Subtract, Then Add

Here is this morning’s sermon!  I have to admit – this was kind of a scary one to preach.  I’ve been processing some thoughts on faith and church lately and even though I haven’t fully fleshed through them, the lectionary Gospel really gave me the opportunity to talk through it.  I had a few people reach out to me today and let me know that it spoke to them – which only means that God was the one doing the speaking from the RCC pulpit this morning. 🙂



Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 22, 2017

Matthew 4:12-23

Subtract, Then Add

Every year around the New Year, I notice a trend in food and healthy living blogs. A lot of the bloggers I read are registered dieticians, personal trainers or health coaches, so many of them take the opportunity to tap into the culture of resolutions and talk about how their readers can get healthier in the upcoming year.

More often than not, bloggers share the method of add, not subtract. Essentially, instead of removing something from your life that might leave you feeling deprived in some way, you add something instead. This way, you get to enjoy the things you love while still adding new healthy habits into your life.

A lot of people like this method because it seems more attainable long-term – instead of denying yourself something you love, you just have to add something healthy on top of it. For example, if you love to drink soda or juice, instead of telling yourself to completely give it up, you would resolve to drink more water, while still allowing yourself to drink other things. Or if you love junk food or dessert, instead of telling yourself to give up either one of those things, you could resolve to add more vegetables to your diet, while still allowing yourself treats.

This works well in the land of healthy living, because when someone is trying to make healthy and positive changes in their life, feeling deprived often does not set them up for success. But I have been thinking about this method a lot lately in regards to time in general, especially as Bruce and I think realistically about how much time we have and what our lives are going to look like after the baby comes. Which leads me to a question I have that I want us to think about today: Should we add, not subtract, in other parts of our lives?

Now, usually when I use my own human vulnerability in a sermon, I wait until I have processed or resolved it in one way or another before I preach about it. But, for the sake of this morning’s sermon, I want to share with you all one of my resolutions for the year and why – less than a month into the new year – I am already struggling to achieve it.

Here is my struggle: I am trying to add a quiet/devotion time to my day. One of the bloggers that I read talks about her quiet time in the morning with such passion and enthusiasm. She reads some sort of devotional and spends time in prayer – she does this for about 30 minutes. I have often thought that – as someone who spends a lot of time thinking critically about scripture – I would benefit from a devotion time like this, one where I not looking at how I am going to teach or preach the scripture, simply just look at how the scripture is speaking to me in that moment.

At the end of 2016, I bought myself, The One Year Bible, which – similarly to the Our Daily Bread devotions that are always available in the narthex – breaks the bible down into manageable daily readings portions. There is a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Psalms and Book of Proverbs. I figured this would be a way to add, not subtract in my day – I would add a devotion time and not have to get rid of anything else.

But here is the stumbling block I have run into: I really do not have a lot of extra time in my day. So as I am trying to add, not subtract something into my day, I am having a really hard time finding time the time to add into my day for this devotion.

And when I say, “having a really hard time finding time,” I mean that I have fallen behind four times already and January is not even over yet.

I was talking to my bible study about this last week and someone suggested that I just give it some time and let myself fall into a routine. But the more I thought about it (and as I started to think about this morning’s sermon throughout the week), the more I wondered if we are simply being called to let ourselves fall into a routine when it comes to our faith. Or is the call deeper? Is the call greater? Does the call ask more of us?

I am starting to think that scriptural call to follow Jesus – to drop your fishing nets and leave a piece of your world behind – requires a lot more of us than we often want to admit.

This morning’s scripture comes from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It tells the story of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John had been arrested and Jesus had left Nazareth and was settling into a new home near the Sea of Galilee. When he arrived at his new home, he walked by the sea and saw Peter and Andrew, two brothers who were fishermen. Jesus called out to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Further down the sea, Jesus also called out to James and John, who also dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

It is clear in the gospel writer’s telling of this story that an enormous shift was happening. John the Baptist had been arrested and, at the same time, Jesus’ ministry was beginning.

While it was never spelled out as to why John was arrested, the presumption by most scholars is that it had something to do with his proclamations and baptisms. I do not know if Peter, Andrew, James and John quite knew it at the time, but it is quite clear to us now, looking back, that their lives were about to be forever changed. They no longer would have the safety of the lives they had known; there was a risk associated with making the choice to follow Jesus, but this was a risk they were willing to take.

Let’s go back to my whole add, not subtract dilemma: The disciples subtracted first – and then they added. They dropped their nets – and then they followed Jesus. They gave up a part of who they were – they left their livelihood, their profession, the safe world that they knew – and followed Jesus.

My doctor always gets this tone in her voice when she is about to give me news that she knows I will not want to hear and I feel like I wrote this sermon with that same tone in mind. I hate to say this – especially because I know how busy and tapped out everyone is right now – but the call to follow Jesus is not an easy one to follow. It requires something of us; it requires a lot of us, actually. It often requires us to give something up so we can create space in our lives for faith formation and ministry.

No one likes to talk about this kind of stuff in churches, especially now, when so many churches are struggling to find vitality and people just do not have any extra time to give. But this is where the work of Jesus started 2,000 years ago at the Sea of Galilee and this is where it starts in our lives, today. We have to drop our nets; we have to be willing to let go of something if we truly want to learn and grow in our faith. We have to subtract something in our lives so that we have the room, the time and the capacity to add that faith piece back in.

Do you know what most people love about mainline protestant churches? There are no rules, no requirements, no guilt; people can get involved at church in their own way and at their own pace and no one has to profess a certain belief.

Which is precisely why I fought with this message all week. Because every piece of my protestant upbringing right now is telling me that what I am saying will scare people.

But I have to say it.

Because I truly believe that it will change your life.

It changed the disciples’ lives.

So today, I am not going to soften the blow of this message. Because the time to let our lives be changed is now. If we – and I am including myself in this we – really want to dig into our faith and bring our church to its fullest potential, then we have to create space for that to happen. We might have to let go of something. We might have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and try something new or different. We might have to adjust our priorities or our other commitments. We might have to subtract something in order that we might be able to add the fullest gift of grace God has to offer.

It starts behind the pulpit; so today I am pledging to do this in my own life within my struggle to set aside some quiet/devotion time every day. I know I have to subtract something in order to create the time to add this to my day. And truth be told? Some of the subtracting might be as stupid as not playing candy crush on my phone or turning off the TV in my room at night. But I feel like God is trying to teach me something as I reflect on what it means to drop my own net and follow Jesus and I truly believe that if I allow God to work within me, I will uncover new and unexpected grace as I take this journey.

Our lives are all already so full; the last thing I want to do is ask any of you to add something that will push them from full to unmanageable.

So, instead, today I invite you to start with subtracting. I invite us all to let go of something and join the cloud of witnesses who have done this before us and see how God might change our lives. Let us see what happens when we subtract first – and then add.

Thanks be to God!

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