Stop And Remember

We are nearing the end of our Year Of Mark!  We will be taking the week off for Pentecost and Children’s Day and then will pick it up again on June 16th – Father’s Day.  This week was Peter’s Denial.  I talked about what it means that Jesus called the Church into being and how we can use this space to hold ourselves accountable to who we are, as people of faith, and who God is calling us to be. Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 2, 2019

Mark 14:66-72

Stop And Remember

I was talking to someone in the office this week and I told them that it was Communion Sunday, Choir Sunday and New Member Sunday and I said, “Coincidentally, it is also Short Sermon Sunday.”

So let’s not waste any time getting into it, shall we?

This morning we heard the story of Peter’s denial. You remember from last week that Peter was the only of the 12 disciples that followed Jesus after he was arrested and taken away before the Council.  Peter stood at a distance while Jesus was questioned, warming himself by the fire.

In the story we just heard, Peter was spotted and identified as one of Jesus’ followers.  Peter denied these allegations, something Jesus had told him he was going to do.  When Peter realized that Jesus’ predictions have come true, he broke down and wept.

The challenge of preaching this text – and really, the Passion Narrative in general – is that the story is so tragically human. And while we may wish that, perhaps, the disciples (particularly Judas, who betrayed Jesus and Peter, who denied Jesus) had made different choices, to some extent the story had to play out the way that it did in order for us to be where we are today.  So it is hard, but necessary.

Yet we still have so much to learn from their stories.

So who is Peter?

Peter was the first disciple that Jesus ever called (his name appears first as Simon in Mark 1:16), with his brother Andrew. He was part of that inner circle – Peter, James and John – that Jesus brought to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, to the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.

After Jesus had shared the Passover with his disciples, he told them they were all going to desert him, which Peter vehemently denied (no pun intended).  Jesus told Peter that Peter would not only desert him, but that on that night, before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny Jesus three times.  Peter said, “I will not deny you.”

And now here we are.  And it happened just like Jesus said it would.

“Hey, you were with Jesus, right?  Jesus, from Nazareth?”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

That’s one.

The rooster crowed.

“He is one of them.”

“No I am not.”

That’s two.

“You HAVE to be one of them – you are Galilean!”

“I do NOT know who you are talking about.”

That’s three.

The rooster crowed.

Instantly – Peter remembered what Jesus had said and realized that Jesus had been right.  Peter did exactly what Jesus said he was going to.  Then Peter broke down and he wept.

For me, the most powerful and gut-wrenching part of this story comes in the 72ndverse right after the rooster crowed for the second time:

Then Peter remembered.

Because we have all been there, right?  We have all had those moments where, in an instant, we realize that we have done something wrong, taken something too far, or said something that we should not have.  We have all, at some point throughout our lives, gotten so caught up in the moment only to have the fantasy or the security of that moment or that world we were living in unravel and suddenly we come crashing down to reality.

You can justify bad choices for a long time, but it really only ever takes a moment to realize the gravity and the consequences of your choices.

Then Peter remembered.

No wonder Peter broke down.

I could be wrong, but I really do not think Peter meant to do what he did; I think he just got caught up in the moment. He saw that Jesus was on trial, he heard them sentence Jesus to death and now the very same people that had the authority to crucify Jesus were asking Peter if he was associated with Jesus.

What would you have said?

Then Peter remembered.

I think if there is one thing that we can learn from this passage it is that we need to intentionally stop and remember before we get so far that we cannot turn back.  We have to stop and remember what is important and what our faith teaches us.  We have to stop and remember what Jesus did in his life and the Good News that we, now carry into our lives.  We have to stop and remember what we want to do in this world and what we want our legacies to be.  We have to stop and remember who we are and who God is calling us to be.  We have to stop and remember so that we can make good and faithful choices as we travel forward on our journeys.

And I kind of think that this is why Jesus called us to be the Church.  Because it is here that we can stop and remember.

It is here where we say together words of confession; words that perhaps we were not literally guilty of throughout the week, but that nonetheless force us to stop and remember the things that we were guilty of throughout the week.

It is here where we gather around a table of extravagant welcome; where we stop and remember Jesus’ body and blood, broken and poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins and the fullness of grace. It is here where we stop and share the Sacrament of Holy communion and remember that Jesus called us to sit down with our friends and our enemies and break bread together.

It is here where we welcome children; where we stop and sometimes let chaos ensue, remembering that everything we do and say in this space is shaping our children’s understanding about who God is.

It is here where we listen to the ancient words of scripture and then interpret them together; where we stop and remember the stories, the laws, the songs and the letter that have defined and shaped God’s creating history.  It is here where we read the bible and stop and remember how these words are still relevant in our lives today.

