Living Faithfully Now

Hi friends!

I took a week off from preaching, but not from our sermon series.  Last week the passage in the Sermon on the Mount was the “ask, seek, knock” and “the golden rule” – which was not at all planned, but timed perfectly with our annual Homeless Awareness Weekend.  It was always our tradition to have one or two kids stand up and share their experiences, but last year I actually made every single one of our participants stand up and share something that they had prepared either the night before or that morning.  They did SO well that we did it again this year and I opted not to preach at all.  There definitely is a part of me that doesn’t like to “give up” my sermon time, but honestly – it was necessary this year.  The reflections were SO GOOD and said a thousand things that I never could have.  The adults were reflecting on what the kids said all week – I told the confirmands on Sunday this week that they should be proud.

So here we are – one wee away from finishing this sermon series!  I have always loved the end of the sermon on the mount, because you can tell Jesus is getting excited to finish talking so they can hit the ground running.  The funny thing is that even though I didn’t preach last week, I kind of got my reflections on Homeless Awareness in this weekend!  I guess it’s hard for me to actually let it go completely – ha!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 17, 2019

Matthew 7:13-20

Live Faithfully Now

I have been on something of a pastor’s high these past two weeks.

It started with the bazaar; not only did we raise over $17,000, but everyone was able to jump in and do their part.  Someone told me this week that the bazaar just felt magical this year and I think many of us share that same sentiment; we were not only able to raise money for the church, but we also came together as a community, strengthening our own relationships with one another and then were able to really extend a hand of hospitality to the community.

And then we did a quick 180° and turned our attention towards Homeless Awareness Weekend, which was so incredible and inspiring and eye-opening and filled with God’s love that I am having a hard time putting to words just how much it meant to me this year.

Oh – and our kids raised $6,500; which, to quote Steve Brasier – “Wow.”

Just wow.

And then on Sunday night, we got home from dinner and Bruce asked if I could get Harrison some milk.  I opened up the fridge and had to stare at it for a good 20 seconds before I realized what had happened.

An unopened half gallon of milk had gotten pushed too close to the part of the fridge where the cold air comes out and a few packages of tortilla wraps had gotten thrown on top, causing – we think – the cold air to blow more than usual, which then caused the milk to freeze, which then caused the glass bottle that it was in to break.

And there was milk everywhere.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I had to take every single thing out of the refrigerator and then take all of the drawers and the shelves apart to clean it up.  At one point during the process one of the drawers got knocked off the counter and so then all the milk that was in it was on the floor (along with all of the produce).  It took about an hour and half, at which point I realized we had no milk to give Harrison in the morning; which is how I found myself running into Walmart at 10:45, 15 minutes before they close, saying to the greeter as I blitzed by, “I just need milk!”

The surprising part about this whole thing is that I did not cry once; which was quite the feat, given the fact that it had been a long weekend, it was late, I was exhausted and I’m pregnant, so I cry more often than I usually do.

But, given what had happened during Homeless Awareness Weekend, and still thinking about the poignant reflections the youth offered in worship that morning, I just kept thinking, “But I have the money to buy more milk.  I have a car that I can use to drive to go buy more milk at 10:45 at night.”

I can confidently say – and I am fairly certain Bruce would agree with this – that if this had happened at the conclusion of any other weekend, I would have completely lost my mind.  But there was something about coming off of Homeless Awareness Weekend that gave me a perspective I did not necessarily have, even a week ago.

I think others felt this sense of perspective as well, based on conversations I had in the office this week, with our bible study group on Tuesday morning and even in our church community Facebook group.  And while I am thrilled that Homeless Awareness had such a powerful impact on everyone this year, there is a part of me that is a little bit fearful that, over time, we are going to lose that perspective and that passion to really put the Gospel into action and make a difference in our community.

