A Reflection Of Our Brokenness

Hi friends!  Here is my sermon from Sunday – I was preaching on Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest.  It’s funny, because as I was wrestling with the text this week I thought to myself, “This is why we rarely preach on this stuff!”  I feel bad, because I have a feeling my congregation is going to get a lot of me not coming to any conclusions from here until we finish the Year of Mark.  But perhaps maybe inviting them into my own process of trying to understand it is more important.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 19, 2019

Mark 14:43-53

A Reflection Of Our Brokenness

A few months ago, my Tuesday morning bible study was studying the Book of Exodus and we frequently had to stop ourselves and differentiate what we knew to be true from what we were reading in the scripture, itself, and what we thought was true from what we had all remembered from the motion picture.

As I reflected on the story of Jesus’ arrest this week, I realized that the same is kind of true when it comes to what I know about Judas.  Reading this story out of the Gospel of Mark, I had to intentionally differentiate what I also know about Judas from the other Gospels and, of course, from Jesus Christ Superstar.

The truth is, if we are looking solely at the Gospel of Mark, we really do not know a lot about Judas.  We know that he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus.  We know that, after he agreed to betray Jesus, the chief priests offered him money. We know that he followed through on this agreement.

In this morning’s scripture reading, Judas arrives at Jesus’ side with a crowd of people – chief priests, scribes and elders – carrying swords and clubs.  Judas had told them that he would give them a sign, that he would go up to Jesus and kiss Jesus and that is how they would know who Jesus was.  So Judas greets Jesus by saying, “Rabbi!” and kisses him. This is the sign Jesus’ arresters need; they lay hands on him and arrest him.

The frustrating part about the Gospel of Mark is that we really do not know why Judas does what he does.  In the Gospel of Matthew, his betrayal seems to be financially motivated; Judas goes to the chief priests and asks them directly how much money they would pay him to betray Jesus and then agrees to do it.  While Judas is offered money in return for his offer to betray Jesus here in the Gospel of Mark, the offer of betrayal comes first.  And in the Gospels of Luke and John, it is explained that Satan enters Judas and that is why he betrays Jesus.

And, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice explain Judas’ betrayal by dramatizing Judas’ concerns over Jesus’ rising popularity.  And while, who knows, that explanation might not be untrue, to be clear, it is not actually a storyline that can be found in scripture, itself.

But Mark gives us nothing.  We know that Judas Iscariot was appointed as part of the twelve men Jesus called apostles in the third chapter, and that they were, “sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” But beyond that, his name was not mentioned again, separate from the other twelve, until he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus.

And we do not know why.

As strange as this sounds, I have always felt somewhat empathetic towards Judas; because he must have been so broken in order to do what he did.  He had followed Jesus, almost from the very beginning; he had witnessed Jesus’ miracles, his healings, his compassion and his hospitality.  He broke bread with Jesus and was equipped, by Jesus, for his own journey and ministry.  He was one of the twelve that were closest to Jesus.

And yet, he betrayed Jesus.

How broken he must have been to do what he did.

And yet, aren’t we all just as broken?

There is a reason that Jesus had to come and live among us in the first place.  It was not because we are whole, but because we are broken; not because we are perfect, but because we need to be transformed by God’s grace.  And so Judas’ actions remind me of just how human this brokenness is; Judas’ betrayal emphasizes a need for a savior.

Remember – Jesus knew that all of this was going to happen.  When Jesus was with the disciples at the Passover meal, he told them that one of them was going to betray him.  And when he said this, they got pretty anxious and upset and said to him, “Well, it is not going to be me, right?”[1]  And part of me wonders if they responded this way, not because they were worried that this was going to happen to Jesus, but because they realized that, in fact, might be capable of doing what he said they were going to do; that, in fact, they might betray Jesus.

Judas’ choice here not only reveals a flaw in himself, but it reveals a flaw in all of us; a flaw where we do not always do the right thing, where sometimes we make bad choices.  Sometimes we make bad choices for the right reasons, sometimes we make bad choices for the wrong reason and sometimes we do not even realize that we are making bad choices.

In the end, we are all human.

Judas’ story fascinates me, because I can see myself on both sides of it.  I can see myself both making bad choices and also being on the receiving end of other people’s bad choices.

And, let’s be honest, neither place is a fun one to be.

But we have all been there, right?  We have all made bad choices – whether they be for good, bad or unintentional reasons.  And it does not really feel good when we have to come to terms with those choices, right?

