We Show Up Anyway

And here is my sermon from our 10AM livestream! It was so lovely to have a trumpeter and a vocalist in worship with us this morning – and to hear the organ! What a blessing. Here is my sermon, as well as the video from the livestream.

Happy Easter!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 4, 2021

Mark 16:1-8

Show Up Anyway

What I love about the Easter story is that it does not require us to have all the answers.

It just requires us to be faithful.

We just heard the story of the resurrection as told in the Gospel of Mark.  This gospel is, by far, the most anticlimactic of the four gospels when it comes to the Easter story.  You may have noticed that Jesus does not actually appear in this narrative.  In fact, the story does not end with Mary or the disciples telling people that Jesus has been raised; instead, the women flee from the tomb, terrified.

If you look at this story in the bible (in the Gospel of Mark), itself, there are two endings; one short passage that follows the end of our reading where the women briefly tell Peter and those around him what had been commanded of them and then there is a longer ending, one scholars believe was actually added later on, where Jesus, himself, appears to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples.

So the original ending to this gospel does not end with resurrection neatly tied up in a bow.  It ends here – with an empty tomb and a whole lot of questions.

But like I said, what I love about the Easter story is that it does not require us to have all the answers.  It just requires us to be faithful.

And these women were.  Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome – they were faithful.

Let’s back up for a minute.

After Jesus died, as soon as the Sabbath was over, Mary and Mary gathered up the spices that they would need to anoint Jesus’ body and they went to the tomb.  And the thing is, at the time, they really did not have a plan for what they were going to do when they got there.  They even had a conversation about this; they asked themselves on the way to the tomb who was going to roll the stone away for them.

And, if you think about it, this conversation about who is going to roll away the stone really sets up the narrative for what happens next when they arrive at the tomb and the stone is already rolled away.

It is a little bit of subtle foreshadowing.

But my point is this:  They went to the tomb anyway.  Mary and Mary gathered up the spices that they were going to need to anoint Jesus’ body and went to the tomb.  They had no idea how they were going to get in when they got there, but they showed up anyway.

Now, I realize that I am projecting a lot into a small and potentially insignificant part of this story, but as someone who likes having a plan and knowing how, exactly, everything is going to line up, I am fascinated by these women in this story, because if someone had met them along their journey and asked them how, they were going to get into the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they would not have had an answer.

But they were faithful.

They showed up anyway.

Now – isn’t that what we have been doing all year?  Not really knowing, sometimes, what we were going to have to do or how we were going to do it, we showed up anyway, sometimes in person, sometimes from our cars and sometimes virtually.  Not necessarily always having a plan, we showed up anyway.  Not having the ability to take part in beloved traditions and familiar routines, we showed up anyway.

For significant parts of the last year or so, we have had far more questions than we have had answers.

But we have been faithful.

And we have shown up anyway.

But this is what it means to have faith, right?  To believe in the things that we cannot see, to trust in the things that we do not understand.

What I love about this passage, especially where it cuts off with Mary and Mary fleeing from the tomb without actually seeing the Risen Christ, is the fact that it leaves room for questions.  Resolution to why the tomb is empty or what the heck happened overnight is not wrapped up neatly in a bow, rather there are some loose ends hanging around.  This story reminds us that it is okay if sometimes we experience fear or anxiety in our own lives and faith, if we have questions or if we still have a few loose ends that need to be tied up.

But this is actually a more realistic understanding of how our faith works, anyway – especially now.  Even with the situation with the pandemic hopefully starting to improve, we still have a whole lot of questions and not a lot of answers about what comes next.  We do not necessarily have a plan; we do not know how we are going to roll away the stone when we arrive at the tomb.

But we have faith that it will happen.

Like these women who gathered up some spices and just started walking, we have faith that we are going to figure it out when we arrive.

But this is resurrection; it is the promise that God will help us figure out the details, it is the reassurance that we do not have to have all of the answers, it is the hope that, sometimes against all odds, we will emerge from the darkness and shine God’s light into the world.

Last year I preached Easter Sunday alone from my house.  And I think, even years from now, I will look back on that Easter as one of the most faithful moments of our generation for this church.

Because it did not feel like Easter Sunday last year; it still felt like Good Friday.  At the time, we were still very much deep in the valley of the unknown when it came to pandemic.  Hope was there, but it was really hard to hold onto.

And yet we still showed up.  With few answers and the most broken of hallelujahs, we showed up and proclaimed the Good News that Christ has risen.

We were faithful.  We have continued to be faithful.  And we will continue to be faithful as we figure out what comes next.