My prayer this week has been that I don’t – that we don’t – lose the spark that was ignited within us last weekend.  My prayer has been that this awareness of hunger and homelessness – of the ways that we can serve our brothers and sisters, of the ways that we can educate others and of our own privilege in the middle of all of it – remains at the forefront of our faith and our ministry.  My prayer has been that this sense of urgency does not dissipate.

There is a sense of urgency in the passage of scripture we just heard that is similar to the one I am feeling following Homeless Awareness Weekend this year.  Jesus is nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount; he and the disciples are about to hit the ground running and proclaim this message of love and redemption to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  And so in these words about the narrow gate and a tree and its fruit, Jesus is trying to convey to the disciples just how important the work is that they are about to do.

I would argue that the same is true today; that, now more than ever, it is crucial that we live faithfully in this moment, not only staying truthful to Jesus’ teachings, but also being intentional and directed about how we live our lives.

There are three points I think Jesus makes in this passage that are so relevant to the world we are living in and the ministry God is boldly calling us into.  I want to talk about them today, first in relation to how I am still processing last weekend, but also as I am preparing for the Advent and Christmas seasons and then the new year that is on the horizon.

The first point has to do with the fact that discipleship is a journey.  Jesus says that we are supposed to enter the narrow gate, the gate that leads to a harder road.  Jesus does not say that when you enter the narrow gate, you will arrive at your destination, because that is not how faith works.  It is a journey that we take throughout our entire lives, as we weave in and out of the different circumstances that may come our way.  We will never reach a point where we will have all the answers; growth is always possible.

This is important for the disciples to hear, because this new mission Jesus is deploying them on is not one of black and white rules that clearly define how we should live our lives.  Grace does not work like that.  And so as Jesus begins to wrap up this sermon so they can hit the road, he needs the disciples to understand that it truly is going to be a journey.

As we read these words today, it is equally important for us all to remember that it does not matter what brought us to this point or when in life that happened, but that, from here on out, we are all on a journey together, called to live out and proclaim the Gospel.

That was kind of the cool part about Homeless Awareness Weekend – everyone was able to get involved.  Young, old and in between; longtime members and those who are new to the community; people with a pretty good set of answers and those who have a whole lot of questions.  Together we entered the narrow gate and traveled a hard road.

The second point Jesus makes here is that following him is going to be demanding.

Now, our youth and field chaperones can tell you that sometimes demanding looks like sleeping in a cardboard box when it is 17° degrees outside.  But I think demanding goes beyond even physical demands – sometimes the demands are mental, emotional, spiritual even.  There are moments in our discipleship journeys where we will feel like we are being pushed to our breaking point, where the road seems too hard to travel.

But, Jesus says, we have to journey forward; because the road that is hard is the road that leads to life.

And so it’s a commitment, right?  It’s not just about coming to church and getting involved, but about committing to something that is hard; something that is very often counter to the expectations of the society we are living in.  There is a vulnerability in walking through that narrow gate, one that Jesus, himself, acknowledges, and yet still calls us to do, anyway.

The final point Jesus makes is that we have to be vigilant on this journey.

The second part of this passage is about a tree and its fruits, calling out false prophets who will try to sway us in a different direction.

Of course, false prophets look different today than, perhaps, they did 2,000 years ago.  But I still think there is a courageous truth to what Jesus is saying here.  I noticed it twice last weekend, the first time when our panhandlers were approached by a gentleman at the transfer station who told them that homelessness was not a problem in Rehoboth and the second time when our panhandlers on the corner of 44 and 118 had a few drivers gesture inappropriately at them.  The reason I bring this is because, in those moments, it is easy to retreat to a safe place and just wait for it to be over.  But in both of those moments, our members were vigilant on this journey, leaning into the discomfort of the demands of our faith, offering a contrary explanation about homeless to this man and then prophetically calling us in worship to pray for those who were rude to our panhandlers.

This is exactly what Jesus is talking about here.  He is asking us to call out bad behavior, revealing individual’s true colors, spirits and intentions.  He is asking us to say no to the systems and the individuals that threaten the power of God’s love and the message of the Gospel.

