Giving Our Collective Burdens To Jesus

Hi friends!  Here is this week’s worship service.  I moved back in to the sanctuary and had my Music Director lead worship with me.  It felt good to take a step back towards some semblance of normal.  We still have some kinks to work out, but it was nice to be in a space I love so much.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Giving Our Collective Burdens To Jesus

I saw a tweet going around the internet this week that said, “Those who have stayed inside, wore masks in public, and socially distanced during this entire pandemic are the same people who are used to doing the whole group project by themselves.”

Yes.

100% yes.

If there is one thing I think we have all learned and realized throughout this pandemic, it is that we are so much more connected than perhaps we thought we were – not only with the people around us, but also on a national and global scale.  Our actions have consequences – not just for us, but also for other people.  And the actions of others directly affect us, as well.  We are seeing this very clearly as people choose to follow or not follow the recommendations for social distancing.  For many of us, it is very frustrating, because we are doing everything that we can, but we cannot control what other people do.

And we are connected to other people – whether we want to be or not.

There is a South African philosophy called Ubuntu.  The term means, “humanity” – it is often translated more broadly to say, “I am because you are” or, “I am because we are”.  Ubuntu describes our connectedness to one another; this truth that our humanity is universally tied up in one another.  Ubuntu explains that we are not simply individuals living in our own separate silos, but that who we are is affected by others and who they are is affected by us.

I have always loved this philosophy, but I do not think I fully understood the depth of its impact until we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic.  Because I do think, to some extent, I enjoyed doing life in my own little right-to-farm small-town New England bubble, but the truth is that I am – we all are – connected to others in our state, throughout around country and even in the far corners of the world.

Ubuntu:  I am because you are.  I am because we are.

We are not just individuals on a journey – for better or worse, we are in this together.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew.  It addresses the inextricable link we have to one another right away when Jesus begins the passage by talking not about individuals, but about the society, as a whole.

Jesus says:

But to what will I compare this generation?

Generation.  Not individuals.  Not small groups of people.  “To what will I compare this generation?”  In other words, Jesus is looking at what the collective society does, not necessarily the specific actions of individuals.  And what this means is that it is not just what we do in our own lives and along our own journeys.  Not only do our actions have consequences for other people, but the choices and actions of other people reflect who we are, as well.

For better or worse, right?

Let’s go back to he group project metaphor:  If you are doing that group project and you have a go-getter in the group who is taking the lead and making sure the end result is worthy of an A+, then you are probably feeling pretty good about our connectedness to one another.

But if you are that go-getter and you have one person in the group that does not submit their work and brings your grade down, you realize that sometimes our connectedness can have negative consequences.

We are connected to one another – and those connections run deep.

I think many of us our realizing just how true this is as we continue to read and educate ourselves about systemic racism in our country.  While we may think that, as individuals, we are loving and accepting of all people, the reality is that we are part of this society – this generation, as Jesus refers to people in today’s passage – with a deeply rooted and complicated history of racism.  And that does affect who we are.

The same is true as we try to mitigate the coronavirus.  We, as individuals, can do everything that public health officials are telling us to do, but the reality is that we are part of a society where not everyone is complying with these recommendations and where are leaders do no even necessarily agree on what the recommendations should be and that also affects us .

Ubuntu:  I am because you are.  I am because we are.  Jesus says, “But to what will I compare this generation,” knowing that the Body of Christ does not function as individual parts, but as a collective whole working together.  For better or worse.

Like I said, I do not think I fully understood the depth of Ubuntu until we found ourselves in the midst of this global pandemic.  I always understood this philosophy in a mostly positive light, in terms of how my actions could help others and not necessary in a negative one, where a society could negatively impact me or I could carry societal burdens and not just my own.

But I do think, now more than ever, it is important to recognize that side of our connectedness.

In today’s passage,  Jesus compares the generation he is addressing to children sitting in the marketplaces, calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”  While individuals might be listening to Jesus that day saying, wait a minute, I did not do those things, the problem is, they are part of a greater group of people who do.  And Jesus is saying that we have to carry the burdens of the generation we are a part of.

