Reaching Out To Families

As the summer winds down, we are almost done with our summer sermon series, Why I Come To Church.  The topic this week was family.  We ended up getting two totally different perspectives, which was nice!  The lay person who offered their testimony talked about our church family and I preached about the call to reach out to families in our church.  After my sermon, Jordan started playing and singing the song, What A Wonderful World, and I jumped in on my saxophone. <3 I posted the video to the church Facebook page if you are interested!

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 28, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Family

Mark 10:13-16

Reaching Out To Families

Growing up, I always equated church with my family.

For a lot of people, church means family time, but, as a preacher’s kid, more often than not, family time also meant church. Christmas Eve dinners were held in the church kitchen in between services and usually consisted of hot dogs that we bought at the gas station and an assorted variety of chips. Easter mornings started long before the sun came up; not with my sister and me grabbing for our Easter baskets, but for whatever instruments we were playing at the sunrise service that year. Last month when my dad’s family gathered in Connecticut for our annual Fourth of July “Camp Keck,” no one ever discussed our plans for Sunday morning; we all just woke up, got ready for church and piled into a couple of cars. It is just what we do (the pre-worship selfie, however, was new this year!)

But, again I say: I am a preacher’s kid. My family has to go to church. It is not unusual for us to figure out a way to fit church into our schedule. We have no other choice but to work around the church calendar and the people around us have learned to accept it.

But what about the families who do not have to come church? What about the families whose friends and bosses and coaches do not expect them to have a standing Sunday morning commitment? What about the families who are trying to balance church along with everything else and who are trying to make church “fit” into the crazy and hectic lives they lead? What about the families who feel guilty that they cannot come to church more or give more or be more involved? What about the families who feel powerless against their own schedules; who want to be here at the church and be part of the community, but also want to provide extracurricular and athletic opportunities for their children, opportunities that often occur on Sunday mornings?

As a church, we can help these families. As a church, we are called to help these families. In fact, I believe this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in the scripture that we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark.

This scripture talks about receiving children. We read it when we baptize children and promise, as a community, to always welcome them, embrace them and support them on their faith journey.

But even though Jesus was talking specifically about the children that were in his midst, I also think that there is a bigger meaning and purpose to what he was saying.

This passage is part of a broader narrative; immediately before it, the Pharisees had questioned Jesus about divorce, asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Rather than answering perhaps the way the Pharisees wanted him to – that it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife and leave her without money, status or power – Jesus favored women in his response, showing he believed women should be considered equal.[1]

And then Jesus started talking about children.

So, let’s think about this: In terms of who had power in the culture and society Jesus was living in, women (particularly divorced women) and children were pretty low on the list. And these were the ones that Jesus took favor on; Jesus cared deeply for the powerless. Jesus wanted to open his arms wide and welcome the powerless into his midst; Jesus wanted to lay hands on them and to bless them and to ensure them that there was a place in the world for them.

The powerless.

Jesus cared for the powerless and went out of his way to reach out to them. I would argue that, as Christians, we are called to do the same.

I know that when we talk about reaching out to the powerless, it opens up the door to also talking about reaching out to other groups of marginalized people; orphans, immigrants, minorities, people with special needs and who are sick, widows and widowers and many more. And I certainly do not want to overshadow these groups or forget about them!

But today in church we are talking about families; specifically family being the reason that we come to church. And so today, in looking at this scripture and how it shows Jesus reaching out to the powerless, I want to talk about families and how sometimes they struggle with feeling powerless.

And I want to talk about how we, as a church, can help them.

I would argue that families today often feel powerless against the craziness of the world that we live in. While the type of powerlessness they feel is different from the systemic powerlessness experienced by the children Jesus was talking about in this scripture, I believe the call to action is the same.

I spend a lot of time working with families at this church, particularly younger families, and I see them struggling in real and sometimes impossible ways. They often feel pulled in too many different directions, lacking the time, energy and money to keep up with everything society is telling them they need to have and do. They have to constantly fight back against the ever-changing world of technological and social media advancement. They have to make difficult choices and often cannot automatically equate family time with church time because their Sundays are taken up by work, sports and other extracurricular activities.

And they feel powerless, unable to find balance in it all.

But this is where the church comes in. We can give power to the powerless.

In this instance, giving power to the powerless means that we can help the families in our community who are struggling and feeling lost. We can empower our families by making sure they know that they are welcome here, at this church, no matter what their lives look like. When we hear the call of Jesus to, “Let the children come to me,” we need to respond by opening our arms wide and making sure our church is a safe space for all of our families to experience God’s love, learn and grow in their faith and worship in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible.