On the other hand, we have also all been on the receiving end of other people’s bad choices – whether they be for good, bad or unintentional reasons.  And it does not really feel good when we have to come to terms with those choices, either.

And yet we are all human.  We try to do the right thing.  Sometimes we fall short.  We try to extend forgiveness when other people do not do the right thing. Sometimes we fall short.

So what are we supposed to do?  What are we supposed to do when we are the betrayer? What are we supposed to do when we are the one being betrayed?

I was at a meeting this week at the conference offices for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and a pastor named Rev. Kirk Byron Jones was giving a presentation on his latest book, Soul Talk.  Now, full disclosure, some of it was over my head, but he asked us to do a Soul Awareness Inventory where we were given a series of statements and then had to respond, yes, no or somewhat.  The statement that gave me the most trouble was one that said, “I know when my soul is rejecting something.”  And I think the reason I had so much trouble responding to that statement is because, while I often know when my soul is rejecting something – when my soul is saying, “You are making a bad choice” or “You are in over your head” or “You do not know what you are doing” or “You are trying to do too much” or “You are about to going to make someone angry” – I either realize it after the fact or I am not really sure how to get out of it.

I expressed this tension to my partner who I was sharing with – and  I even brought up Judas’ betrayal, because it was obviously on my mind gearing up towards Sunday and I do wonder if Judas’ soul was rejecting his actions.  I have always wondered if, deep down, he really did not want to be doing what he was doing.

And my partner, who is a pastor down on the cape, affirmed the place of tension that I was in and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, because often times when you get into something like that, you cannot just get out of it; there is not quick or instant fix.”

And that’s when I realized – that’s what church is. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a quick or an instant fix, but it is a safe place where we can be the most authentically messed up and imperfect versions of ourselves; where we can make mistakes and try again, where we can get in too deep and have others help us out. Church is a place where we can wrestle, not only with the brokenness of Judas’ humanity and also the brokenness of ours, as well.

Church is a place where we can hold one another accountable for our actions and, again, a safe place where we can admit to those we are in covenant with that we might be making a bad choice, that we might be in over our head, that we might not know what we are doing and ask for help as we seek to change the course of our journey.  Church is a place where we calibrate our moral compass and learn how to use it in our daily lives.  Church is a place where we learn how to extend grace and also to receive it, as well.

Judas’ story is so fascinating to me, not because it is uplifting and there is a clear lesson in all of it, but because it is such an accurate reflection of the complexity of the human condition.

Because any one of us could have been in the garden that day.

But I am determined.  I am determined not to let our own imperfections get in the way of our quest for God’s grace.  I am determined to not let our brokenness define our worthiness of God’s love.  I am determined to shine light into the darkness of the world, even when that darkness is scary and complicated and seemingly endless.

And it all starts here.  It is here where we seek to strengthen our faith; where we learn from the steps and the missteps of others.  It is here where we wrestle with what it means to be human and also where we give thanks to God for the gift of resurrection to new life; for the forgiveness of sins and the fullness or grace and the promise that redemption is always possible, even if we are not always sure how we are going to get there.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Mark 14:18-19

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Stop And Pray

Hi Friends!

Here is my sermon from last Sunday – Jesus praying in Gethsemane.  I have to admit that I was having a hard time not laughing every time I mentioned Peter, James and John falling asleep because all I could think of was that episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel got back together and she wrote him an 18 page letter (FRONT AND BACK) and he fell asleep while reading it and when they fought about it and Ross told Rachel he had fallen asleep and not finished the letter she said, “you fell aSLEEP?!”

Thankfully I know well enough to keep those thoughts to myself when I’m actually preaching.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 12, 2019

Mark 14:26-42

Stop and Pray

When I came to RCC for my interview in 2011, I walked into the Sadie Perry Room and met the search committee in person for the first time.  The mood in the room was a graceful combination of nerves and excitement as I sat down and we began our conversation.

I do not remember exactly how this all transpired, but I do remember discussing how we were going to begin and what the interview was going to look like when Kim Chrystie interrupted and said, “Wait!  Aren’t we supposed to pray first?”  We all laughed and Kim became the first recipient of a pastoral gold star for being the only member of the search committee to remember, “The God stuff.”

We all forget – or neglect – to pray sometimes. We get caught up in what we are doing and it either slips our mind or we just do not think we have the time or it will even make a difference.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone.  I will hop from one task to another, trying to be as efficient as possible with my time and get to the end of the day and realize that I have not had any kind of meaningful conversation with God all day. Sometimes I might even think about prayer, but if I am in a tizzy about everything that I have to do, I usually think to myself, “I don’t have time for that,” and quickly move on to the next thing so I can get done what needs to get done.