Because we are connected to one another.

Jesus says at the end of today’s passage, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  And while I do love the image this scripture creates of Jesus carrying our individual burdens, Jesus is not necessarily talking about our own personal and individual burdens.  If you look at this passage within the broader context of what he is saying, as he speaks to the whole of the generation, he is talking about the collective burdens of society.  Jesus is inviting not just individuals, but an entire generation to give their collective burdens to him.

I actually really like this idea, because I don’t know about you all, but sometimes I look at the collective burdens of our society and I am not really sure how I can make a difference.

But Jesus says he will give us rest.  He invites us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him.  And friends, right now we not only have so many burdens to give to Jesus, but we also have so much to learn from him.  We have so much to learn from this Gospel he proclaimed; this narrative of light, love and grace that still needs to be written.

We are carrying heavy burdens right now – as a community, as a nation, as a world – the realities of this virus, political division, systemic racism and economic injustice.  And as members of this generation, we are still responsible for our collective actions.  We are the Body of Christ – we do not work alone.

And so we have to bring these collective burdens to Jesus.

I know there is a lot going on right now and it came seem overwhelming and, at times, impossible.  But now is not the time to give up; now is the time to lean into our faith and act like the Christians Jesus is calling us to be and the Church that Jesus is calling us into.  I believe that the work of the Church is absolutely critical right now, because Jesus says in this passage that Gospel is not revealed through the rich and powerful, but through the humble and faithful, not through the work of those who have achieved a high level of status, but through the work of those who are willing to learn.

And I believe there is so much that we can do.  I believe that, together, we can mitigate this virus.  I believe that, together, we can bridge our political divides.  I believe that, together we can move towards a place of racial reconciliation.

But the work starts with us – with us, as a Church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church – our beloved Church in the Village.  The work starts with our willingness to acknowledge, take responsibility for and then give our collective societal burdens to Jesus so we can continue to learn and grow in our faith and leave this world a little better than how we found it.

I think, in so many ways at the church, we have seen how our connectedness is a gift.  We love one another and love ON one another and we know that, even in this time of social distancing, we are never alone.  As a church community, we have done such a wonderful job of using our connections to care for one another and to serve the community.

But I do think now we are also seeing the burdens of our connectedness, as well – and our role in this is just as critical.  As a church, we have to ground ourselves in our faith, humble ourselves, learn from Jesus and do the hard work that is required the release some of these burdens and see the true capacity of the Gospel to change the world.

Our work continues, my friends.  Let us find rest for our souls.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

How We Can Welcome Others Now

Hi Friends!

I am back after ten weeks on maternity leave.  Here is my sermon from this morning.  No podcast this week, I forgot to hit record on my audio!  I’ll get back in the swing of things.  But I did include the audio.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

How We Can Welcome Others Now

Okay!

So.

When we – meaning you all and me – last met, it was Easter Sunday, we were quarantined, so we gathered in our virtual worship space, and we were proclaiming this really hard, yet powerful truth that we are resurrection people and that even when all seems hopeless, God is not finished.

And so here we are, ten weeks later – and we are still somewhat quarantined, gathering in our virtual worship space.

And we are still proclaiming this really hard, yet powerful truth that, despite this virus that has completely turned our world upside down, we are resurrection people.

And that, even when all seems hopeless, God is not finished.

God is not finished.

Amen?

Amen.

It is strange to come back from maternity leave under “normal” circumstances.  I remember coming back after Harrison was born and feeling like everything had changed.  I felt as though you all had experienced different things over the time that I was gone and certainly I had completely changed as I entered motherhood.  I was not sure how we were going to come back together in our journey of faith and shared ministry.

