Small Town Disciples In A Really Big World

Hi Friends!  Posting this quickly before Palm Sunday is completely irrelevant.  We were, of course, in the Gospel of Mark.

Enjoy!

***

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

Mark 11:1-33

Small-Town Disciples In A Really Big World

When Bruce and I moved to Atlanta, we were 21 and 22 years old.  We had both grown up in small towns in the northeast part of the country.  I had been to Atlanta a grand total of three times before we moved there – once for a conference, once to visit Emory and once to find an apartment – and Bruce had never been there.

We drove into the city around noon; there was not a cloud in the sky that day, so the sun was beating down on our cars and I think it might have been 112° degrees.  We were coming down I85 and as we approached the interchange between that and I285, the traffic was insane; cars were crossing four lines of traffic in one fell swoop, driving 90 mph in the left hand lane and merging without really paying attention to who was already on the road.

It was insane.  Now looking back, those was normal Atlanta road conditions that we eventually acclimated to, but, at the time, we were these two small town northerners. Even though we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we had made the decision to move down there, it was almost as if in that moment, we realized just how different life was going to be from what we were accustomed to.

We were in separate cars, so I remember Bruce called me and said, “Oh my gosh, we live in a city now!” and there was this combination of excitement and fear and bewilderment in his voice.

I have to think that the disciples might have had similar emotions as they approached Jerusalem with Jesus.  Think about it – these were Galilean fisherman, not big city guys.  This was all new to them – the pace of life, the size of the buildings, the sheer number of people.

Because of where we are in the Year of Mark, we are actually jumping back two chapters to this narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for Palm Sunday; but what this means is that we already have a little bit of a taste of what happens once they get there.  Last week when I preached on the mini apocalypse and the destruction of the temple, one of the things that actually made me think about Bruce and me moving to Atlanta was when Jesus came out of the temple and the disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They had to have been overwhelmed, at least on some level, by the world they had just entered.

And, even more than that, the Jesus that they have known up until this point is not necessarily the Jesus they are seeing and experiencing once they get to Jerusalem.  The Jesus they knew when they were first traveling around to the different villages along the Sea of Galilee was a teacher and a healer.  He performed miracles, feeding thousands of people using mere morsels of bread and fish and calmed raging seas during a bad storm.  He blessed the vulnerable and often retreated alone to pray.

But now Jesus is in Jerusalem.  And once he gets there, curses a fig tree and then he walks into the temple and starts throwing things around.

This is a side of Jesus that the disciples have not seen before.

Can you imagine what they are feeling right now? They are in a big new city, surrounded by sights and sounds they have probably never seen or heard.  And their teacher – Jesus, the man who called them away from their fishing boats (their families, their livelihoods, the only lives they had ever known) – is in the temple knocking over tables and driving people out.

I can only imagine that, in this moment, the disciples realized just how big Jesus was; that this ministry that he had called them into was so much greater than they could ever comprehend.

The stakes were high.

And yet, he still needed them.  He still needed them to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as they could from him.  He still needed them to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name.  He still needed them to gather around a table and break bread together.  He still needed them to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people.  He still needed them to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that he knew was going to change the world.

And I have to believe that the same is true today.

I had a different point that I was going to make today, but while I was working on my sermon yesterday, I got an alert from CNN.  The headline read:  “There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds.”

The article – which cites an analysis by a man who is a pollical scientist out of Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor and says that 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion – reminded me that the stakes are just as high today as they were when Jesus entered a Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

People are turning away from religion because they find it irrelevant, unnecessary and contradictory and, in some cases, judgmental and hate-filled.  They do not see the value in it; they do not understand the capacity it has to transform their lives or change the world for the better.  They find community in other places and try to do good by supporting secular organizations that align with their principles.

And I am not judging people who choose to live their lives differently than me, because I do understand people’s reasoning for either turning away from religion or not making church a priority in their lives.

But it does make me sad to think that this all could be slipping away.

We have to tell this story.  It is our responsibility to make sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation.

The task at hand is not a small one.  Just like the disciples, the ministry that we have been called into is so much greater than we may ever comprehend.