I think some of it comes from growing up in the New England – particularly in these old congregationally-rooted churches. Prayer is not really something we did publicly or within the rhythm of our daily lives, it was something the pastor did during the somewhat-regimented-and-specific prayer time on Sunday mornings during worship. I do not think I ever just stopped to pray.

When I was a first-year seminary student, my mom called me one morning and said she needed to go in for a biopsy after a concerning mammogram.  I was on my way to class when I got the call; when I got there, I sat down next to a friend of mine and she asked how I was doing.  I told her about my mom’s biopsy and she quite literally dropped what was in her hands, grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray.”

It did not matter to this particular friend of mine that the room was full of students, TA’s and our professor getting ready for class to begin.  It did not matter that there were other conversations happening all around us. It did not matter that there were people sitting next to us who could see and hear what we were doing.  She saw me in a moment of need and she stopped to pray.

I guess we do have to remember that I was in seminary in the south, so the other hundred or so other people that were in the classroom with us that day were pretty enthusiastic prayers themselves and probably did not think what we were doing was all that weird, but still – that moment has always stuck with me.  Because it reminded me of just how important it is to stop and pray.

In those moments when we need strength.

In those moments when we need patience.

In those moments when we need wisdom.

In those moments when we need endurance.

In those moments when we need courage.

In those moments when we need motivation.

In those moments when we need inspiration.

In this morning’s scripture, we see this lived out in some of Jesus’ final moments.

The Passover meal is complete.  If you remember from last week, prior to Jesus gathering the disciples around the table for the meal, Judas had gone to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus.  The hour is drawing near.  Jesus does not have a lot of time left.

And so Jesus takes the disciples to the Mount of Olives.  He tells them that they will all desert him, which Peter is adamant is not true. Jesus responds to Peter by telling him that he, in fact, will not only desert Jesus, but that he will deny Jesus three times.[1]

The disciples still just do not get it.  They do not realize how important these moments are. We further see this when Jesus leaves the rest of the disciples and just takes Peter, James and John with him to pray. They reach a stopping point and Jesus tells the three men to stay there and stay awake while he goes ahead to pray and, bless their hearts, they fall asleep – not once, not twice, but three times.[2]

Peter, James and John are Jesus’ “inner circle,” so the speak.  They were the first three disciples that Jesus called at the beginning of the Gospel.[3]They were the only disciples present at the rising up of Jairus’ daughter, who was presumed to be dead in the fifth chapter of Mark[4], and at the transfiguration of Jesus, where he appeared on a mountain with Moses and Elijah in the ninth chapter.[5]  And yet, closest to Jesus, they still do not understand quite what is happening.  Did I mention they fall asleep?

But Jesus very much understands what is happening. And Jesus – the calm, cool and collected teacher and healer that we have seen up until this point – is, “distressed and agitated.”  He tells Peter, James and John that he is, “deeply grieved.”

Both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew record that Jesus goes to a place called Gethsemane in this story, yet the location of Gethsemane is not, exactly, known.  The Hebrew word, Gethsemane, however, means, “olive press,” which refers to the machinery that crushes olives with an intense force to make olive oil.  Some biblical scholars have speculated that the name, Gethsemane,might not refer to an actual place, but is symbolic of the intense pressure Jesus would face; a plot twist where the Son of God, who was anointed withoil before the Passover is now preparing not to be crowned king, but to be crucified.[6]

And what does Jesus do?  He stops and prays.

Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.[7]

Just because Jesus knows how it is going to end does not mean that is how he wants it to end.  We see in this moment the true depths of Jesus’ humanity.

I love Jesus’ intimate use of the word, Abba, which, of course, is the Hebrew term for father.  It brings full circle Jesus’ baptism, where God called down from Heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved,”[8]and also the Transfiguration, where, again, God called down from Heaven, “This is my Son.”[9]

But it also reminds me of the intimate nature of my own prayer life; that I do not have to have some perfectly crafted prayer in order to connect to God, but that, at any point throughout my day, I can just stop and cry out to God in the most jumbled mess of a way and know that God is listening to me and loving me.

Jesus says to Peter, James and John that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak.  And the same is true of all of us.  We want to be strong, we want to be faithful, we want to have all of the pieces of our lives put together, but we are human.  We are imperfect.  We are broken.

We will have moments when we need strength.

When we need patience.

When we need wisdom.

When we need endurance.

When we need courage.

When we need motivation.

When we need inspiration.

