Holding The Tension With Grace

Guys.

We started the summer with a bang on Sunday.

A few highlights.

– Our Music Director totally spaced that we moved to 9AM and so worship started “fashionably late”.

– My sweet little angel baby was in worship because our nursery care provider isn’t contracted for the summer and he MADE HIS PRESENCE KNOWN.  When I stood up to make announcements he yelled, “MAMA GET DOWN!” and then cried when Bruce said, “shhhh”.  At one point he ran up to the pulpit, found a leftover confetti canon from Easter and set it off.  Bruce took him out and then his friend, Bridget, who was sitting behind him with his mom started crying, “I want Harrison!”  #PKlifebelike

– I found a typo in the baptismal liturgy, which was totally my fault and ugggggh.  I hate that.

– A cat ran into the sanctuary at the end of my sermon and made it halfway down the aisle before one of the Deacons caught up to her.

Sooooo, yeah.  I need to regroup this week.

I was preaching on the condemnation of Jesus, which I imagine rendered its own level of chaos when it was happening.  So I guess the lesson in all of this is whether we are yelling, “Crucify him!” or, “There’s a cat in the sanctuary!” God is present in the midst of the mayhem.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 16, 2019

Mark 15:1-15

Holding The Tension With Grace

It has been through the peculiar, but also grace-filled, work of the Holy Spirit over the past 11 months (since starting the Year of Mark) that, without fail, every time I have to preach on a particularly challenging or objectionable text, there is always a baptism that Sunday.

So – to Adam’s family and friends, who have joined us for the blessed occasion, I am going to say the same thing I said to Hunter Fernandes’ family when he was baptized and I happened to be preaching on the beheading of John the Baptist and also Charlotte Chaput’s family when she was baptized and I happened to be preaching on the drowning of the demonic pigs:  My sincerest apologies that we happen to be condemning Jesus to death on Adam’s special day.

You see, last July, we embarked on a year-long sermon series throughout the entire Gospel of Mark, start to finish.  It has been a really incredible and transformative year (at least for me, I cannot speak for everyone else).  We have not only been able to refamiliarize ourselves with the stories of Jesus and understand their context a little bit better, but we have also been able to look more intimately at how the Gospel is still very much relevant in our lives and in our world today.

The unfortunate part of the whole thing, however, is the whole timing of everything in the sense that I do not actually get to choose what I am preaching onwhen.  Hence the cries to, “Crucify him!” on morning when I just got finished saying, “Look to the cross, the symbol of our faith.  Jesus is not there; he is risen and lived among us.”

Isn’t that ironic?

Here’s the thing:  As people living on this side of the resurrection, we have to balance the tension of reading the hard part of the Jesus story with knowing how it ends while also wrestling with why it had to play out the way that it did.

And that is kind of what I want to talk about today.

But first, let’s recap the story.  Last week was Pentecost, so we jumped out of the Year of Mark for a week so we could read the Pentecost story in Acts of the Apostles. Before that, however, Jesus was in Jerusalem with his disciples.  The chief priests and the scribes were plotting to kill Jesus and Judas, one of the 12 disciples, went to them and agreed to betray Jesus.  Jesus then invited the disciples to share the Passover meal with him; it was there that he instituted the Lord’s Supper and told the disciples that one of them would betray him.  Immediately after the Passover meal, he told the disciples that they would desert him and, when Peter denied that he would do this Jesus said, “Well actually before the rooster crows twice, you are going to deny me three times.”

And then it all played out the way that Jesus said that it would.  Judas betrayed him and the disciples deserted him.  Jesus went before the Council of the high priest, the chief priests, the elders and scribes.  They asked him if he was the Messiah and he said, “I am.”  They condemned him as deserving of death and then Peter denied him three times.

Now Jesus is appearing before Pilate.

It’s funny, because there is an historical accuracy to this story, but also a historical inaccuracy (which I will get to in a minute).  Our passage begins with the verse, “As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council.”  Now the first part of that sentence, “As soon as it was morning” is the historically accurate part, because early morning is when there was time set aside to hear legal cases.  So it is kind of fascinating to think that, while we often look at this story from sort of a theological place of Jesus the Christ being crucified and resurrected, there is also this competing historical narrative where Jesus the man is being put on political trial, as others routinely were during that time.

