A Faithful Paradox

Bonus sermon this week!  RCC hosted our area men’s ecumenical Palm Sunday breakfast this year, so we had worship and communion at 7AM and then the men gathered for breakfast afterwards.  Here is that sermon!  Apparently I had a lot to say about Palm Sunday this year?

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Men’s Ecumenical Palm Sunday Breakfast
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 14, 2019

Luke 19:28-40

A Faithful Paradox

For some reason, Palm Sunday has always sort of perplexed me.

It is a paradox, right?

As Christians, we know that the story does not end here; that Jesus does not ride his donkey off into the sunset towards Jerusalem while the scene fades to black.

We know what happens when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.

We know that the disciples – friends whom Jesus trusted, devoted followers that ran ahead to fetch Jesus the donkey that he would ride into Jerusalem, saying, “The Lord needs it,” – are going to deny, betray and abandon him.

We know that the shouts from the crowd of, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” will very quickly turn into cries to, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We know that while today we cheer, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” later we will mock, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

We know that the palms branches that we will all receive later on today in our worship services – palms that we will joyfully wave high above our heads and perhaps even turn into crosses – will next year be burned down to create the ashes that we will receive as a sign of our sin and our mortality on Ash Wednesday.

I know that Palm Sunday is supposed to be a joyous celebration, but there is a part of me that just cannot help but see a lingering darkness hovering over the celebration in anticipation of what is going to happen later on this week.

So – right now y’all might be thinking, hey I did not wake up at o’dark’hundred this morning to drive to Rehoboth to hear a real downer of a sermon so you need to find a way to shine some light onto that hovering darkness and give us a happier anecdote to take with us on our journey.

But here’s the cool thing about the Christian story – the light shines itself.

Because, as people of the resurrection, we know that the story does not end in the darkness of the night, but that light shines on Easter morning.  We know that the story does not end with crucifixion, but that resurrection is coming. We know that the tomb is empty. We know that love will win.

But we also have to journey through the hard stuff first to get there.

Our journey as Christians has highs and the lows, peaks and the valleys, moments where we feel like we have it all together and moments where it all comes crashing down.  There are moments in this journey where we will follow Jesus and also moments where we, too, are going to deny, betray and abandon him; moments where live up to the grace that has been given to us and also moments where we fall short.

After all, we are human.  We are broken.  This is why we needed Jesus to come in the first place.

And so we as we celebrate Palm Sunday – knowing what is going to unfold later in the week, but also that the story does not end there, either – we do so holding this paradox in tension, celebrating who we are as disciples of Christ, but also being gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes and when we do not get it right the first time.

Or the second time.

Or even the third time.

After all, being Christian is not about getting it right all the time – it is about being faithful through it all.

One of my favorites parts of this narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to tell anyone who asks why they are taking the colt, “The Lord needs it.” This reminds me that Jesus needs us to be his disciples, to do the hard work that is required to spread the Gospel, to experience both the good and the bad as we bear witness to God’s work in our lives and in the world.

The Lord needs it.

The Lord needs us.

The really powerful part of Lent and Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Easter is that we get to experience the extreme highs and lows of the Christian story and we have no choice but to be faithful through it all.  We cannot rush our way through it or skip over the hard stuff to get to Easter morning. We need to be here, entering Jerusalem, laying down our palms and our cloaks as Jesus rides by.  We need to gather around the table, sharing a final meal with Jesus.  We need to stand in the presence of the cross and bear witness to the crucifixion.  And then we need to wait for resurrection.

And then we need to tell that story to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

And in doing this – in experiencing the whole of this narrative over the next week – we are reminded that it is okay for us to experience highs and lows in our own lives and in our own faith journeys.  It is okay if we stumble.  It is okay if we make mistakes.  It is okay if we do not get it right the first time.  It is okay if it sometimes feels like our lives and our journeys of faith are a paradox of their own.

Because resurrection is always coming. Redemption is always possible.  We can and will be faithful through it all.

And this is the Good News that brings us new life.

Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Small Town Disciples In A Really Big World

Hi Friends!  Posting this quickly before Palm Sunday is completely irrelevant.  We were, of course, in the Gospel of Mark.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 14, 2019

Mark 11:1-33

Small-Town Disciples In A Really Big World

When Bruce and I moved to Atlanta, we were 21 and 22 years old.  We had both grown up in small towns in the northeast part of the country.  I had been to Atlanta a grand total of three times before we moved there – once for a conference, once to visit Emory and once to find an apartment – and Bruce had never been there.

We drove into the city around noon; there was not a cloud in the sky that day, so the sun was beating down on our cars and I think it might have been 112° degrees.  We were coming down I85 and as we approached the interchange between that and I285, the traffic was insane; cars were crossing four lines of traffic in one fell swoop, driving 90 mph in the left hand lane and merging without really paying attention to who was already on the road.

It was insane.  Now looking back, those was normal Atlanta road conditions that we eventually acclimated to, but, at the time, we were these two small town northerners. Even though we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we had made the decision to move down there, it was almost as if in that moment, we realized just how different life was going to be from what we were accustomed to.

We were in separate cars, so I remember Bruce called me and said, “Oh my gosh, we live in a city now!” and there was this combination of excitement and fear and bewilderment in his voice.

I have to think that the disciples might have had similar emotions as they approached Jerusalem with Jesus.  Think about it – these were Galilean fisherman, not big city guys.  This was all new to them – the pace of life, the size of the buildings, the sheer number of people.

Because of where we are in the Year of Mark, we are actually jumping back two chapters to this narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for Palm Sunday; but what this means is that we already have a little bit of a taste of what happens once they get there.  Last week when I preached on the mini apocalypse and the destruction of the temple, one of the things that actually made me think about Bruce and me moving to Atlanta was when Jesus came out of the temple and the disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They had to have been overwhelmed, at least on some level, by the world they had just entered.

And, even more than that, the Jesus that they have known up until this point is not necessarily the Jesus they are seeing and experiencing once they get to Jerusalem.  The Jesus they knew when they were first traveling around to the different villages along the Sea of Galilee was a teacher and a healer.  He performed miracles, feeding thousands of people using mere morsels of bread and fish and calmed raging seas during a bad storm.  He blessed the vulnerable and often retreated alone to pray.

But now Jesus is in Jerusalem.  And once he gets there, curses a fig tree and then he walks into the temple and starts throwing things around.

This is a side of Jesus that the disciples have not seen before.

Can you imagine what they are feeling right now? They are in a big new city, surrounded by sights and sounds they have probably never seen or heard.  And their teacher – Jesus, the man who called them away from their fishing boats (their families, their livelihoods, the only lives they had ever known) – is in the temple knocking over tables and driving people out.

I can only imagine that, in this moment, the disciples realized just how big Jesus was; that this ministry that he had called them into was so much greater than they could ever comprehend.

The stakes were high.

And yet, he still needed them.  He still needed them to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as they could from him.  He still needed them to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name.  He still needed them to gather around a table and break bread together.  He still needed them to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people.  He still needed them to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that he knew was going to change the world.

And I have to believe that the same is true today.

I had a different point that I was going to make today, but while I was working on my sermon yesterday, I got an alert from CNN.  The headline read:  “There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds.”

The article – which cites an analysis by a man who is a pollical scientist out of Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor and says that 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion – reminded me that the stakes are just as high today as they were when Jesus entered a Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

People are turning away from religion because they find it irrelevant, unnecessary and contradictory and, in some cases, judgmental and hate-filled.  They do not see the value in it; they do not understand the capacity it has to transform their lives or change the world for the better.  They find community in other places and try to do good by supporting secular organizations that align with their principles.

And I am not judging people who choose to live their lives differently than me, because I do understand people’s reasoning for either turning away from religion or not making church a priority in their lives.

But it does make me sad to think that this all could be slipping away.

We have to tell this story.  It is our responsibility to make sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation.

The task at hand is not a small one.  Just like the disciples, the ministry that we have been called into is so much greater than we may ever comprehend.

And yet, just like the disciples, Jesus still needs us today.  He needs us to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as we can, no matter where we are on our journey through life.  He needs us to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name.  He needs us to gather around a table and break bread together.  He needs us to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. He needs us to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that we know changed the world still has the capacity to change it even more.

