Step Out Of The Boat

Hi friends … I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am humbled by the inadequacy of words right now.  I don’t know how to reflect on what happened in Charlottesville this weekend and yet I know my silence is deafening and part of the problem right now.

I thought about scrapping my sermon and starting over last night, but ultimately I decided to address what happened in Charlottesville at the beginning of the service and in my pastoral prayer.  Next week is Beatles Sunday at church and Jordan and I are planning weaving the theme of Love Wins throughout the service.  It won’t change anything that happened, but maybe it will inspire us all to continue to fight to resist the evil, hatred and racism in the world.

Here’s my sermon – enjoy (and get out of that boat!) …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33

Step Out Of That Boat

I wrote two sermons this week.

The first sermon was … preachable.  Sort of.  It made a point, and not necessarily a bad one, either. It had a solid illustration, although I think it might have been one I used before.  But as I read through it and tried to give it one final edit, the whole thing just seemed repetitive and bland. Not the message I felt needed to be preached this week.  On Friday night, Bruce texted me to let me know he was on his way home from work and asked me if I needed anything.

“Yeah, a sermon that doesn’t stink,” I replied.

Only I didn’t use the word, “stink.”

The thought of rewriting the whole thing seemed daunting.  A few months ago, I would have just made a huge pot of coffee and locked myself in my office the next day for several hours to get it done.  Now, for obvious (and adorable) reasons, that is no longer an option.

By the time Bruce got home, I had worked myself into something of a tizzy.  It was not just about the sermon at that point, but about my own fears, in general, about how I am going to adjust to being a working mom, especially in a job that does not have normal business hours.  I have never wanted anything more and yet sometimes it feels overwhelming.

So back to my sermon.  I couldn’t preach it.  I may be a sleep deprived new mom, but I still refuse to preach a bad sermon.  However, at that point it was almost midnight and entirely too late to do anything about it, so I crawled into bed, pulled up this morning’s scripture on my phone and re-read it as I fell asleep.

This morning’s story follows the one we heard last week.  After Jesus fed the multitude in the story of the loaves and fishes, he sent the disciples away on his boat, dismissed the crowd and then went up to a mountain alone so that he could pray.  A storm came in overnight and the disciples were stranded far from land.  The next morning Jesus went to them, walking on the water towards the boat.  At first, the disciples did not recognize Jesus; they were scared and thought he was a ghost.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.[1]

The disciples were not yet convinced that this man was, in fact, Jesus.  Peter called out to him and said that if he truly was Jesus, then he should command Peter to go to him on the water.  So Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards him.

Immediately, however, Peter realized that the storm was still raging around him.  He was frightened and started to sink.  He cried out:

Lord, save me![2]

Jesus reached out and caught Peter and said to him:

You of little faith, why did you doubt?[3]

Jesus and Peter got back into the boat and the storm was calmed.  The disciples believed this man was Jesus, worshipped him and said:

Truly, you are the Son of God.[4]

As I read this text on Friday night, I was drawn to Peter’s narrative.  In a way, I feel like I am stepping out of that boat right now. As a new mom, I am exploring uncharted waters. My life has changed and I have to adjust how I do certain things, including pieces of my job, my ministry. At times, that feels scary and overwhelming.

Sometimes I think Peter gets a bad rap in this story, because when he started to sink in the water and needed Jesus to save him, Jesus told him he had little faith and asked him why he doubted.  But I cannot help but be inspired by Peter for getting out of the boat in the first place; for asking Jesus to call him in the water; for doing something that was new and different for him.

And yes, Peter was scared and started to sink and cried out for Jesus to save him.  But I do not think that meant his faith was weak; I think that meant his faith was very strong.

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talked about an old saying that her church ladies used to remind her of, that “when you jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either stand on solid ground or be taught how to fly.”  Peter’s faith was what made him call to Jesus.  Peter stepped out of that boat on faith, I think knowing that Jesus would catch him if he started to sink.  He cried out, “Lord, save me!” not out of desperation, but in confident hope that Jesus would, in fact, save him.  That’s faith!

For Peter, faith was not having the ability to walk on water, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus would be there to catch him if he started to sink.

And on Friday night, as I reflected on this story and the terrible sermon I did not want to preach, I realized that for me, faith might not be mean finding the perfect balance between being a pastor and being a mom, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus will be there to catch me if I need help.

Is there something in your life right now that scares you?  Something new or different that you want to try, but are afraid to?  A new job?  A large project?  A big move or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Maybe you are walking through a difficult time in your personal life, facing obstacles that seem large and daunting – a scary diagnosis, challenging relationship, sadness or grief.

Or perhaps this is simply a time of transition for your family – end of summer, back to school with new teachers or college move-in.

