Turning Over Tables And Towards Jesus

So … I forgot to record my sermon last weekend.

However, in the grand scheme of all that went on at church last weekend (huge visitation and funeral for one of the pillars of our church), if all I dropped the ball on was recording my sermon, I’m okay with that.

There wasn’t a sermon last week because we didn’t have power following the nor’easter and had to cancel church.  To be clear, I’m not talking about THIS week’s nor’easter, I’m talking about LAST week’s.

I’m so ready for spring.

Here’s my sermon!  I was scheduled to preach through the letters throughout this Lenten season, but decided to preach on Jesus turning over the tables in the temple LAST weekend, which turned into this past weekend, since I really wanted to get this story in.  So now I have yet to preach out of the letters, my preaching schedule is slightly askew and I’m flying by the seat of my robe.


Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 11, 2018

John 2:13-22

Turning Over Tables And Towards Jesus

Let’s put ourselves in the temple at Passover this morning: Can you imagine how loud it must have been when all of those coins hit the floor?

Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple … [and] also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.{John 2:15, NRSV}

Suffice is to say, people knew Jesus was in the temple that day.

When my mom and I went to Hungary in 2016, we went to church one Sunday morning. We were in the small town of Hévíz, Hungary, which is known for being home to the world’s second-largest thermal lake. There were two churches in the town, a Catholic Church and an Evangelical one. We decided to attend the Catholic Church, thinking we had a better shot of following a Catholic liturgy in Hungarian than we did an Evangelical worship in Hungarian. We walked in and found a seat off to the side, towards the back. We were hoping to blend in so no one would notice that we were: A. Protestant and B. American.

Everything started off really well; the liturgy was very similar to one’s I have experienced in the United States, so I was following along. The Gospel reading was the story of Mary and Martha, so I even kind of knew what was going on with that. My peripheral vision was on high alert, so I knew when to kneel and when to stand.

And then we got to the offering.

I do not know if this is how it normally works in the Catholic Church, or if this was just specific to this parish, but the priest introduced the offering, sent the baskets out into the congregation and then moved on to the Eucharist while everyone was passing the baskets around putting their offerings in.

And at the precise moment that the priest was consecrating the host – the Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, so they believe the wafer and the wine literally become the body and blood of Christ – the person to my right handed me the offering basket, which, at that point, was full of forint, which is the Hungarian currency, which I had recently learned, makes large use of coins.

In other words, the basket was mostly full of coins.

Oh – and did I mention that the floor of this church was tile?

Maybe you can see where this story is going.

So I put my forint in the basket, hand it to my mom, who was sitting to the left of me. And for the record, I could have sworn I saw she had a hand on the basket before I let it go.

But apparently I was wrong.

The basket hit the floor and coins went EVERYWHERE.

Which was not exactly quiet on that tile floor.

So as the priest was consecrating the host – probably the holiest moment of the entire service – my mom and I found ourselves on our hands and knees frantically gathering the money that was bouncing off the tile and rolling away.

So much for blending in.

Suffice is to say, people knew we were in the church that day.

Of course, we were going for subtle; I am not entirely sure that Jesus was.

I have always loved the dramatic flair of this story; the image of the coins bouncing around the floor of the temple while the tables flew in the air, Jesus taking a whip and using that to shoo everyone out, people and animals alike. I can only imagine that the moneychangers were – like my mom and I in church that Sunday – on their hands and knees frantically trying gather up the coins that were scattering everywhere while the animals went in every different direction and the people who were selling them ran around trying to get control.

But even more than that, I have kind of always loved this story, because there is a real human side of Jesus that we see in this moment. For a man who we know from the gospel to be generally fairly calm and even-tempered – who healed the sick, fed the hungry, reached out to the poor and the marginalized and taught his disciples and his followers how to pray – he, like many of us do from time to time, got angry and lost his temper.

Let’s back up: It was almost time for Passover and people from all over – probably close to 100,000 people – were traveling to Jerusalem for the festival. When Jesus arrived, he realized they had set up a marketplace in the temple. There were people selling cattle, sheep and doves and there were also moneychangers.