And it is in those moments that we need to stop and pray; that we need to – like Jesus – throw ourselves on the ground and pray intimately to God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer who knows us and loves us.  Because it is in those moments that God will give us what we need to get up and face the journey ahead.

And here’s the thing – it does not just need to be the big and defining moments where we stop and pray, either.  It can be the seemingly ordinary and mundane parts of our every day, as well.  What matters most is that we are inviting God into our narrative.

The third and final time Jesus finds Peter, James and John sleeping, he says to them, “The hour has come … Get up, let us be going.”

He is ready.

And we will be, too.

Jesus’ time in Gethsemane reminds us of just how important it is for us to stop and pray.  We may think that we are too busy or that we are not qualified to do so or we might just forget, but I promise you if you make this a priority – if you stop and pray – you will have the strength, patience, wisdom, endurance, courage, motivation and inspiration to face whatever comes next – the good, the bad, the big and the small.

As you leave the safety of this worship space today – the safety of a space that is designed for prayer, where you pray at intentional times in community – and enter a world that perhaps is not designed as nicely for prayer, I encourage to stop and pray.

Even if you think you are too busy.

Even if you can think of 17 other things that you could be doing.

Even if you are not really sure how to pray.

Even if prayer is not a normal part of your life and world.

Stop and pray.

Jesus did not try to do life without prayer; we should not, either.

Stop and pray.  You will be equipped for the journey ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Mark 14:26-31
[2]Mark 14:32-42
[3]Mark 1:16-20, though Peter is referred to as Simon in this passage, Jesus called him Peter, which means, “rock”.
[4]Mark 4:21-24, 35-43
[5]Mark 9:2-8
[6]Feasting on the Gospels: Mark: a feasting on the WordTM commentary / Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, general editors © 2014 Westminster John Knox Press. Page. 471 (Exegetical Perspective)
[7]Mark 14:46, NRSV
[8]Mark 1:11
[9]Mark 9:7

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Strength. Nourishment. Restoration.

Hi friends – here is my sermon from yesterday. I was preaching on the last supper – conveniently timed with the first Sunday of the month, which meant that it was also Communion Sunday. As I reflected on the last supper during my sermon, I’m seriously considering revising our communion liturgy at some point this summer. I want to simplify the language and really remind us – myself included – why it is that we gather.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 5, 2019

Mark 14:10-25

Strength. Nourishment. Restoration.

It has been two years since Bruce and I last planted a vegetable garden.  We were faithful for six years at the parsonage and then, in 2017, with Harrison’s pending arrival, we just could not pull it together.  Then last year, we were renovating our house and preparing the parsonage for sale and so, again, it just did not happen.

For two years, I frustratingly spent money on produce in the middle of the summer that I knew I could very easily grow myself. And so this year, finally settled(ish) into our new house and eager to get a garden started, we have found ourselves, on more than one occasion, wandering through the gardening section at Home Depot, Target and Walmart, dreaming about what this year’s garden will look like.

But here is the problem with spring.  I always find that I tend to be ready to plant things far sooner than the season and the weather is ready to have things be planted.

This cold and rainy spring we are having is currently exacerbating that problem.

And yet, I cannot help myself.

Which is how I ended up with seedlings all over my kitchen.

About 200 of them, actually.

Cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, basil and lettuce.

I did not realize when I was planting the seeds that so many of them would grow.

And you might recall from my Easter sermon that I have a cat that does not respect the agricultural boundaries that we put up in the house, so what this means is that we not only have trays of seedlings all over our kitchen, but we also have various stacks of cookbooks and children’s books that we are using as feline fencing (somewhat successfully, I might add!).

Much to my delight, though, growth is happening. In fact, last weekend, it became apparent that it was time to replant the zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers into bigger containers.  On Saturday we replanted most of them until we ran out of soil.  We decided to do the rest the next day when we could go out for more.

But on Sunday morning, I came downstairs and realized that the remaining plants – the ones that we had not yet replanted, but that had been disturbed while we were replanting everything else and then not watered afterwards – did not look good.  They were wilted – the leaves were soft and lifeless.

I told Bruce that we had waited too long, that the plants were a lost cause.  First he looked around at the 40 other cucumber plants we had transplanted the day before and gently reminded me that, even if that was the case and the plants were dead, we still had some to spare.  But then he looked at me and he said, “Relax – they will come back.”

That afternoon, I was talking to a friend of mine from high school who is just as enthusiastic about her vegetable garden as I am about mine and I sent her a picture of what was happening with the wilted cucumber plants and she, like Bruce, said, “It’s okay – they will come back.”