And yet, just like the disciples, Jesus still needs us today.  He needs us to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as we can, no matter where we are on our journey through life.  He needs us to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name.  He needs us to gather around a table and break bread together.  He needs us to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. He needs us to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that we know changed the world still has the capacity to change it even more.

On this Palm Sunday, I invite you to feel that excitement and fear and bewilderment of small-town disciples in a really big world.  Do not be overwhelmed by what we have to do, but also take the call seriously.

Holy Week is upon us; and the really cool part about Holy Week and Easter is that it is the only time during the Christian year that we get to live out the story in real time.  On Thursday evening, at our Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae, we will hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

And then, just like they did 2,000 years ago, we will wait.

We will wait for the women to discover that the tomb is empty.  We will wait for the sun to rise and for light to shine on Easter morning.  We will wait for resurrection.  We will wait for the reminder that love always, always, ALWAYS wins.

I think sometimes we gather for worship or as a community and think we are just some small, country church.  But we are not.  We are part of something so much bigger.  And God is using us – and will continue to use us – to spread the Gospel, even if it is overwhelming at times.

The task is great, friends,  But God is greater.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Finding Grace And Meaning In The Midst Of Chaos

Here is my sermon from Sunday! I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever preached on this text. It’s dark and challenging and a little but scary – but also has SO much to teach us!

Also – if anyone has any suggestions for how to brew good church coffee – email or DM me! I haven’t given up yet – ha!

Enjoy …

***

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

Mark 13

Finding Grace And Meaning In The Midst Of Chaos

Last week during my sermon I mentioned that this week we would be looking at the apocalyptic narrative in Mark 13, but I did not know, at the time, that in a matter of mere minutes, we would be experiencing our own version of the apocalypse right here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

I don’t know if y’all heard, but we ran out of coffee at Fellowship last week.

Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn.

 I know.

Before I get into the apocalypse, let me first explain the thing with the coffee.  There is a running joke in most churches – not just ours – about bad church coffee. Even if the coffee isn’t actually bad, you still joke about bad church coffee.

Bruce actually has a friend in Pennsylvania who has a coffee roasting company because of bad church coffee.  He and his friends were drinking coffee after church one day talking about how terrible it was and he thought to himself, maybe I could roast better coffee.  And he did; and his experiment grew and now he has a side roasting business.

As a preacher, I am tempted to think that this whole bad coffee thing started because the pastor wanted to make sure people had something to complain about other than the sermon.  But as a coffee enthusiast, I think it is more likely that it is just hard to brew really good coffee in large batches with minimal effort.

We have been talking a lot about hospitality lately – how we can create a welcoming and enjoyable experience for our members and also for guests who are worshipping with us for the first time. The subject of coffee has come up several times and a small group of us – myself included – have been brainstorming ways to up our coffee game, so to speak.  After all, who wouldn’t want to be known as the church with reallygoodcoffee?

We have been experimenting with different roasts, grinds and brewing techniques.  We used endowment funds to purchase a new coffee maker in the hopes that might help.  I have tasted a lot of coffee over the past couple of weeks (and have subsequently been wound up more than usual.  We have tried good coffee, bad coffee and – apparently for some people last weekend – no coffee at all).

So clearly we are still trying to figure it out. But the conclusion that I have drawn – after many lengthy discussions with people here, a few conversations with colleagues in other churches and more coffee than I should probably consume in a lifetime – is that nothing can bring down a church quite like a debate over coffee.

Because I was talking to three other colleagues who have active coffee conflicts in their churches right now.

(And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds.)

Speaking of bringing churches down, this morning we start with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple.

We will get back to the coffee in a minute (let’s let the topic percolate for a minute).

We read a very lengthy passage from the Gospel of Mark this morning – the entire 13thchapter.  This chapter is often referred to as “The Little Apocalypse.” This chapter separates the Gospel Narrative, which concluded at the end of chapter 12, from the Passion Narrative, which begins in chapter 14.