And this kind of speaks to my point where I talked about the tension of reading the hard part of the story while knowing how it ends but also wrestling with why it had to play out the way that it did. Because I think when we read this story during Holy Week, it makes us uncomfortable; but we also know that in three days, it will be Easter morning so we remind ourselves of that.

But reading it in this context, where we are looking at the narrative chronologically, we kind of have to deal with the fact that in order to get to the resurrection, we had to go through some stuff first; some really hard, really human stuff.

So Jesus is on trial.  And, like when he appeared before the Council, he is asked by Pilate, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  But, unlike his response to the Council, Jesus does not answer the question directly.  First he says, “You say so,” (as if to say, “That’s your story not mine,”) and then when Pilate asks him again, Jesus does not say anything at all.  And then Jesus is condemned.

Now the heading in this section in the NRSV says, “Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified,” but I actually think that the real key figure in all of this is actually Barabbas.

Let’s talk about Barabbas, because here is there the historical inaccuracy comes into play.  According to this passage, “at the festival” (presumably the Festival of the Passover), Pilate would release a prisoner at the request of the people. In the case of this narrative, Pilate asks the crowd if they would like for him to release Jesus, but the chief priests “stir up the crowd” and convince people to request that Pilate release Barabbas, a man who was supposedly in prison for committing murder during the insurrection, instead.

But scholars are not totally convinced that Barabbas is who Mark says he is.

Here’s what I mean:  First of all, there is really no historical record of this practice of Pilate releasing a prisoner of the people’s choosing actually taking place. And furthermore, the insurrection that Barabbas supposedly had committed murder during is also kind of ambiguous because, again, there is no specific historical record of an armed uprising happening in this time frame (although some scholars do argue that even if nothing was specifically recorded, it was still a time of civil unrest, so the story is not completely out of reach, but still – it does not quite add up).

And finally, the name, Barabbas, is the Aramaic term for,“son of the father,” which leads some scholars to suggest that this was not actually the prisoners given name, but it was Mark’s way of casting a harsh dichotomy between these two men.  On the one hand, you have Barabbas, who’s name means “son of the father,” who was guilty of a crime, yet set free.  On the other hand, you have Jesus, the actual, “son of the father,” who was innocent of the charges brought against him, yet crucified.

I think this was the gospel writer’s way of reinforcing this idea that we are always going to be holding this dichotomy in tension – between good and evil, hope and despair, light and darkness, love and hate.  It is because of this tension that Jesus needed to come in the first place.

As hard as it is for us to hear our beautiful baptismal hymn one moment in worship and then hear cries to crucify Jesus the next, I almost think we needed to experience that to sort of reinforce this dichotomy – this dichotomy between good and evil, hope and despair, light and darkness, love and hate – and be reminded not only of what we are up against in this world, but also of just how powerful God is in defeating it.

Because as people living on this side of the resurrection, we have to believe – believe in good, believe in hope, believe in light, believe in love.

Hear these words from our baptismal liturgy:

Because of Jesus’ risks of faith, his enemies saw to it that he was put to death. But by the grace of God, death did not—and does not—have the last word.  And while evil does exist in the world, in baptism, we are saying, “I want to turn away from evil, accept God’s gift of forgiveness, and do all in my power to extend God’s goodness into the world.”

Our baptismal liturgy does not falsely promise a perfect world; but it does promise a world filled with God’s grace.

And so as you leave this space and enter back out into the world – a world that is scary, a world that is frustrating, a world that is sorrowful and a world that will sometimes disappoint you – I encourage you to hold that in tension with God’s grace.

The grace for good to overcome evil, hope to drive out despair, light to shine brightly in the darkness and love to triumph over hate.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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To Call The Church Into Being

Hi Friends!

We were off the Year of Mark this week for Pentecost.  There was no denying the Holy Spirit was present on Sunday when you walked into church!  We had a big fabric installation and a cake with sparkler candles and everyone wore red.

Sunday was also Children’s Day at RCC, so it was a really short sermon before the older kids did their “memorable moments” skit, where they each talked about their most memorable moment at the church this year.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

To Call The Church Into Being

I was texting back and forth with Abbie St. Martin this week about my ability (or lack thereof) to make a Pentecost cake and she said, “You could just make any old cake and set it on fire.”  She then immediately followed it up with the text, in parentheses, “That’s Pentecost, right?”

