Looking For Signs

Hi friends!  I know it’s been awhile.  We closed on our house at the beginning of the summer and then my computer crashed and then I just couldn’t pull it together to get my sermons uploaded.  But I’m back and ready to try again!  I really love connecting with everyone, so thank you for being patient with me!

Now onto Sunday’s sermon …

Back in mid-July we embarked on a year-long sermon series called The Year Of Mark.  Inspired by my dear friend Jon Chapman, we literally started at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark and just steadily began to preach through it.  It’s been amazing!  I do have all of my Year Of Mark sermons (and I will at least post the text, if not the audio eventually!) and it will be fun to have that collection one day.  But for the time begin, we’re picking up in the middle of it and talking about God’s signs.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 13, 2019

Mark 8:11-21

Looking For Signs

I feel like I have been on the longest non-vacation vacation of my life.

After a six-week, let’s call it a, “winter hiatus,” we are jumping back into the Year of Mark this morning.

For those of you who might be new around here, back in the middle of July (when it was not quite so cold outside), we embarked on a year-long sermon series through the entire Gospel of Mark.  For the most part – with the exception of a few stories that we combined on certain Sundays because the themes were similar – we started at the very beginning and have just steadily worked our way through the Gospel, chapter by chapter.  It has been a great way for us to see the narrative of Jesus’ life as a whole unit, all at once, so that we have a better understanding of scripture.

That being said, when Advent arrived, it made sense to hit the pause button the Year of Mark so we could just immerse ourselves in the magic of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

And so, for six weeks, instead of preaching out of Mark, I preached on some of my favorite passages that we often read on Christmas Eve, I reflected on the Advent season, I wrote a Christmas pageant, I made up the word, “Angeltude,” I led a New Year’s devotional that encouraged us to float our hopes and sink our fears and then, last week, not only shared my own star story, but also talked about Epiphany and what it means to let our star words guide us this year.

I don’t want to pat us on the back or anything, but I do think we had a wonderful extended holiday season here at the church. The church really was a safe place where we could come and experience allthe emotions that come with the holidays, and also know that we were and aresurrounded and upheld by a community built in God’s love – the Body of Christ.

And for that I am thankful.  So – thank you to everyone who helped make the season what it was.

That being said – I have to admit, it was kind of weird to open up my commentary on the Gospel of Mark this week.  It felt familiar, yet almost as if I was out of practice a little bit.  I actually went back to the beginning of the Gospel to review what we had read up until this point so I could put this morning’s scripture in better context. It was really helpful; and I think might be for you all as well.  So I am going to start this morning by doing an abbreviated version of that review, kind of like they do on TV shows after they come back from a hiatus.

SO – previously on the Year of Mark …

We began with a proclamation by John the Baptist and then Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, where, afterwards, he was immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days.  When Jesus came out of the wilderness, he went to Galilee to begin his public ministry.  The first thing he did in Galilee was call his disciples.[1]

“Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people.”[2]

Immediately, we saw the capacity Jesus had within him to heal through the many healing stories that are in this Gospel.  Jesus healed people with unclean spirits, fevers and leprosy.  It was because of Jesus that a paralyzed man was able to walk, a man with a withered hand was able to stretch out his hand and a girl whose family thought she was dead stood up and walked.[3]

And who could forget the time Jesus cast a demon out of man and into a herd of pigs who, unfortunately for them, then met their demise when they fell off a cliff?[4]

(I’m not sure any of us have completely recovered from that Sunday.)

Jesus spoke in parables as he taught; parables about sowing seeds in good soil, not hiding light under a bushel basket and what a small mustard seed can grow into.[5]  He calmed an angry sea not once, but twice, the second time actually walking on water towards the boat where his disciples were astonished.[6]

And finally, Jesus fed his people.  The Gospel of Mark contains not one, but two loaves and fishes story, the first where Jesus fed five thousand people and the second where he fed four thousand people, using mere morsels of bread and fish.[7]

And this is where we pick up this morning; Jesus was in the district of Dalmanutha surrounded by Pharisees who were feeling argumentative and asking him for a sign from heaven.  Frustrated at the request, Jesus sighed and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign?”[8]  Then Jesus left; he got into a boat and went across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.[9]

I think I should interject one more time and mention that one thing we have noticed throughout the Year of Mark is that sometimes the disciples – as well-intentioned as the are – just don’t quite get it.  They don’t understand the parables, they miss the signs, they don’t recognize Jesus at times and they don’t believe in this capacity Jesus had within him OR the capacity they had within themselves to heal and to perform miracles.