This is not easy; very often it requires us to step outside of our comfort zones and not follow the status quo.

But again, the narrow gate is not the one that leads to the easy road; but it is the one that leads to the road that will bring us to new life.

I think Jesus’ message here is that we have to be intentional about our faith; that it is not a destination that we passively arrive to, but a journey that we have to work hard to travel.  And I would argue that the sense of urgency that was present as Jesus spoke these words is just as strong today as it was then.  The world is broken and it needs to hear the Good News.  The world is broken and it needs to feel the Good News.  The world is broken and it needs to see the Good News lived out in real and tangible and life-changing ways.

As we enter these Advent and Christmas seasons, set goals for the new year and prepare to receive new star words in January, I charge you all to live faithfully now.

The journey may not always be an easy one; we may feel vulnerable and pushed to our breaking point at times.  But Jesus promises us new life on this journey.  And this new life will bring hope and healing to our world.

May the spark that was ignited within us continue to burn as we enter the narrow gate and follow the road that is hard; but along this road may we proclaim the Gospel to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How We Rise Up

Hi Friends!

We are coming off an amazing bazaar weekend at the church. We raised $17,000! When I first started in Rehoboth, we would typically raise $10,000-$12,000 and that number has slowly been rising over the past few years.  Last year we came really close to breaking $15,000, so this was incredible!  And honestly – more than that, it was just fun.  Everyone was smiling, no one person was doing all of the work, everyone was pitching in wherever they were needed and, as a cherry on top, the weather was perfect!  It was so much fun.

My sermon this week is short because we had an extended time of announcements for Homeless Awareness Weekend, it was All Saints Sunday, Communion Sunday and we welcomed new members at the end of worship.  And church still went until 11:20!  Thankfully no one was complaining.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 3, 2019

Matthew 7:1-6

How We Rise Up

I feel the need to preface my sermon today by saying two things.

  1. I do not care where we happen to fall in our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, after the most incredible bazaar-filled weekend, where the Body of Christ came alive in the most loving and welcoming and grace-filled ways, the last thing I am going to do is stand up here and give a fire and brimstone sermon on why we should not judge one another.

Because y’all lived out a kind of love this weekend that exemplifies what Jesus is talking about here.  I do not need to teach you anything right now.

  1. On a Sunday morning with post-bazaar announcements, Homeless Awareness announcements and a commissioning prayer, communion and new members, the last thing I am going to do it stand up here and give a long sermon.

So I will keep it brief this morning.

Guys, I always say that I am going to write my sermon before the bazaar starts and then it never happens and then it always ends up being the best thing in the entire world.  Because I am always inspired by what I see and experience throughout the weekend and how I feel when it is all over.

Because it is the Body of Christ.  It is more than a beloved tradition.  It is more than a fundraiser.  The Church Bazaar is the Body of Christ in motion.  Everyone has a job to do; and whether it is big or small, it is critical to the success of what we do.  And so it is really neat to watch people come and go and do what God is calling them to do in this moment to serve our church.

When I read this scripture at the beginning of the week, I thought to myself, well of course, this is easier said than done.  Then I wondered how I could share a message of encouragement for us to spend more time looking in the mirror at our own reflections than looking at others and judging them.

Because, the truth is, we all judge other people; we know we shouldn’t and we try not to, but sometimes the words are out of our mouths faster than we can muster up the grace to stop them and so we know Jesus’ call here is one that we must rise up to with deep commitment and humility.

But after I spent a weekend with this church community – with so many people doing so many different things to create this magical event, I just kept thinking, well this is how we rise up.

When Jesus asks us to do hard things, he does not ask us to do it alone, he asks us to do it in community.  When Jesus calls us to be better versions of ourselves, he does not call us to do it alone, he calls us to do it in community.  When Jesus tells us not to judge others or not to notice a speck on someone else’s eye when there is a log in our own, he does not tell us to do this alone, he tells us to do this in community.