This story reminds us that it is okay to step out on faith when we are scared.  Like Peter, our faith is strong enough to withstand whatever we might face; even if we sink, even if we fail, even if we throw away an entire sermon and have to start all over again while the baby is napping the next day, Jesus will be there to catch us and carry us to safety.

I always thought the miracle of this story was that Jesus walked on water; but maybe the greater miracle was that Peter stepped out of the boat and walked towards him.

I think we have to believe this miracle can happen in our lives, today.  Maybe, like Peter, we are being called to step out on faith, with confident hope that Jesus will, in fact, save us, as well.

If this story teaches us anything, it is that it is okay to be scared!  The disciples were scared when the first saw Jesus; Peter was scared when he stepped out of the boat and started to sink.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

What if listened for Jesus speaking these same words in our lives, today?  What if we acknowledged the presence of fear in our lives, but also believed that Jesus’ presence is stronger than that fear?  What if we stepped out on faith, believing we will either walk on water or that Jesus will catch us and carry us to safety?

It is really hard for me to admit when something scares me, especially in ministry.  It is hard for me to show a more vulnerable side to a community of people who have called me to be their pastor and teacher.  And so I share my struggles with you not because I want sympathy or pity, but because I want you to see my humanity and know that your humanity is okay, too. Like Peter and the rest of the disciples in that boat, we are all just navigating the twists and turns of life as best we know how. Our struggles and our fears strengthen our faith as we cling to Jesus in the confident hope that he will hold us up.

We do not have to be afraid of the unknown.  Remember that after Jesus prayed, he came down off of the mountain and went to the disciples who were in the middle of the stormy seas.  Jesus will always come to us, no matter what we are going through.  Jesus will walk towards us. Jesus will save us when we cry out to him.  As long as we have our faith, we will never fall, sink or fail.

As I re-wrote my sermon yesterday, I don’t think I found any answers to how I might balance being both pastor and mom.  But I was reassured that Jesus would be fully present in my life as I walk this new part of my journey, that I would be shown grace along the way.

And so today I share this same message of encouragement to you all.  Whatever your struggle is right now – whatever you are afraid of, whatever is challenging you, however you feel God is calling you to step out on faith – do not be afraid.

So step out of that boat and believe with all your heart that you will either walk on water or that Jesus will carry you to safety.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 14:27, NRSV
[2] Matthew 14:30, NRSV
[3] Matthew 14:31, NRSV
[4] Matthew 14:33, NRSV

The Invitation To Eat

It felt so great to be back in the pulpit yesterday after nine weeks!  I preached on the feeding of the multitude, filled the altar with bread and we feasted on it afterwards.  Here’s my sermon!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 6, 2017

Matthew 14:13-21

The Invitation To Eat

When I told Bruce I was preaching on the loaves and fishes story for my first Sunday back, he suggested putting two pieces of wonder bread on the communion table and seeing if we could make that last for everyone.

And if I did not think the Deacons would be concerned I had completely lost my mind while I was on maternity leave, I might have actually tried it.

But perhaps we will save that experiment for another week.

The loaves and fishes story – the feeding of the multitude, as it is commonly referred to as – appears several times in the bible in various forms.  The feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four gospels and the feeding of the 4,000 appears in Matthew and Mark.  This morning we heard the feeding of 5,000 as recorded in Matthew.

The basic concept of all of six of these narratives is the same.  There were a lot of hungry people, but not a lot of food to feed them.  And yet, Jesus performed a miracle, using the small morsels of food he had to feed everybody that has gathered.  No one went hungry and there was even food leftover.

I love this story.  This theology – the theology of abundance – gets played out every time a church luncheon or supper is held.  We never think there is going to be enough food and yet the refrigerator always seems to be stuffed with leftovers at the end of the night and everyone goes home full.

But, even more than that, the timing of the miracle is what I think is really important in this particular account of the story.  In the Gospel of Matthew, immediately preceding the feeding of the multitude, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, only to be rejected in the synagogue. Then John the Baptist was beheaded.  The disciples told Jesus what had happened to John the Baptist and according to scripture:

When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.[1]

So we do not know what, exactly, Jesus was thinking here.  All we know is that he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  But I can only imagine he was upset – both from being rejected in the synagogue and by the news John the Baptist had been killed – and he withdrew to the deserted place so he could be by himself and find sabbath.  Can you blame him?  We have all probably been there at some point in our lives – something bad happens and we just want to be alone so we can regroup.

But Jesus did not actually get to be alone.  Do you know what happened when he left to be by himself?  Everybody followed him!  I kind of feel bad for him, actually, because let’s be real – I am not sure I would be the best version of myself if I wanted to be left alone and an entire crowd of people followed me.

But Jesus, of course, handled it with God-sized grace and not only did not turn the crowd away, but he had compassion on them and healed them.