The question, of course, is why were they doing this, particularly inside the temple. Well, first of all, people who had a long way to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover needed a place to buy an animal to sacrifice, because it was not always easy or possible for them to travel to Jerusalem with one. By having the animals for sale in the temple, people could purchase them when they arrived in Jerusalem. The moneychangers were there to convert foreign currency, so that everyone – no matter where they were traveling from – could purchase one of these animals.

It is hard to pinpoint, exactly, why Jesus was upset, but we can surmise it was probably a combination of the fact that they were likely charging exorbitant rates, both to change the currency and for the animals (there was a high demand for these animals and only one place to get them, so they could get away with jacking up the prices, knowing people would have no choice but to pay them) and also because they were doing this inside the temple, where people were supposed to be worshipping.

“Take these things out of here,” Jesus screamed. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

At first Jesus is talking very literally about what is happening in the temple, but then he shifts and starts speaking in metaphor. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews questioned him about this, saying, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But Jesus, of course, was talking about his body. He would die and in three days, he would be raised.

There is a lot going on in this story. But I think, at its core, Jesus is saying that, ultimately, we need to turn towards our lives him. I think Jesus is saying that we need to intentionally turn our eyes, our minds and our hearts towards Jesus, towards the message of the Gospel. Jesus is not necessarily saying the call to discipleship is an easy one; but rather one that requires us to make sacrifices, to change something about our lives and to sometimes live against the grain of what the world around us is telling us to do.

This is not easy; we live in a very imperfect, very human world; a world filled with earthly desires and temptations. We have basic wants and necessities. We get settled into our routines. I do not blame the people selling the animals for sacrifice or the moneychangers in the temple; they were trying to make a living and they saw an opportunity.

And yet, Jesus is right; we do need to let go of the things that take us away from Jesus and instead build up things that draw us closer to him.

This story is an important one; it appears in all four Gospels. And yet the timing of it in the Gospel of John is really intriguing to me. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this story appears towards the end of the Gospel, after Jesus has already made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His time on earth is wrapping up; there is a sense of urgency in his words and in his actions. He does not have a lot of time left on earth; of course he is going to be foreshadowing what is to come.

And yet in the Gospel of John, this story appears much earlier on. Jesus is baptized, he calls his disciples, they go to the wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine and then enters the temple and all of this happens. The way the story is told in this gospel, Jesus did not wait until he was about to be crucified to boldly tell people to turn towards him; from the very beginning of his ministry it was about pointing people towards Jesus, it was about destroying the things that pull us away from Jesus.

I think there is a really good lesson for us in this, for two reasons: First of all, we do have to fight, sometimes, against the things that pull us away from Jesus. We have to intentionally push back when we are being pulled away. We live in a world where it is not always easy to live out our faith. This particular story is about money and the exchanging of goods within the temple, but it is not just money and material goods that pull us away from Jesus. Often times it is just life itself.

And second of all, I think the placement of the story in this particular gospel reminds us that we do not have to wait until there is a sense of urgency to point our lives to Jesus. From the very beginning, this is what we should be doing. We should be making this our focus today, in our lifetime. It is not about waiting until the timing is right; the time is now.

As hard as this is to admit sometimes, I think we all have our own way of selling animals for sacrifice and changing money in the temple. These are the pieces of our lives where we do not make our faith a priority. We let ourselves be pulled away from the Gospel, from what God is calling us to do. We sometimes focus on the material things and not the Godly things. And this is not something we can fix once and be set for life; this is an ongoing process.

But do you know what the really cool part of this story is? There is hope. There is always hope! Jesus did not say, destroy the temple; Jesus said destroy the temple and in three days I will raise it back up. Even though life sometimes pulls us away from our faith, we can turn around and go back to it. We can push back against the things in our lives threatening our faith, confidently knowing that Jesus is helping to build us a stronger faith.

There was nothing subtle about my mom and me in that Catholic Church in Hungary that July Sunday.

But sometimes there is nothing subtle about being a follower of Jesus, either.

So may we turn our eyes and our minds and our hearts towards Jesus. May we resist the things in our lives that draw us away from our faith and focus on the Gospel. May we turn over tables in our lives and towards Jesus. And may we be built up.

For the kingdom is upon.

Thanks be to God!

