Our Commissioning

We did it!  We finished the Year of Mark!  I am not really sure what’s next – a sermon series on hospitality for the rest of the summer and then, who knows?  The Year of Mark has changed me in a lot of ways, and it certainly has changed my preaching.  It’s very unlike me not to have a plan, but I think that is just where I need to be right now!  Let’s see where the spirit moves …

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 14, 2019

Mark 16:1-20

Our Commissioning

I was telling Bruce that I had a little bit of writer’s block this week and he suggested that, if I was preaching on the Easter story, I should take the same approach in this sermon that I do when I write Easter sermons.

And this approach stems from a theory I have the no one ever complained about an Easter sermon being too short.

So – make a point, but make it quick.

For what it’s worth, I think my theory also rings true when you are preaching on the Easter story in the middle of the summer in a sanctuary without air conditioning.

It is the last Sunday of the Year of Mark. On July 17thof last year, we started this journey.  And I have to admit, I always assumed that I would treat this last Sunday of the Year of Mark like a mini-Easter, of sorts; that we would hire brass, sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” and set off confetti canons.  I envisioned dance parties that not only celebrated the resurrection, but also the fact that we made through an entire year of preaching through one gospel.

And yet, as this week approached, it just did not feel like Easter.  Reading through the Easter story through the lens of the Year of Mark made it seem less like a celebration and more like a charge.

A charge to now live out the gospel that Christ demonstrated in his own life.

We just read the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark.  I explained last week when we read the shorter ending that the shorter ending is presumed by most scholars to be the original ending.  The assumption is that scribes added verses 9-20 in the late second century as a way of reconciling the somewhat unsatisfactory nature of the original ending.

From an exegetical perspective – meaning if you look critically at this biblical text as a way of interpreting it – this makes sense.  The Gospel of Mark is the earliest recorded gospel; it is the spine in which both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke source their material from.

And yet, this section of Mark makes somewhat vague and passing references to stories found – with much greater detail – in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.  This account mentions appearing first to Mary Magdalene, resurrection narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and John, casting demons out of Mary Magdalene, which a story told in Luke and others not believing Mary, also a reference to Luke.  Jesus’ appearance “in another form” to two of his disciples is a brief synopsis of the Road to Emmaus and his commissioning of the disciples follows the same form as his commissioning in all three gospels AND Acts of the Apostles.

This means that whoever redacted Mark had access to the written accounts of these other gospels before writing the longer ending.

And so part of it just does not necessarily feel very Easter morning-y, because whoever wrote the scripture that we just heard was doing so long after the fact; and they were doing then exactly what we are trying to do today– reflecting on the gospel, summing up the story and trying to figure out what to do next.

When Jesus commissions the disciples, there is this sort of strange promise that signs will accompany those who believe – speaking in tongues, picking up snakes, the ability to drink poison without getting sick and healing others through the power of touch.  And not only does this rhetoric seem inconsistent from the rest of the gospel, it also is hard for us to relate to in the world we are living in today.

The snake thing, alone, is enough to push me over the edge. (although, now that I think about it, it might have made for an entertaining children’s sermon), I would not recommend drinking poison and we have talked about the fact that sometimes healing does not happen in the way or when we want it to.

But this is the world that theywere living in.  Verses 14-28, where Jesus commissions the disciples, is very clearly written from the perspective of the post-resurrectional ministry of the disciples; meaning, they were already living out this call to serve and experiencing these signs.  This is a commentary on what was already happening with the first generation of Christians.  This is as much an historical perspective as it is a theological one.

When we talk about understanding the context in which the bible was written, this is one of the reasons it is so important. Because theseare not necessarily the signs that we will accompany us.  This does not mean that we do not believe.  It just means that different signs are going to accompany us.

Yet I think part of being Christian and entering into this Jesus narrative is doingexactly what the Gospel writer does here – talking openly about what it means to be a Christian in the world that we are living in.

And so I think this longer ending of Mark is very much a commentary on what we do with this story today.  We learn about Jesus – about his life, his ministry, his death and his resurrection; and then we are commissioned.  We are commissioned as disciples of Jesus Christ to live out the gospel in our own lives.  We are commissioned to tell this story, to declare love’s victory in this world and to pick up where Jesus left off – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, welcoming and blessing the most vulnerable people in our midst and standing up against the atrocities that threaten the widening of God’s kingdom.

So – I am not setting off confetti today. Because I am far more interested in getting my hands dirty and doing the work I am being called to do.

We have spent a year doing nothing but talking about Jesus.  We have been invited into this narrative of transformational love and suspended our disbelief as we bore witness to Jesus doing what we might otherwise have thought was impossible.