When my mom and I were in Hungary, we worshipped at a Catholic Church in Hévíz, which is in the Lake Balaton region, about two hours from Budapest. And while we each got a lot of different things out of the experience, we both commented later how wonderful it was to see so many young families in the church. It felt a lot like being in our own churches. There was movement; there were small voices asking questions, babies crying, parents shushing and little feet pitter-pattering around the balcony. Even though I was sitting in a Hungarian Catholic mass, it all felt so familiar to me.

And I loved it. I loved a watching a young family settle in next to an older woman who had her head covered was clutching and kissing her visibly worn rosary beads. I loved watching the children kneel and stand and try to sing along with the familiar hymns and prayers. I loved watching a young father frantically try to get his screaming baby out of the church during the homily. I loved seeing this church bear witness to Jesus’ scriptural call, to open their doors wide so that everyone, regardless of their age, gender or life circumstances, could be on the receiving end of God’s grace.

This is what I want for our church.

As a church, we are called to be a safe place for families to come and learn and worship and pray and grow in their faith. We are called to set good examples for them, to help them discern how to find balance and support them when their journeys are difficult. We are called to love them and be patient with the chaos that they sometimes bring. We are called to adjust our calendar if something works better for their schedules. We are called to ask for their opinions and be willing to change if there is a way we can better accommodate their needs. We are called to remember that we are at this church today, as adults, partly because someone embraced us in the church when we were children and we want that legacy to continue.

It is not always easy to embrace a multitude of families in the church and create a space where they can all come and are free to be themselves. But our families need our support; many of them are fragile; some feel powerless.

And Jesus calls us to reach out to the powerless.

As I thought about families in the church this week, I was reminded of a line from Hamilton (sorry, my obsession has continued throughout the summer). It is from the scene where Alexander Hamilton dies; time freezes right before the bullet strikes Hamilton and he launches into a monologue.

Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.[2]

As a church that is committed to our families, we are touching lives in ways that we may never see or know. But we are also touching lives in ways that are real and powerful and grace-filled and life changing.

So let us plant seeds; let us celebrate families and support families and love families. Let us open our arms wide and welcome families into our midst, blessing them by placing our hands on them and ensuring them that there is a place in this church for them.

And may our children one day tell the stories that we are helping to write in this church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] In Matthew 10:1-12, Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife, it should be considered adultery, but if a woman divorces her husband, it should also be considered adultery. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jesus is condoning divorce, but I do think he doesn’t think there should be a double standard.

[2] Hamilton, Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. From the song, The World Was Wide Enough.

Back In The Habit {Writing My Own Liturgy}

So while I was on sabbatical I spent a lot of time reading and writing.  In doing this I came to the realization that, with the exception of my weekly newsletter article and sermon, I really do not write as much as I used to.  I don’t know if it was nostalgia or Hamilton inspiration, but I really came back to work with a desire and passion to spend more time with a pen in my hand or at keyboard at my fingertips and condition those writing muscles again.

I have started with something super accessible to me – weekly worship liturgy.  I used to write a lot of my own liturgy (in fact, one of my most often commented on post is my Prayer Shawl Blessing Liturgy).  One of the biggest reasons that I fell out of this habit is because I discovered Feasting on the Word Worship Companion and Abingdon Worship Annual a few year ago (both AWESOME resources, which is why I have not really felt the need to write anything of my own!).  This summer, however, we are off lectionary and on our Why I Come To Church sermon series – which means I’ve had to do a bit more searching to find liturgy that I like.  I have been writing my own Prayers of Confession since I got back and this week actually tried my hand at a Call to Worship.

Here are the Prayers of Confession from Community and Accountability.  We didn’t do community confession for our Music week because it was Beatles Sunday.

Please feel free to adapt and use in your own worship setting!

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Prayer of Confession | Community
Sarah E. Weaver (c) 2016

Uniting God,
You call us to be one: One Body. One Church. For thousands of years, generations of people have bore witness to the truth that your work and ministry is done best in community: Community grounded in love, kindness, acceptance, humility, service, learning and grace. And now it is our turn. Yet we confess, O God, that sometimes being in community is hard. We are not always patient with one another. We are not always willing to compromise. Sometimes we try to promote our own agenda rather than proclaim the Gospel. Bring us back together, O God. Unite us with your Spirit and in your love so that, as a community of faith, we can boldly share your hope with the world. Amen.

***

Prayer of Confession | Healing
Sarah E. Weaver (c) 2016

O God, we are taught as children in Church School that you are the ultimate healer. We are encouraged to believe in your power. We are reminded to hold onto the hope that you give to us.
Yet we confess that we have moments of doubt; moments where our earthly struggles distract us from your divine peace and where the mystery of your healing is simply too enormous for us to comprehend. Sometimes our loss is too great, our pain is too severe and our fear is too overwhelming.
And yet we so desperately want to believe, to have hope, to be healed.
So help us, O God. Take us back to a state of youthful understanding and expectation. Release the grip that we have on the things we cannot control so we can fully embrace the miraculous grace of your presence. Amen.