Despite the fact that I am still livestreaming from an empty sanctuary, I do have a lot of hope for what comes next.  It was wonderful to gather with actual people outside on Redway Plain this morning for our sunrise services!  And I am grateful for the technological advances we have made over this past year that will hopefully make it possible for us to reach a point over the next few weeks where we can move our livestream outside and invite people to worship in person if they would like to.  I am amazed at the way the work has continued within our boards and committees, work that has not only nurtured our church, but reached out to and touched the community, as well.  In a time where we are, as the old adage goes, “flying by the seat of our pants,” we have accomplished so much.  We have figured it out as we went along.  We have remained faithful.

Friends, today we take a moment to celebrate the Good News that Christ is risen.  We celebrate the Good News that death did not have the final word, that love always wins, that God is stronger and more powerful than any obstacles or challenges we might face here, on earth.  Today we take a moment to celebrate the Good News that resurrection is real – and that there are no lost causes.

This is, after, what we do, as Christians on Easter, pandemic or not.  We proclaim this Good News!  We take this moment to rejoice in God’s redeeming work in this world.

And tomorrow, we will gather up our spices and figure out what happens next.  Even without answers, we will show up anyway.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

We’ll Figure It Out Later

Hi Friends!  Happy Palm Sunday!  We had such a wonderful weekend at church.  We had a drive-thru palm distribution on Saturday morning and then people who had ordered soup for our Drive-Thru Soup Supper came to the church in the afternoon to pick up their soup and we gave them palms, as well.  The weather was perfect and it was just nice to be outside be together and feel a little piece of normal again.

Here is my Palm Sunday sermon, as well as the video from this morning’s sermon.  One of the cool parts about how we do worship is that I am following the comments on Facebook throughout the service.  It was SO cool to see the shouts of “Hosanna!” pop up in the comments from all over the country.

Peace be with you, friends.  Let’s journey to the cross together.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, March 28, 2021

Mark 11:1-11

We’ll Figure It Out Later

I was talking to a friend of mine from seminary this week about preaching on Palm Sunday and I shared with her that I was having a hard time getting motivated to write my sermon.  As she and I reflected on this, I realized that, in some ways, I am just not ready to talk about Palm Sunday this year because I am still very much stuck in Good Friday from last year.

Last year during Holy Week, we were, essentially, locked down.  I streamed all of our services from my house, we made the very difficult decision not to hand out palms or have any kind of in-person gathering over the Easter weekend and we all, kind of, braced ourselves for the surge we knew was coming.

On a personal level, I was pregnant; I was a week away from giving birth and both trying desperately to stay calm for the sake of my baby, my family and my church, but also to hold onto hope that light eventually would break through the darkness we were facing.

The hope that I had proclaimed from this pulpit for ten years.

The hope that I believed in.

The hope that was being tested for all of us.

I remember reading a lot of conversations in my clergy circles about Easter, itself.  There was a little bit of a movement started to actually postpone Easter.  I realize how ridiculous that sounds now, but remember, at the time, this was supposed to be over in two weeks.  The theory was that a switch would flip and we would emerge out of this darkness proclaiming the Good News of resurrection.

One year later, while things are certainly improving, that switch has not flipped.  In some ways, it feels as though we are still stuck in Good Friday, desperately awaiting resurrection.

For the record, I was team Easter last year; I thought it would be a true testament to our faith to sing of the Good News of resurrection with hope, even though that hope was really difficult to see.  This was, after all, why we do the hard work of strengthening our faith when things are good – so that we have that strong foundation when things are not easy.

What I did not realize, however – what we all have slowly been coming to grips with over the past year – is that there never would be a clear-cut end to the pandemic, that we were going to have to slowly enter and figure out a “new normal”.  The switch that we were all assuming – hoping – would flip was and is more of a dimmer slide that slowly moves up and down.

And so it feels weird to be going into Holy Week again this year, because, in some ways, it feels like we never really got out of it last year.  And yet, there is hope, right?  We are in a better place than we were a year ago.

This past week, my Facebook memories showed me that, one year ago, Deb Woodard had just delivered the first round of our Peace Be With You yard signs.  Those signs were meant to be a symbol of hope, a visual sign of encouragement to people as they passed by.

The really cool part about those signs is that we put them in our yards and declared this message of peace and love at a time when people really needed it.  And that was wonderful!  But, looking back, I am not sure we completely understood just what that meant at the time.  I think that, even more than simply putting out signs and declaring this massage, we then spent this last year really living into it and learning what it meant.