Which brings me back to this morning’s scripture; Jesus, frustrated with the Pharisees, got in his boat to travel to Bethsaida and the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread to eat.[10]

Forever the teacher, however, Jesus used this as a teachable moment to talk about the dangerous political power that was starting to rise up around them.  “Watch out,” Jesus said, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”[11]

Pop quiz:  Does anybody think Jesus was actually talking about bread here?  No!

However, bless their hearts, the disciples said to one another, “Oh, geeze, he’s talking about yeast because we forgot to bring the bread!”[12]

Jesus was not talking about the bread; he was talking about a pervasively corrupt group of people that were threatening the ministry that they were doing.

What is funny to me about this story is that it never really gets resolved.  Jesus is trying to get the disciples to understand that there are things happening in the world that are far greater than what they could tangibly see.  He asked them about both the loaves and fishes stories:  “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” he asked the disciples and they responded, “Twelve.” Then Jesus asked, “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you college?” and they answered, “Seven.”  Then Jesus said, “Do you not yet understand?”[13]

AND THAT IS WHERE THE STORY ENDS.

And – spoiler alert – we do not find out next week. I can only imagine the disciples all just kind of shrugged, looked at one another awkwardly and then just paddled faster.

So here is the ironic thing about this story, which I kind of think gives a lot of insight into the nature of who we all are, as human beings – Jesus seems just as frustrated at the Pharisees for asking him for a sign as he is at the disciples for not seeing the signs that are happening all around them; signs of healing, signs of nourishment, signs of an unexplainable grace.

And yet, how often do we, today, miss these same signs?

During the children’s sermon, we talked about physical road signs, signs that we can see when we are driving and immediately interpret their meaning.

But God’s signs are not as easy to interpret.

My Tuesday morning bible study is finishing up a session on Genesis and one of the things we have commented on is the fact that, in parts of this story, God is physically present, at least as we understand it.  And how much easier would it be for us to do the right thing if God were here, in our face, telling us what to do?

(As it turns out, it doesn’t really help, but that’s a story for a sermon series on Genesis.)

The truth is, as people of faith, we have to pay attention for signs from God; signs that might not be tangible, signs that are rarely easy to spot, signs that we have to prayerfully interpret in our own lives.  Sometimes these signs are physical – seeing a rainbow or a beautiful sunset or a cloud in a certain shape or a cardinal or even an object that might remind us of a loved one.  Sometimes these signs come from music or from human interaction.  Sometimes these signs simply come from that still, small voice that is within all of us; the voice that gives us pause before we do something that, perhaps, we should not, the voice that affirms us when we are making good choices, the voice that reminds us that we are loved, cherished and made in the image of God.  Sometimes these signs encourage us to vote a certain way or volunteer for something new.

Sometimes these signs help us make big choices and sometimes these signs help us make the smaller, everyday choices.

Oftentimes these signs are very challenging to explain to other people.

But these signs are real; and they are all around us.

But we have to, as Jesus eluded to, open our eyes to see these signs and open our ears to hear them, as well.[14]  We have to pay attention to what we are being taught and understand the lessons behind the stories.

Now, here’s the deal:  This is not easy.  It is not like you can buy a bag of chocolates where signs from God are printed inside of the wrapper in easy-to-read catch phrases; it does not work like that (although I wish that it did).  But we can try to structure our lives in a way that creates time and space for us to recognize and start to understand these signs.

Coming to church is one of the ways that we do this; every week we come to worship and we spend time singing and praying and reading scripture and listening so that we can be more aware of – or open to – the signs when they come upon us, whether they happen here or somewhere else.

Our monthly Taizé worship is another great way to create that time and space in your life.  We spend 15 minutes in absolute silence at the end of every service.

Stepping away from technology, even for a day – even for an hour! – can be a transformational way of quieting the noise that is coming from all over the place and really be present in the moment. Journaling does the same thing – and also allows you to set intentions and document some of the signs you are noticing so you can go back later and see the progress that you have made.

Living life at a little bit of a slower pace means that we are not rushing past the signs that might be waiting for us, calling us into the grace of God.

The new year is upon us; a lot of us are setting new goals or, perhaps, re-setting old goals.  Last week we received our star words for the year and so a lot of have been thinking about – perhaps looking for signs – what this word might mean for us this year.  And so this morning I want to encourage you to pay attention.  Signs of God’s miraculous and healing and transformational grace are all around us.  Ask yourself these questions:  What do these signs mean for me?  Where will these signs lead me this year?

