Take A Sip!

Hi Friends!

Not the Super Bowl outcome any of my church members were hoping for last night, but we are moving on and getting ready for Mardi Gras Sunday!  We’ve never done this before (at least not to the degree we are this year), so follow me on Instagram (@revsarahweaver) to see some behind the scenes this week!

I continued to preach through the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark this week.  I am having so much fun following this chronologically!  Part of me would love to go off lectionary sometime and preach through a Gospel in a more intentional way.  I love that the lectionary brings us through different parts of the bible, but this has also been a lot of fun.

There is a LOT going on in this morning’s passage.  My sermon could have gone in so many different directions.  I ended up focusing on Jesus retreating to a deserted place to pray.  I used the acronym, SIP – sabbath, intentional prayer – as an illustration.  So take a sip!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

Take A Sip

On more than one occasion over the past eight months, I have been asked what has changed for me in ministry since having a baby. And the answer is, other than a flexible schedule, of course, my writing process.

My Saturday marathon writing days that I have relied on heavily since I was in college, for the most part, just do not work in this particular season of life that I am in. I have been trying to focus more of my office time during the week on writing, but sometimes that just does not work, either, in which case I end up doing a lot of writing at night after Harrison goes to bed.

This was the case last week, Friday evening. Bruce came home from wrestling practice and I was surrounded by notes and commentaries, staring at a blinking cursor, getting absolutely nowhere in my writing.

And here is the thing about sermon writing – the Sunday morning deadline is always looming. And that night I really did need to make some headway, because I did not have a lot of time the next day to write.

But it just was not working; and finally, I decided that I needed to rest. So I shut my computer, went downstairs and Bruce and I watched two episodes of The Crown. I knew my sermon would be there the next day.

Sometimes in life – both in work and at home – you need to walk away, take a break, rest and recharge. The same is true in our faith, as well. In fact, in this morning’s scripture, Jesus did just that.

Again, we pick up this morning where we left off last week. Over the past three weeks, we have been making our way through the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus hit the ground running in his ministry. He called his disciples, taught in the synagogue, cast out demons and now is healing the sick.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.[1]

The news about Jesus starts to spread; people hear about what Jesus is doing and about the power that he has and they start to bring their loved ones to him so that he can heal them. Jesus is not simply healing the people in his direct vicinity; the gospel writer describes the, “whole city” gathering around the door of the house where Jesus is staying.[2]

Can you even imagine? An entire city of people coming to your house; asking you to heal them and cast out their demons? Honestly, on the days when I feel overwhelmed by life and motherhood and ministry, I often think, well at least there is not an entire city of people banging down my door, asking me to fix their problems.

Right?

Of course, Jesus does not miss a beat. He cures the sick, casts out the demons and everyone – even the demons – knows who Jesus is.

But then, what does Jesus do?

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.[3]

Jesus takes a break.

Jesus does not go and go and go and go; he pauses. He walks away. He retreats.

The cool thing about reading through these Marken passages chronologically over the past couple of weeks is that we know all that Jesus has going on. We know that he has been gathering his disciples, that his ministry started fast and strong and that the crowds following him are now growing at exponential rates.

And now he needs to rest.

This passage reminds us that we need to take Sabbath; every single one of us (even those of us that say we are too busy). Far too often we try to go and go and go and go without pausing, without walking away, without retreating. But in reading this passage we are reminded that Jesus, himself, needed Sabbath!

What makes us think that we do not need it from time to time?

This passage has a lot to teach us about what it means to take care of ourselves when we have a lot going on. Sabbath is not just a concept that can be found in the bible, but it was an integral part of the creation of the Gospel. As Jesus began to write this Christian narrative, he certainly had a lot going on, but he took time; he made Sabbath a priority.

We should do the same.

“S” is for Sabbath.

(Remember that; it will come around again.)

But Sabbath, alone, is not enough. There has to be intentionality to it, as well.

Jesus did not stay at the house and say a little prayer when things quieted down. He left; he went to a deserted place and intentionally carved out that time. He created the Sabbath time that he so desperately needed and we have to do the same in our lives, as well.

True Sabbath is not an impromptu timeout; it is what happens when we intentionally step outside of the busyness of our everyday lives and seek strength, wisdom and energy from God.