We never stopped doing church; we never closed.  No, we could not do church the way we were used to doing it (or, quite frankly, the way we wanted to do it), but we found a way to make it work.  Our Missions Committee hosted drives, prepared meals and made monetary donations to local individuals and organizations.  Our sewers shifted from making items to sell at the bazaar to making PPE to donate to local hospitals.  Our musicians figured out how to use recording equipment and software so they could still sing together.  Our Church School was able to remain in session, using pre-recorded videos, craft kits, live Google meets and care packages dropped off at their houses.  Our Deacons hosted a prayer service online every single night.  People sent cards and gifts to one another.  We adapted and found ways to host some of our favorite worship services and events.  The Deacons and I served communion, rain or shine (but not during the blizzard, which I think everyone understood).

My point is this – not really knowing what it meant at the time, in March of 2020, we declared this message of peace and love and then we figured out what it meant.

In some ways we are still figuring it out.

As strange as this sound, I think this is kind of what the Palm Sunday story is all about.  People created this triumphal entry for Jesus into Jerusalem; a parade along a path lined with cloaks and palms.  They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” probably not actually knowing fully what that meant at the time.  They boldly proclaimed this cry of praise and adoration, not completely grasping what was going to happen when they arrived in Jerusalem.

But they lived into it.  As the story continued to unfold, they learned what it meant to say those words.  They continued on this journey.  The experienced the crucifixion, not knowing that resurrection was coming.  Like we all did one year ago, they put their faith in something that they could not necessarily see or understand.  They shouted Hosanna without a clear understanding of what that was going to mean moving forward and yet those shouts were bold and confident.

As Christians, part of our call is to do this, as well.

To shout, “Hosanna!” on the way to Jerusalem, even if we do not know what is going to happen when we arrive.

To be harbingers of the light, even when the darkness feels blinding.

To share a message of peace and love, even if we are only just beginning to figure out what it means to live into it.

This year has taught me many things.  But one of the lessons I have learned is that you do not have to understand something to believe in it – or have all of the details worked out before you step out on a journey.

Our faith, after all, is a journey; and not one where we arrive at our destination, with life and faith completely figured out and then just coast, but one where we are constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly challenging ourselves to understand the world differently.

And so, as we wave our palms this year (and you have them to wave this year because we were able to hand them out, praise be to God!), I do not have a clear vision of what is next.  I know that we are starting to move that dimmer switch up, but I do now know how quickly that will happen or what that is even going to mean.

But I do have confidence that we are going to figure it out along the way.  Because we always do.  In so many ways, we proved that last year.

So may we, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our Lord!” even if we do not know, exactly, what that means.  Let us boldly declare this cry of praise and adoration, even if we do not, exactly, know how things are going to play out next.  Let us continue on this journey, learning, growing and challenging ourselves.  Let us, with faith and conviction, proclaim the Good News of hope in resurrection and peace to all.

We will figure out what it means later.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

Hi friends.

It was hard to preach this morning.

I know there are people that think I said too much.  I know there are people that wish I would have said more.  It is something of an exhausting period in history to preach through, but I tried to say what was on my heart and what would be most helpful for my congregation. The text from my sermon is below, as well as the video from this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

I stared at a blinking cursor on an empty word document for a long time on Friday trying to figure out what to say this morning.

You see, this pulpit is a privilege.  It is a privilege that has been given to me because of my call, but it is also one that comes with great responsibility.  I feel a responsibility not only to you all, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, but also to those who stood behind this pulpit before me who, just like I did this week, struggled for 300 years to find adequate and appropriate words to speak in the midst of wars, tragedies, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorist attacks.

What happened on Wednesday was not okay.  Like most of you, I am sure, I spent a lot of time this week trying to process it and understand it and also trying to reconcile the issues of injustice that were powerfully put on display.

I read and heard a lot of comments on Wednesday into Thursday that said this is not who we are, but it is; as a nation, we are so very broken right now.  The chaos that ensued this week was shocking but, sadly, not surprising.  This is, unfortunately, exactly who we are.

To be clear, I do not think it is my job to stand behind this pulpit today and offer political commentary on what happened this week.  You all know that, knowing we are such a diverse community, for better or for worse I try to stay as politically “neutral” as possible and focus on the Gospel, though many argue that the Gospel is inherently political, which is a sentiment I would certainly agree with.  And so it is tricky; it is especially tricky, because one of my goals is to be a relevant preacher.  To stand up here today and not acknowledge what happened this week would not be true to who I am – and who I believe God is calling us to be, as a congregation.

I guess this is my way of saying that this might not actually be a good sermon.  Like everyone else, I am having a really hard time finding words that are both adequate and appropriate and also speak to you all, my church family, no matter where you are today.

Despite the events that happened this week and despite the fact that this is, unfortunately, who we are right now, I do not believe that this is who we are called to be.  This is not who we are called to be, as a country and certainly not who we are called to be, as a church community.  We are called to proclaim to Gospel; to live into the vows we made at our baptisms, resisting evil, seeking justice and loving others the way Christ loved us.

