Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"One of A Kind"

Text: Acts 9:36-43

Psalm 139:13-16

 

             Have you ever heard the name Dan Hurley?  He’s a street performer who’s become quite well-known on the downtown streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and other American cities.  His attire certainly helps him stand out – his signature yellow fedora hat, silk butterfly bow tie, yellow blazer, and two-tone saddle shoes.

  But that’s not what’s caught the media notice of USA Today, CNN.com, and NPR’s Morning Edition.  He’s not a mime, or juggler, or street magician like David Blaine, or like the guy who plays his trumpet with his instrument case open in front of him to receive the donations of passers-by.  His magic is, in fact, performed on the keys of an old Underwood typewriter he hauls around with him, and he doesn’t have to depend on donations as people pay good money for what he does.  Dan Hurley has been called a “performance writer,” dubbed by the media “The sixty-second novelist.”  Here’s what he does.  He’ll chat a person up, ask questions, listen intently, and learn about their life.  Then in a minute or less, he’ll compose their story on his Underwood – single page, double-spaced, true, succinct, poignant.  Hurley has estimated to date that he’s written over 20,000 mini-novels for everyone from street people living in dumpsters to upper west-side New York socialites.  It’s quite a talent to be able to sum up an entire life – the depth, breadth, and character of a person – in just a few words.

 

            Luke, author of a gospel and writer of Acts, possessed this talent, and had many good life stories to tell.  One such story was about a woman named Tabitha.  Tabitha was a woman of remarkable devotion, charity, and sensitivity, but we’d never know it except for the less than two hundred words written about her.  A short story it is, but what a story – what Tabitha did, how she lived, died, then lived again.  She did a lot for other people, and did it often. Specifically, she sewed clothes together, turning out tunics and other comfortable pieces that friends and loved ones wore, and other’s surely eyed with admiration.

 

            How many women sew nowadays?  Or knit?  Or hook?  Or quilt?  Or braid?  Or bake?  Or liberally give of their time for good works and acts of charity?  Who has the time?  Who takes the time?  Tabitha did!  Her talent for stitching made her well-known in her little town of Joppa. But her acts of kindness made her beloved.  Tabitha was -- like all of us, special, unique, one-of-a-kind, a once-upon-a-time story.  We could say that Tabitha was, in a way, irreplaceable, indispensable.  She did what others couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

 

            In Luke’s sixty-second novel recorded in Acts, we learn that one day, Tabitha falls ill and dies; from what, we’re not told.  That detail is not important. We are told that the entire community grieves deeply, weeping and wondering why this dear soul was so untimely taken from them.  What were they going to do without her?  How could they ever replace her?  Who could do what Tabitha did?  Who could fill the void?  Word was that Peter was nearby, so they cry out:  “Peter, Tabitha is dead!  Come at once and revive her!  We need her!”  So Peter rushes to Joppa from Lydda.  He prays.  Tabitha comes to life.  We’re not told how.  Again, those details are not important.  What is important is that her good works and acts of charity will continue.  Her sewing will go on, and the community will survive intact.  They don’t have to try to replace her, as if they ever could.  End of story.  Less than sixty seconds on less than one page.

 

            These days, it’s fashionable to say and to believe that no one is indispensible.  You don’t need me.  You’ll get along just fine when I’m gone. I’ve thought these things to myself as I’m sure many of you have.  But when we really get down to it, this is as wrong as it is fashionable.  Because the truth is, we are each uniquely-gifted individuals, peculiar creations of God with certain skill sets, certain abilities, certain aptitudes, an unreplicated chemistry.  And if we don’t serve God, our families, our church, our communities in the ways only we can uniquely serve, then the job will not get done the way only we can do it.  In a larger sense, it will not get done in the way our Creator intended.

 

            In spite of this age of increasing depersonalization in which we live, we are not carbon copies of each other.  Nor will we ever be, despite what some visionaries of human cloning and other edgy technologies have in mind.  If Dan Hurley was to write a sixty-second novel for each of us, each story would be different, even if we think we’re all pretty much the same.  Each story would be distinct because, while each of us is created in the image of God, God has made each of us one-of-a-kind.  We might give voice to the fashionable belief that each of us is replaceable.  When I worked in the mill years ago, one of the older cynics I labored beside often stated:  “We’re nothing more than fists in a bucket of water.  Pull the fist out, the water rushes into its place, and in less than a second, no one misses the fist ever being there.”  He prided himself on this nugget of worldly wisdom, but from God’s point of view, it’s not so, nor should it be from ours.  Just think about it.  Who could replace the love and caring of our own mother, or our beloved spouse?  Anothermother?  Any other spouse?  A stepmother or a second spouse?  Who could take the place of our child?  Any other child?   Who could preach like Paul, or pray like Peter?  The answer to all ofthese is…… no one.

 

            Yes, the community could have survived without Tabitha.  And at some point unrecorded, they were forced to do so.  But not on this day.  Let’s refrain from saying that her death wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  It would have.  Let’s refrain from saying that the community would not have been weaker without her.  It would have been.  Let’s refrain from saying that just anyone could have done what Tabitha did.  No one could have.  Let’s refrain from saying, or thinking, or believing that anyone can serve like you or I can serve.  They can’t.  One person and one person’s gifts can change a life;  can change a church;  can change a com-munity;  can change the world.  Think about that one person who was present at the right moment when you most needed help;  whose presence changed the course of your life.  Who could have replaced that person?  No one!  Think about yourself and the kind acts you’ve done, known only to God and maybe one other person.  Who could have replaced you?  No one!      If we could invite Don Hurley to write about us in less than two hundred words or in sixty seconds, what would he say?  Would he write of a life that caused the courses of other lives to be different?  Would he write of a life of devotion, charity, sensitivity?  Would he show us as special, unique, one-of-a-kind?  You bet he would!

 

            To close, let’s listen to a one of Hurley’s “novels” -- a story of a guy he called “Honest Abe;” one who was in his own right unique, and uniquely qualified.  I quote:  “Honest Abe.  Abe is honest.  He’s 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 fifty-eight years ago that he would always love her and stand by her.  They’ve been married that long, and now have two children, five grand-children, and three great grandchildren.  But Margery hasn’t stood for many years, a victim of Parkinson’s Disease.  While in her wheelchair, Abe stands by her still.  But he was never more honest than the day, six years ago, when his oldest daughter’s husband Fred was in the hospital. Abe went to see him.  “You need a haircut,” Fred joked.  But Abe replied in utter seriousness, “I won’t get a haircut until you walk out of here.”  Fred never did walk out of that hospital.  He died there.  Abe felt that he owed it to his son-in-law to keep his word.  That’s why he has never cut his hair; why he has a long, white pony tail, this conservative, seventy-nine year old CPA.  It is his white badge of honesty, devotion, and love;  a powerful symbol that Honest Abe is one-of-a-kind.”

            May our lives be marked by the very same qualities – devotion, charity, honesty – traits of a man named Abe, and of a woman named Tabitha.  And may the stories of our lives chronicle our uniqueness, our irreplaceability, our inexpendability in God’s plan, and in the lives of those we touch.  Yes.  The world will someday go on without us.  But it could never be the same without us.