Preparing Our Lives For The Gospel (Every Day)

Hello and Happy Monday!  I hope everyone that got slammed by this snow/ice/slush storm that tore through this weekend is thawing out.  That storm was something else.

I hope this isn’t annoying, but I mentioned when I posted my sermon two weeks ago that we are in the middle of a year-long sermon series through the Gospel of Mark and I really want to have the whole series archived here, so I’m going to go back and post all of the sermons I missed while I was on my blogging and podcasting “hiatus”.  I do have the audio recorded, but for the time being, I am just going to post the text.

So let’s start at the beginning, shall we??

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 15, 2018

Mark 1:1-8

Preparing Our Lives For The Gospel (Every Day)

A few weeks ago, I was trying to plan our summer worship and was feeling completely uninspired.

For the past seven years, I have used the Revised Common Lectionary in my worship planning and – with the exception of a special service here or there – have always chosen our scriptures for worship based on the four texts available each week in that cycle.  I have always been a strong lectionary supporter, because it gave me the opportunity to preach through a variety of books of the bible and also bounce ideas off of my colleagues in ministry, many of whom were also preaching the lectionary.  I also would purchase liturgy and worship resources based off of the lectionary and most weeks use the prayers and hymns suggestions out of them.

I had a pretty good system going – but I just felt as though, as a community, we needed a change.  I think part of my issue was that, because it is a three-year cycle, I have now preached through the lectionary twice.  I was desiring something new and unpredictable.

The lectionary was also starting to feel choppy to me.  We would often move from one book of the bible to another from week to week and there was not a whole lot of continuity in what we were talking about.  I spent a lot of time giving necessary context before I could really jump into the text, itself and by the time everyone understood what we were talking about, we were moving onto something else the following week.

The funny thing is that I have felt this way before when it comes to bible study.  For a couple of years, we tried different curriculums based on themes and eventually, as a group, realized that we really just wanted to focus on one book at a time and read it from start to finish so we could delve into the whole story. And, I have to say, that once we made that switch, bible study took off.

A little over a year ago, I was having lunch with my friend Jon and he said, “I think we’re going to take a year and preach through the Gospel of Mark.”  He went on to explain that his church had done a survey and one thing they got a lot of feedback on was everyone’s desire to become more biblically literate and familiarize themselves with the basic teachings of Jesus they learned (or, in same cases did not learn) when they were younger.  So they gave it a shot.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago – they were finishing up their year around the same time I was feeling uninspired planning out our summer worship.  So I asked Jon about his experience and his face lit up and he said, “You have to try it in Rehoboth.”

So here we are at the very beginning of the Year of Mark.  I hope this year will give us a deeper understanding of Jesus as we narrow our focus on one book and familiarize ourselves with the stories we probably first learned as children.  I am excited to look at this Gospel in a new light and really dig deeper into my faith and also what God is calling us to do here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

I also hope that this might give people an added incentive to come to worship every week and stay caught up with what we are doing and where we are in the Gospel.  I would encourage you to bring your own bibles to worship so you can follow along and take notes and maybe even refer back to them at a later date.

Two things to note before we jump into this morning’s text:

  1. You may have noticed that I put the scripture directly into the bulletin this morning. I hope doing this might make it easier for people – particularly guests in worship who might not be familiar with the bible – to find the scripture and follow along instead of having to page through the bible and then find it.  I also think this will make it easier for everyone to refer back to the passage while I am preaching.  And it is my hope that if a particular verse or passage strikes a chord with you, you will bring your bulletin home with you so you will not forget it.
  1. We will go “off” our Year of Mark from time to time, for things like Beatles Sunday, Advent, Christmas, Star Sunday, Easter, etc. I am still firming up the schedule, but hope to have that posted next week so you always know what is coming up (and can plan your vacations accordingly, of course!).

So here we go!

First of all – why Mark?  Well, the simple answer is that it is the shortest of the four gospels, which makes it the most feasible to preach through in one year. The not-so-simple answer is that it is a really cool account of Jesus’ life.

The gospels are the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They tell the story of Jesus’ life.  Mark was likely the first of the four Gospels to be written and is often thought to be the “spine” of Matthew and Luke, which both draw heavily from Mark.