It feels even stranger to come back this time, because we are all sort of in this holding pattern of life during covid.  I am “back” to work, but still mostly working from home, while taking care of my children.  Sunday worship, for the time being, remains what Harrison so sweetly refers to as, “Home Church” – meeting in this virtual space.  In some ways, other than taking over the kitchen counter with my laptop and books during the day, it feels like not much has changed now that I am “back” to work.

And yet, a lot has.

First of all, when we last gathered together, we were barely into what turned out to be a cold and snowy spring.  Now it is summer – the days are long, the sun is hot and our gardens and our yards are full of beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables.

Second of all, our state is slowly re-opening, so we are moving around a little bit more than we were at the end of March and beginning of April, albeit in masks and maintaining appropriate distance from other people.

Our country has been through a lot; certainly the murder of George Floyd served as a catalyst for new support of and education surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, which gives me a lot of hope for the future of racial reconciliation in our country, however we still have a long way to go.

And finally, as much as I hate to say this, we are thinking longer term about what church is going to look like until there is either a vaccine or a more effective treatment option for covid19.  I think when I stepped away back in April we all (either naively or optimistically) assumed I would be returning to the sanctuary, not to Facebook Live.

And yet, here I am.

Unfortunately church gatherings are ranked in the very high risk category when it comes to spreading the virus and, as Christians, we are called to care for one another, particularly the most vulnerable among us.  One of the ways we can do that is by not re-entering the sanctuary too soon.  When everything shut down in March, we quickly moved what we could online and kind of paused everything else at the church.  Currently we are discerning how to safely resume some of the ministries and business we paused and also how to more efficiently reach people online.

So – it has only been ten weeks and yet a lot has changed, both in our reality of the day to day and also in our perspectives, as well.  It is strange to think about what else might change between now and when we are finally able to gather again in person and resume some semblance of normalcy within our community.  Certainly, for better or worse, we will not be the same people that left worship on March 8th.

But here’s the thing:  We go through a lot of different seasons in our lives and we do change along the way.  Like I said, when I came back from maternity leave after Harrison was born, I was worried we had all changed and I was not sure how to bring us back together.  I know that, right now, we are all changing in different ways, as well.

That being said, what has not changed in all of this is this call – this call to proclaim the Gospel, to hold onto the hope that God is not finished yet and to believe that the way we live our lives still matters, despite the fact that we are living them a little bit closer to home these days.

So let’s look at how this morning’s scripture reading is telling us to live our lives.

We are in the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first book in the New Testament.  Jesus is speaking to the disciples here.  Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had gathered the twelve disciples and given them the authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure all diseases and sickness (which I think hits a little bit closer to home these days).  Jesus is essentially sending out the disciples to do the work that he has started, just as we are called to do today.  Jesus is telling the disciples not only to proclaim a message of love, hope and healing, but to live it out in real and tangible ways.

And like I said, this call remains the same today.  While we are living in a different world today than the one Jesus commissioned the disciples in – and, quite frankly, a different world than the one we were living in six months ago – this call remains the same.

Jesus warns, however, that this will not be easy.  Our passage picks up at verse 40 this morning, but earlier in the chapter, in verse 16, immediately after Jesus gives the disciples this authority and commissions them outward, Jesus said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”

In other words, Jesus is warning the disciples that the journey will not be an easy one.  Jesus is asking them to do a hard thing – he is commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of hard and challenging circumstances.

The same is true – very true – today.  Jesus is asking us to do a hard thing – to proclaim the Gospel, this Good News, in the midst of hard and challenging circumstances.  I would argue that Jesus is asking us to do a hard thing and, quite frankly, we have never really been asked to do a hard thing like this before.  Certainly we have all experienced our own personal trials and tribulations, but as a country – as a world – in our lifetime, we have never been asked to do a hard thing like this before.  We have never been asked to proclaim the Gospel amidst this kind of global uncertainty and instability.

And yet Jesus knew.

Jesus knew that it was not going to be easy.

