Better Together

Save this one for next year when you are preaching stewardship!  I actually love preaching about stewardship and we had a great response to this year’s stewardship campaign.

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 28, 2018

Mark 6:30-44, Mark 8:1-10

Better Together

It is time for my annual disclaimer.

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

But, this is not a bad thing, I promise!  Who read my stewardship letter this year?  If you missed it, here is the gist.  I actually like the stewardship season.  I enjoy talking about money.  I am kind of a geek when it comes to the whole thing.  I get excited to think about the God-sized possibilities that a stewardship campaign could bring.

In my stewardship letter this year, I told the story about a conversation I had in seminary with my nonprofit leadership professor.  I told him I hated asking for money and he smiled at me and told me he loved asking for money.  He explained that he only ever asked for money for organizations that he was truly passionate about.  And, in asking a person to donate to that organization, he was asking them to be part of the mission of the organization, knowing that beyond any kind of financial support they might give, there was a good chance their lives might also be changed along the way.

So even though I am going to talk about money today, it really is not all about the money; it is about changing lives – your lives.

Because here is the thing, Rehoboth Congregational Church – I believe in this church.  I believe it has the power to change people’s lives, both inside our walls and outside our walls.  I believe this church has the ability to proclaim the Gospel in a way that is relevant, meaningful and accessible to all in this generation.  I believe we can get people excited about growing in their faith, being part of the Body of Christ and doing church together.

Together.

Together.

A few months ago, Abbie St. Martin was in my office and we were talking about stewardship.  Abbie is the vice chair of the Executive Board and part of her role as vice chair is to, alongside me, oversee the stewardship campaign. Neither one of us was feeling particularly inspired that afternoon, so we did what probably would have made my nonprofit leadership professor cringe – we turned to Pinterest for ideas.

But lo and behold – we saw something that peaked our attention.

“Better Together”

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Acts 4:32

We were immediately drawn to this, because it described the church in the village we have been celebrating for the past two years.  As a church, we are stronger together than we are separately.  We are more than simply the sum of our parts; we are the Body of Christ.

And that means something.

It means something in the life of our church and it means something in the lives of each and every one of us sitting here.

At the time, we decided on our theme, our logo and the timeline, which included me preaching on stewardship on October 28th, this morning.  I remember thinking that at some point I needed to look at our Year of Mark calendar to see what I was already scheduled to preach on just in case it was completely irrelevant and I needed to go in another direction.

And so after the whole demonic pigs drowning on the same day as Charlotte’s baptism happened, you can imagine my sheer delight when I opened my Year of Mark schedule and realized that this morning we would be reading not just one, but both of the loaves and fishes stories.

These stories speak for themselves.  There did not seem to be enough food to feed the crowds that had gathered around Jesus and yet, after blessing a few loaves of bread and a small number of fish, there was an abundance of food that allowed everyone to eat their full.

We have all seen this happen at the church. We go into an event or a meal worried that there will not be enough food for everyone and then five minutes later we have to set up another table because we are running out of space.

People always ask me how this happens and the truth is, I have no idea; it can only be described as grace.

But here is what I do know:  When we have these loaves and fishes moments at the church – these moments when I see people clearing a space on the floor for another table and hear the familiar sound of those metal table legs banging open – they never happen because of one person.  They happen as a community – because we are better together.

Together, we can take morsels of food and feed a crowd that has gathered.  Together, we can create a space in this church where all people feel welcome, where we all have a safe space to learn and grow in our faith.  Together, we can worship God and teach others that the Gospel is a story that is still worth telling.  Together, we can change people’s lives, our own included.  Together, we can do the impossible.

And that is why I love stewardship.  That is why I have had some of the best and most honest conversations about pledging and giving to the church this year.  That is why I was so open in talking about what Bruce and I are going to increase our pledge by this year.  That is why I am excited to ask people for money and to prayerfully consider their level of giving for the upcoming year.

Because we are stronger together than we are as separate units.  The offerings that we give to this church have more of an impact when they are combined with everyone else’s than they ever would if they were on their own.  We have the capacity to make a real difference here, not only to help sustain this church, but to help it thrive in the years to come.

Something really special is happening here, at the church.  Momentum is building; I can feel it in the very depths of my soul.  God has cast a vision for our church in the village and I can say with absolute confidence that the next chapter of our story is going to be captivating.