Healing Happens In Community

We continue on with our “Why I Come To Church” series with the topic, healing.  Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 21, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Healing

Matthew 9:35-38

Healing Happens In Community

For those of you who do not know, my mom underwent surgery on Wednesday afternoon; a mastectomy following a July breast cancer diagnosis. She is doing very well and happily recovering at home.

This surgery came on the heels of a less-than-stellar summer for my mom’s family. While my mom and I were in Europe, we got word that her uncle had passed away after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. Less than a month later, my mom called to tell me that her mother, my grandmother and, at that point, the only living member of that generation of our family, had died unexpectedly.

Now, I am not sharing this to get your pity or anything, but to point out the irony of God’s timing. Early in the week, as I was discombobulated and working quickly to put together today’s bulletin in order to be out of the office and in Connecticut for my mom’s surgery, I said out loud, “Okay, so what is the topic of this week’s ‘Why I Come To Church’?”

You can imagine my delight when I opened my worship-planning document and looked it up.

Healing.

Well that is a loaded one for me right now.

Last summer, I preached on one of the healing stories from the Gospel. I was struck, as I read that particular story, how much the physical act of touch played a role in Jesus’ healing and so I asked John Haynes, who was the deacon that month, what he thought about me offering a short sermon that week and then creating a space for healing prayers; a time when we literally laid hands on every single person in the church and prayed over them; a time when we acknowledged the unexplainable nature of God’s healing and yet trusted that it was real.

Neither one of us really knew how this was going to work (and I would be lying if I said we were not a little bit nervous to do something so touchy-feely with a group of mainline New England Protestants), but suffice is to say, it exceeded all of our expectations. As we prayed over people, we embraced their stories and shared the burden of their struggles. There were moments when we wept; when our words seemed insufficient.

And yet, it was holy. It was powerful. It was real and raw and hard and exactly what we were supposed to be doing. When John and I walked back up to the chancel after it was over, we just looked at each other with our eyes wide open, as if to say, “What just happened?”

Well God happened; and even though Jason Bacon slammed his finger in a car door about an hour after church was over, I do believe that real and powerful healing happened that morning.

I was so deeply moved by that worship service that, when we started planning our summer sermon series, I asked Anne Marie if I could be the one to preach on healing. Honestly, I planned to do the same type of healing prayers.

And yet, this scripture – a scripture that I chose kind of arbitrarily, long before this challenging summer started – really is not about the healing that we do not understand. It is about healing that we do understand; the healing that happens in our midst; the healing that we are a part of; the healing that I saw this summer.

This scripture talks about Jesus moving through villages and teaching people, sharing the Good News with them and healing those who were sick and hurting. The need was great; scripture describes the crowds of people who were in need of hope and healing like “sheep without a shepherd.”[1] And so at the end of this passage, there is a call; a call to the disciples to go out into the world and do what Jesus was doing; teach people, share the Good News with them and heal those who are sick and hurting.[2]

Here’s the thing: Jesus knew his time on earth would be brief. He knew he needed to commission a group of people to carry out the work he started and to pass this call on to this next generation so that, long after he died, healing would still be real and powerful.

Healing happens in community. While I am certainly not denying the unexplainable and divine healing that happens in our lives, I also know that real and powerful healing happens when people come together in a spirit of faith and conviction and work tirelessly to meet the needs of others.

I have seen healing in community happen this summer. It happened in the form of greeting cards, thoughtful emails and text messages filled with heart and prayer hand emojis. It happened when people all around the country lifted my family in prayer. It happened when meals showed up and flowers were delivered. It happened when family and friends checked in with us over and over and over again. It happened when people intentionally filled our lives and the spaces we were in with positivity. It happened when the love surrounding us was so great that our tears turned into laughter and our fear, pain and sadness turned into peace.

Healing happens in community; healing happens here in community.

What we are doing here matters. Here we meet people wherever they are on their journey through life and walk alongside them. Here we help them find healing. Here we seek to meet people’s physical needs as well as spiritual needs. Here we allow people to be broken and vulnerable. Here we pray for one another. Here we laugh together and cry together. Here we hold onto the sacredness of one another’s struggles and make a promise that we are all in this together.

Today, instead of throwing myself a pity party for a challenging summer, I am choosing to celebrate the healing that I witnessed in the midst of it, the healing that was created in community.

And I am also making a pledge; I pledge to intentionally create a space of healing in this community so that others will witness what I have witnessed and so that the work of Jesus will continue on in our generation.