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Resisting Evil

I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time sharing this one.  As a preacher, I feel so vulnerable the week following a shooting.  I don’t think there is a “right” thing to say.  I try to tread carefully and that may or may not be the right thing to do, either.  I don’t want to stir up a debate, but I also don’t want anyone to think that I’m afraid to speak hard truths, either.  I want to pray for the victims of this shooting, but I also know that, like so many others have said, thoughts and prayers are just not enough anymore.

Ugh.  It’s so hard.  I spoke a truth that I think my people needed to hear and could take with them and apply to their lives.  Hopefully that was enough.  I pray that God will continue to work out the details and I will be obedient in my preaching.  Because it’s not easy!

So here is my sermon.  Lent 1, Jesus in the wilderness, the weekend after a shooting in our country.


Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 18, 2018

Mark 1:9-15

Resisting Evil

I never used to talk about evil before.

Truth be told, I kind of doubted its existence. It is not that I thought bad things did not happen, but I always attributed them to being human and living in an imperfect world. Part of me thought fire and brimstone pastors talked about evil as a scare tactic and people used evil to excuse their bad behavior.

But I think, even more than that, I did not want to believe that there was someone working against God. I did not want to believe that there was something in this world that was more powerful than God’s love. I did not want to believe that, as human beings, we were being pulled towards evil.

I still don’t.

But I have gotten into this heartbreaking habit of ascending to the pulpit and struggling to find adequate words to speak following a mass shooting in our country. Unimaginable losses keep happening and they are not the result of tragic accidents or natural disasters. They are very much human – and very much evil.

This morning is the first Sunday of Lent, which is a 40-day season leading up to Easter. This time frame evokes the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, the story we heard in this morning’s scripture reading from the gospel of Mark. After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Spirit drove him out to the wilderness.

[Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

I preach on this story every year on the first Sunday of Lent. And I think part of me has always glossed over the Satan part and focused on the wilderness part. I much prefer the narrative of the angels waiting on Jesus than the one of him being with the wild beasts.

But I think, more and more, in today’s culture, in the church and especially in light of what happened this week in Florida, we need to start talking about evil. Because it is real; it is part of our narrative. And it is hurting us in unspeakable ways.

Jesus, himself, was not immune from the evil that exists in the world. He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days; this was an evil that was trying to work against God, an evil that was trying to be more powerful than God’s love, an evil that Jesus was being pulled towards.

We face this kind of evil in our lives today.

A community in Florida was devastated by this kind of evil on Wednesday.

The question, of course, is, what do we do about it? How do we move from the wild beasts that surround us to the angels who await us?

People have wrestled with this question all week. And I hate to disappoint anyone who was hoping I would say something prophetic this morning, I do not have an answer to it, either. The issue of gun violence is very complicated and polarizing in our country right now. I do not know what the solution is and I certainly am not going to stir up a debate this morning.

But I do know this: The Church has, within its capacity, the ability to change people’s lives. And I believe that, if we truly want to make a difference in our country and in the world – if we want to resist the evil that is pulling us and the people around us away from God – we need to start right here in our own community.

We can make a difference in the lives of people who are being pulled towards evil.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness reminds us that, every day, we, too, are being pulled towards an evil trying to work against God, trying to be more powerful than God’s love. And I believe, as a church, we have pull people away from that evil; we have to remind people of what it means to stand in the glory of God’s grace and be a tangible expression of the power of God’s love.

I know the issues at play here, particularly the ones surrounding gun control, are much more complex than this, but those are not issues I can necessarily fix from the pulpit. But what I can do from the pulpit is remind us all – myself included – that we, as a church, have the capacity to change someone’s life. We can be the Body of Christ to someone who desperately needs support. We can show people what it means to love and to be loved. We can teach our children the difference between right and wrong. As hard as someone might be pulled away from us towards evil, we can pull them back towards grace even harder. We can shine light into someone’s world when it is dark. We can show outward and tangible signs of God’s love, a love that is real, a love that always wins and a love that reminds us that resurrection is possible.

You never know what someone might be going through, whether they are a child, a youth or an adult. You never know when they might be on the brink of making a decision that could devastate their lives and the lives of others. So we have to live our lives as a bold witness to God’s love so that others can experience that love. We have to be the church, believing that we could be the difference someone needs; that we are meeting people in their times of desperate need and that we are bringing them out of the wilderness.