It is here where we open up a time for people to share the concerns and celebrations that are on their hearts; where we stop and remember those in our community whose joys we share and whose sufferings we pray for.

It is here where we dedicate a time for you to give back; to stop and remember, not only the financial needs of this church, but the ways in which we, as a church, can transform our offerings and extend them further out into the world.

Church is by no means perfect, but it does give us this beautiful time and space and opportunity to stop and remember, week after week, as we seek to be Jesus’ disciples the world we are living in today.

So that maybe when the moment arises, we won’t deny Jesus; we will proclaim the Good News of God’s light, love and grace.

This is easier said than done, because sometimes it means leaving what is safe or what is familiar to us and oftentimes it means it stepping outside of the busyness of the worlds that we live in.

But the beauty of church is that we are all doing it together.  Together we stop; together we remember.

Summer is coming; next week is Children’s Day, which signals the end of our program year.  The following week – Father’s Day, June 16th– worship moves to 9AM.

Don’t disappear for the summer.  I know everyone has a lot going on.  I know it’s easy to fall out of the habit.  I know it gets warm in the sanctuary.  I know you would rather be in the garden or at the beach or doing something else outside.  But don’t disappear for the summer.  Because it is here, week after week, where we stop and remember; it is here, in our community worship space where we stop and remember who we are, who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in the world.

Stop and remember.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Exposing Our Human Vulnerability

Hi Friends!  I hope you all had a safe and peaceful Memorial Day Weekend.  It is the tradition of the Rehoboth Congregational Church to worship outdoors on the Ephraim Hunt Ministerial Land Memorial Day Weekend.  We were a little bit nervous about the weather, but it turned out to be the most gorgeous morning for an outdoor service!

I continued with the Year Of Mark, even though I knew we would draw a smaller crowd for worship and it’s a tougher space to preach in.  The text is Jesus’ trial before the Council and I talked about how this story exposes our own human vulnerability as we read it.

The sound quality might not be the best on the audio – it’s tough to record outside.  But hopefully not too bad!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 26, 2019

Mark 14:54-65

Exposing Our Human Vulnerability

I was talking to a few of my clergy colleague last Sunday after worship and I described my children’s sermon to them where, in explaining to the kids why it is so important for us in our everyday lives, before we do or say something that might be hurtful to someone or might get us in trouble, to really think about what Jesus would have done, about what God wants us to do (instead of the often paradoxical what we want us to do).  I reinforced this point by squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste out onto a plate and then asking the kids to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

It is hard to take some things back, I explained to them.

(First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to publicly thank John Haynes for his unknowing assist with this children’s sermon, because, during the first hymn when I realized I had remembered the toothpaste, but not the plate, he ran back into Fellowship Hall to get me one so that I was able to make more of a point with this exercise and not a mess.)

(It takes a church in the village, right?)

So anyway, I told my colleagues this and, knowing that I was preaching on Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest in the garden, one of them responded:  “So how did you finish?  Is Judas forgiven?”

I neglected to point out in my sermon last week that I intentionally avoided the actual subject of Judas in my children’s sermon.  You probably got the gist of what I was getting at – the children’s sermon was not at all about Judas, but about who weare, as human beings, and how we make choices. My sermon talked about how Judas’ story sort of reflects our own brokenness; the times in our lives where we accidentally squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube and are not sure how to get it back in.

But it is not a perfect comparison – for two reasons.

  1. The question, is Judas forgiven?, is not one for me to answer; it is not one for any of us to answer. Do I believe in the forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace through the love of Jesus Christ? Absolutely.  But do I know how it works?  Not even a little bit.  And for the purposes of the children’s sermon – if you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube, then does that mean you cannot be forgiven?  No.  But again, I am not really sure how it all works.
  1. Judas did an incomprehensible and evil thing; he betrayed someone who regarded him as a confidant and friend and partner in ministry. And yet, without that action – without that betrayal – the story would not have played out the way that it did. And didn’t we need it to?  Otherwise, where would we be today?

The Passion Narrative is difficult to hear, because it is tragic and heartbreaking and full of human error and brokenness, but it is also the necessary conduit for our salvation.  And Jesus said that, over and over and over again.  He foretold his death, long before they even arrived in Jerusalem; and when the time came he was ready.  He was ready to be arrested and even in today’s reading, he never denied the accusations against him.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and

“you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”,
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus knew what was going to happen.

And that is the ironic thing about the whole Christian story.  Because, as Christians today, we seek to liveout the Good News; we call for change in the face of oppression and evil and injustice.  We fight for what is right.