This chapter has a lot of the “whoa” factor going on; Jesus’ tone is completely different from what we are used to.  It is unsettling and scary.  Over the years, Christian alarmists have used this chapter to invoke fear in people when they talk about salvation.[1]

The important thing to remember, however, is that this chapter is talking about a transition; a transition between the world as it is and the world as it will be when Jesus is no longer physically there. Jesus, knowing what is about to happen (remember he foretold his death three times in the Gospel of Mark) talks about what it will take for the disciples to be sustained for ministry after Jesus is gone; how they will witness to the hope of God’s love in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.”[2]  In other words – do not be afraid.  God will still be with you, God’s love will be more powerful than any conflict, fear or violence you may face.  You will be an agent of hope, an instrument of peace.  You will shine God’s light into this world, even when the darkness I am describing threatens to overcome it.

I think – despite its somewhat terrifying apocalyptic language – this passage actually has a lot to teach us about doing church.  Because it is not always easy, right?  You put 200+ people together who have different beliefs, work ethics and passions and then authorize those people to govern themselves amidst the imperfections and the chaos of the world and sometimes stones come crashing down.

It is not easy to do what we do, here at the church.  We are not on the brink of an apocalypse or anything, but I do think, over the past few years, we have experienced – and are continuing to experience – transitions of our own.

We have a new governance structure and in the process of writing new bylaws for our institution.

We sold our parsonage and now have a new financial obligation to my housing allowance.

We are re-branding with a new logo, building a new website and shifting how we use our social media presence.

We are trying to re-embrace our congregational polity and empower all of our members to take initiatives and be leaders within our community – even though sometimes that means giving up control.

And I am not saying, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against their parents”[3]over a cup of coffee, but I am saying that it is not always easy to do church.  We are trying to find grace and meaning in the midst of a chaotic world, a world that sometimes feels like the world Jesus describes in the 13th chapter of Mark and sometimes this can be a daunting task.

But remember what Jesus says:  “Do not be alarmed.”[4]

This is an unsettling passage of scripture.  The disciples must have been terrified when Jesus first said these words.

But remember that we are reading it as people of the resurrection.  We know how this story is going to end.  Despite the darkness that Jesus is talking about, we can still see the light. Despite the destruction, the persecution, the desolating sacrilege that Jesus is describing, we know that at the end of all this, God’s love will win.

And so despite any challenges we may face as we seek to dochurch together, we are called, as people of the resurrection, to believe in the power of that love.

Monday marked my eight-year anniversary as pastor of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Eight years of doing church.

Eight years of shining light into the darkness of this world.

Eight years of being the church in the village, the Body of Christ.

Eight years of worship services, bible studies, suppers, fundraisers and community events.

Eight years of delivering meals and prayer shawls, showing up and being present when our people need us most.

Eight years of mistakes and frustrations, but also successes and joys.

Eight years of discernment about who we are – and who God is calling us to be.

Has it been perfect?  No.  We are human. It is never perfect.  But has it been grace-filled?  Yes.

And, just like it will in this story (because, remember, as people of the resurrection, we read this “Mini Apocalypse” knowing how the story is going to end), love has won – over and over and over again.

I am being very honest when I say that, in my eight years here, I have never felt the kind of enthusiasm and passion and excitement for the church than I do right now.

Now, it might be all the coffee I am drinking (or all the toddlers running around!), but I also think that the Spirit is moving and that, together, we are heeding the call of Jesus to, “keep awake.”  We are being intentional about everything that we do.  We are listening to God speak to us, feeling God’s presence among us and watching God at work in our lives and at this church.  We are heading the call of the Greatest Commandment to love God and love one another. In the midst of a chaotic and sometimes scary world, we are the sharing the Good News of God’s love with the people in our community and it is a privilege and an honor to be part of.

It was kind of odd to reflect on the destruction of the temple and the apocalypse this week and also simultaneously reflect on my eight years of ministry here at the church – because the hope is that we are moving in the opposite direction, right?  But it also kind of reminded me of what we are up against – of just how challenging the work we are called to do is.

But we are up for it.

Thank you, friends, for another amazing year. Today, as we read this passage and acknowledge the brokenness of our world, I also do want to celebrate the work that we are doing – the meal trains, Missions projects, book discussions, bible studies, after-worship reflections, children and youth programs, flower arrangements, choir and special music, hospitality and – yes – even the quest for the perfect cup of church coffee, which I have not given up on yet.