We watched as Jesus welcomed ordinary people into his ministry, healed people who were sick with a simple touch and even raised the dead.  When we thought that there would not be enough food for everyone that had gathered around Jesus to eat, he took mere morsels of food and created an abundant meal where thousands feasted and there was plenty leftover.  He traveled outside of the safety of the home that he knew and preached the Good News – sometimes in ways that made sense and sometimes in parables that made us scratch our heads.

As the fear of a raging storm began to swirly, Jesus calmed the storm and said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid?” and then defied gravity and walked on water.  When Jesus saw people plagued by evil spirits and diseases that were out of their control, he did not turn them away; rather he looked them in the eyes and, seeing their humanity, blessed them as a child of God.

Jesus knew how the story was going to end; he explained it to his disciples, over and over again.  And despite the fact that they never really got it, he never stopped teaching.  When his authority was questioned, he never lost his composure.  He taught his disciples that the most important commandment was to love God and then to love the heck out of the people around you.

And even as he faced death, itself, he blessed the people that he loved and made sure that they were nourished before it was time for him to leave this earth.

So today, as we finish the Year of Mark, this is our charge:  To continue the work that Jesus started, to live out the Gospel, to proclaim the bold and radical truth that love always wins and to remember that it is now our responsibility to write the next chapter of this Christian story.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

This concludes the Year of Mark.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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A Realistic Expression Of What It Means To Encounter The Risen Christ

Christ is risen!  Love wins!  Resurrection is real!

… and yet the Year of Mark is not over yet. :)

This week I preached on the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark and I talked about how, even thought this is probably the least satisfying resurrection story, it is also a really realistic one when it comes to how we experience the Risen Christ in our lives.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 7, 2019

Mark 16:1-8

A Realistic Expression Of What It Means To Encounter The Risen Christ

This is it!  Christ is risen!  God’s love has proven to be stronger than death, itself, and here we are at the, um, almost end of the Year of Mark.

You might be wondering why Christ is risen and, yet, we still have a week to go before we finish the Year of Mark.  Well, as it turns out, there are actually two endings to the Gospel of Mark.

I mean, technically, there is one ending – Christ is risen.  However, the jury is still out as to what happened next; after the women discovered that the tomb was empty.

If you were to open up your bible to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, most likely there would be 20 verses.  However, verses 9-20 are notably missing from the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of Mark.  Most scholars believe that verses 9-20 did not appear until the late second century, likely because the scribes recording the gospel were not satisfied with the original ending that we just heard.

In fact, it is commonly understood that Mark ends with that eight verse, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The two sentences that follow this verse in brackets with the title, The Shorter Ending Of Mark, – “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.  And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the scared and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” – were added no earlier than the fourth century.

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four gospels – it is the earliest recorded history of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. You can understand why, perhaps, scribes recording this important piece of the history of their faith wanted something a little bit more resolved than what is at the end of verse 8, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  After all, this is supposed to be the defining moment of Christianity: Resurrection!  Redemption, eternal life, salvation for all who believe.

I have to admit, the original ending does seem a little anticlimactic.  The story does not end with reassurance and bold proclamation, but with fear and timid reticence.  This ending does not really lend itself to a confetti-filled sanctuary on Easter morning; rather there are still so many unanswered questions.

And yet, part of me thinks that this is the most realistic expression of what it means to encounter the risen Christ.  It is not always confetti flying through the air and science experiments demonstrating God’s overflowing love.  Sometimes it is fear and hesitation to tell others what we have seen and experienced.  Sometimes it is not resolved as nicely as we would like it to be.  Sometimes there are still unanswered questions.

One of the things that I love about the resurrection story is the unexpected nature of it.  Three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, who is not identified in the Gospel of Mark, but is in the Gospel of Matthew as the mother of the sons of Zebedee – approach the tomb and expect nothing else but to find the stone rolled in front of the tomb with the body of Jesus inside.

There is no indication in this story that they even thoughtthey might arrive at the tomb and find something different. In fact, as they approached the tomb, they were so preoccupied with a conversation about how they were going to roll away the stone, that it was not until they arrived and “looked up” that they saw the stone had already been rolled back.

We were in Connecticut this week for my parent’s 4thof July party and Bruce and I were, unsuccessfully, trying to get Harrison to nap one afternoon at my sister’s house when I ran outside to get something out of my car and Harrison insisted on coming with me.  I had him in one arm and a bag in the other arm and was not at all paying attention to anything else happening around me when I looked up and realized we were standing ten feet from a black bear.

And, like the women who arrived at the tomb and looked up and unexpectedly saw that the stone had already been rolled away, I was not at all expecting to see a bear when I looked up (though the difference between the women and Harrison and me is that we told everybody what we had seen!).