So here is what I need from you: After church today, as we gather on the lawn and eat cookies, drink lemonade and shop at the farmers market, please do not ask me how I am doing or show me pity me in any way; while I do want to be honest with you all about where I am at, I do not want to spend our gathering time after church talking about it.

Because there is something much more important that I actually do want to talk about: I want to talk about is how we can create healing in this community. I want to talk about how we can help the people in Louisiana whose lives have been devastated by flooding. I want to talk about how we can reach out to the families in our own church who are struggling. I want to talk about how we can actively respond to the concerns and celebrations that will be shared shortly. I want to talk about how this church can make a difference in our community and in the world. I want to talk about how we can be the hands and feet and face of Christ to the people we love when they need it most. I want ideas, I want passion, I want excitement and I want energy. I want to see joy in your eyes and call and conviction in your hearts.

So let us go forth and, like the disciples, be labourers of the harvest that God is gleaning in our midst. May we create healing. May we find healing. And may we believe that healing is possible.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

***

[1] Matthew 9:36, NRSV
[2] Matthew 9:37-38, NRSV – the passage reads, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” I have always interpreted this passage as the harvest being the work of God on this earth and the labourers as us, those who God calls to work and minister in the world.

On Faith & Accountability

Good Tuesday morning!  I hope everyone survived the grossness that was this weekend’s weather.  At one point I dramatically proclaimed to Bruce that it “is NEVER going to cool off and in 20 years we are going to have to tell our children about that one time in New England when summer just didn’t end and we no longer had four seasons, it was just hot all the time.”

I tend to get irrational when it’s hot outside.

A trip to the beach yesterday helped a lot!  Bruce was able to come down and meet me after work, so he fished while the sun was setting while a friend of mine and I watched him and drank wine from the beach. #necessary

IMG_3604

Anyway, here is my sermon from Sunday!  We golfed in a charity tournament in the afternoon so I didn’t get a chance to post until now.

We are still working through our “Why I Come To Church” series and this week’s subject was accountability.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 14, 2016
Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church: Accountability

Matthew 12:30-37

On Faith And Accountability

Nothing like preaching on blasphemy and condemnation when we have guests in the church for a baptism, right?

I have to be honest: I had a moment on Thursday afternoon when I seriously considered finding a new scripture to preach on this morning. Surely there has to be something in the bible that I can use to talk about accountability where Jesus does not refer to people as a “brood of vipers,”[1] right?

But then I thought about the fact that being held accountable for something – anything, really – is not always supposed to make us feel comfortable. I would be willing to bet that the Olympic athletes competing in Rio right now had moments in their training – training where they were being held accountable for their fitness, endurance and skills – where they felt uncomfortable. Michael Phelps did not win a gold medal this week and then win a qualifying race 35 minutes later because his training always made him feel comfortable. I think it is okay for us to feel a little bit uncomfortable when we talk about accountability because that means we are doing it right. That means something is happening, changing and getting stronger. That means God is at work in our lives.

Let’s back up for a second and look at the context of what was happening so we have a better understanding of why Jesus went on this particular rant in our scripture.

Leading up to this passage, Jesus healed a blind and mute demonic man; which, to be fair, was not a normal occurrence. This healing raised some eyebrows among crowds of people wondering how Jesus had done it. They started to ask one another if Jesus was, in fact, the Son of David; which, as I am sure you can imagine, did not go over well with the Pharisees, who were trying to keep control and stay in power.

So the Pharisees, in an effort to contain the “Jesus situation” (my words, not theirs), immediately responded by making the claim that Jesus’ healing of this man was actually the work of Beelzebul, who was the ruler of the demons.

This is what set Jesus off on a rant.

Jesus starts off by essentially saying, first of all, you guys really are not that intelligent (my words, not his), because why would the ruler of the demons cast out this demon? But then (and this is where we come in this morning) Jesus goes on to put that aside and talk about what it actually means to live into this incredible truth that the Holy Spirit, in fact, was what drove out this demon. Jesus talks about what it means to be filled with the Spirit; to be with Jesus and to spread something good in the world.

To hear Jesus say, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”[2] is kind of harsh because there is a very clear delineation between what it means to follow Jesus and what it means not to. And, let’s face it, here in our New England congregationally rooted church, we do not always like being told what to do.

You know, we’re big fans of the option.

But – this is also a reminder of just how important it is for us to actually practice our faith. We have to put something into it if we want to get something out of it. We have to be intentional about strengthening and living out our faith, because there are so many other things in this world that can capture our attention. Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their false claims, not by denying the fact that something powerful was going on, but by confirming the presence of the Holy Spirit and saying that whether or not we choose to live by this spirit matters.

Faith is important. How we live our lives in accordance to our faith matters in this world. Jesus spoke with such strong conviction because he wanted to convey just how important it is for us to be held accountable for our faith.