A few weeks ago, the children of our Church School made valentines for people in the community whom members of our church identified as someone who could use a pick me up. They send almost 50 cards. On Tuesday morning, we received a note in the office that said:

Thank you for the Valentine card.
I hope all veterans get one.
It meant a lot to me.
My late wife was a Sunday School teacher there,
before we were married sixty eight years ago.
Again, thanks a lot.
Fred Quint (age 91)

This is what it means to be the church; to teach our children how to show compassion and to reach out to someone and meet them in their time of need, let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are loved, they are cherished and they are not alone.

It starts with us, right here in our community. We can make a difference.

By now most of you have heard that Earl Goff has entered hospice and is being cared for at home. As a longtime member of the choir, Earl attended Thursday night choir rehearsals faithfully for the past 60+ years. So this past Thursday, the choir brought their rehearsal to him. About 20 of us piled into the Goff’s living room and, together with Earl’s family, we sang. We sang old classics and new favorites. We sang loudly when the spirit moved and quietly when Earl needed a rest. We used the music of Amazing Grace, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, I Love to Tell The Story, Hear I Am, Lord and many more to touch us in our sadness. We sang the Navy hymn and Earl beamed with pride. We took turns crying. Earl sang along when he could. We joined hands, like we do at the end of worship every week, closed with prayer and then the Goffs brought out cake and ice cream (I joked with Bruce last night that you can’t have church without fellowship after!).

This is what it means to be the church; to show up and love people, as hard as we can. And we do this because we know that it can and will make a difference.

It starts with us, right here in our community. We can make a difference.

I am taking an online course through the Center for Progressive Renewal right now called, Preaching Lent and in the opening webinar this week, Brian McLaren, who is a pastor and author in the emerging church movement, said that, as preachers, we need to intentionally define Lent this year. Lent is not about penance, but about purpose; the purpose of being a disciple.

What is the purpose of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?

I would argue that, right now, in this generation, the purpose is great. The world needs to hear the Good News of God’s love. People need to be pulled away from evil and guided out of the wilderness. They need to see God’s light illuminating a dark world. They need to be reminded that there are angels waiting for them.

As a church, we have been called for such a time as this.

As we enter into this Lenten season, I encourage you to think about the ways that you can resist evil in this world. Ask yourself, how can you make a difference in someone’s life? How can you meet someone in the desert? What is something tangible – even if it something small – you can do to express God’s love? In this church? In the community? For your family and your friends?

I really do believe we can change the world.

Blessings on your Lenten season. May it be filled with purpose, discipleship and a love that overcomes evil. And may you change someone’s life.

Thanks be to God!



Transforming The Way You See The World

And now in the category of “better late than never,” here is my sermon from LAST Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday.  We had a Mardi Gras Sunday at the church that day (check out the pictures on our Facebook page!) and I talked in my sermon about the Transfiguration reminds us that our lives truly can be transformed by our faith.  I hope yours is, as well!

Here’s the sermon.  Enjoy …


Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Transforming The Way You See The World

The story of the transfiguration is one that always brings up a lot of good memories for me. I candidated at this church on Transfiguration Sunday seven years ago. Easter was late that year, so Transfiguration Sunday was the first weekend in March, which just happened to be the weekend of our annual Spaghetti Supper and Dessert Auction.

That Saturday, after a meet and greet with the congregation in the morning, everyone piled into Fellowship Hall for the supper. I remember walking into the hall that night and feeling like it was SO big. I might as well have been walking into Fenway Park that night; it was packed and just felt huge.

At the time, the task ahead seemed so daunting. There were so many people! How was I ever going to learn everyone’s names, I wondered to myself? Where was I even going to start? What if this church needed more than I had the capacity to give?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago; I was setting up for our monthly Taizé worship. I walked into Fellowship Hall, this time empty, dark and quiet, and I thought to myself, well it does not seem so big anymore.

It is amazing how, over time, God changes the way we see things.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. The Transfiguration is about a moment in time when God changed the way people – ordinary people – saw something.

Or more specifically, God changed the way they saw someone: Jesus.