Because I believe this work – this work that we do here, doing church – literally has the capacity to change people’s lives.

I am so grateful to be here.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Feasting on the Gospels: a feasting on the WordTM commentary / Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizbaeth Johnson, general editors. Page398.
[2]Mark 13:7, NRSV
[3]Mark 13:12, NRSV
[4]Mark 13:7, NRSV

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Giving All Of Ourselves

Okay, so my proud blogging moment of March was when I went through and updated all of my pages and then created a Year of Mark page where all of my sermons from Mark are archived!  It’s crazy to look back and see how far we have gotten.

Here is my sermon from last Sunday.  It was the end of chapter 12, the end of the Gospel narrative, before the apocalypse in chapter 13 transitions us into the Passion.  I feel like everyone in the church is really into this right now!  It’s going to be a little bit odd celebrating Easter and then jumping back into the Passion and the crucifixion and resurrection but also we are all really caught up in the story right now, so I think it will be fine.

Here’s my sermon!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 31, 2019

Mark 12:35-44

Giving All Of Ourselves

I would like to start off this morning by reading part of today’s passage from The Message translation of the bible.  I am going to read Mark 12:38-39, where Jesus denounces the scribes.

He continued teaching.  “Watch out for the religion scholars.  They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function.”

So if it is all the same to you all, I think I’m just going to take my robe off this morning.

You know, preach in a sweater.

Quick context before we jump into this morning’s scripture reading:  We know that Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He has been questioned by the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees (all religious groups that, in the New Testament, typically are in opposition of Jesus). Then a scribe, who overheard the exchanges between these groups and Jesus, asks Jesus what, then, is the greatest commandment out of all of the laws.  Jesus responds and says to love God and then love people.

The scribes are still primary characters in today’s story, so let’s first talk about who they are.

We know that The Message translates the word, “scribe” as, “religion scholar,” so I guess, simply put, that is who they are. The word, “scribe” derives from the Latin root, “to write”.  Scribes are groups of people who are capable of reading and writing; they are seen as part of the leadership or the learned class.

In the New Testament, scribes appear both alone, just as a group of scribes or also within other groups (for example, the scribes of the Pharisees). In almost all cases, like the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees, the scribes are opponents of Jesus.

And now Jesus has turned his attention to them.

This morning’s scripture is broken up into three sections.  The first section – verses 35-37 – addresses the question of whether or not the Messiah is the son of David.  The second section – verses 38-40 – is where Jesus denounces the scribes and warns people about them.  The third section – verses 41-44 – is the story of the widows offering, where Jesus compares the large offerings of those who have a lot to give to the small offerings of a woman who gives all that she has.

Let’s start with this first section – the question of Messiahship (verses 35-37 if you are following along).

Here’s the thing about this section – Jesus poses a rhetorical question that he really does not give an answer to.  He says, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David?” and then references Psalm 110, a psalm attributed to David that says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”  Then Jesus asks the question, “David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?”

Simply put, there is this question of Messiahship that no one can seem to come to any kind of consensus on.  The scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David and yet, David, himself, in this psalm Jesus is referencing, calls the Messiah, “Lord”. So how can the Messiah also be the sonof David?  How can the Messiah be a descendent of David when David is calling him Lord?

But we also know that, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus, himself, has been referred to as both the Messiah (in Mark 8:29 where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Messiah”) and also the Son of David (in Mark 10:48 when Bartimaeus, the blind man, says, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”).

And yet the words of this psalm were written down long before Jesus walked on this earth in human form.

This is a little bit confusing, right?  And the thing is, Jesus does not really give a good answer, either.  He kind of poses this question and then leaves it out there for people to ponder the tension of Messiahship while he moves on to his next point.

Which is to warn people about the scribes.

And here is, I think, the point Jesus is trying to make.  This is not just about the scribes.  Jesus is questioning the authority they were all accustomed to blindly following in the world they were living in.  There are so many things that they had just become the status quo – who has money, who has power, who has access to education and other resources that give meaning to people’s lives – and Jesus is pushing back.