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.[2]

As nighttime approached, the disciples went up to Jesus and told him to send everyone away so they could go to the villages and buy themselves some food.  They were in a remote village and with only fives loaves of bread and two fish; they barely had enough food to feed themselves, let alone the crowd of people that had followed Jesus.  But Jesus told them not to send the crowds away.

And then Jesus said something that I think is pivotal to this whole narrative.

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.[3]

You give them something to eat.

Jesus did not want to send the crowd away.  Jesus wanted to feed them.

When faced with the uncertainty of the circumstances that surrounded him, Jesus did not want this community of people who had gathered to leave.  He wanted to share a meal with them.

Which reminds me of just how important the act of sitting down to a meal together is.

I think Jesus was onto something here.

Here’s the thing – the disciples wanted the people to leave.  It had been a tumultuous couple of days, things were unsettled and Jesus had left, presumably, to be by himself.  But Jesus knew it was more important that, in the face of challenging times, they all stand together in community.  Jesus knew they could not fix what had happened to John the Baptist or change the minds of those who were rejecting him, but they could gather around a table and break bread together.  Jesus knew that perhaps they could not solve all of the problems they faced, but they could find unity in a common meal and that could and would make all the difference.

Maybe the miracle was not that Jesus made five loaves and two fish feed five thousand people, but that Jesus invited them to eat with him in the first place.

There are a lot of unsettling things happening in our lives right now.  Honestly, one of the nice parts of maternity leave was being so completely absorbed in the world of taking care of a newborn that I was totally oblivious to anything else that was happening around me.  And while that might have kept me blissfully ignorant for awhile, I know I cannot live like that forever.  Because people – people that I love – struggle in real and hard ways.  Things feel chaotic in our country.  People face devastating tragedies all around the world.  And, as much as I want to, I cannot ignore these things.

The hard part is that I cannot fix it – most of it, anyway.  But this story reminds me that even when I am faced with uncertainty, tragedies and challenges I cannot change, I can gather around a table and share a meal with the people around me.

Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled.[4]

I realize this is a story and not a commandment, but if what if we read it as a commandment?  What if we reflect on this story and take it as a charge to gather together and share meals together?

A few weeks ago, one of those Facebook memories popped up and it was a picture of my mom and me at the airport in Hungary.  We were with a couple from Tel Aviv that we had met in Hévíc, which is a town about 3 hours southwest of Budapest.  We were all flying out the same day and my mom and I invited them to forgo their planned voyage by train back to Budapest and join us in our rental car.

I have talked about this couple before – about a year ago, actually.  In a sermon on faith and accountability, I talked about their Shabbat dinners and my craving for that type of community meal.  I shared with you how they both encouraged me to seek community around a table in the form of Sunday night dinners and then – through the magic of Facebook messenger – held me accountable to my promise to try to make these dinners happen when we all got home.

A year later, my Sunday night dinners are not necessarily a regular occurrence, but I am grateful to have tried and for every dinner I have shared with the people I love.  Because these dinners have filled me with gratitude and created wonderful memories; I have tried new recipes, driven carefully around corners as to not tip over my crockpot in the backseat on the way to dinner and been grateful to show up and be fed by someone else at the end of a long weekend.  I have laughed, cried and sometimes rolled my eyes.  I have snuck seconds of dessert and passed on limoncello, hoping no one would notice and suspect I was pregnant.  I avoided politics like it was the plague, asked an endless stream of questions and occasionally broke out in showtunes.  I saw grace come alive, over and over and over again, around a table whose simple purpose was to feed the people who gathered around it.

This same grace first came alive when Jesus blessed and broke the loaves of bread that fed 5,000 people that day.  And it comes alive every time we do so in his name.

Which leads me to my point.  I had an idea! I said that perhaps the miracle of this story was not that Jesus managed to feed five thousand people with fives loaves of bread and two fish, but that he invited them to share a meal in the first place.  And I wonder if we can create that same miracle here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Friends, what if we made a commitment to use the grace that was given to us in the creation of the potluck to share a meal together on a more regular basis?  What if we tried to schedule some sort of Sunday night dinner here at the church?  I have not really thought through any of the details yet – I know we have things like busy lives and Patriots schedules to work around on Sunday evenings – but I think it could be really life giving and gratitude inspiring.

I think, in light of all the craziness that is happening around us, sometimes it is important to just be together.  I think sharing meals together would give the members our growing community the opportunity to get to know one another a little bit better, to celebrate our church and community and to live out this commandment of Jesus to “give them something to eat.”[5]

So let us think about this, pray about this and let God lead us in a beautiful direction.  Let us be inspired by the miracle of the loaves and fishes and believe in the possibility that this miracle could happen in our community.  Let us come together and break bread around a table of faith and friendship.  And let us experience that same grace that a crowd of 5,000 did with Jesus when he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke five loaves of bread.