On this Palm Sunday, I invite you to feel that excitement and fear and bewilderment of small-town disciples in a really big world.  Do not be overwhelmed by what we have to do, but also take the call seriously.

Holy Week is upon us; and the really cool part about Holy Week and Easter is that it is the only time during the Christian year that we get to live out the story in real time.  On Thursday evening, at our Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae, we will hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

And then, just like they did 2,000 years ago, we will wait.

We will wait for the women to discover that the tomb is empty.  We will wait for the sun to rise and for light to shine on Easter morning.  We will wait for resurrection.  We will wait for the reminder that love always, always, ALWAYS wins.

I think sometimes we gather for worship or as a community and think we are just some small, country church.  But we are not.  We are part of something so much bigger.  And God is using us – and will continue to use us – to spread the Gospel, even if it is overwhelming at times.

The task is great, friends,  But God is greater.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Finding Grace And Meaning In The Midst Of Chaos

Here is my sermon from Sunday! I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever preached on this text. It’s dark and challenging and a little but scary – but also has SO much to teach us!

Also – if anyone has any suggestions for how to brew good church coffee – email or DM me! I haven’t given up yet – ha!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 7, 2019

Mark 13

Finding Grace And Meaning In The Midst Of Chaos

Last week during my sermon I mentioned that this week we would be looking at the apocalyptic narrative in Mark 13, but I did not know, at the time, that in a matter of mere minutes, we would be experiencing our own version of the apocalypse right here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

I don’t know if y’all heard, but we ran out of coffee at Fellowship last week.

Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn.

 I know.

Before I get into the apocalypse, let me first explain the thing with the coffee.  There is a running joke in most churches – not just ours – about bad church coffee. Even if the coffee isn’t actually bad, you still joke about bad church coffee.

Bruce actually has a friend in Pennsylvania who has a coffee roasting company because of bad church coffee.  He and his friends were drinking coffee after church one day talking about how terrible it was and he thought to himself, maybe I could roast better coffee.  And he did; and his experiment grew and now he has a side roasting business.

As a preacher, I am tempted to think that this whole bad coffee thing started because the pastor wanted to make sure people had something to complain about other than the sermon.  But as a coffee enthusiast, I think it is more likely that it is just hard to brew really good coffee in large batches with minimal effort.

We have been talking a lot about hospitality lately – how we can create a welcoming and enjoyable experience for our members and also for guests who are worshipping with us for the first time. The subject of coffee has come up several times and a small group of us – myself included – have been brainstorming ways to up our coffee game, so to speak.  After all, who wouldn’t want to be known as the church with reallygoodcoffee?

We have been experimenting with different roasts, grinds and brewing techniques.  We used endowment funds to purchase a new coffee maker in the hopes that might help.  I have tasted a lot of coffee over the past couple of weeks (and have subsequently been wound up more than usual.  We have tried good coffee, bad coffee and – apparently for some people last weekend – no coffee at all).

So clearly we are still trying to figure it out. But the conclusion that I have drawn – after many lengthy discussions with people here, a few conversations with colleagues in other churches and more coffee than I should probably consume in a lifetime – is that nothing can bring down a church quite like a debate over coffee.

Because I was talking to three other colleagues who have active coffee conflicts in their churches right now.

(And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds.)

Speaking of bringing churches down, this morning we start with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple.

We will get back to the coffee in a minute (let’s let the topic percolate for a minute).

We read a very lengthy passage from the Gospel of Mark this morning – the entire 13thchapter.  This chapter is often referred to as “The Little Apocalypse.” This chapter separates the Gospel Narrative, which concluded at the end of chapter 12, from the Passion Narrative, which begins in chapter 14.

This chapter has a lot of the “whoa” factor going on; Jesus’ tone is completely different from what we are used to.  It is unsettling and scary.  Over the years, Christian alarmists have used this chapter to invoke fear in people when they talk about salvation.[1]

The important thing to remember, however, is that this chapter is talking about a transition; a transition between the world as it is and the world as it will be when Jesus is no longer physically there. Jesus, knowing what is about to happen (remember he foretold his death three times in the Gospel of Mark) talks about what it will take for the disciples to be sustained for ministry after Jesus is gone; how they will witness to the hope of God’s love in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.”[2]  In other words – do not be afraid.  God will still be with you, God’s love will be more powerful than any conflict, fear or violence you may face.  You will be an agent of hope, an instrument of peace.  You will shine God’s light into this world, even when the darkness I am describing threatens to overcome it.