As a pastor, I have never been more proud.

This morning is Pentecost and it is the tradition of the Church to use the color red to symbolize the fire and the might movement of the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully not long after my conversation with Abbie, Jen Healy texted me and said she and Matt would be happy to make an actual Pentecost cake, one that we would nothave to set on fire.

Pentecost is the day when we commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the apostles and the earliest followers of Christ and called the Church into being.  This morning, before we move to this year’s Church School skit, I thought I would talk about what it means to call the Church into being today.

Last Sunday was New Member Sunday.  With joy in our hearts, we officially welcomed 11 new people into our church family.  Leading up to last Sunday, one of the new members asked me, “What is it that you expect of us, now?”  I have thought about that question all week.  Of course, with congregational polity, it is a fascinating and not-easily-answerable one.  Because I guess, technically we don’t expect anything; but when people join the church they areaccepting our invitation to help us call the Church into being today.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Today is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a celebration of what the Holy Spirit has done in our midst, a celebration of what we do when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and our lives and a celebration of the Church that the Holy Spirit has called into being today.

And what a Church is it.

Perhaps we do not expect anything “official” of our members, but when we call the Church into being, we are doing something powerful and bold and life-changing.

To call the Church into being means creating a safe space where we can learn and grow in our faith.

To call the Church into being means singing together and praying together and sharing the peace of Christ with one another.

To call the Church into being means gathering around a table and breaking bread together, remembering Jesus every single time we pass around a tray of bread, grape juice, turkey, pasta or lemonade.

To call the Church into being means hearing prayer requests offered up by those in our church family and earnestly pray for them; sharing in both their joys and their sorrows.

To call the Church into being means asking hard questions and not being afraid of what happens if someone has a different answer than you do.

To call the Church into being means making meals for people when they are sick, recovering from surgery or bringing a new baby home.

To call the Church into being means rescuing the first row of worshipers from a falling speaker.

To call the Church into being means sometimes entering a peaceful space and sometimes being surrounded by chaos.

To call the Church into being means celebrating all generations – young and old.

To call the Church into being means knowing that you are not alone.

Today we celebrate the Church that was, that is and that will be in the future.  We celebrate God who created us, Christ who redeems us and the Holy Spirit that sustains us always.

Today, with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we make a commitment to continue to call the Church into being.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Stop And Remember

We are nearing the end of our Year Of Mark!  We will be taking the week off for Pentecost and Children’s Day and then will pick it up again on June 16th – Father’s Day.  This week was Peter’s Denial.  I talked about what it means that Jesus called the Church into being and how we can use this space to hold ourselves accountable to who we are, as people of faith, and who God is calling us to be. Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 2, 2019

Mark 14:66-72

Stop And Remember

I was talking to someone in the office this week and I told them that it was Communion Sunday, Choir Sunday and New Member Sunday and I said, “Coincidentally, it is also Short Sermon Sunday.”

So let’s not waste any time getting into it, shall we?

This morning we heard the story of Peter’s denial. You remember from last week that Peter was the only of the 12 disciples that followed Jesus after he was arrested and taken away before the Council.  Peter stood at a distance while Jesus was questioned, warming himself by the fire.

In the story we just heard, Peter was spotted and identified as one of Jesus’ followers.  Peter denied these allegations, something Jesus had told him he was going to do.  When Peter realized that Jesus’ predictions have come true, he broke down and wept.

The challenge of preaching this text – and really, the Passion Narrative in general – is that the story is so tragically human. And while we may wish that, perhaps, the disciples (particularly Judas, who betrayed Jesus and Peter, who denied Jesus) had made different choices, to some extent the story had to play out the way that it did in order for us to be where we are today.  So it is hard, but necessary.

Yet we still have so much to learn from their stories.

So who is Peter?

Peter was the first disciple that Jesus ever called (his name appears first as Simon in Mark 1:16), with his brother Andrew. He was part of that inner circle – Peter, James and John – that Jesus brought to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, to the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.

After Jesus had shared the Passover with his disciples, he told them they were all going to desert him, which Peter vehemently denied (no pun intended).  Jesus told Peter that Peter would not only desert him, but that on that night, before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny Jesus three times.  Peter said, “I will not deny you.”