Because it is in community that we hold one another accountable for our actions.  It is in community that we see a world beyond ours.  It is in community that we learn how to live out God’s love.  It is in community that we realize what really matters.  It is in community that we learn how to talk to and work with people who see the world differently than we do.  It is in community that we find ourselves naturally walking away from the inclination to judge others because we just love everyone else so stinkin’ much, even if we are all doing life differently.  It is in community that we come together and, sometimes against all odds, rise up and live out Jesus’ call not to judge others.

And are we perfect?  No.  Do we always get it right the first time?  Of course not.

But it is weekends like this where I remember why it is so important that we do this work together.

Because together we will rise up.

So thank you; thank you for making this bazaar weekend an unforgettable one.  Thank you for putting in countless hours and tending to every single detail, large and small.  Thank you for showing up.  Thank you for encouraging one another.  Thank you for welcoming people into the village – for greeting them with a smile, for feeding them, for answering their questions and for showing them how to love and be loved.  Thank you for rising up to live out Jesus’ call, even when it is not an easy one to live out.  Thank you for making a commitment to one another and to the Gospel so that the world might be changed by the lives that we lead.

And that’s a wrap on another bazaar weekend!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How Can We Not Worry?

Hi friends!  This sermon kind of took a different direction than I thought it was going to, but things kept happening throughout the week pushing me to look at the scripture in a different way.

To give some background, I shared with the congregation on Friday morning that I am pregnant with our second child, due in April.  I start the sermon by talking about a doctor’s appointment I had at the beginning of the week that made me have to live out Jesus’ words, “Do not worry.”

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 27, 2019

Matthew 6:24-34

How Can We Not Worry?

This scripture mocked me this week.

I should preface this by saying that I actually cut a little over 600 words out of my sermon last week (I know that is hard to believe considering I went on for 15 minutes anyway).  I did this because 1) the sermon was getting too long and 2) I thought the part I cut would actually work better with this week’s scripture, which was supposed to be a continuation on stewardship.

So it was win-win, because not only did I feel like I made a more concise point last week, but, as a bonus, going into this week I had a pretty good jump start on my sermon for Sunday – and this NEVER happens!

Well, it still did not happen, because, like I said, this scripture mocked me this week.  And I won’t go into all of the details of the week (because then the sermon would certainly be longer than 15 minutes) but I will say that it started on Tuesday morning at what was supposed to be a quick and routine doctor’s visit which turned into an unexpected ultrasound.

Now, everything turned out to be fine and the whole process, though it felt like an eternity at the time, probably only took about 15 minutes.

However, as I was sitting in the waiting room, waiting for them to call me back for the ultrasound, I thought, as a good distraction, I would pull up the scripture for this week and start taking some notes for my sermon.

And there it was:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I introduced our stewardship theme, Shout It From The Mountaintop, and then looked at the scripture for the week where Jesus calls us to give quietly and not to announce it to everyone and how my initial response was, “Well clearly Jesus never had to balance an operating budget”?  Well suffice it to say, my first thought on Tuesday when I read these words was, “Well, clearly Jesus never had to wait for an OB ultrasound.”

And then my week went on.

And there was nothing major; it is just a really busy time of year and there are a lot of moving parts and honestly most of it resolved fairly quickly.  But there was just moment after moment this week I kept looking at these words, “Therefore do not worry” and thinking, this has got to be one of the hardest calls in the Gospel.

Because how can we not worry?  How can we not look at the realities of our earthly lives – the things that cause us stress and anxiety and pain, particularly the things that we have absolutely no control over – and not worry?  It such a natural response to our humanity.  Does Jesus actually think it is possible for us not to worry?

And yet, it is not like Jesus never had anything worry about.  It is not like Jesus never faced any situation that caused him stress or anxiety or pain.  I mean, this is Jesus we are talking about.  Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is towards the beginning of the Gospel; Jesus just spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.  He knows how hard it is to be human.