May you open your eyes so that you might see; open your ears so that you might hear; open your mind so that you might learn; and open your heart so that you might feel God’s loving presence.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Mark 1:1-20
[2]Mark 1:17, NRSV
[3]Mark 1:21-34, 40-45, 2:1-12, 3:1-6, 5:21-43, 6:53-56
[4]Mark 5:1-20
[5]Mark 4
[6]Mark 4:35-41, 6:45-56
[7]Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10
[8]Mark 8:12, NRSV
[9]Mark 8:11-13
[10]Mark 8:14
[11]Mark 8:15, NRSV
[12]Mark 8:16, paraphrased from NRSV
[13]Mark 8:19-21
[14]Mark 8:18

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Being Comfortably Uncomfortable

The totally ironic thing about this sermon is that I posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook today from communion this week – we served it by intinction because we forgot to order those little cups last month – and there is currently a conversation happening about whether or not people are comfortable with intinction! I thought that was neat timing – it’s easier said than done to be comfortably uncomfortable!

If you listen to the audio, you’ll hear Harrison saying “hi” in my intro 😉 – I shouldn’t record these intros right before he needs to go to bed!

I am taking the next two weeks off from preaching.  Children’s Day is this weekend so I’m not preaching and then the next week I’m on vacation.  I’ll probably be on instagram cleaning and painting my new house so look for me over there (@revsarahweaver).

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23-3:6

Being Comfortably Uncomfortable

I went to Carters a few weeks ago to buy Harrison clothes because he was starting to grow out of all the stuff in his dresser and when I came home I explained to Bruce that some of the stuff I bought was daycare appropriate and some of it was specifically for church (because y’all know how much I love to dress him for church). A few days later, Bruce told me he could not find a pair of shorts for Harrison to wear to daycare, that the only clothes left in the bag of new clothes were church clothes. So I went to look and I found a pair of shorts that could have gone either way – they were khaki, but they had an elastic waist and tie instead of a button and zipper. I came out of Harrison’s room and said, “You know what, Harrison, you can wear these to daycare. You shouldn’t wear pants with an elastic waist to church anyway, because those are comfy clothes and you should always be a little bit uncomfortable at church.”

Of course, I was talking about putting on your Sunday clothes and looking sharp, but at soon at the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was on to something deeper and more profound. Because as much as the church is a safe place where we can all come and worship and connect to God in a way that makes us feel secure and protected, I think it should also be a place where, at times, we find ourselves feeling a little bit uncomfortable.

To be clear, I am not talking about being physically unsafe or harassed in any way, shape or form. But I AM talking about each and every one of us stretching the dimensions of what we think church is and what church should be.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapters two and three, so we are still fairly early on in Jesus’ ministry, but he is already starting to stir up some trouble. In this story, it is the Sabbath and yet, the disciples are plucking up heads of grain.

Remember, it is Jewish custom that during that time of Sabbath – from sunset on Friday through Saturday – no work be done. The Pharisees objected to Jesus, saying:

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?[1]

Jesus did not respond to this objection by slapping the disciples’ wrists and making them stop. He did not say to the Pharisees, “Oh shoot, you know what, I totally lost track of the days, don’t worry, this will never happen again!”

No; first of all, Jesus schooled the Pharisees in Hebrew scripture. He said (and I am paraphrasing here), “Come on, guys, don’t you remember what happened to David?”

Here is what Jesus was talking about: King David – who you may remember slayed Goliath when he was a young boy with a couple of stones and a sling shot – entered a temple as an adult and asked the priest if he could have some bread for his army. The priest said all he had was the Bread of the Presence, meaning holy bread, and that the men could only have it if they were considered clean and pure. David said they were, the priest gave him the bread and David went on his way.

Now – were the men actually clean and pure? Probably not. But they were hungry. And David found them something to eat.

Jesus talked about David because he was trying to point out that sometimes what someone needs is more important than holding onto a tradition; that sometimes God is calling us to do a new thing and that we should not cling so tightly to our own religious customs that we cannot see what God is doing in our midst today.

But then Jesus took it one step further. The disciples had already violated the Sabbath laws when they were picking grain, but then Jesus, himself, violated those same laws when he walked into a synagogue and cured a man with a paralyzed hand.

Do you think that made the Pharisees a little bit uncomfortable? I think so. This passage ends by saying:

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy him.[2]

People do not like to be uncomfortable. They like to know what is coming next. They like their traditions to be predictable and their spaces to look or feel a certain way.

We do this in the church all the time. We worship a certain way, we arrange our flowers a certain way, we set up our sanctuary and our narthex a certain way and we do not want those things to change. We have the same events, year after year. We have traditions that we hold fast to. We often do not want to try something new because sometimes it is hard to picture something that we have never done before. Many of us are accustomed to the way we do church here that we cannot imagine doing church any other way.

But guess what? Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. He broke tradition; he did something that had never been done before, something that made the Pharisees uncomfortable.

And in the end, a man was healed. Shouldn’t that have been the goal all along?

God’s grace is kind of a funny thing sometimes.