Jesus knew that the world was going to be turned upside down over and over throughout the generations.  Jesus knew that there would be global uncertainty and instability.  Jesus knew that there would be pandemics.  Jesus knew that there would be a need for radical racial reconciliation.  Jesus knew that he was asking his followers to sometimes defy the odds stacked tall against them and not only believe, but also proclaim to others that love is real and that hope is still worth holding onto.

Guys, this is when we have to lean into our faith.

And it is hard.  It is really, really hard.

But we have spent our time as Christians studying scripture and worshiping God and praying together not just so we can be faithful when things are easy, but also when things are hard.

This brings me to the heart of what Jesus is asking us to do in this morning’s passage.  Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  In other words, the Christian faith is not just about a personal journey, but one that needs to be shared in community.  We need to welcome others – we need to extend a hand of hospitality to them, sharing our faith, encouraging them in their own faith and helping them in their times of need.

And this is not an easy thing to do right now, because we cannot gather as a community – we cannot physically welcome people into our building and we cannot serve them the way that we are used to.

But there are other ways to welcome others – to welcome them in Jesus’ name.

Like I said earlier, we are thinking longer term about what church is going to look like in this time of covid, certainly throughout the summer.  I do think that, to some extent, we moved what we could online back in March and put everything else on hold “until quarantine was over” thinking that, in a few weeks, we could get back to normal.

Well, we know now that it is just not that simple.  So now that I am back from maternity leave, I want to not only discern but also live out how we can still be church during this time of social distancing.  I want to welcome others in Jesus’ name.  I want to share this Gospel – this faith – that gives my life and our community so much meaning and purpose.  I want to meet the needs of others, however we safely can.  I want to show people that this story is still very much still worth telling, even now.

Especially now.

Friends, Jesus is asking us to welcome others in his name and right now that is not an easy thing for us to do.  But we are people of the resurrection who know that that God is not finished yet.

And I believe that despite these impossible circumstances we can continue to write a meaningful chapter in the narrative of our faith that can and will change the world for the better.

There are so many ways that we can continue to do church during this time of social distancing.  We can love one another and check in with one another.  I know you all are doing such a wonderful job of that already within our community.  While the weather is nice, we can even try to plan outdoor visits so we can see one another.  We can worship and pray together, continuing to gather in this virtual space and also nightly in our Facebook group for prayers.  We can serve the community.  We can seek justice, showing love and support for our black brothers and sisters by persisting in the work of the Black Lives Matter movement.  We can take care for the most vulnerable among us, particularly those within our community who are particularly susceptible to complications from covid.  We can use this time to learn and grow in our faith, to educate and challenge ourselves, to hear other voices and to understand other perspectives.

Jesus says, when we welcome others into our lives, we are welcoming Jesus and the God who sent Jesus into this world.

And we all need to welcome God into our lives, now more than ever.

As we prepare to leave this virtual space today, I pose to you this question – how will you welcome others as Jesus welcomed you in your own life?

Friends, it is wonderful to be back with you all.  There is still so much work that we need to do – and that we can do – together.

Even though it is hard right now, God is not finished yet.

And neither are we.

Members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church – our work continues.  The world needs Church and the church needs you.  Let us continue together on our journey of faith and shared ministry.

Onward.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Weeping At The Tomb

Happy Easter, friends! I hope wherever you are you are home, safe and proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. It was bittersweet to not be able to worship in person this morning, but I really do believe that now is the time to lean into our faith as we heed the recommendations to stay home so we can flatten the curve.

I love you all.  Despite the challenging times we are living through right now, I still believe in the hope of the Easter promise that Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 12, 2020

John 20:1-18

Weeping At The Tomb

This past Friday – Good Friday – marked the nine-year anniversary of my ordination, which means I have been in vocational ministry for nearly a decade.

Now, if you had asked me six weeks ago if I felt like a decade was a long time to be in ministry and if I had experienced a lot of stuff in that time, I probably would have told you that, in many ways, I was still very new to all of this and that I had not necessarily weathered any really big ministerial storms like my colleagues who have more years under their vestments.

Of course, I am not sure I would say the same today.