This morning marks the end of our official stewardship season and I am humbly asking you a few things:

  1. If you have not yet turned in your pledge card for the upcoming year, please do so. There are pledge cards in the pews if you would like to do so this morning; fill it out and put it in the offering plate.  I know the concept of pledging is scary for some people, but the Executive Board needs to put together a budget for 2019 and they rely on the pledge numbers to estimate what the income is going to be.
  2. Consider increasing your pledge. Think about the impact that even a small increase in your pledge would have on this church if we all did that together.
  3. Also consider signing up for electronic giving. It is simple, it is safe and it is a great way to guarantee that you will stay current on your pledge and that our revenue stream will remain consistent.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you.  You are the reason that we are better together.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

We Will Bring God’s Kingdom To Earth

It is a little ironic that I am posting this today, because I am currently working on this weekend’s sermon that kind of addresses the same issue of the kingdom here on earth!  Here is my sermon from September 2 – enjoy …

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 2, 2018

Mark 3:7-35

We Will Bring God’s Kingdom To Earth

Since we started our Year of Mark, one of the things I have incorporated into my sermon prep is looking at our text for the week in different translations of the bible, in addition to the one we read on Sunday mornings, which is the New Revised Standard Version.  I have been doing this, mostly because one of the biggest reasons I encouraged us to try the Year of Mark in the first place was to re-familiarize ourselves with the stories of Jesus as we read the Gospel from start to finish.  Reading different translations allows me to not necessarily get caught up on specific words or phrases, but to read the stories as a whole and then think about how they apply to our lives today.

One of the translations I look at is the bible I use in bible study every week, the Common English Bible, which was released in 2011.  I use a study bible that came out in 2013 and there was a commentary on our passage from this morning that I thought was worth sharing.

In Mark the good news Jesus proclaims is that God’s kingdom is on the horizon. Historians agree this message was the trademark of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  But how are we to understand the term “God’s kingdom”?  For Mark it’s the very real hope, rooted in Jewish thought, that God’s power will soon overwhelm Rome’s.  … In Mark, Jesus is the Jewish Christ who established God’s kingdom by fighting the forces of evil wherever they appear – in demons, illness, human need, and abusive power.  … By following a suffering Christ, Mark’s audience takes its place within God’s new world order, which uses power for good.  Evil – even death itself – will finally lose its grip upon the earth.

I thought this was relevant, because as humans living on this earth today, we often fight these same forces of evil. Demons (they might not look like the kind we see on TV and in the movies, but often times we have our own internal ones), illness, human need and abusive power – these are all forces that threaten our livelihood, our family structures, our happiness, our stability and our ability to be fulfilled in our lives and connect to God on a real and personal level.

But as Christians, we believe that God’s love is stronger than this evil.  We believe in the message of the Gospel, that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection meant something – and still means something in our lives today.  We might not know where or when or how God’s kingdom is coming, but know that we are called through scripture to do everything we can to bring that kingdom here to earth through our lives and service to God.  We want to use the power we have – however big or small it might be – for good in this world.

Jesus’ earthly ministry continues in our reading from Mark this morning.  Even though we are still only in the beginning of Mark, there is this reoccurring theme where Jesus leaves a place – either to travel to a new place or to retreat by himself to pray – and everyone follows him.  People wanted to see and hear for themselves all that Jesus was doing and saying.  They wanted to not only believe in the Good News, but bear witness to it themselves.

In this morning’s reading, Jesus goes up on a mountain and calls his 12 disciples.

(As a side note, in the four different Gospels, the names of the disciples sometimes appear differently, but there were always 12 disciples, which evokes the 12 tribes of Israel.  This parallel draws to light the powerful notion that change was on the horizon, that something new was happening.  Jesus’ calling of 12 disciples symbolizes a shift from the old way of thinking to this discipleship model of ministry).

Remember that these disciples were not drawn from the educated or the upper class, they were ordinary people, which is important to note, because it shatters the notion that we have to somehow work our way up in society in order to receive God’s grace.  It was not the people with power that walked alongside Christ, but the people who were humble and willing to do the hard work that is required to bring God’s kingdom here to earth.

Our passage this morning ends with a rare, brief and a little bit strange story about Jesus’ family.  Jesus’ mother and brothers came to his home and were standing outside, but when the crowd gathered around Jesus inside told him his family was outside, Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?  Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This story has always bugged me a little bit, because it kind of sets this expectation where you have to completely abandon your old life – including your family – in order to follow Christ.  But I am not sure that was entirely the point Jesus was getting at.  I think he was simply trying to say that – in the Body of Christ, in God’s family – we are all equal.  There is no one that is more than or less than.  Jesus gave no one preferential treatment – not the rich and the powerful and not even his own family.  Everyone, everyone, EVERYONE had access to God’s love through Jesus Christ.