Sabbath is something we do for ourselves; not for others. Jesus did not use this time as an opportunity to teach the disciples about prayer or to pray for everyone who had come for healing. Jesus used this time for himself. He went to a place where no one else was. This time was about him and God.

And, truth be told, this makes Sabbath all the more difficult. Because what I am saying is that it is not something that can just be worked into our daily schedule. We cannot multitask and sneak some Sabbath in while we are already doing something else.

We have to be intentional about creating opportunities for Sabbath. And if you think you do not have time, believe me, I understand. But Jesus did not have time; Jesus made time.

We should do the same.

“I” is for intentional.

Here is the unique thing about Sabbath: I do not think Sabbath and self-care are the same things. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that self-care is extraordinarily important, but I do think that sometimes we confuse the two.

For example: Last Friday night when I watched The Crown instead of writing my sermon – that was not Sabbath, that was self-care.

Here is what makes the difference:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.[4]

The key phrase in all of this is, “there he prayed.” Jesus did not go to a desert place to take a nap or get a massage or go for a run; he went to a deserted place to pray.

I read a commentary this week that talked about just how important is it to note Jesus’ commitment to prayer, particularly as it comes through in this Gospel. It said:

For Mark, prayer is not peripheral to the identify of Jesus, and by implication, not peripheral for those who follow him.[5]

Which means prayer should not be peripheral to our identity, but very much a part of it.

And I know this is a tough one, because prayer is not necessarily something we are all automatically comfortable with. But there are a lot of opportunities – both here at the church and at home – where you can learn how to pray and get more comfortable with it.

Coming to worship on a Sunday morning is a great way to find time for prayer during the week because we have that time carved out in our service.

I am going to make a shameless plug for Taizé because we create a space that is conducive to prayer and then, again, carve out that time in our service.

You can also institute a daily quiet time at home (which, full disclosure, I tried to do last year and failed about nine days in – but you might have more luck than me!). There are daily devotionals that you can buy or download where a prayer is already written out for you and you can use that as a starting point in your prayer time.

Part of our call, as Christians, is to connect with God through prayer. This is something Jesus demonstrated over and over again.

We should do the same.

“P” is for prayer.

This morning I invite you to take a “sip” – Sabbath, intentional, prayer – and connect with God and see how your life might be transformed. I guarantee – and I do not guarantee things very often – that you will be stronger and calmer and feel more whole if you take a sip.

God cannot work within us if we do not create that space to allow God to come into our lives and our minds and our hearts.

Back to my Friday night binge-watching of The Crown: I think I got more accomplished in a shorter amount of time on Saturday because I took that time to rest on Friday.

The same is true for Sabbath. When we intentionally carve out time for prayer, it does not matter how stressed or busy we might be, amazing things will happen.

So take a sip!

Sabbath.

Intentional.

Prayer.

And may you, like Christ, have the strength, endurance, wisdom and voice to proclaim the Good News of God’s love in this world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 1:29-31, NRSV
[2] Mark 1:32-34
[3] Mark 1:35, NRSV
[4] Mark 1:35, NRSV
[5] Charles, Gary W. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, page 335 & 337 (Exegetical Perspective)

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Resisting The Evil In Our Lives

Hi Friends!

This text challenges me every time it pops up in the lectionary.  We don’t talk about casting out evil spirits very often up here in New England, so I usually end up kind of preaching around it.  But for some reason, I decided to just tackle it head on this week.  And by the end of my sermon, I had the entire church chant with me, “Not Today, Satan!”

I’d call that a success.

Hard to believe next weekend is the first Sunday in February.  We’ve got another Super Bowl challenge going on at the church – go Pats!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 28, 2018

Mark 1:21-28

Resisting The Evil In Our Lives

We pick up where we left off last week (although, don’t worry, I promise not to sing The Village People again). Jesus was in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God; he called four fishermen – Simon, Andrew, James and John – and they dropped their nets, left their boats and followed him.

And here begins this morning’s passage: They all travel to Capernaum and when the Sabbath comes, Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach. The disciples are amazed because he is teaching with such authority and wisdom.

And then there is a disruption. A man with an unclean spirit inside of him comes into the synagogue and begins to yell at Jesus.

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.

Jesus does not falter; he says to the unclean spirit inside the man:

Be silent, and come out of him!

And with that command, the unclean spirit comes out. The disciples are even more amazed and the news about Jesus begins to spread throughout Galilee.