And yet, Jesus had to let this play out.

When I read this text, it is hard for me to preach on it the way I normally would – pulling a nugget of wisdom out and applying it to our lives today – because I think this story just needs to be told like it happened, a dramatic moment in the story of our faith where Jesus’ humanity becomes the medium for which our salvation is possible.

Imagine you were there:  Jesus is praying in Gethsemane with Peter, James and John when all of a sudden Judas, one of the disciples – one of their friends – enters the garden and kisses Jesus.  Peter, James and John probably do not think anything of this – they all love Jesus, after all.  But what they do not know was that Judas had gone to the chief priests before they all sat down for Passover and agreed to betray Jesus.

And while Judas’ kiss seems like an affectionate and loving gesture, what Peter, James and John also do not know was that Judas had told the chief priests that he would lead them to Jesus and that he would kiss Jesus so they would know who he was.

And now Jesus is standing before the Council. His friends are no longer with him; Peter is the only one of the disciples that followed him and even he is standing at a distance.

They are outside in a courtyard; scripture says that Peter is sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire, so I assume that a chill was in the air.  I do not know why Mark chose to add the seemingly insignificant detail about the fire, but it does kind of give us this audible association with what is happening.  We all know that crackling sound a campfire makes as it breaks through the silence of a quiet night.  We can imagine a pretty vivid picture.

So the Council has Jesus in the courtyard. A crowd has gathered and the Council is desperately trying to find a reason to legally condemn Jesus to death. But they cannot seem to get anyone to agree on whythey should put Jesus to death; people are giving testimonies against him, but none of the testimonies agree with one another so they cannot use them.

And here is where Jesus obedience to his purpose is so powerful; because I can only imagine if I were in his position and nobody could agree on why I was supposed to be put to death, I might have said out to them, “Hey, y’all can’t agree on this, so I’m just gonna let myself out.

But that is not what Jesus did.  When the high priest asks Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” Jesus is silent.

Jesus’ silence is reminiscent of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[1]

“Jesus, aren’t you going to answer us?  Aren’t you going to respond to these testimonies against you?”

Silence.  The only sound you hear is the crackling sound of the fire.

“Jesus, are you the Messiah?”

Silence.  Fire crackling.

Finally Jesus breaks the silence and says, “I am.”

This is all that they need.  The high priest tears Jesus clothes and says, “We do not need witnesses anymore; he admitted it!  What are you going to do about it?”

Then the Council condemns Jesus to death.

As Christians living on this side of the resurrection, it is sometimes hard to read this story, because we want to jump to the end.  It is hard to read it without wanting to see how it plays out so we can talk about the end and not the middle.  It is hard to find wisdom in a story that’s not done yet; in a story that has exposed human vulnerability to its very core without immediate resolve.

But as we read it we have to remember that it is through this narrative that God’s love took control and triumphed over evil in this world.  It was through Jesus’ humanity – Jesus human vulnerability – that redemption was made possible.  It was because of who Jesus was as a person, as a human being that walked on this earth – that the power of God’s grace was revealed in the first place.

And it is through our own humanity that this story is still being written today.  We are part of this holy mystery in which our own human vulnerability is the precipitous slope on which our salvation can be found.

There might not be a nugget of wisdom in this story, but there is a blanket of humanity that reflects the very same things that we struggle with today.  We are far from perfect.  We might not necessarily not be with Jesus in a courtyard, but there are countless others ways that our brokenness is exposed.

And we have to know that there is hope.  That God is not finished with us yet.

I did a graveside service yesterday for a woman who died of breast cancer at a fairly young age.  When I talked to her daughter about the service, she expressed to me that they were not very religious.  And I respect that; it is my job to help walk them through the difficult task of burying a loved one, not shove my own religion down their throats.

And yet, I still felt compelled to share Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John where he says that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places and that he will go ahead and prepare a place for us. I didn’t share this because I wanted to sneak some Jesus in while I had a captive audience, I did because I wanted this grieving family to know that, even if they do not consider themselves “very religious”, this story – this story of resurrection, this story of hope, this story of God breaking through the brokenness of our humanity and finding a way to make us whole again – is not done yet.  I wanted to assure them that it is precisely in those moments of exposed human vulnerability that God is most present.

As you read this story and put yourselves inside the drama of the narrative, I invite you to feel the chill, listen to the contradictory testimonies being shouted back and forth and then hear the sounds of the fire crackling, the tearing of Jesus’ clothes and the guards beating Jesus.

Then remember that this story is not over yet.

And neither is yours.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Isaiah 53:7

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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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