But I think it is in the unexpected moments where we experience the Risen Christ in all of its glory; these are the moments of resurrection that remind us that God’s love is powerful and that grace is real. Even here at church, the most memorable encounters with grace often do not happen in the moments that I carefully orchestrate, week after week, but in the moments where I accidentally say, “angeltude” during the Christmas Cantata or look up and realize that a cat has run into the sanctuary at the end of my sermon.

This story teaches us that resurrection is quite often found in the unexpected.  It is sometimes nothing that we can plan for – but it is real and it is powerful and it is life-changing.

One of the reasons that I think people find this ending to be so unsatisfactory is that the very end goes against what we are taught as Christians – that we are supposed to proclaim the Good News that Christ is risen, that we are supposed to talk about our faith and tell others about the moments in our lives when we realize just how powerful God is.

But the women “said nothing to anyone” – they were afraid to tell people what they had seen.

And yet, again, what a realistic expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ and then figure out what to do next. How many of us sitting in this sanctuary today have hesitated to talk about our faith?  How many of us have been afraid to even tell someone that we come to church?

Running from the tomb boldly proclaiming that Christ is Risen makes for a victorious celebration on Easter morning, but, in reality, living this out every single day of our lives is not always easy.

And so, when I read this story, the original ending of the very first recording of Jesus’ life, I take heart in knowing that my own struggle with talking openly about my faith sometimes is something that Christians have struggled with since the very beginning.

Are we supposed to fervently declare the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Yes. Is that sometimes a scary thing for us to do?  Apparently it always has been.

Finally, I think what also makes this story such a realistic expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ is the way in which we really do not know how the story ends.  Jesus’ body is gone, the women encounter a young man dressed in white who tells them Jesus has been raised and they are supposed to tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee.  The women flee the tomb, but are afraid to tell anyone.  End scene.

So what happens next?

This ending has always reminded me of a television series that ends without really tying up all of the loose storylines.  Those shows often receive negative reviews afterwards because people want things to be resolved and they are not.

But also – neither is life sometimes.  There are things that happen in this world and in our lives and in our faith that we just cannot reconcile.  And I think part of being Christian and holding onto the hope of resurrection is believing that God’s triumphant love is just as present in the midst of the unresolved stuff as it is in the stuff that makes a lot of sense.

As we read this story today – the resurrection of Christ as told in the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark, I encourage us all to put ourselves inside the narrative.  Because I do think that, on an ordinary, everyday level, this is a real and human expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ. Resurrection is not always confetti flying through the air and brass ensembles filling the sanctuary with some of our favorite Easter hymns.  Sometimes resurrection is unexpected, it is hard to talk about and it is unresolved. Sometimes resurrection can be found in grief and sadness, in mistakes and frustration, in stuff that just does not seem to be working itself out.  Sometimes resurrection can be found in the arguments that we do not win, the things we do not understand and the moments where we feel like we have failed.

But it is still resurrection.  It is still the bold proclamation the death did not, does not and will not have the final word.

And so while it might not be resolved and while it might not be satisfactory, it is still resurrection.  In this story, God’s love has still won.

Just like it does every single day of our lives.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Remembering Our Loved Ones

I preached this sermon on the heels of a really hard funeral for a lot of us the day before.  I had planned to end the service with Old Rugged Cross and when I looked out in the congregation so many people had tears in their eyes.  It has been a hard year for a lot of people and I think reading through this Passion Narrative has been oddly therapeutic as it has reminded us that grace is still present, even in the hard stuff.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July holiday everyone!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 30, 2019

Mark 15:40-47

Remembering Our Loved Ones

So you’d think I’d have a lot to say about burials.

The irony of me having to preach on Jesus’ burial right now is not how many funerals I have done over the past four months, but that I am actually sort of working through my own thoughts about what I would want one day.

You see, I never really thought it was important. That’s weird, right? Considering what I do for a living.  But I guess I just never wanted anyone to make a fuss.  I actually told Bruce once that when I died, I wanted to be cremated and then he should just accidently trip and spill my ashes one day and be done with it.

Which, for the record, I do not think he would have ever actually done.

And then I slowly started to have a change of heart.

I don’t know what it was; some combination of grace and the fact that I have done a lot of really inspiring funerals over the past year or so.  There was something about riding in the funeral procession for Earl Goff with the fire department marching on foot behind us, singing Amazing Grace while we got poured on when we buried Alice Wagner, preparing a beautiful altar honoring Lou Peranzi’s life for his memorial service, watching the Fire Department walk through at Mark Johnson’s funeral while Lynyrd Skynyrd played quietly in the background, hearing taps played at the cemetery more times than I can count and lining up the two hearses carrying Paul and Kathy Lumbra in front of the church before we took the trip out Bourne to bury them that just started to remind me of just how important ritual is, not only in life, but in death.