That being said, one of the things I think I have actually honed over the past nine years is the Easter sermon.  I realize that, like Christmas, it is one of those, “many eyes on you” kind of moments, but it honestly was never something that I really stressed about.  My philosophy has always been that the Easter story kind of speaks for itself.

Resurrection!

Light!

Love!

Grace!

A God that is more powerful than our human brokenness, more powerful than death, itself.

And when you take that story and add brass, confetti, a children’s sermon that may or may not go awry, a full church of people who are very ready to get to their family dinners and a bunch of children who are used to going to Church School and not sitting through a sermon, you have seven – maybe eight, TOPS – minutes to preach said sermon.

I have often said that no one has ever complained about an Easter sermon that was too short.

And yet, this year there is nothing for me to do BUT preach.  I do not have all of the bells and whistles that I always felt made our Easter celebration extra special.

When we moved our worship into this virtual space five weeks ago, I was really committed to 1) heeding the call to social distance in a responsible way, which means not bringing our staff together into the sanctuary to stream worship and 2) keeping it simple, which means using a platform like Facebook live where you just get to see my smiling face talking to you instead of a platform where we can integrate more worship leaders from wherever they are.

With regards to the second point, I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of worship streaming options.  Truth be told, one of the reasons we took the simpler option is because my due date is rapidly approaching and I knew it would make for a smoother transition when it was time for me to go on maternity leave.

That being said, I think right now we do have an opportunity, as Christians, who are often distracted by busy schedules and technology and traditions, to really get back to the core of what it means to be a Christian and to be part of a Church that God is calling to being.

The earliest Christians did not have full sanctuaries with brass, confetti and special children’s sermons.  They had a story – a story about resurrection and about a hope that is not lost.  They worshiped in their homes and broke bread with their families.

And that is what we have today.

I know many of us are mourning the loss of our Easter traditions right now.  It seems like one more thing that this virus has taken from us.

But it has not taken away this story – this story about resurrection and about a hope that is not lost.

So – for better or worse, you get me this morning.  You get a raw, unedited version of me, unable to distract you with confetti and other forms of blessed chaos.  You get a pastor who is mourning the loss of her Easter traditions, right alongside of you.

But you also get a story.  A story that proclaims the hard to imagine truth right now that God is not finished yet.  You get a story that proves the impossible is possible.  You get a story that does not let the hard stuff win.  You get a story that will change your life.

I went back and forth as to whether I should preach the Easter story out of Matthew – which is the Gospel we are in for the lectionary this year – or John this Easter.  Ultimately, however, I chose John, because, in so many ways, I feel like I am resonating with Mary right now.

Because she stands outside the tomb and weeps.

Mary goes to the tomb, but Jesus’ body is not there.  She assumes someone has taken him somewhere and now she does not know where to go to find him – so she begins to weep.

So much has already been taken from Mary – this empty tomb feels like one more thing.

And so she stands outside the tomb and weeps.

Friends, it is okay if we weep on this Easter morning, as well.

I shared with my congregation when we first made the decision to suspend our in-person worship more than a month ago that the realization of the decision I was about to make caused me to weep at my desk in my office.  Since then, however, I think I have been running on adrenaline and fascination with the challenge of what it means to create virtual worship.  It has felt comforting and meaningful and, in so many ways, holy that I did not weep again, but I rejoiced in God’s ability to still draw me close to my church family during this time of distancing.

And then on Thursday night, I set up communion for myself and for my family as I prepared for our Virtual Service of Holy Communion.  And for some reason, I broke down as I carefully put out those simple elements of bread and juice.  I held my chalice and paten in my hand, thinking about the moment I grabbed them from my office a few weeks ago “just in case” I eventually needed them at home, but not actually believing that I would.  I thought about the fact that I would be looking into the screen of my phone as I spoke those beautiful words of institution and not into the eyes of the people that I love so much.

Like Mary at the tomb, it felt like so much had already been taken from me – from us!  And this was just one more thing.

And so I sat at my desk – at home this time – and wept.