Rehoboth Congregational Church, it is so wonderful to be back with you all this morning.  I have missed you all very much.  As Bruce and I experience this transition in our lives and prepare to raise our son in this world, I have never been more convicted that the church needs to be strong.  I am very much looking forward to continuing our ministry together and strengthening our church in the village.

And I know every time we heed Jesus’ commandment to invite one another to break bread together, we will be that much more RCCSTRONG.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 14:13, NRSV
[2] Matthew 14:14, NRSV
[3] Matthew 14:16, NRSV
[4] Matthew 14:19, NRSV
[5] Matthew 14:16, NRSV

The Son Will Rise

Hello and Happy Easter!

I usually post my sermons on Sunday evening, but I figured everyone would be celebrating the Easter holiday and not waiting with baited breath for my sermon to post.

A few weeks ago, Jon and I went to see The Lion King when it came to PPAC and as I was watching, I had an idea for this year’s Easter Sermon.  After watching April the Giraffe give birth on Saturday morning (yes, I was totally sucked in!), I thought about going in a different direction, but really wanted to stick with this message.  So stay tuned for an April sermon illustration! :)

I preached out of Matthew this year.  I tend to bounce back and forth between John and wherever we are in the lectionary cycle, but have preached on John for the past few years and really was looking for something different so I turned to Matthew this year.

I hope you all had a blessed Easter celebration!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

The Son Will Rise

Did anyone happen to catch The Lion King when it was at PPAC a few weeks ago? It is one of my favorite productions to see live (the opening sequence gets me every time) and I was thrilled when a friend of mine texted me and asked if I wanted his extra ticket. I am not sure who was more excited, the six-year-old girl that was sitting behind us or me.

Bruce will tell you that I have a hard time getting through any musical without having some sort of deep theological reflection on it. But, The Lion King, especially, always gets me thinking; about life and death, relationships and community, pain and anguish and hope and trust in the promise of resurrection.

Now that last one might be putting a lot on Disney, Elton John and Tim Rice, but hear me out: During the song Endless Night, Simba, still deeply mourning the loss of his father, feeling heavily the guilt of his death and wondering how he could ever go back to his homeland, sings to his father, who is no longer with him on earth. He cries out that he is alone and cannot find his way out of the darkness.

And then the chorus starts:

I know that the night must end and that the sun will rise.
And that the sun will rise.
I know that the clouds must clear and that the sun will shine.
And that the sun will shine.[1]

This got me thinking about Easter; about the cries of those who loved Jesus who watched him die on the cross, who visited the tomb and who then held onto hope until resurrection came on that first Easter morning.

I say this every year, but I will say it again: As people of faith, we cannot fully understand the power of resurrection without first experiencing the pain of the crucifixion. This is why we put in the time during Lent, doing the hard work to see who we are, who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. This is why we come to worship during Holy Week, why we listen as the story of Jesus’ death is told and why we, like Jesus’ first followers, hold onto hope until resurrection comes on Easter morning.

Because as people of the resurrection, we do not want to ignore the crucifixion. We do not want to turn away from the hard parts of our faith; we want to face them head on, knowing that resurrection is coming, knowing that on Easter morning, the Son – and the sun – will rise.

This morning we heard the story of the resurrection as told in the Gospel of Matthew. In this telling of the Easter story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb and an angel of the Lord appears and rolls away the stone to reveal an empty tomb. The women are afraid, but the angel says to them:

Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.[2]

Just as he said, the Son did, in fact, rise.

This morning we not only rejoice in Christ’s victory over the grave, but we also remember that this was a promise Jesus made in his lifetime. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus foretold his death and resurrection three times; three times Jesus made the promise that the Son would rise.

And this promise was fulfilled.

And, as people of the resurrection, we know this was not a once and done thing. This is a promise that God still makes to us today: In the midst of our own pain, suffering and darkness, the Son will rise.

The truth is, the world can be a really scary place to live in sometimes. But on this Easter morning, I am here to remind you that in the midst of the scariness, therein lies a promise: A promise of hope, a promise of love and a promise of resurrection.

And do you know what? A lot of times people do not want to hear about or talk about the scary stuff in life because it might bring them down or challenge them in a way they do not like. But I think the Easter story gives us permission to talk about our own struggles. Because facing them head on does not mean that we are succumbing to them. It just means that we are as confident in God’s ability to create resurrection today as God did 2,000 years ago when two women found that tomb empty. We believe, even when we are standing in the midst of our own darkness, that the Son will rise.

So may we, like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, bear witness to this promise. May we see the presence of angels in our lives and know that the promise of resurrection has been fulfilled. And then may we leave quickly and with great joy and run to tell the world that death has not won, that resurrection is real that the Son will rise.

Love wins! Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Endless Night, from Disney’s, The Lion King, music & lyrics by Elton John & Tim Rice
[2] Matthew 28:6, NRSV