And now here we are.  And it happened just like Jesus said it would.

“Hey, you were with Jesus, right?  Jesus, from Nazareth?”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

That’s one.

The rooster crowed.

“He is one of them.”

“No I am not.”

That’s two.

“You HAVE to be one of them – you are Galilean!”

“I do NOT know who you are talking about.”

That’s three.

The rooster crowed.

Instantly – Peter remembered what Jesus had said and realized that Jesus had been right.  Peter did exactly what Jesus said he was going to.  Then Peter broke down and he wept.

For me, the most powerful and gut-wrenching part of this story comes in the 72ndverse right after the rooster crowed for the second time:

Then Peter remembered.

Because we have all been there, right?  We have all had those moments where, in an instant, we realize that we have done something wrong, taken something too far, or said something that we should not have.  We have all, at some point throughout our lives, gotten so caught up in the moment only to have the fantasy or the security of that moment or that world we were living in unravel and suddenly we come crashing down to reality.

You can justify bad choices for a long time, but it really only ever takes a moment to realize the gravity and the consequences of your choices.

Then Peter remembered.

No wonder Peter broke down.

I could be wrong, but I really do not think Peter meant to do what he did; I think he just got caught up in the moment. He saw that Jesus was on trial, he heard them sentence Jesus to death and now the very same people that had the authority to crucify Jesus were asking Peter if he was associated with Jesus.

What would you have said?

Then Peter remembered.

I think if there is one thing that we can learn from this passage it is that we need to intentionally stop and remember before we get so far that we cannot turn back.  We have to stop and remember what is important and what our faith teaches us.  We have to stop and remember what Jesus did in his life and the Good News that we, now carry into our lives.  We have to stop and remember what we want to do in this world and what we want our legacies to be.  We have to stop and remember who we are and who God is calling us to be.  We have to stop and remember so that we can make good and faithful choices as we travel forward on our journeys.

And I kind of think that this is why Jesus called us to be the Church.  Because it is here that we can stop and remember.

It is here where we say together words of confession; words that perhaps we were not literally guilty of throughout the week, but that nonetheless force us to stop and remember the things that we were guilty of throughout the week.

It is here where we gather around a table of extravagant welcome; where we stop and remember Jesus’ body and blood, broken and poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins and the fullness of grace. It is here where we stop and share the Sacrament of Holy communion and remember that Jesus called us to sit down with our friends and our enemies and break bread together.

It is here where we welcome children; where we stop and sometimes let chaos ensue, remembering that everything we do and say in this space is shaping our children’s understanding about who God is.

It is here where we listen to the ancient words of scripture and then interpret them together; where we stop and remember the stories, the laws, the songs and the letter that have defined and shaped God’s creating history.  It is here where we read the bible and stop and remember how these words are still relevant in our lives today.

It is here where we open up a time for people to share the concerns and celebrations that are on their hearts; where we stop and remember those in our community whose joys we share and whose sufferings we pray for.

It is here where we dedicate a time for you to give back; to stop and remember, not only the financial needs of this church, but the ways in which we, as a church, can transform our offerings and extend them further out into the world.

Church is by no means perfect, but it does give us this beautiful time and space and opportunity to stop and remember, week after week, as we seek to be Jesus’ disciples the world we are living in today.

So that maybe when the moment arises, we won’t deny Jesus; we will proclaim the Good News of God’s light, love and grace.

This is easier said than done, because sometimes it means leaving what is safe or what is familiar to us and oftentimes it means it stepping outside of the busyness of the worlds that we live in.

But the beauty of church is that we are all doing it together.  Together we stop; together we remember.

Summer is coming; next week is Children’s Day, which signals the end of our program year.  The following week – Father’s Day, June 16th– worship moves to 9AM.

Don’t disappear for the summer.  I know everyone has a lot going on.  I know it’s easy to fall out of the habit.  I know it gets warm in the sanctuary.  I know you would rather be in the garden or at the beach or doing something else outside.  But don’t disappear for the summer.  Because it is here, week after week, where we stop and remember; it is here, in our community worship space where we stop and remember who we are, who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in the world.

Stop and remember.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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