Want Transformation? Try An Upper Room
The Architecture of Transformation. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Our first scripture is from the Book of Acts, and you could be forgiven if it’s not one of the ones you have memorized by heart.
It’s the story of a woman named Tabitha, also called Dorcas, and her life and death as a disciple.
She was given the name and title of disciple, mathetria in Greek, and she’s the only woman given that title in the entire New Testament.
The community is convulsed with grief at her death. They clearly relied on her for leadership and service.
She mattered to them, deeply.
And so when she dies, the saints notify the leader of the entire fledgling Christian community, Peter.
Peter drops everything and comes to Joppa.
He finds her sisters in faith grieving deeply. They show him the evidence not just of her good works, the clothing she has made for the poor, but of how much she meant to them.
They struggle to see how they can go forward without her.
Peter sees how pivotal this female disciple was, this leader of the Joppa church, and he sends the mourners away.
He prays, and then he calls her by her name to rise up, and she does. She comes back to life.
No doubt the church and the entire community were overjoyed, and the text says that many people came to believe in Jesus after having heard about this event.
So that’s the basic story. But I want to call your attention to where this miracle occurs.
Not the geography, the town of Joppa, but the physical location.
You probably didn’t notice it as we read the text here in worship. “Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs.”
The room upstairs.
Peter, through God’s power moving through him, raised this woman up to new life in the Upper Room.
I think that is very significant.
I think we can make the case that the Upper Room is more than just a literal room upstairs, the highest room in the house.
If you look through the gospels, you can see that Peter’s journey is marked by a series of episodes in Upper Rooms.
Those Upper Room moments are sometimes painful and sometimes joyful, but they always lead Peter one step further in his spiritual transformation.
We begin with the Last Supper. This took place in the Upper Room where the disciples made preparation to celebrate Passover with Jesus.
Peter is still in a place of darkness and lack of understanding here.
He doesn’t understand what he is seeing, what Jesus means when he tells them that bread and wine are his Body and Blood.
Peter is still driving himself toward earning approval from Jesus, insisting he will never betray Jesus, consumed by anxiety and bravado.
This is where the arc of his transformation begins, and the same is true for us.
All of us, at any given moment, have areas of blindness in our lives, unhealed and waiting for God to act upon them.
Often God’s first transformative action feels strange, foreign, uncomfortable, even the herald of bad news, just like the Last Supper for Peter.
When is the next time we see Peter in an Upper Room?
It is early on the first day of the week, when the disciples had locked themselves in the Upper Room for fear of being arrested.
This is Easter Day, and Peter has just been through the two worst days of his life.
He has denied, betrayed, and abandoned Jesus.
His beloved teacher and friend is dead, and there is no way for Peter to take back his failures and regrets.
And now, his own life and the lives of the rest of his friends are in very real danger. The Upper Room has become a cauldron of fear and despair.
And this is where Jesus appears to them for the first time after his resurrection.
“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Peace is the herald of the resurrection.
In the Upper Room that has transformed from space for a common meal and fellowship into a locked down bunker, Jesus comes and brings peace, life, himself, wounded and killed and yet alive again.
And then the following week, Jesus appears again in the Upper Room, this time to prove his resurrection to Thomas.
First Peter learns of the resurrection himself in the Upper Room, and then he sees how it impacts his friend and fellow disciple.
The next Upper Room comes right after Jesus’ ascension.
“When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
Now the Upper Room no longer has the physical presence of Jesus.
It is probably a scene of mixed fear and excitement.
It was scary to know they were on their own, Jesus had returned to the Father and left them to carry on without his physical presence, but they also can feel the potential that lies within them as the gathered body of believers.
They devote themselves to prayer because they know that Jesus has left them with an important task, to share the Good News and be of service to the poor.
Here, in the Upper Room, Peter and the disciples await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Acts does not say directly that Pentecost took place in the Upper Room.
It says, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
So we know they were definitely indoors, and they had been meeting for prayer in the Upper Room, so we could probably speculate that they were there when Pentecost happened. Again, the Upper Room is pivotal for the spiritual journey.
Then we come to our story today. Peter goes into an Upper Room to heal Tabitha.
Consider how far he has come from his first Upper Room to this one.
In the first Upper Room, he sat bewildered and blundering as Jesus washed his feet and fed him the bread and wine and tried to prepare him for the ordeal ahead.
The entire process passed right over Peter’s head.
And then he plunged into the crisis of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found himself an utter failure, unable to stand by Jesus when it really mattered, no matter how many times he insisted he would.
Then the Upper Room becomes a place to hide. Consumed by shame and fear, he and the others cower and despair, alone and grieving.
And then Jesus comes.
Jesus always comes to the Upper Room, in the footwashing, in his Body and Blood, in his resurrected body, in his Holy Spirit after the ascension, and now, in the healing power that flows through Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead.
The Upper Room has now become a place of life, of joy, of healing.
In fact, it has been all along, but Peter could not see it.
And it is all because in the Upper Room, Jesus is present, a caretaker and giver of sustenance, a gentle greeting of peace, a force of healing and resurrection.
We talked last week about Peter’s transformational journey, a journey that was completed through the fiery crucible of Jesus’ crucifixion and the mind-shattering joy of his resurrection.
This journey could not be rushed. Peter could not get it before the crucifixion.
No matter how hard he tried, just listening to words and even seeing miracles wouldn’t change him at his deepest level.
He had to follow Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death and up into the shining land of resurrected life before his heart was re-formed and he became fully who God created him to be, the leader of the church who would give his life for the gospel.
And he must have subconsciously known the pattern.
Every time he goes into an Upper Room, something major happens. And it’s usually something he has little to no control over.
God’s power breaks forth through Jesus in the Upper Room.
And here he’s being called there again by the saints who are mourning Tabitha.
Imagine the courage he had to have to go to the Upper Room once more, knowing that God could make anything happen.
The same is true for us, which is where the rubber hits the road.
In our lives, the Upper Room is not a literal physical place.
It is the space within our hearts where we open ourselves to Jesus breaking all the rules and remarkable things happening.
Just like Peter, sometimes we go there in confusion, sometimes in grief and fear, sometimes in anticipation of great things happening, sometimes in hope that God will use us for healing and care of someone else in need.
But we have to actually go there.
We have to enter the Upper Room consciously, voluntarily, open to the fact that when God acts, we don’t have control.
A lot of us live downstairs most of the time.
Downstairs is the place of normality, the everyday, the predictable and the boring, life as we know it.
And you know what? We can just live downstairs and no one is going to blame us for it, not even Jesus.
He loves us even if we never get beyond the mundane, even if we never take the risk that there’s something remarkable awaiting us just a little higher to heaven, in the Upper Room.
But what if?
What if we follow Peter and the other disciples to the Upper Room, the place of possibility, change, life, resurrection, in our own hearts and minds?
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living on Level One.
Let’s go up.
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