The author of Mark is not necessarily known, although whoever wrote the book was certainly familiar with the oral teachings about Jesus.  The style of the book, itself, is simple and effective (which might speak to who wrote it and who they were writing to), which makes it a great place for someone to start if they are reading the bible for the first time.

The cool thing about the Gospel of Mark is that it is really is a reality show of biblical times.  The original Gospel starts at Jesus’ baptism and ends at the crucifixion – it only tells the stories of Jesus’ life, itself.  An alternative ending that included the resurrection was added later (which we will talk about at the end of the year), but originally, there was no birth narrative and no resurrection narrative.  Mark only talked about what happened when Jesus was alive, during his adult ministry.  What I love about the baptism to death narrative is that it reminds me that, more often than not, my focus should be on Jesus’ life.  Christmas and Easter are such huge celebrations in the life of the church, but what really matters is what happens in the middle.  To be true disciples of Christ means to immerse ourselves into his life and teachings and model our own lives based on the way he lived and what he taught his disciples and the crowds who followed him.

So here we are, at the very beginning of Mark, with the proclamation of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry.  John – who was born to Zechariah and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, a story that is told during the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke – appeared in the wilderness and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”[1]

This text is actually typically read during Advent when we are following the lectionary, so it was kind of fun for me to think about it during the summer months.  When I preach on John the Baptist during Advent, I often am drawn to think about ways we are preparing for the birth of Christ and how we balance that with our preparations for the oftentimes crazy season of Christmas that is happening all around us.

But here we are in the middle of July.  We are not making lists and checking them twice. We are not frantically decorating our homes and running from one holiday party to the next.  Radio stations are not playing Christmas music interrupted by commercials for the best gifts and others you-can’t-miss-this deals (although Amazon Prime Day is tomorrow, so don’t forget to do all of your shopping through Amazon Smile and select the Rehoboth Congregational Church as your charity!).  Days are longer, the air is warmer and the general pace of life is a little bit slower.

The question is, of course, what, then, are we preparing for?  December is five months away; the birth of Christ is not right around the corner. There is no event to prepare for right now, no finish line that we are trying to get to, no big Christmas celebration to look forward to.

But remember what I just said about the Gospel of Mark.  Christmas and Easter are such huge celebrations in the life of the church, but what really matters is what happens in the middle.  Our preparations for Jesus in our lives should not just happen before Christmas, they should happen every single day of our lives.

The way we live our lives matters – every single day, year-round.  The choices we make, the words we speak, the people we interact with, the money we spend and the activities we get involved have the ability to create not only the people we seek to be, but also the people God is calling us to be.

But it takes effort; being a disciple of Christ is not just supposed to fit into the life you want, it is supposed to be something you work hard at every day, something you might make sacrifices for along the way. When John says that we are supposed to prepare for Christ, it does not mean we are supposed to prepare when we have time, it means these preparations need to be integral and intentional parts of our daily lives.

Sometimes it is a hard balance for me.  I do not want to use guilt tactics to get people to come to church or give money or make them feel bad if they are not able to be around all the time, but I also believe that this is so important.  We have to make our faith a priority, we have to structure our families around the values we learn from the Gospel and we have to be active and vibrant parts of the Body of Christ is that others will know of God’s undeniable love and redeeming grace.

There is a version of the bible called The Message, which is written in very contemporary language.  I love the way it translates verse 7.  The NRSV, which we read from in worship, says:

[John] proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.[2]

The Message translates it like this:

As [John] preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life.[3]

Jesus can and will change our lives.  The message of the Gospel has the ability to transform even the hardest of situations, to shine light into even the darkest of moments.

But we have to be ready.  We have to prepare ourselves and our lives to truly receive this message.

I have one quick story and then I am done.  I have said many times before that I think grace happens around a dinner table and I think one of the ways we can seek to deepen our faith is to make family dinners more of a priority.  But, of course, that is easier said than done. And what I have realized in trying to feed a toddler dinner in the mad rush between daycare pickup and bedtime when you and your spouse often work opposite schedules is that it is so much easier to eat standing up, leaning against the counter, while your kid is buckled into his high chair and you can simultaneously run around emptying lunch boxes and getting baths ready than it is to actually sit down for dinner.

But about three weeks ago, I started to try anyway. And it has been amazing.  It is not always the three of us, but even if it is just Harrison and me, I always try to stop, put my phone away, sit down, say a prayer and then eat.