Jesus said, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.”[3] In other words, the choices we make in our lives matter. The fruit that we bear – fruit that comes from what we say, how we act and the priorities we set in our lives – matters.

And I know it is hard to balance faith and life in this crazy world that we are living in. I know that sometimes it is easier and more convenient to bear bad fruit. I know that it is often time consuming and more complicated to do what God is calling us to do.

But Jesus said that it matters; that we need to bear good fruit.

And this is one of the reasons that we come to church. We come to church so that we are held accountable for our actions, our words and our priorities. We come to church so that our faith and the Gospel are always at the forefront of our minds as we go through our day-to-day routines. We come to church so we can surround ourselves with other people who are also trying to ground their lives in faith and God’s love. We come to church so that others hold us accountable as well. We come to church so that sometimes we feel a little bit uncomfortable, knowing that our discomfort means that God is at work.

We want to be that good tree; we want to bear good fruit. And so we come to church so that we can hold ourselves accountable for our spiritual health; and so others can help us on this journey.

When my mom and I were in Hungry last month, we met a couple from Tel Aviv. They were both born in the United States and chose to move to Israel about 20 years ago in order to be more connected to their Jewish faith. One night, we found ourselves in a discussion about their Friday night Shabbat dinners. In hearing them talk about how wonderful it is for them to unplug and be together as a family and for their friends and friends of their children to join them, week after week, I started to feel a longing for a similar experience.

And so I shared that with them. I told them that, in year’s past, I have attempted to create a Sunday Night Dinner tradition with friends, but never made it past the first week. I said that I believe, in my faith, we are also called to gather around a table and break bread together. I wondered, out loud, how many of the world’s problems could be solved if we just took the time to stop, give thanks and share a meal with our family, our friends and even our enemies. I promised I would try again. I soaked up everything they could tell me about their experiences and without me even realizing it, I invited them into my journey and asked them to hold me accountable.

So fast-forward to last Sunday, Beatles Sunday. My alarm went off at 6AM (playing Let It Be, of course) and I jumped out of bed so excited about the worship service that we had planned. There was a lot to do before the 9AM church bell rang. I looked at my phone and there was a message from one of our new friends that said:

How’s the Sunday dinner project going? Thinking of you in Jerusalem!

So here is something that you may or may not already know about me: I am very enthusiastic when it comes to the ideas and the passion and the conviction. But sometimes I kind of lose it on the follow through.

In other words, I had not even made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since I got back from Europe, let alone organized a Sunday Night Dinner.

I left for church without responding (it was Beatles Sunday, after all, there were saxophones to be played!), but I just could not shake the feeling that this was an opportunity; that I was being held accountable for something that I said I wanted to do, that I believe my faith is calling me to do.

Confessional time: After Beatles Sunday was over, all I wanted to do was drink a mimosa, take a nap and then wake up and scroll through Facebook, reading everyone’s comments about how wonderful Beatles Sunday was.

But that feeling would not go away. And so – 20 minutes into my failed attempt to take a nap when I was still wide awake and staring at my ceiling, I sighed, rolled over, grabbed my phone and texted my friends.

An hour later, I was making meatballs.

Accountability is not a bad thing; it is simply an opportunity for us to rise up to the standards that we set for ourselves and the goals that we have and to humbly ask others to help us do the same. Accountability gives us the grace-filled chance to live into this call that Jesus is making, to bear good fruit and to spread the Good News in the world.

It often comes up in bible study that coming to church is like a weekly “re-set” button for us. We go out into the world and we do the best that we can, but sometimes we slip and we fall short of the potential that God has given to us.

But this is why we come to church: To hit the re-set button. To jumpstart us back into the light of God and onto the journey of living into our faith. To have a safe space where we can honestly look in the mirror at our own reflection and see where we have fallen short, but still be reassured that we are loved, cherished, forgiven and full of potential.

So here are my thoughts on accountability: I think we should come to church and not be afraid to hold ourselves accountable for our spiritual health. We should ask others to hold us accountable (and try not to be offended if they do). We should set goals for ourselves and tell others what those goals are so they can help us achieve them. We should go back to the basics of what scripture calls us to do – love God, love others, bear good fruit, break bread with others, spread kindness and pray without ceasing – and use these basics to spread the foundation for their lives that we are leading.

And then, every week (or – most weeks, remember this is a guilt-free church!), we come to church so we can assess, adjust, reset and recharge.

You know, lately I have heard a lot of people say that they do not know what is happening to our world today. But, in living in this world, we are also creating it; and we can make a difference. We can make things better.