Speaking of baptisms, today is the Baptism of Christ Sunday.  It is, sort of, the kickoff to Jesus’ public ministry in the liturgical year.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is, of course, near the end of the calendar year; then we journey to Christmas, where Jesus is born and then to Epiphany, where the Wise Men follow the star to visit Jesus and offer him gifts.  Then there is a time lapse of about 30 years in less than a week and Jesus’ travels from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

You know I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a calendar of scripture that follows the liturgical year.  It is a three-year cycle and every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the Gospels and one of the Epistles.  More often than not these passages relate to one another and so when I am planning worship I will not just choose one passage, but two (some churches will even read all four passages every week) as a way of looking at recurring themes throughout multiple scriptures.

It is not necessarily a perfect method for planning worship, though and so I have, over the past few years, gone off-lectionary – we did the Year of Mark and then a couple of different sermon series.  I found myself back on the lectionary at the beginning of 2020, mostly in preparation for what I thought was going to be a completely offline maternity leave; but what I have found is that being on the lectionary has created stability for me, as a preacher, in an otherwise unstable time.

Which brings me to this morning.

On Monday morning when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service, it was not a question as to whether or not we would look at the Gospel this morning and remember Jesus’ baptism.  Out of curiosity, however, I decided to look at what the lectionary paired with the Gospel this year.  And I found it fascinating that in the other two years of the lectionary (remember, this is a three-year cycle), Jesus’ baptism is paired a passage from the Book of Isaiah.  This year, however, the Old Testament passage is Genesis 1:1-5, the very first verses of the entire bible.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

Without even knowing about the chaos that was about to unfold at the Capitol this week, I thought it was fascinating to look at these two passages side by side, one where Jesus is baptized and claimed by God as God’s son and the other where God creates order out of chaos.

Now it seems almost necessary to look at these two passages side by side.

I think we need to be reminded of both of these messages this week.  First of all, I think we do need to remember Jesus’ baptism.  We need to remember that Jesus came into this world, not because it was perfect, but because it was very much broken; that Jesus was baptized, not as an empty symbol, but as a powerful declaration that all must repent and confess their sins in order to be redeemed by the living waters of baptism.

If you, like me, are feeling disheartened or even helpless about who we are right now, remember this: God saw a world in need of redemption and sent a redeemer.  There was hope then and I do believe that there is hope now.

That being said, second of all, I think we also need to take a moment and remember our own baptisms, as well.  We need to remember the promises that we made or that were made on our behalf and that we later affirmed, either through our confirmation or by joining the church.  We need to remember that Christianity is about action; it is about the absolute refusal to be complacent to the evil and injustice that exists in the world.  Yes, it is about declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior and getting to know Jesus on a personal level, but it is also about following Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed, the Gospel he taught, the Gospel he demonstrated.  It is about living out the work that Jesus began here on earth.  As Christians, we have work to do.

At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.

But here is where I find this pairing of Jesus’ baptism with the beginning of the creation story so fascinating.  Because it is in this account of creation that God made order out of chaos.  It is in this account that God took a dark and formless void and created this earth that we are living on today.  It is in this account that God saw great and hopeful potential in something that was, essentially, nothing.

In fact, for thousands and thousands of years, God has seen nothing but great and hopeful potential in our world.

We have to believe that the same is true today.

The creation story reminds us that God can make order out of chaos; God can make order out of the chaos of the formless void that became the earth and God can make order out of the chaos of the world that we are living in today.  I do not know how, but I believe that God can make order out of the political chaos that our country is experiencing right now and that God still sees potential in our world.

The potential for good.

The potential for love.

The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.

But that does not mean that we are to stand by and wait for God to come in and fix it for us.  Friends, we have a lot of work to do.  We have to live into our baptismal promises.  We have to see a world that is broken and vow to do everything that we can to do draw forth that hope, healing and wholeness we are promised in baptism.

For some of us, that may mean political activism on local, state or national levels.  For some of us, that may mean some sort of volunteerism.  For some of us, that may mean putting our money where our mouth is.  For some of us, that may mean reaching out to a family member or a friend in need and helping them on an individual level.

We all have different, but equally important roles to play.  In many ways, I am viewing the events of last week as a call to action; a call to action to create the kind of world that I want my children to grow up in.

The kind of world that I believe God is calling us to create.

The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.

The kind of world that can be transformed by the Gospel.

The kind of world that where we are united by the living waters of baptism that have redeemed us and are continuing to redeem us.

Friends, I know we are all exhausted.  Dealing with political upheaval on top of a pandemic is no small feat.  But we can do hard things, I really do believe that.  And God has not abandoned us, God is still with us.  Together, we can be better than we are right now.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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