We heard the story out of the Gospel of Mark this morning. Leading up to this, Jesus was traveling, performing signs and inviting people into his ministry. While in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus foretold his death and resurrection and then told the crowd that had gathered around him and his disciples that if they wanted to be one of Jesus’ followers, they needed to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a high mountain and he was transformed, right before their very eyes. His clothes were a dazzling white and he was not alone. He stood alongside side Elijah, a 9th century BCE prophet that can be found in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, and Moses, a prophet who led the Israelite slaves out of Egypt in the Book of Exodus. A cloud came over them and Peter, James and John heard God’s voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Then suddenly, Elijah and Moses were gone; and it was just Jesus standing there.


What an incredible moment that must have been for Peter, James and John; where God changed the way they saw Jesus, showed them the undeniable divinity of Christ and demonstrated the power of God’s love in this world.

Up until this point, they all knew there was something special about Jesus. How could they not? When John baptized him, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus then cast out evil spirits, healed the sick, spoke in parables, fed thousands of people with mere morsels of food and walked on water.

But, in this moment, they saw him differently. They understood the Gospel and what it meant for their lives on another level. Their lives would never be the same.

How, in your life, does God make you see things differently? How does God help you understand the Gospel and what it means for your life on another level? How is your life changed?

Perhaps it is in how you spend your time and money, who you interact with or what you say and do. Maybe it has to do with the career path you have chosen or the values you instill in your family. Maybe it means making different priorities than those around you. Perhaps God will open your eyes to see the needs of others more prominently than your own wants. Or maybe God is simply working on you, as an individual, reminding you that you are loved, you are cherished and you are made whole.

The freedom in having faith comes from letting our lives be defined, not by the earthly stuff, but by the grace God gives to us. If we allow God to, God can transform the world we are living in.

And the crazy thing is, the world, itself, might not change. But we, ourselves will change. The way we view the world and the way we live in the world most certainly will change when God gets involved.

The Transfiguration reminds us that God-sized transformations are happening all around us. Sometimes they can be found in the small things in life and sometimes it is in the big things in life. But in order to see them, we need to follow Jesus up that mountain, we need to open our eyes to witness the presence of God and we need to believe that what we are seeing is real and true.

As much fun as Mardi Gras is, it is not just about having an excuse to throw a party in church; it is about marking the end of one season and the beginning of another.

Lent begins on Wednesday. This season leads us on a journey where we experience the story that defines our faith. Resurrection is the reason that we gather; from this comes the radical truth that death did not and does not have the final word. It is because of this story that people can discover hope, find strength, extend forgiveness, show compassion and uncover grace. Sometimes this goes against all logic and reason, but, as Christians, we know that love always wins and we live our lives bearing witness to this great testimony.

We see things differently.

Certainly, this does challenge us at times. It is hard to look beyond our earthly lives and see the glory God is shining upon us. But this story reminds us that God is always with us, constantly transforming the pieces of our lives, whether we are on the top of a high mountain or down here, just doing day-to-day life. God is helping us to see things differently.

I see the church much differently now than I did seven years ago on that cold March night in a crowded Fellowship Hall. The task no longer seems daunting, per say; but enriching, grace inspiring and, quite frankly, a lot of fun. I see breakfast and suppers, community events and completed mission projects. I see confirmation classes, bible studies, hospital visits and board meetings. I see a church filled with people who are not only willing to go along with my crazy ideas (like Mardi Gras Sunday), but who usually show up with food, as well. I see a church not only with a rich history that I was able to learn about, but also a vibrant present and a hopeful future I am apart of. I not only know people’s names, but I know their stories, as well.

Only God could have done this. Only God could have transformed our ministry together.

Today I wish you many blessings on your Lenten season. I hope our Mardi Gras celebration brings the changing seasons to the front burner in your life and reminds you to mark the beginning of Lent this week, on Ash Wednesday. I pray that, at some point during this Lenten season, your eyes, minds and hearts will be opened to the ways God is working in your life, to the ways God is transforming your life.

I want your lives to be changed by your faith. I want God to help you see the world differently.

So may you, like Peter, James and John, stand in awe in the presence of Christ. May you see the ancient scriptures come alive in your life as you seek to live out God’s word. May you feel and know that God is with you, in the extraordinary moments and in the ordinary ones. May God transform your life. And may you see the world differently.

Thanks be to God!