And it is not perfect – but it is not supposed to be. Verse 4 says that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He knew we were going to screw up.  But the point is that we need to try.  We need to do everything we can to invite God into our lives. And not just at Christmas!  All year long.

So this morning I invite you to think about one thing that you can do that might help you prepare your life to hear, receive and live out the Gospel.  Believe that when John the Baptist proclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” he was not simply talking to those who had gathered in the wilderness, but to us, as well, as we seek to welcome Jesus and bring the Gospel into our world today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Mark 1:3, NRSV
[2]Mark 1:7, NRSV
[3]Mark 1:7, The Message

Being Comfortably Uncomfortable

The totally ironic thing about this sermon is that I posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook today from communion this week – we served it by intinction because we forgot to order those little cups last month – and there is currently a conversation happening about whether or not people are comfortable with intinction! I thought that was neat timing – it’s easier said than done to be comfortably uncomfortable!

If you listen to the audio, you’ll hear Harrison saying “hi” in my intro 😉 – I shouldn’t record these intros right before he needs to go to bed!

I am taking the next two weeks off from preaching.  Children’s Day is this weekend so I’m not preaching and then the next week I’m on vacation.  I’ll probably be on instagram cleaning and painting my new house so look for me over there (@revsarahweaver).

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23-3:6

Being Comfortably Uncomfortable

I went to Carters a few weeks ago to buy Harrison clothes because he was starting to grow out of all the stuff in his dresser and when I came home I explained to Bruce that some of the stuff I bought was daycare appropriate and some of it was specifically for church (because y’all know how much I love to dress him for church). A few days later, Bruce told me he could not find a pair of shorts for Harrison to wear to daycare, that the only clothes left in the bag of new clothes were church clothes. So I went to look and I found a pair of shorts that could have gone either way – they were khaki, but they had an elastic waist and tie instead of a button and zipper. I came out of Harrison’s room and said, “You know what, Harrison, you can wear these to daycare. You shouldn’t wear pants with an elastic waist to church anyway, because those are comfy clothes and you should always be a little bit uncomfortable at church.”

Of course, I was talking about putting on your Sunday clothes and looking sharp, but at soon at the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was on to something deeper and more profound. Because as much as the church is a safe place where we can all come and worship and connect to God in a way that makes us feel secure and protected, I think it should also be a place where, at times, we find ourselves feeling a little bit uncomfortable.

To be clear, I am not talking about being physically unsafe or harassed in any way, shape or form. But I AM talking about each and every one of us stretching the dimensions of what we think church is and what church should be.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapters two and three, so we are still fairly early on in Jesus’ ministry, but he is already starting to stir up some trouble. In this story, it is the Sabbath and yet, the disciples are plucking up heads of grain.

Remember, it is Jewish custom that during that time of Sabbath – from sunset on Friday through Saturday – no work be done. The Pharisees objected to Jesus, saying:

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?[1]

Jesus did not respond to this objection by slapping the disciples’ wrists and making them stop. He did not say to the Pharisees, “Oh shoot, you know what, I totally lost track of the days, don’t worry, this will never happen again!”

No; first of all, Jesus schooled the Pharisees in Hebrew scripture. He said (and I am paraphrasing here), “Come on, guys, don’t you remember what happened to David?”

Here is what Jesus was talking about: King David – who you may remember slayed Goliath when he was a young boy with a couple of stones and a sling shot – entered a temple as an adult and asked the priest if he could have some bread for his army. The priest said all he had was the Bread of the Presence, meaning holy bread, and that the men could only have it if they were considered clean and pure. David said they were, the priest gave him the bread and David went on his way.

Now – were the men actually clean and pure? Probably not. But they were hungry. And David found them something to eat.

Jesus talked about David because he was trying to point out that sometimes what someone needs is more important than holding onto a tradition; that sometimes God is calling us to do a new thing and that we should not cling so tightly to our own religious customs that we cannot see what God is doing in our midst today.

But then Jesus took it one step further. The disciples had already violated the Sabbath laws when they were picking grain, but then Jesus, himself, violated those same laws when he walked into a synagogue and cured a man with a paralyzed hand.

Do you think that made the Pharisees a little bit uncomfortable? I think so. This passage ends by saying:

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy him.[2]

People do not like to be uncomfortable. They like to know what is coming next. They like their traditions to be predictable and their spaces to look or feel a certain way.