This story is, for all intents and purposes, about an exorcism, which – let’s be honest – is not something we talk about very often in old New England Congregational churches.

I am part of a group on Facebook of clergy women who preach out of the Revised Common Lectionary and someone posed the question this week, “Okay, for real, guys, what are y’all going to do with this Mark text? How do we explain exorcisms?” and someone so wisely replied, “Preach another text.”

Which I strongly considered doing.

But I think this text can challenge us. I think it can challenge our understanding of evil, of the work that God is doing in our lives to fight against evil and of what it means for us to recognize and acknowledge that evil as we seek to grow in our knowledge and love of God.

Because I think we can all admit that – in some way, shape or form – there is evil in this world. It is heartbreaking to admit; but it’s true.

Last week I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post from a podcaster I listen to who lives in Austin, Texas. She was so excited about a t-shirt someone had recently gifted her and posted a picture of it. The shirt said, in big block letters:

NOT TODAY, SATAN

I was so tickled when I saw the post, because the whole thing was just so deliciously southern that I immediately got a hankering for biscuits and gravy with a side of sweet tea.

The truth is, in our culture – in our area of the country, in our denomination, specifically in our church – we do not often talk about Satan or casting out demons. We like to focus on a God that loves, on a Jesus whose life and ministry we can emulate and on a Holy Spirit that fills us and makes us whole.

And yet, here in scripture, while Jesus is teaching about that power and Good News of God, evil lurks. A man with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue and begins to yell at Jesus.

As I started to think through my sermon, I read a few different translations of this text to see how else the man with the unclean spirit was described.

The New International Version describes the man as being “possessed by an impure spirit.” The Message says the man was, “deeply disturbed with an afflicting spirit.” The New Living Translation says the man was, “possessed by an evil spirit.” The New Life Version says the man, “had a demon.”

No matter how you look at this scripture, translate it or interpret it, the meaning is clear: Evil manifested itself in this man.

Remember when I said I strongly considered preaching another text? Well, I had actually made the switch in our worship document on Tuesday morning; but then something happened in bible study that day that changed my mind and gave me the courage to tackle the exorcism.

We are currently studying the Gospel of Matthew in bible study and were looking at chapter 16, where Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. Peter takes Jesus aside after he does this and tries to rebuke him, but Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me.”[1]

We all kind of paused when we read this, because it so boldly showed us Jesus’ own understanding of evil in this world. Jesus not only recognized evil, but he saw it within his own disciples. And even more than that, Jesus, himself, knew he had to fight to resist that evil. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said, “You are a stumbling block to me.”

This, of course, reminded me of that t-shirt I saw on Instagram and I brought it up in conversation and one thing led to another and … I made a sign for my office.

… and also ordered a mug.

Now Bruce (rightfully so) kind of gave me a side eye when I told him I was going to do this, but hear me out: I believe there is evil in this world. And whether we call it evil or Satan or the devil or our own imperfections and humanity out to get us (and, for the record, I am still trying to figure out what to call it most days) – I think it needs to be named.

Because how else are we going to fight back against it?

Talking about God and about God’s love, grace, mercy and redemption is so much more fun than talking about evil, especially when we are talking about how that evil manifests itself in us.

But that is what this story is about. Evil manifests itself in a man and Jesus casts out that evil.

So what does that mean for us? Does evil manifest itself in us?

I am not saying that any of us are evil. But I am saying that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. We all do and say things that we regret. And even more than that, we all have inner demons; demons that tell us we are not good enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, pretty enough, strong enough, talented enough. I believe this is part of what it means to be human – to resist the evil in the world that threatens to manifest itself with us.

But the grace of knowing God is believing that God is stronger than those mistakes, more powerful than those regrets and loves harder than those demons that constantly tell us we are not enough. Knowing God means God is constantly working that evil out of us, even if it is an ongoing process (and I do not know about you all, but this it is an ongoing process with me).

(Which is why I think I am going to benefit from the “NOT TODAY SATAN” reminder.)

When we read this story and put ourselves inside that synagogue, learning from Jesus and witnessing him casting the evil spirit out of that man, I think it reminds us that Jesus can and will do the same for us. Jesus will give us wisdom as we discern the difference between right and wrong. Jesus will give us gentle words in those moments when we need them (and apologies in those moments after when perhaps the gentle words did not come soon enough). Jesus will stop the comparison traps that we all fall into and help us to believe that we are good enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, pretty enough, strong enough and talented enough.

