the accounts, Eileen who plays the organ and Ann the caretaker. Such people are worth their weight in gold and how they are missed when no longer able to continue in service.

(E) It is good to have someone to send for in time of difficulty.

After the death of Dorcas the disciples at Joppa sent two men to Peter and urged him, 'Please come at once!' v38. The Christians who loved Dorcas were able to send in their distress to Peter for help - and he came. If we are in trouble it is good if there is someone we can send for who:

    (a) Will come.
    We are surely grateful for the emergency and rescue services who come to the aid of those in distress. It is a comfort to belong to the AA or the RAC and to know that they will assist us if our car breaks down. I am afraid that many dying churches are much worse off than the motorist with a flat battery because no-one is prepared to go to their aid. Very few large, well supported, churches take a small and struggling one under their wing. It is easier to close the failing church down.

    (b) Will come at once.
    The two messengers from Joppa urged Peter, "Please come at once." v38. Peter did as he was asked and went with them.

    Not everyone comes at once. We have all been promised help for which we have to wait and wait. I asked my friend Denis to repair my wall sockets. "No problem, JR," he said. Six year later I was still waiting.

    One dark miserable December night I was out carol singing and standing with a collecting box outside the door of Mr Mott. It was a long time before he responded to my knock. Eventually he stood there with his money. I asked him how he was. "Not too good," he replied. "Come and see me."

    "Yes, I will," I responded before hurrying off with a small and far from enthusiastic band of songsters to the next house. That is the last time I saw Mr Mott. I took his funeral but I never did get to see him. I should have gone at once.

    (c) Will come with humanity.
    It is possible to send for help and then wish you hadn't! The person who comes may be unsympathetic and hard. Sometimes headmasters ask an adviser to come in and assist a failing teacher. It has been known for them to make the situation worse! I know of a colleague who after some disappointing exam results and a visit from the subject adviser was never seen at school again. It is often necessary to treat the wounds, to pour on the oil and the wine, before sending someone back to the battle.

    There were not many redeeming features about the night my mother died. I phoned the doctor and a lady answered the phone. She did not belong to the practice. Perhaps she was a locum. She came straight away. There was nothing she could do - my mother was dead. However, I shall never forget that the young doctor took time to sit with my father and hold his hand. I had never seen her before and I never saw her again. She came out of the night and disappeared into the night - but she came that night with humanity.

    (d) Will make a difference.
    Peter made a difference! He came to a tragic situation with the resources to transform it.

    I knew a sweet old lady who lived in a small terraced house in Bury St Edmunds. Her next-door neighbour, Geoff, was a builder/decorator. When Winnie got into a muddle with her guttering or drains she could always ask Geoff for help. He had the skills to make a big difference. How glad Winnie was to have young Geoff as a neighbour.

    Christians,like Geoff, with practical skills can transform the lives of the old, vulnerable members of their fellowships by giving good, prompt, friendly service at a fair rate.

    I do not possess practical expertise but there are folk who have been grateful for my help in organising and conducting a funeral. We all have some resources to bring to a Christian in need of help.

(F) We should always pray about our problems - however great.

Peter had a big problem - he was faced by a dead body. It was beyond him to do anything about it, but still he prays. God on this occasion restores Dorcas to life.

One of the greatest problems we face is the conversion of friends or family who are dead in trespasses and sin. There does not seem any likelihood that a son, a daughter or a dear friend will ever submit to Jesus Christ and live. We need to persevere in prayer. I was vividly reminded of this by the black lady in the Cambridge bookshop.

Dorcas' situation seemed hopeless - she was dead. This did not stop Peter from praying. We often sing:

          When other helpers fail and comforts flee
          Help of the helpless O abide with me.

We need to believe this. God can and does help the helpless. I sometimes think that my church will close. The future is bleak. I feel helpless to do anything about it. But I can pray.

The words of Hezekiah to his military officers when Sennacherib king of Assyria threatened Jerusalem contains a message for us all: "Be strong and very courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. 2Cor32v7and8.

(G) Conclusion.

We might ask: "Why did miracles occur for Peter and not for us?" God needed to confirm the authority of Peter because he had something very difficult to do. Peter was going to put aside the law of Moses and take the gospel to the Gentiles.

If we have something very hard to do God will prepare us for it. I found it extremely demanding caring for my father in the final stages of Parkinson's disease after dementia had set in. I needed to be self-disciplined, well organised and resourceful. Twenty-three years of teaching equipped me with these qualities.

God never gives us a tough job before we are ready.