When Rachel Held Evans died, they livestreamed her funeral, which was a Requiem Eucharist, a funeral mass in the Episcopal tradition.  The liturgy was beautiful; and when I watched them process her casket into the sanctuary while the priest walked behind her and boldly proclaimed that promise of our faith – I am Resurrection and I am Life – I wept.

Because I realized in that moment that, even though sometimes it is really hard to take part in these rituals surrounding death, they are so important in helping us to process our grief and to remind us of the redeeming hope of resurrection in Christ.

This morning’s scripture reading is the story of Jesus’ burial.  We enter the story while Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, look on from a distance.  Evening was coming, which meant that soon it would be the Sabbath (it was Friday, remember – Sabbath begins a few minutes before sunset on Friday).

Knowing there was not much time before the sun set, a man from Arimathea named Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. When the centurion told Pilate that Jesus was, in fact, dead, he granted Joseph permission and Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down off the cross, wrapped him in the cloth, laid him in an empty tomb and rolled a stone again the door to close it.

My first question in reading this story is, who is this Joseph guy?  He is supposedly a respected member of “the council,” although the story does not specify which council.  Jesus, you may remember, appeared before a council made up of the high priest, the chief priests, the scribes and elders and they condemned him as deserving of death, but there is no confirmation that he is a member of that same council.

Regardless, Joseph goes “boldly to Pilate” and asks for the body of Jesus.  The part that intrigues me about Joseph is that the scripture identifies him as, “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.”

Who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.

What does that mean?

Okay, I want to jump back to the very beginning of the Year of the Mark, I think the second week; Jesus was baptized and then driven out into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days and then he traveled to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.  When he arrived in Galilee, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”

I think one thing we have all learned throughout this year of studying the Gospel of Mark is that the kingdom of God is not necessarily something that is far off, but something that is here, that is attainable.  The kingdom of God is something that we can create here on earth if we live out the Gospel, if we put to action the call of Jesus to love God and to love one another, if we commit to healing the sick, feeding the hungry and reaching out to the poor and the marginalized.

And so when Joseph of Arimathea is identified as someone who is, “also … waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God” and then goes boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus, I have to think that the two are somehow related.

It kind of makes me wonder if what we do when people die enables us to bring the kingdom of God to earth; if our rituals, our remembrances and our desires to pick up the light of someone who has died and carry it with us in our own lives actually widens the depth of the kingdom and shares the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

For the record, I do not think our rituals have any bearings on whether or not someone gets into heaven; God is more powerful than the words that we speak and the rituals we perform.  However, I do think how we handle death significantly impacts how we move forward here on earth after someone dies; how we cling tightly to our faith in our moments of despair and are reminded of the sweet promise of resurrection.  I think how we handle death enables us to carries someone’s memory with us so that their spirit always lives on.

Joseph did not know what was about to happen; he thought Jesus was dead.  And it was not because he buried Jesus that God resurrected him; but it was because he buried Jesus that he was able to honor the life that Jesus lived and believe that kingdom of God was very much attainable here.

And I think the same is true in our lives today. It is not because we participate in rituals and traditions when our loved ones die that they go to heaven; but it is because of these things that we are able to see what heaven might look like as we then carry their spirit with us in our lives.  It is because of our rituals and traditions that we are able to bear witness to the lives of those who came before us as we seek to bring the kingdom of God to earth.

And so I think, as people living on this side of the resurrection, we, too, have to think carefully about the ways in which we care for our loved ones after they die.  And I am not just talking about funeral arrangements, either, I am also talking about the rituals and the traditions that we create after they are gone to remember them, as well.

I think about my Grandmother Miko every time I make chicken paprikash, because she is the one who taught me how to make it. I think about my Grandmother Keck every time I see coins on the ground because she once very proudly told me that she dodged traffic one afternoon when she saw change in the road and collected 32 cents.  I think about my Grandfather Keck when I look at Harrison because he is his namesake. I think about my mom’s best friend, Diane, every time I make pancakes, because she told me once that if you add sugar and a little bit of vanilla to pancake batter, they taste so much better. I think about my college chaplain, the Rev. Charles Rice, every time I argue with someone about the reality of systemic racism because he was the one that gave me the courage to have those conversations.

And then I try to carry their light into the world.

It is not necessarily the big things – but then again, it does not always have to be.  Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference.  It is the little things that remind us of the people that changed our lives.  We have to boldly tell our loved ones stories so the other’s lives might be changed, as well.

So whether you are laying someone to rest, celebrating their life at a memorial service, paying them a visit to the cemetery, making a meal they always cooked, toasting them with their favorite drink, playing music that they loved, gathering at their favorite vacation spot, planting flowers in their memory or just taking their best quality and carrying it with you in the world, may you know that the kingdom of God is near and that you are an active participant in bringing it to life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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