Remember Jesus had just issued the Greatest Commandment – that above all the others laws, people are to love God and then to love people – and now he is asking people to step outside of the convoluted cultural religious rhetoric that they are all trying so desperately to understand and think about what really matters.

Jesus warns people about the scribes because he says they are focusing on the wrong things; this is why Jesus does not answer the question about Messiahship!  Because the question, itself, is not what is important; what matters is how we live our lives.

It is important to note that this passage is the last passage in the Gospel narrative.  Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Mark is the apocalyptic narrative of the destruction of the temple (next week is going to be fun!).  Then, in chapter 14, the Passion narrative begins.

So this is kind of it, right?  This is Jesus’ final lesson, in a way; it is his final opportunity, before the plot turns to kill him begins, to remind people of what really matters.

And he has such a powerful example in this last section – the widow’s offering.

The story of the widow’s offering is one that is fairly well known; it appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Jesus is observing the crowd putting money into the temple treasury.  He watches the wealthy put in large sums of money and then watches a widow puts in two copper coins – the Roman Quadran, which is the smallest denomination of Roman coinage and worth approximately 1/64 of a laborers daily wage.  This is a much smaller amount than the wealthy are putting in, but it is all that she has.

Then Jesus says to the disciples, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she has, all she had to live on.”

Here, again, Jesus is questioning the authority they were all accustomed to blindly following.  Because what did this authority do?  It gave power to the wealthy, to those who were putting large sums of money in the treasury – not to the widow, who barely put anything in.

But Jesus calls into question the hierarchy of wealth and power.  He says that it is not about giving out of our abundance, but about giving out of our poverty that makes a real difference in God’s kingdom.  That in order to truly live into God’s love we are supposed to give everything we have, all we have to live on.

Okay, so now we will move into a time of offering.

Just kidding.

There is a lot going on in these three different sections of our scripture reading, but I think when we look at them all together, they remind us to stop and question the norms that we have grown accustomed to, both in our culture and also in our personal lives.

Because as much as we would all like to think we are like the widow who gives everything that she has, realistically I think sometimes we do settle into what is comfortable.  And we are afraid to question this and to step outside of it.

Jesus says beware of the scribes because they are missing the point and then we hear this story about people giving just to meet an obligation, not giving out of faith – again, missing the point.  And in calling this out to the disciples, he is telling them that they need to decide if they are giving to God simply out of obligation or if they are giving to God out of faith.

Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

This woman gave all that she had.

How many of us can say the same thing?

And I am not just talking about money, either; I am talking about all of the offerings that we give to God – our money, our time, our talent.  Are we giving our whole selves to God?  Are we putting in everything that we have, everything that we have to live on?

There is a reason Jesus turns to the disciples to teach them this lesson about the widow’s offering.  Because as much as he was calling out the scribes for their actions in the passages before, the reality is that it is also not simply the actions of the wealthy and powerful that matter in this world; it is the actions of the seemingly ordinary people in this world that God is calling to do God’s work that have the capacity to change the world.

And that includes us.

I think this passage, which closes out the narrative of the Gospel and sets up the transition into the narrative of the Passion, calls us to do a personal audit, of sorts.  It calls us to look at the norms that we have grown accustomed to – that we have settled comfortably into – and question them.

Where is our money going?

Where is our time going?

Where are our talents going?

How are we living our lives?

What are giving to God?  What are we giving to this church, to the Body of Christ?

Are we giving our whole selves out of faith?

Or are we giving a little bit of ourselves out of obligation?

These are hard, but necessary questions for us to ask ourselves if we want to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God. And I believe we are being called to be bold in our giving as we question our norm and seek to give all of ourselves to God.

And I am talking about us, as individuals and us, as members of this church.  And I am also talking about us, as a church, as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ. We cannot grow complacent.  We must call into question what has become normal around us.  Because if we fail to do this, we might miss what God is calling us to do, to give, to be in this moment.

The stakes are high in this morning’s passage, because Jesus is in Jerusalem and the cross is on the horizon.  But the stakes are just as high today, because the world needs good Christians, living out God’s call to love and serve and make this world a better place.

Today I charge you:  Question what you are accustomed to.  Be attention to what God is calling you to do and say and be.  And then put in everything you have for God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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