So we transplanted the last of the cucumber plants.  And within the 30 minutes, they started to perk up.  The stalks got visibly stronger and the leaves re-gained their form and expanded.

All it took was some new soil and water.  Two things – two simple elements – gave these plants life again.

Guys, the same thing happens when we gather around the communion table.  All it takes is bread and juice.  Two things – two simple elements – give us life every time we receive them.

We have moved into the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of Mark and so the beginning of this morning’s scripture is the heartbreaking story of Judas’ betrayal.  Judas – one of the twelve disciples, one of the men Jesus called to be in ministry with him, someone who traveled with Jesus, who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and his healings, who Jesus taught, who Jesus probably trusted very much – goes to the chief priests – who we know from last week were plotting to kill Jesus – and agrees to help them.  In return, the chief priests promise to give Judas money.

Here’s the thing – none of this comes as a surprise to Jesus.  He knows that he is going to die.  We have read the entire Gospel up until this point so we know that Jesus foretold his death three times.  He knows that Judas was going to betray him.  In verse 18 of this passage, during the Passover meal, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”  And not to spoil next week’s sermon or anything, but Jesus also knows that Peter is going to deny him three times.  He foretells this in the verses that immediately follow the passage we just read, verse 30.

Reading this story today, we know that it all comes to pass.  Judas betrays Jesus.  Peter denies Jesus three times.  All of the disciples abandon him.  Jesus is sentenced to death and crucified.

And yet here is the amazing thing about this story – Jesus invites them to gather around the table anyway.

In this morning’s reading, it is time for the Passover celebration, which is the religious festival that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jews from bondage.  The term, Passover, comes from the Hebrew word, pesach, which is used in Exodus 12:13:  “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you.”

The fascinating thing about how Mark chooses to portray this story is that the focus is not really on the Passover meal, itself, but on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus takes bread and blesses it and breaks it and gives it to the disciples.  The language he uses here – “and after blessing it he broke it [and] gave it to them” – if you recall, is very similar to the language used in both of the loaves and fishes stories in Mark.  Jesus’ actions here draw to a conclusion these feeding stories. This is a poignant reminder that Jesus, who always had compassion for the hungry and offered them bread to eat, is now offering himself as the bread to feed, nourish and bless those who follow him.

Even if they are not perfect.  Even if they make mistakes.  Even if they are very much human.

Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray him, that Peter is going to deny him and that the rest of the disciples are going to abandon him.  And yet he shares this meal with them anyway.

Knowing what is about to happen, knowing the true depths of the disciples’ brokenness and also knowing the heartbreaking messiness that is about to ensue, Jesus invites them to join him for the Passover meal and to be nourished as they break bread together.

The most compelling part of the disciples’ story in the entire Gospel is that they messed up a lot.  They did not always understand what Jesus was asking them to do or what Jesus was trying to teach them.  They were influenced by the culture of the world they were living in. They tried to be faithful, but they also fell short, time and time again.

And yet, sitting around a table with one who had betrayed him, one who would deny him and all who would abandon him, Jesus broke bread and poured wine and shared it with them, offering them nourishment, hope and a new covenant.

This story teaches us that we do not have to be perfect to gather around the communion table; all we have to be is hungry.

And these two elements – these two simple elements of bread and juice – will nourish us, will give us new life, will make us whole again.

Even if we think that we have made too many mistakes.

Even if we think that we are not good enough.

Even if we think that there is no hope left.

Even if we think that there is no chance of redemption.

This communion meal will restore us.  We will be strengthened.  We will be given life again.

This story not only reminds us that it is okay if we are in place in our lives where we do not quite have all of the pieces in place, but it also assures us that there is hope, that we can and will be strengthened and lifted up every time we gather around the table with the Body of Christ and share this meal.

Communion is not just something we do because it’s the first Sunday of the money and that is what has always been done, communion is a gift that Jesus gave to us.  A gift that is available to us wherever we are on our journey through life.  A gift that we can partake in, not because we are strong, but because we are weak, not because we are whole, but because we are broken, not because we have answers, but because we have a lot of questions. A gift that will nourish us; that will strengthen us, that will make us whole again and that will help us find answers.

Like the stalks and the leaves on my cucumber seedlings that literally blossomed before my eyes with a little bit of new soil and some water, amazing things can happen within us when we gather around this table and share the simple meal of bread and juice.

So let yourself be strengthened.

Let yourself be nourished.

Let yourself be restored.

For Jesus invites all to gather around this table.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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