It is okay to weep right now, to say, like Mary, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

It is okay to weep right now, to say on this Easter morning, “This virus has taken away so much from me already and I do not know what to do next.”

It is okay to weep right now, to miss the sounds of our church bells ringing, the smell of our sanctuary filled with lilies and tulips and the sight of our flower-filled cross in front of our church building, bolding proclaiming the truth of resurrection.

Friends, we are a resurrection people, but to get to resurrection, we have to first experience the pain and sadness and trauma of death and that is just where we are right now.  And it is okay to weep.  It is okay to weep while we are in the middle of something that is really hard, while still knowing and believing that resurrection is coming.

The beautiful thing that Mary does in this story is that, despite the pain and the sadness and the trauma she is feeling, she shows up anyway.  She shows up at the tomb.  She does not leave with the disciples, who return to their homes after seeing for themselves that the tomb is empty.  She shows up.  She sits with the sorrow of not knowing where Jesus is, of the sadness of feeling like she has lost one more thing, but is also not ready to give up yet.

She is not ready to give up yet.

As a pastor, pressing on and planning for Easter in the middle of what they think is the apex of this pandemic, in our part of the country, at least, feels a little bit like being the violinist on the Titanic who just kept playing while the ship was going down.  Because, even though I knew I could not have the confetti and the brass and a children’s sermon that made a mess, I was still going to show up a proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.  In the middle of utter chaos and mayhem, I was going to hold onto our battle cry that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.

Because even though I am weeping, I am not ready to give up yet.

I am not ready to give up on this story.  I am not ready to give up on our world.  And I am certainly not ready to give up on the hope of resurrection, even if we are not necessarily experiencing the type of resurrection we want to this morning.

Friends, remember that, on that first Easter, it felt like all hope was lost, but God was not finished yet.  God was doing a new thing.  God was working on something that could not necessarily be seen, but that was real and powerful and lifechanging.

And so we have to believe that the same is true today.

We have to believe that, even though there are moments in all of this where it feels like all hope is lost, that God is not finished yet.  We have to believe God is doing a new thing.  We have to believe that God is working on something that perhaps we cannot see right now, but that is also real and powerful and lifechanging.

This is what it means to be a resurrection people.  To weep, but to show up anyway.  To weep, but to not give up.  To weep, but to still believe that this is not how the story ends.

I said last week that, in so many ways, we were experiencing our own kind of Holy Week this year.

And, unfortunately, we still are – even as we celebrate Easter.

I think, in some ways, we all were hoping and praying for that Easter miracle, where – against all odds and scientific predictions – we flattened the curve and everything went back to normal in the same three days that it took to travel from the cross to the empty tomb.  But we are not quite there yet.

And that is okay.

I mean – it is not okay.  None of this is okay.

But I still believe that resurrection is coming.  We just have to wait a little bit longer.  God has proven before that death does not win and it will not win today.  God has proven before that the God can do the impossible and God will again today.  God has proven before that our world is worth saving and it still is today.

Just like on that first Easter morning, God is doing a new thing, despite the brokenness we feel right now.

And resurrection will happen.

We will be redeemed.  Light will shine.  Like Mary, we, too, will bear witness to the Risen Christ in our midst and stand in awe at the work that God is able to do.  We, too, will run from the tomb and announce to the world, “I have seen the Lord!”

Friends, if we refuse to let death have the final word, I assure you that, at the end of all of this, we will not only be able to proclaim, but also really see and believe that Christ IS risen, he is risen, indeed!

And in the meantime, we display the same faithfulness of Mary and show up at the tomb.  We weep and acknowledge our brokenness, naming what has been taken from us and allowing ourselves to grieve what we have lost and fear the unknown.

But we refuse to give up.  We believe that this is not how the story is going to end.

Friends, we are a resurrection people, even though we are walking through the darkness of a terrifying moment in history.  And so, as a resurrection people we will proclaim, louder than ever this year, that Christ IS risen.

He is risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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