My point is this: It is okay to be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It is okay to try something new. It is okay to do something that has never been done before, even if that means stepping onto a path that has never been traveled on. It is okay to walk away, even if it is just for a moment, from the rituals and traditions that we do by rote and see what else God is calling us to do in this moment.

Friends, I have talked a lot about doing church lately. And sometimes doing church means being comfortably uncomfortable. It means being willing to compromise so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard and that their opinion is valued. It means not immediately dismissing something just because it is different and actively listening to new ideas. It means healing someone on the Sabbath because they are sick and serving someone holy bread because they are hungry. It means listening to God’s still speaking voice guiding us along a journey that is filled with a grace and love that will exceed even our wildest imaginations.

So do not be afraid to be comfortably uncomfortable. Push your boundaries. Stretch yourself. Try something new. And be amazed at God’s potential within our community. As a church, we can and will do great things.

And we may find that, along the way, people will be healed, people will be fed and people will be made whole.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 2:24, NRSV
[2] Mark 3:6, NRSV

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You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

Hi friends!  Happy Easter!  I hope you all have a wonderful and joyous resurrection celebration.  We were busy and blessed at the church.  There was a lot going on, but I felt like we had something for everyone on different walks of life.

Here is my sermon – short and sweet!  This story speaks for itself.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8

You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

My uncle went to mass on Easter one year and the priest got up for his homily, paused and said, “You’ve heard the story. Think about it.”

And then he sat down.

Every year on Easter morning, I am tempted to do the same thing. After all, this story kind of speaks for itself. The tomb was empty! Death did not win! God’s love was victorious over the grave. It is because of this story that we gather in the first place; that we believe in the mystery, but also the grace of resurrection.

This story is, perhaps, one of the greatest ever told.

And yet, the account of the Jesus’ resurrection that we just heard from the Gospel of Mark has got to be the most anticlimactic of the four Gospels.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels; it is thought to have been written first and also used as a spine for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they were written. The original resurrection narrative in Mark is the shortest and least-involved of the four Gospels. It ends where this morning’s reading ended, which, when you read it, is kind of abrupt:

So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.[1]

That’s it.

Jesus did not actually appear to anyone in this narrative. The women did not run with great joy to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen. Jesus did not walk along the road to Emmaus or break bread with his disciples when they arrived or show them the marks on his hands and in his side. The disciples were not commissioned. Jesus did not ascend into heaven. This narrative ends with three women fleeing the empty tomb, terrified.

In a way, this story seems unfinished.

Eventually – in the late second century – a longer ending was added to the Gospel of Mark. It is more conclusive; in line with the resurrection narratives of the other three Gospels, the longer ending wraps up the story in a neater bow. Rather than the women fleeing the tomb in fear and not telling anyone what happened, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the disciples and then ascends to heaven.[2]

I think, more often than not, most of us prefer to have the story end this way (which is probably why the longer ending was added in the first place). There is closure; there are not as many unanswered questions.

Which begs the question: What if this ending was never added? What if this story – the story we just heard read this morning, abrupt ending and all – was our only account of Jesus’ resurrection? Would the Easter story feel unfinished? Would the Christian story feel unfinished?

But here’s the thing: The Christian story is unfinished. And I do not say this in a bad way, either. I say this in a God-sized, grace-filled, possibilities-are-endless kind of way.

The Christian story is still being written because we are still writing this story – in the lives we are living, in the stories we are telling. The Christian story did not end with Jesus’ death; it began with his resurrection, when people experienced the Risen Christ.

And friends, that is very much still happening today. Like the women who went to the tomb and saw that the stone had already been rolled away, we, too, experience the Risen Christ in our own lives. Sometimes we experience the Risen Christ is big ways; in those life-changing, conversion-like experiences. But very often we experience the Risen Christ in the ordinary moments of our lives; when we show compassion, kindness and love; when we feel the strength of the faith of a church community, just like this one, living out Christ’s call to serve; when we gather around a table with our family and friends and break bread together.

Perhaps the ending to this resurrection narrative was so abrupt because it was never meant to be the ending; the story was supposed to continue, not only in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and the earliest Christians, but also in our lives, today. We are supposed to be writing this Christian story as we live our lives today.

Friends, if you take one thing out of this service, let it be this: You are still writing this story. The life you lead, the choices you make, the Good News you proclaim – all of this continues the narrative God started the moment the women approached that tomb and found the stone had already been rolled away, the moment they realized the prophecy had been fulfilled, the moment the bold and radical truth was proclaimed that God could do the impossible and that love would win over and over and over again.

The narrative is not anticlimactic. It just wasn’t finished.

It still isn’t

So … You’ve heard the story. Keep writing it.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 16:8, NRSV
[2] Mark 16:9-20 {The Longer Ending Of Mark}

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