I think – despite its somewhat terrifying apocalyptic language – this passage actually has a lot to teach us about doing church.  Because it is not always easy, right?  You put 200+ people together who have different beliefs, work ethics and passions and then authorize those people to govern themselves amidst the imperfections and the chaos of the world and sometimes stones come crashing down.

It is not easy to do what we do, here at the church.  We are not on the brink of an apocalypse or anything, but I do think, over the past few years, we have experienced – and are continuing to experience – transitions of our own.

We have a new governance structure and in the process of writing new bylaws for our institution.

We sold our parsonage and now have a new financial obligation to my housing allowance.

We are re-branding with a new logo, building a new website and shifting how we use our social media presence.

We are trying to re-embrace our congregational polity and empower all of our members to take initiatives and be leaders within our community – even though sometimes that means giving up control.

And I am not saying, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against their parents”[3]over a cup of coffee, but I am saying that it is not always easy to do church.  We are trying to find grace and meaning in the midst of a chaotic world, a world that sometimes feels like the world Jesus describes in the 13th chapter of Mark and sometimes this can be a daunting task.

But remember what Jesus says:  “Do not be alarmed.”[4]

This is an unsettling passage of scripture.  The disciples must have been terrified when Jesus first said these words.

But remember that we are reading it as people of the resurrection.  We know how this story is going to end.  Despite the darkness that Jesus is talking about, we can still see the light. Despite the destruction, the persecution, the desolating sacrilege that Jesus is describing, we know that at the end of all this, God’s love will win.

And so despite any challenges we may face as we seek to dochurch together, we are called, as people of the resurrection, to believe in the power of that love.

Monday marked my eight-year anniversary as pastor of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Eight years of doing church.

Eight years of shining light into the darkness of this world.

Eight years of being the church in the village, the Body of Christ.

Eight years of worship services, bible studies, suppers, fundraisers and community events.

Eight years of delivering meals and prayer shawls, showing up and being present when our people need us most.

Eight years of mistakes and frustrations, but also successes and joys.

Eight years of discernment about who we are – and who God is calling us to be.

Has it been perfect?  No.  We are human. It is never perfect.  But has it been grace-filled?  Yes.

And, just like it will in this story (because, remember, as people of the resurrection, we read this “Mini Apocalypse” knowing how the story is going to end), love has won – over and over and over again.

I am being very honest when I say that, in my eight years here, I have never felt the kind of enthusiasm and passion and excitement for the church than I do right now.

Now, it might be all the coffee I am drinking (or all the toddlers running around!), but I also think that the Spirit is moving and that, together, we are heeding the call of Jesus to, “keep awake.”  We are being intentional about everything that we do.  We are listening to God speak to us, feeling God’s presence among us and watching God at work in our lives and at this church.  We are heading the call of the Greatest Commandment to love God and love one another. In the midst of a chaotic and sometimes scary world, we are the sharing the Good News of God’s love with the people in our community and it is a privilege and an honor to be part of.

It was kind of odd to reflect on the destruction of the temple and the apocalypse this week and also simultaneously reflect on my eight years of ministry here at the church – because the hope is that we are moving in the opposite direction, right?  But it also kind of reminded me of what we are up against – of just how challenging the work we are called to do is.

But we are up for it.

Thank you, friends, for another amazing year. Today, as we read this passage and acknowledge the brokenness of our world, I also do want to celebrate the work that we are doing – the meal trains, Missions projects, book discussions, bible studies, after-worship reflections, children and youth programs, flower arrangements, choir and special music, hospitality and – yes – even the quest for the perfect cup of church coffee, which I have not given up on yet.

Because I believe this work – this work that we do here, doing church – literally has the capacity to change people’s lives.

I am so grateful to be here.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Feasting on the Gospels: a feasting on the WordTM commentary / Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizbaeth Johnson, general editors. Page398.
[2]Mark 13:7, NRSV
[3]Mark 13:12, NRSV
[4]Mark 13:7, NRSV

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