So let us hold one another and ourselves accountable for the lives we lead and the faith we cultivate. Let us bear good fruit; and let us spread God’s love in the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 12:34, NRSV
[2] Matthew 12:30, NRSV
[3] Matthew 12:33, NRSV

Okay, Let’s Talk About Beatles Sunday

This past Sunday was Beatles Sunday at the church.

On Sunday afternoon, I posted a status to my church Facebook page thanking everyone who donated to and shopped at the Farmers Market that we hosted after worship that day.  I said I would get to Beatles Sunday later – I was in desperate need of a nap and I could not get cohesive thoughts to come together, let alone a large post expressing my gratitude and joy for the incredible worship experience that so many people helped make possible that morning.

As the day went on, however, I realized that I really needed a bigger space to express those feelings.  Trying to type on my phone into a Facebook post just seemed insufficient.  So here we go, a few days late and a few words too long!

This was our third annual Beatles Sunday, a somewhat random idea that Jordan and I came up with three summers ago in a worship planning meeting.  We were trying think of something that would break up the monotony of summer and one of us jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do an entire worship service with just Beatles music?” and we both started laughing.

And then we stopped laughing and kind of looked at each other, as if to say, “Wait … could we?”

I wouldn’t describe our first year as a free-for-all, but I wouldn’t exactly say that we were organized, either.  There were only a few of us that were really involved at the time, so everyone wore a myriad of different hats throughout the service – at one point I think I came down off the pulpit from reading, grabbed my saxophone, put it down while someone else was reading and then sang the next song.  Everyone had multiple parts and it was there but by the grace of God we managed to pull it off.

Last year we got more people involved, but with more people came more chaos.  Rehearsals were a little bit hectic because everyone showed up all at once for and they ended up turning into giant Beatles jam sessions (which, arguably, were a freaking blast, but nowhere in the Order of Worship was the song, Yellow Submarine).

I was nervous going into this year.  I had been away for six weeks and we didn’t have a strong song list before I left.  I had a lot of writing to do for the service that I was planning on doing while I was on sabbatical and had not started any of it.  We were confirming musicians way more last minute that I like to.  We started advertising late.  I started to wonder if we could pull it off.

Well – the number speak for themselves.

129.  That is the number of people that were in worship on Sunday morning.  129!  This is a church that has averaged 58 people in worship so far this summer.  We more than doubled our weekly attendance!

17.  That is the number of musicians that participated in the service.  17 people came to the church on more than one occasion to practice last week.  17 people practiced at home.  17 people showed up at 7:30AM on Sunday morning to set up and warm up.

14.  That is the number of instruments that were played at various points throughout the service.  We had piano, bass, 2 guitars, a full drum set, several chimes, wall chimes, cello, violin, trumpet, french horn, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and a whole chorus of vocalists.

12.  That is the number of people that acted as readers during the service.  12 people either sought me out and asked me if they could read or responded to my call for volunteers early that week.  12 people received their parts ahead of time and practiced.  12 people got up in front of church and read beautifully.  12 people read words that I wrote and conveyed the same meaning and passion when they read them that I felt when I was writing them.

I actually said to Bruce on Sunday night that I felt bad some people only got to sing in one or two songs and some people did not get to read, because in previous years they had more to do/sing/play.  He smiled and said, “But that’s a GOOD thing!  That means more people were involved!”  He was totally right.

It’s strange because as Beatles Sunday has grown, my role in leading the service has actually shrunk.  I spent a good part of worship this year sitting on the steps to the balcony with Bruce listening to the music.  At one point I realized I left something in my office and went downstairs to go get it.  I did open the service, facilitate our prayer time and preside over communion but, other than that, worship came from the community.

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I mean – I was still the crazy preacher playing her saxophone in a clerical collar and 4 inch heels, but this was a worship service where you really got to see the community shine.

And please know that I do not use the phrase “worship service” loosely.  Last year, my parents came out for the service and my mom said to me after, “So that was an actual WORSHIP service!”  I think when people see an advertisement for “Beatles Sunday” they just imagine a bunch of people singing Beatles music for the entire hour with no real worship structure.  But that’s not it at all!  I strongly believe worship should be centered around scripture, reflection and prayer; so in preparation for Beatles Sunday, I spend a considerable amount of time writing and crafting a service that is fun, incorporates the songs we have chosen and still creates an authentic worship experience.

A lot goes into it!  We start by picking music – appropriate music, of course!  We have definitely had moments where I will turn something on to consider and Jordan will say, “I think that’s a little too psychadelic for church.”  The truth is there are a handful of Beatles songs that work really well in a worship setting and we pretty much just rotate those.  We usually pick 7 or 8 songs and that seems to work well for the hour time slot we have.