We do this in the church all the time. We worship a certain way, we arrange our flowers a certain way, we set up our sanctuary and our narthex a certain way and we do not want those things to change. We have the same events, year after year. We have traditions that we hold fast to. We often do not want to try something new because sometimes it is hard to picture something that we have never done before. Many of us are accustomed to the way we do church here that we cannot imagine doing church any other way.

But guess what? Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. He broke tradition; he did something that had never been done before, something that made the Pharisees uncomfortable.

And in the end, a man was healed. Shouldn’t that have been the goal all along?

God’s grace is kind of a funny thing sometimes.

My point is this: It is okay to be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It is okay to try something new. It is okay to do something that has never been done before, even if that means stepping onto a path that has never been traveled on. It is okay to walk away, even if it is just for a moment, from the rituals and traditions that we do by rote and see what else God is calling us to do in this moment.

Friends, I have talked a lot about doing church lately. And sometimes doing church means being comfortably uncomfortable. It means being willing to compromise so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard and that their opinion is valued. It means not immediately dismissing something just because it is different and actively listening to new ideas. It means healing someone on the Sabbath because they are sick and serving someone holy bread because they are hungry. It means listening to God’s still speaking voice guiding us along a journey that is filled with a grace and love that will exceed even our wildest imaginations.

So do not be afraid to be comfortably uncomfortable. Push your boundaries. Stretch yourself. Try something new. And be amazed at God’s potential within our community. As a church, we can and will do great things.

And we may find that, along the way, people will be healed, people will be fed and people will be made whole.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 2:24, NRSV
[2] Mark 3:6, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

So That The World Might Be Saved

I’m behind in posting my sermons!  I know, I know.  Here is my sermon from Memorial Day Weekend.  I was totally bummed – we were supposed to worship outdoors (RCC tradition) and they were calling for rain to start at 10AM so we moved it inside. But then IT DIDN’T RAIN. Oh well. Next year.

Here’s my sermon – I preached on John 3:16 – well, I suppose I preached on John 3:17 – ha!  You’ll se what I mean.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 27, 2018

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8
John 3:1-17

So That The World Might Be Saved

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

On January 8, 2009, Tim Tebow painted John 3:16 under his eyes in the college football national championship game. That day, John 3:16 was googled 94 million times. Three years later, donning the same scripture under his eyes, he threw a game-winning touchdown pass in an NFL playoff game and led the Broncos to an upset victory over the Steelers. That night, John 3:16 was googled 90 million times.

Suffice is to say, most people know what John 3:16 is. And even if someone does not know exactly what John 3:16 says or means, they know it is kind of an important scripture for Christians.

When I was in college, I was taking an introduction to Christianity class. At the beginning of the semester, my professor had us read the Gospel of Mark. In class the following week, he asked us what the overall theme of the book of was. Someone raised their hand and said that people have to profess their faith and salvation in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. My professor asked where it said that in our reading. The student replied, “John 3:16.” Without skipping a beat, my professor looked at him and said, “But we’re not talking about John, we’re talking about Mark.”

The room went silent.

It is worth mentioning that my professor was a Jewish man who wrote his dissertation on the Protestant Reformation. I do not think he shared the same views on salvation as this particular student.

But it was at that moment that I realized just how complicated this scripture – and people’s understanding of and relationship with it – is. It seems simple enough, right? Believe in Christ – be saved.

Truthfully, this scripture has always perplexed me. It is beautiful; it reads like poetry. It sums up the heart of the heart of the Gospel message – that we obtain salvation through Christ – in a simple and concise way and I am grateful that 184 million people had the opportunity to read it because of a football game because I want people to know that their faith journey can begin by making a decision to follow Christ.

But I still think there is more.

Here is my one hang up with this passage. It leaves out a huge part of the story. If you read this passage by itself, it seems like it is only about personal salvation; that the Christian faith is just about us and our relationship with God and it has nothing to do with helping the people around us. If we go by this passage, this one verse, John 3:16, all we have to do is proclaim a belief in Jesus Christ; we do not have to feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the poor and reach out to the marginalized.

You know, the things Jesus talked about and did.

Here’s the thing about John 3:16 – everybody knows it and loves it, so very rarely do we keep reading after we get to it, because we do not really have a reason to. But we should! Because what I think is the most important part of this whole passage comes immediately after it.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

But in order that the world might be saved through him.