And the same is true today.

There is an urgency to the Gospel that existed back then and also still exists today.  There are forces of evil at work in our world that, as a Body of Christ, we need to be stronger than.  We need to be stronger than death, sickness and pain.  We need to be stronger than social inequality, poverty, hunger and homelessness.  We need to be stronger than hatred, gossip and slander.  We need to be stronger than anxiety and depression.  We need to be stronger than social expectations that cause us stress and put pressure on our families.

The work of Jesus was powerful back and then and it is just as powerful today.

We might not be casting out demons the way it is written in the Gospel, but we have so much work to do in our lives today. And we are reminded in today’s reading, as members of the Body of Christ, we are all equal in this ministry, called, like it says in verses 14 and 15, to “proclaim the message, and to have authority.”

The commentary I read on this passage says that the Good News Jesus proclaims in the Gospel of Mark is that God’s kingdom is on the horizon.  But the important thing to remember here is that we are active participants in bringing this kingdom to earth.

And so now the hard work begins.  Now we make a choice to follow Christ.  Now we make a choice to respond to the call to resist evil in the world, to be united so that we are not a house divided and unable to stand. Now we take seriously the call of discipleship so that we can shine God’s light into even the darkest corners of the world.

The program year is about to begin.  Now is a wonderful time to get tied back into the church, to connect with God and with one another and to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel to this community.  There is an urgency to the work that we are doing – and there is a powerful grace that can and will be uncovered as we commit to do this hard work.

God’s kingdom is on the horizon.

And we can draw it closer.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Gathering Around A Table Of Messy Authenticity

Continuing my posting of the Year of Mark!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 26, 2018

Mark 2:13-28

Gathering Around A Table Of Messy Authenticity

When I was growing up, my mom always did something that never made any sense to me.  The day before the woman who cleaned our house came to clean, my mom would always make us … clean … the house.

I didn’t make sense.  Wasn’t she coming to clean?

Fast forward 20 years and here I am.  We have a company that comes in to clean the church during the week and what do I do every time I see their car pull in the parking lot?

Frantically clean my office before they come in.

I get it now.  And it’s not just that I want things picked up in my office so our cleaning crew can do the deep cleaning around it, either; it is that I want to somehow give off the illusion that I am a much tidier and more put together version of myself than I actually am.

We do this all the time, right?  We try to get in shape before we will go to the gym for the first time.  We eat healthy right before our yearly doctor appointments.  We scramble to complete half-finished projects around the house before our family and friends come over.  For some reason we want people to think that we have it all together; heaven forbid we do not finish something or do something wrong or somehow fall short.

We continue in the Gospel of Mark this morning with a series of controversy stories, stories that later set Jesus up for the opposition against him that leads to his death.  First Jesus sits down to dinner with tax-collectors and sinners; then he rejects the practice of fasting; and finally he and his disciples were found to be doing work on the Sabbath, first with gleaning in the cornfields and then by performing acts of healing, a story we looked at last week.

Jesus’ dinner with the tax collectors and sinners made me think about my mom’s (and, mine too, I suppose) insistence on a clean house before the cleaners showed up.  When asked the question, why are you eating with the tax collectors and the sinners, Jesus responded by saying:

Those who are well have no need of a physicians, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.[1]

In other words, Jesus is saying, I do not need to hang out with the perfect people.  They are not the ones who need saving.

Jesus rejected this notion that, in order to be in God’s good graces, we need to somehow be on top of the religious totem pole, that we have to be without sin.  When I read Jesus’ words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” I think the point he was trying to get at was, “Those who are without sin have no need for a Savior.”  The purpose of Jesus was not to find the holiest of holy people and help them elevate their standing in society, but to find the messiest of grace-seeking people and invite them to walk alongside him in ministry.

But here is where we have to be careful not to be too self-righteous.  I think it is easy to read the story of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and the sinners and put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, interpreting it as a call to reach out to sinners and invite them to be part of our ministry.  But I think if we did that, we would miss the point; we would miss the point where Jesus called into question the religious practices of his time, the things people did that made them think they were somehow more in favor of God’s grace than other people.  The stories that follow this narrative of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners remind us that perhaps we, too, might be the ones that need saving.

The controversy stories continue, first with a question about whether or not Jesus’ disciples should be fasting and then with a question about whether or not they should be keeping Sabbath.