Once the music is picked, I look at the lyrics and try to pull out an overriding theme for each song.  Some songs are easier than others (All You Need Is Love is one of the easier ones!) and others I need to listen to a few times.  I choose scriptures that I think correspond well with the themes of the songs and then write a reflection for each song that ties the scripture to our lives and then leads into the song.  The reflections are about 250 words each.  Since Beatles Sunday fell on the first Sunday of the month this year, we also served communion.  I paired the song Blackbird to go with communion, using themes of redemption and new life and imperfections and second chances.

This was pretty much what I looked like every afternoon. Writing while drowning out the sounds of the world and listening to the Beatles. My cat was super pumped about the arrangement.
This was pretty much what I looked like every afternoon last week. Writing while drowning out the world by listening to the Beatles. My cat was super pumped about the arrangement.

The structure of the service is pretty simple – scripture, reflection, song, repeat.  The musicians set up while the scripture and reflections are being read so the music can start immediately and then when the song is almost over the next readers make their way to the lecturn so they can start speaking as soon as the music ends.  I’m really picky about flow (and no “dead air”) during worship and this seems to work well.

I realized this year that the difference really is in the details.  We knew that we were going to have a big crowd, so the person who has been organizing pop-up Farmers Markets this summer planned one for that morning and made sure we had plenty of stuff.  Bruce usually sets up lemonade and cookies after worship in the summer, but the Deacons helped this week with extra juice, coffee and goodies.  Bruce also set up a speaker on the front steps to the church so there was Beatles music playing quietly outside as people were gathering before and after worship.  There is something so miraculous and holy about watching the roads of our sacred and our secular worlds intersect and it really felt like an honor to watch everyone play their part.

I am definitely a control freak when it comes to worship and I feel like I go into hyperdrive for Beatles Sunday.  I print out a detailed order of worship with obnoxious notes everywhere that say things like, “Music immediately begins” (yes, underlined) and leave copies in binders for everyone.  I know, I’m a real gem to work with.  But thankfully everyone around me humors me and is even flexible when I adapt things at the last minute.  This year I slid a handwritten note onto Jordan’s music mid-service while he was in the middle of another song that said, “Can you play Let It Be during my pastoral prayer?” and he nodded, didn’t miss a beat in what he was playing and really tied the prayer together with that song.

All in all, it was another successful Beatles Sunday!  While I do love the normalcy of preaching and our worship order, there is a good chance I may crank up the Beatles and having a mini British Invasion this week as I write my sermon.

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Our advertisement. Last year we recreated Abbey Road, which made a whole lot more sense to people.

Thank you to everyone who made this one possible! <3

Pentecost Altar 2016

So I always say that worship, programs, events, etc. at the church must be meaningful, relevant and accessible.  They are my go-to standards in ministry, ones I also try to hold myself to on this blog as well.

So do you know what is NOT relevant right now?  Pentecost.

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And yet, I was going through my photos from Europe and realized that I took these photos of our huge Pentecost installation back in May and I never posted them on here!  So here we go – my apologies that this is not at all relevant.  Pin now, look in 2017!

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Back in May, I was planning Pentecost (which coincided with Confirmation Sunday).  I was in the mood for something different, so I sent one of our deacons this text early in the week:

So I have a rare flower-less Sunday this week because our florist is away.  Any Pentecost ideas?  I’m thinking go big or go home.

She responded in less than a minute with a string of fabulous ideas …

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… and this is what we came up with!

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I would say I had about half the fabric on hand so I did have to buy some.  I love that stretchy polyester blend fabric that doesn’t wrinkle and just flows and I had them cut about 4-6 yards of each.  I wanted red to be the primary color, but since red can be a little bit harsh (especially when the shades clash) I also grabbed an orange and yellow so we could create the full “fire” effect.

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I actually crawled up into the organ pipes to secure the fabric but this installation was actually pretty quick and easy.  It was definitely a two-person job and it was so fun to work with someone!  Honestly, a lot of times I put these altars together by myself, but I’ve realized a couple of times over the past few months that asking someone to help not only helps with the physical workload something, but spiritually, it is such an amazing shared practice.  Probably exactly what the Body of Chris is supposed to look like?

Okay, well since I’m so on top of things lately, stay tuned for a couple of weeks when I start sharing my thoughts on Easter liturgy – ha!

To Stand Together In Community

Hello friends!  I know it has been awhile, but I was actually on sabbatical!  I had a really amazing six weeks off (two of those in the Czech Republic & Hungary!).  It felt great to get back behind the pulpit this morning – and we had two baptisms!  Here is my sermon.  We are halfway through a summer sermon series called, “Why I Come To Church” – this week the theme was community.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Acts 2:37-47
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Community

To Stand Together In Community

When we planned the summer preaching series and chose this scripture from Acts of the Apostles to correspond with the theme of community, we actually did not know, at the time, that we would also be baptizing two beautiful children this morning. But what a beautiful opportunity this has been; to bear witness to and participate in the sacrament of baptism allows us to heed the call of Peter in this very scripture to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that … you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

This is a really poignant reminder for us, today, that, when it comes to the church: Where there is community, God is present. The two are synonymous.