Casting out evil does not have to look like an exorcism you might find in a movie. It can simply look like God helping us resist the real evil that exists in the world, the evil that tries to eat away at who we are – who God created us to be and who God is calling us to be. Casting out evil can simply look like God reminding us that we are who God says we are, that we know the difference between right and wrong and that we are enough. It can simply look like God constantly working within us, giving us the courage and wisdom to resist evil and proclaim the Gospel.

I think we need to talk about evil; about our own struggles, about our shortcomings and about the things that tempt us. Because how else are we going to resist them? How else are we going to strengthen our relationship with God and proclaim the Good News in this world?

Now I am not suggesting that you hang a sign on your wall that says, NOT TODAY SATAN (although I would be happy to print you your own copy!). But I do think we all need to name the evil that we feel and experience – whatever that looks like for us – and believe that God is stronger and trust that God will cast it out of us.

Not today, Satan! Not today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 16:23, NRSV

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This Is Not About Us

Hi Friends!

I recorded the intro to my podcast last night and edited it and then never uploaded it and there is a part of me that wants to re-record the intro (because I say, “It’s Monday, January 22nd” and now it’s Tuesday), but there is a bigger part of me that is just going to go with it because imperfection is a sign of grace, bible study starts in 30 minutes and I love Harrison squealing at the end of the intro I recorded last night.

So I’m going to go with it!

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  I preached on the call of the disciples, quoted the village people and shared some of my struggles as of late.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 21, 2018

Mark 1:14-20

This Is Not About Us

Sometimes I find it harder to preach on the more familiar and well-known stories in the bible than I do the obscure ones. This story – Jesus calling his disciples – is one that basically shows up in the lectionary every year. In fact, we looked at a different iteration of this story last week in the Gospel of John when Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael. My Tuesday morning bible study is also familiar with this particular story; we are currently studying the Gospel of Matthew, which also tells this same story where Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John.

Suffice is to say, this idea of leaving behind my life to follow Jesus has been on my mind a lot lately. And this is an easy one, right? Jesus calls the men to be his disciples; they leave what they are doing and follow him. How hard could that be? You fish for fish and Jesus teaches you how to fish for people! It seems fairly straightforward and what this whole proclaiming to be Christian and coming to church thing is all about in the first place.

And yet, lately I am realizing that – like with many parts of our faith – this is so much easier said than done. Truth be told, this is kind of hard for me. Because to truly drop what you are doing and follow Christ means letting go of a certain amount of control and letting God lead you on your journey, even if you do not know what the journey is going to look like.

And, personally, I like the security that comes from knowing what is coming next; I like having control.

I know you are all shocked to hear that.

Which is why the past couple of months at the church – as we once again found ourselves without a settled Music Director (particularly in those few weeks before Aaron came back to help us out) – have been somewhat challenging for me.

For what it’s worth, I will say that from the moment this transition started, I knew I was going to learn something from the experience. I cannot explain it other than to say, I felt like God was up to something.

So I went with it.

But only sort of.

Confession time: Even though I truly believed God was going to teach me something through this transition and I trusted God to carry us through and bring us where we needed to be, I immediately jumped into an over functioning mode where I scurried around behind the scenes to make it look like I had everything under control. I did not want worship to be interrupted by the fact that we did not have a settled Music Director; in fact, I almost wanted to prove that we did not need one. We are talented, I thought to myself! We can do this! We have everything and everyone we need, right here in our congregation, to create beautiful music. And so I worked with the Music Committee and the choir and organized solos, duets, combos, etc. Every week someone stepped up and shared their musical gifts with us.

And here’s the thing: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing; because, for the past three months, we have had the most beautiful and uplifting music in worship. And even as we move forward and hire a new Music Director, I hope this special music in worship continues; because it really has touched my heart and I know it has touched a lot of yours. I always say worship needs to be relevant, meaningful and accessible to all. Everyone who has sung or played or performed in some way over the past three months really has helped make that happen; and for that I am very grateful.

So, thank you.

That being said, I did learn something from this experience, but, of course, not exactly in the way I expected.

When I was planning for Advent, one of the dates I completely fixated on was December 17th, because that is the Sunday we had originally scheduled our Christmas Cantata, which – understandably – we had to cancel. But I so desperately wanted the music to be really, really good that Sunday, because I felt like you all deserved to have a great musical Sunday during Advent.