Fasting was a practice used for petitionary prayer, during times of mourning and repentance and in preparation for the day of the Lord.  John’s disciples and the Pharisees were in a time of fasting – something that was not uncommon for their stature in society – and people asked Jesus why they were fasting and Jesus’ disciples were not.

A similar question was asked of Jesus when it came to working on the Sabbath.  Jesus and his disciples were walking through a cornfield and the disciples were pulling off the heads of the grain.  The Pharisees questioned Jesus, asking him why he was allowing them to work on the Sabbath.

And here is where the whole self-righteous thing comes into play.  Because Jesus did not answer these questions of why his disciples were not fasting or working on the Sabbath by saying, “Well, yes they are sinning by doing these things, but I have been called to save sinners, which is why I am here and I am going to whip these guys into shape.”  Instead, Jesus essentially held up his hands and said, “Let them feast! Let them work!”

Jesus said something new was happening; it wasn’t coming, it was happening right then and there.  “The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?”[2]he asked.  A feast was happening in this ministry God created through the life and work of Jesus and there was no time to get caught up in the minutia of religious tradition; the stakes were too high.

Jesus said you should not put new wine in old wineskins because the skins will burst and all of that new wine will be lost. Through his life, Jesus instituted a new practice, one that shattered the old way of thinking, this idea that it is our rules and our religious structures and traditions that somehow erase our sins and make us worthy of God’s grace.  Jesus said that, in fact, we were allworthy of God’s grace, no matter who we were and where we were on our journey through life.  Rich or poor, Pharisee or tax collector, Jew or Gentile – Jesus said all were welcome at the table and that table was a place where no one was greater or less than.

As members of this church, this text challenges us; because it challenges the notion that we think we’ve got it right. We all love this church so much that it is hard not to look at another church or organization and have the same Pharisitic idea that we know the right way into the Kingdom and that everyone else is doing it wrong.

But remember – Jesus shattered the old way of thinking, the strong conviction that the Pharisees somehow knew better than God who was worthy of God’s grace and where that worth came from.

I think as we read this text today, we need to keep in mind two things.

First of all, as a church, we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that we might not always be right.  OR we might be right, but somebody else who does things differently than we do might not necessarily be wrong, either.  At our core, we are human beings trying to figure something out that surpasses human understanding.  Before we stand so hard and fast in our convictions that the way we are doing something is absolutely, without question right, let us – just for a moment – open ourselves up to the possibility that God is writing a new chapter in the story of our faith.

It is a really exciting time to be part of the Church – and not just our church, either (although that is a sermon for another day, because I would argue that it is a really exciting time to be part of our church!), but the Church, as a whole.  Because people are starting to not only question the status quo, but also in doing so seek a deeper and intimate relationship with God.

The kind of relationship Jesus invited us into.

The kind of relationship that salvation is built on.

The kind of relationship where grace is found.

The second thing I want us to keep in mind as we read this text today is that one of the reasons we create these religious structures with rules and traditions and practices is because we want to not only believe that we are doing it right, but that we are going to be okay in the end.

And that’s the thing – we are.  That’s why Jesus came in the first place.

What it boils down to is this:  God does not want to see some illusion of who we think God wants us to be.  God wants to see us in all of our imperfections and faults.  God wants to see the rawest, most authentic version of who we are.  God wants to see who God created us to be so God can help us become who God is callingus to be.

So this morning I challenge to challenge the status quo and seek a deep and intimate relationship with God.  Do not worry about getting right the religious practices that we have always been taught would somehow make up for our brokenness; remember that Jesus shared a meal with people who were, for all intents and purposes, broken, because he knew it was God’s grace, not their religious traditions and practices, that would make them whole.  It is not about what we do; it is about who we are.

And we are all children of God; washed over by the living waters of baptism, created, redeemed and sustained, not in an image of perfection or hierarchy, but in an image of grace.

So don’t feel as though you have to clean yourself up for God.  God wants to see the most authentic versions of ourselves in all of our messy glory. Don’t worry if you do not know all the traditions or practices of this church or if you do them wrong or even if you don’t like them; they were man-made, not God-made.  Together, we will ask questions and share new ideas.  Together – rich or poor, Pharisee or tax collector, Jew or Gentile, longtime member or first time visitor – we will pour wine into new wineskins and join Jesus around the table for beautiful and bounteous feast.

For all are welcome around that table.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Mark 2:17, NRSV
[2]Mark 2:19, NRSV