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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