And yet, Jesus say these words:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.

Jesus understands – truly understands – the depth of what he is saying.  He knows how it feels to bear the burden of our own humanity and still let go of the worries that brings us.  He knows this will, in fact, be easier said than done.

First of all, I think it is important to note that Jesus was talking about something very specific here.  Remember, this part of the Sermon on the Mount follows the part where Jesus talks about not storing up for ourselves treasures on earth and keeping our focus on God and God, alone.  And so I do think, in many ways, Jesus is talking about money and material things when he tells the disciples not to worry and not just about the grand scheme of things.  Look at the examples he uses:  He says to look at the birds of the air, because they do not sow or reap and yet, God takes feeds them.  Then he says to consider the lilies of the field, because they not toil or spin and yet they grow.

I suppose the very basic lesson in all of this is that God will provide and so we should therefore not hoard our belongings and our money as if we were in control of it all, but rather we should be faithful to God’s call and trust that God is going to guide us on our journey.

Which, to be honest, is probably a good reminder for all of us when we are in the middle of stewardship and budgeting season and that is EXACTLY where those 600 words from last week’s sermon were going to take us this week.

It was such a great story about me canceling Christmas last year, too.

But back to the week I had.

There were too many things that happened to me this week – things that were out of my control, things that did cause me to worry, things that I just kind of had to wait and see what would happen – that brought me back to this scripture and reminded me that there is a greater lesson in here for us.

I realized, every time I had to sit with the discomfort of not being in control and not knowing what was going to happen next, that these words can speak to us wherever we are on our journey through life.

Yes, I do think Jesus is referring to money and material items in this passage – things like food to eat and clothing to wear – but I also do not want to take away from the powerful nature of these words:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry.

Because I think they resonate with a lot of us.  I think we all have worries – whether they are related to our heath, finances, work or families.  Life is not always easy, in fact it very rarely is.  But we do have this promise:  This promise that we do not have to worry, this promise that God will provide, this promise that we are not alone in this world.

And this is a promise that is steadfast in our faith, no matter what else might change around us.  I believe Jesus speaks these words in the Sermon on the Mount – one of his earliest recorded teachings to the disciples – because he wants them to understand what this new covenant means, what it will mean to follow him, what it means to have this very human connection to God and for God to have this very human connection to all of us.

Because remember the really amazing thing about this whole Jesus story.  Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us.  On some level, God came into this world and experienced human flesh.  And so when Jesus says that we should not worry and that God will provide, he says so earnestly because God knows how hard it is for us to live out these words.

And the thing is, Jesus does not say, “Do not worry about tomorrow, because everything is going to be okay.”  Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  In other words, he knows that life is not going to be easy and that there are always going to be things that come up; but he also knows that life is not going to be something that we ever have to face alone and that we simply have to rest in the grace of each moment and to give our burdens to God.

So we should believe these words to be true – no matter what we are facing next in life.

One final thought – we are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we are about two-thirds of the way through and Jesus is starting to wrap things up.  And as I reflected on this passage this week at the same time that the excitement of the bazaar was starting to bubble up around me, I started to think that there was a reason Jesus begins to close out his thoughts with this discussion about not worrying.

Because Jesus is getting ready to head out with the disciples to do some real, hard, get-your-hands-dirty kind of ministry.  And they are not going to do it alone.  They are doing it together.

And so, as we get ready to leave this space today and think about this scripture and really wrestle with how hard it is to actually live out these words, I would remind you of the people that are sitting around you right now.  This is your village, your church, your Body of Christ.  When Jesus says, “do not worry” he knows that this is much easier done in community than it is by ourselves.

So do not try to do it alone.

I know there is a lot going on right now – both here at the church and in everyone’s lives.  So I think it is a good reminder for us today to pause for a moment and let Jesus’ words sit in our hearts:  “Do not worry.”

We are not alone.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.