I think the Christian faith is about more than just individual and personal salvation. The Christian faith is about looking at the life, death and resurrection of Christ and mirroring the pieces of this narrative in our own lives as we work to make the world a better place. The Christian faith is not just about believing in the Good News; it is about proclaiming it to a world that needs to be transformed by it. The Christian faith is not just about individuals being saved by Christ; it is about Christ coming to save the entire world.

And we, as individuals, are part of this. We are the Body of Christ; we enact the Gospel in this world today.

I believe this story – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – has the power to change the world. Yes, I do believe that the world might, in fact, be saved by the power of this narrative. And not simply through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, himself; but through the lives of Christians who now seek to live in his light today and proclaim his Good News. I believe the world might be saved through Christ, because the Christian story is still being written. I believe the world might be saved through Christians like you and me.

Think about Jesus’ birth. Now, when Prince Louis arrived in London a few weeks ago, there were photographers, proclamations, helicopters and a gun salute. He was presented to the world on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital as reporters eagerly snapped photographs while millions of people watched from home (and their church offices). But Jesus? Jesus came into the world in a stable. His mother and father were ordinary people, they had no power or wealth. The folks that they met along their journey to Bethlehem, the important characters in the narrative of Jesus’ birth – were ordinary people. They were shepherds and innkeepers, not Kings and Pharisees.

But this is how the world might be saved. The world might be saved when ordinary people believe that they can make a difference in this world. The world might be saved when ordinary people rise up and make that difference. This world might be saved if we all remembered that we do not need money or power or the extraordinary to happen, but a humble obedience to God’s call.

Jesus’ life is a blueprint for how we should live ours. He taught his disciples through words and actions. He taught them how to pray and about the Golden Rule of kindness. He spoke in parables that made them think about the world they were living in. He fought for justice, he reached out to marginalized people and he showed hospitality to everyone he met. He fed people when they were hungry and healed them when they were sick. He performed miracles that made people believe that the impossible was, in fact, possible.

If we all lived out even a fraction of what is written in this Gospel, yes, the world might be saved! The world might be saved if we looked outwardly instead of inwardly. The world might be saved it we made charity more of a priority. The world might be saved it we judged less and loved more. The world might be saved if we did unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we loved God and loved the people around us. The world might be saved if we shared meals with one another, prayed together and worshiped together. The world might be saved if we touched people in their times of need, showed compassion and fought for justice. The world might be saved if we believed in the possibility of miracles around us.

When Jesus died, death did not win; darkness did not win; hate did not win. Love conquered the grave on that first Easter morning and the world knew that salvation was possible. The world knew that they would be saved through the resurrection of Jesus.

Today, the world might be saved if we believed that resurrection was still possible. The world might be saved if we refused to let hate and evil rule the world. The world might be saved if we created love and kindness. The world might be saved if we spread joy. The world might be saved if we shined God’s light into the darkest crevices of the earth.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

In this story, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, one has to be born from above. And as much as he was talking about getting into heaven, part of me thinks that he was also talking about seeing the kingdom of God here on earth. I think Jesus believed it was possible to see that kingdom in mortal flesh; he believed this world could be saved.

And so do I.

When people talk about being born again, they often talk about proclaiming Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior so that they might have eternal life in heaven. But I think it starts before then. I think we can create heaven on earth, I think it is possible for us to see God in our midst. I think every single day we are born from above; created by a God that wants to see the world flourish, redeemed by a God that believes the world can be saved and sustained by a God that believes we can do God’s work here on earth. I believe we are the ones that can create heaven on earth, we are created, redeemed and sustained to do this work on earth.

When I was planning worship this morning, I originally paired the Gospel with the psalm from today’s lectionary, Psalm 29, because it talks about how strong and powerful God is, calling God to give us strength for the journey ahead:

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)

But last night I was reading the passage from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, verses 1-8. I thought, in light of this message about God using us to spread the Gospel so that the world might be saved, I would read it, as well.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ (Isaiah 6:1-8)

So let us take the Gospel and save the world. Let us share the Good News in both words and actions. Let us live our lives the way Jesus did. Let us believe that the world could be saved then, the world can be saved now and the world will be saved in the future.

Let us give thanks to God for sending Jesus into this world to proclaim the Gospel so that we might create the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.