And so I made it my personal mission to make sure that happened. I called Mary Bee to come sing, I had Brandon come in with his drums, Dan played the bass, Aaron went above and beyond that week to find music and rehearse and that Sunday morning I was PYSCHED; because I knew the music was going to be good.

Which, by the way, it was.

I was wound up – giddy, almost – because I knew it was going to be good and I knew it was going to make people happy and there was a part of me that was just feeling a little prideful about the whole thing. Because we had done it; we had held it together. In the words of the (church in the) village people, “You can’t stop the music! Nobody can stop the music!”

However, as I was robing up that morning, I looked in the mirror and heard God say to me:

Sarah, this isn’t about you.

Now, for the record, I did not hear a booming voice or anything.

But the message was clear.

This was not about me. And even more than that, this was not about the church. This was – and is – about God. We gather here to give glory to God; through this church, we enact our faith and try to do what God is calling us to do. It is here that we respond to the call to drop our fishing nets and follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not about our (okay, my) pride. This is not about having control. This is not about needing to prove anything to anyone. This is not about doing things the way they always have been done. This is not about making changes because it is the trendy thing to do. This is about listening to God speak to us, calling us to be disciples of Jesus Christ, here at this church, within our community, in our lifetime.

To be clear: It is okay that I wanted to hear and create beautiful music in worship. But it kind of comes back to the why, right? We should want incredible music so that we can enhance our worship and allow everyone to connect with God; not so it would look like I had everything under control.

In fact, everything we do at this church should circle back to giving glory to God; we should constantly be asking ourselves the question, how do our worship services, programs, community events, etc. connect us to God and point us back to the Gospel?

Which begs the question: Why do you do the things that you do? In life, in work, in your relationships, with money, as you parent, when you interact with people – why do you do what you do? Does it come from a place of pride? A need to control? To please people? Because it is the way it has always been done? Because it makes life easier?

Or do you do these things because you believe they are what God is calling you to do? Because you believe they somehow point you back to the path Jesus is leading you on?

Very often the lives we want to lead – the lives the world encourages us to lead, the lives that are comfortable – are not the same lives God calls us to live. Our plans are not always God’s plans.

And I really do feel that this scripture – the call of these four disciples to follow Jesus – boldly calls us to look at our needs, our wants and our desires with what God needs us to do, with what God wants us to do and with what God’s desires for us.

First and foremost, this – being church – is about following Jesus. It is about displaying a level of commitment as deep as the one demonstrated when hardworking fishermen dropped their nets and abandoned their boats – their livelihood – and followed a man on faith. It is not about us. It is not about us having control or looking perfect or getting our way or doing things the way we want to do them. This is about following Jesus.

Now I joke about my control issues – and they are, for the most part, pretty comical – but I do think they are an example of real issues many of us share when we get caught up in the human world we are living in and we lose sight of the grace God is calling us into.

This is not easy, because it requires something of us; it requires a lot of us, actually. These men not only left their jobs, but also the people that they knew and loved. James and John left their father in the boat and all of the men who worked for them.

But it was not about them; it was about following Jesus.

It is not about us. The way we live our lives, the way we govern this church, the way we care for one another – this is not about us, it is about following Jesus. And I truly believe that if we focus on that – on following the Gospel and listening to God speaking to us today – everything else will just fall into place.

Perhaps through this story we are not called to literally leave our lives and follow Christ, but rather we are called to leave the parts of our lives that draw us away from God and closer to our earthly desires. This story points us back to Jesus; it reminds us that, as Christians, we are called to follow him and try to emulate our lives based on the Gospel.

And I think if we do these things, we will be amazed at how everything just kind of falls into place.

So as you leave worship today and enter back into the busyness of your week tomorrow, I would encourage you to stop for a moment; look at your reflection in the mirror and remind yourself, hey this is not about me, this is about God. Think about why you do the things that you do. Point those things back to God. And see what nets you might drop, what boats you might abandon, what people you might leave behind as you follow Christ and spread the Good News of God’s love in this world.

As it turns out, this easy and straightforward story from the Gospel of Mark – that, in one way or another, I preach on every year – kind of called me to task. But I do think if we all take this message to heart and boldly apply this sense of call to our lives, we will – like Jesus says when he comes into Galilee – believe in the good news.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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