When I first started thinking about this sermon, I originally thought that I would talk about the activities that we do together as a community: Suppers, events, the bazaar and various outings. I wanted to pat us on the back for being the “fun” church and for making church about more than religious dogma or strict rules.

But then I thought about this scripture and about the earliest Christians; and I thought about the fact that, from the very beginning, Christianity was a shared practice, a faith that was “done” together.

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. … And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

They spent much time together; and as these new Christians gathered together, more and more people were welcomed into the faith that we now share today.

I want to dispel the myth that the “God stuff” and the “church stuff” is somehow separate from the community piece of the church. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh I do not really come to church for the churchy stuff; for me it is about the community.” And while I think that is true and that the community is so important to who we are, I also think it is also so important for us to remember that the community piece of church is not void of God. God is present when we gather to worship and God is present when we do everything else. God is as present here today, in the safety of our worship space, as God will be next weekend when we gather at McCoy stadium to watch the PawSox play (which, by the way, you can still reserve your tickets for, come see me after worship). Gathering as a community is a scripturally integral part to being the church, to enacting our faith. We cannot compartmentalize the two; they go together.

This scripture that we just heard is a story about a group of people, the Apostles; the earliest Christians who had experienced the Risen Christ and were changed by that experience and wanted to live out their new faith and share it with others. This scripture records that almost immediately in the very beginning of our Christian history, community was formed.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

They devoted themselves to fellowship.

Christianity was probably one of the first grassroots movements to ever exist. When the narrative of this scripture was playing out – when the first converts were gathering together and breaking bread and being baptized – there were no rules, there was no structure and the Gospels (the stories of Jesus’ life) had not even been written yet.

But do you know what there was? There were people; coming together in community.

This is how God called the Church into being; God called the Church into being by bringing people together; God called the Church into being through community.

And God is still doing that today.

God is calling us to be the Church by being in community. God needs us to come together so that we can serve with one another and learn from one another and pray for one another. God needs us to come together so that our faith can reach its fullest potential of rich depth and beautiful diversity. God needs us to come together so that we can join our voices with one another and boldly share the Gospel with the people around us. God needs us to come together and give hope to a world that so desperately needs it.

Here’s the thing: You can find community pretty much anywhere. You can find community through sports, at the gym, at school and through any activity or organization you are part of. But Church community is different. Church community is inspired by God’s presence and love and grace; being together in Church community means not only that people coming are together, but that God has a powerful impact on how that community will come together and what that community will do.

I missed out on the opportunity to preach on some very significant news stories while I was away. And it bothered me, not because I did not trust Anne Marie and the Board of Deacons to do an outstanding job in my absence; but because I missed being in community when bad things were happening. When the world was hurting, I missed standing with my community of faith.

Because I believe that when bad things happen and there is not a lot that we can do about it, we can still stand together in community.

We may not be able to fix them, we may not be able to understand them, we may not be able to make them better and we may not be able to agree on them; but my God, we can stand together in community, a community that is intentionally inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.

Like the earliest Christians, we, too, can devote ourselves to the teachings of Christ. We, too, can share fellowship. We, too, can break bread together. We, too, can pray for and with one another.

This is what God is calling us to do.

In a world where tragic and uncontrollable things happen and where diversity sometimes turns into hatred and division, God is calling us to rise above and stand together in community. God is calling us to come together and, as a community, choose love over hate, light over darkness and hope over fear. God is calling us to bridge divides, to reach out in service and to show compassion. God is calling us to be honest, humble and willing to compromise. God is calling us to show the rest of the world that is possible to come together in community even if everyone does not agree with one another. God is calling us to demonstrate what it means to be a community of faith, a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.

Because that will make a difference in this world. That will make this world a better place for the next generation.

I love everything that we do together as a community. I love when we go kayaking together and go to baseball games together and compete in races together. I love Vacation Bible School and Beatles Sunday and the Christmas Bazaar. I love the Rally Day breakfast and the Soup Supper and the Dessert Auction. I love our fellowship and I love that Church is not just a one-hour Sunday morning time commitment.

But mostly I love that, through it all, we demonstrate what it means to be a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace. We are at our strongest when we stand in the presence of God and allow ourselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit. We come together, knowing that it might not always be easy, but that God is always with us. We take the baptismal vows that we make to our children (and to their parents) seriously by creating and maintaining a safe space and community where they can grow, learn and serve. We welcome others into our midst so that they, too, might be moved and changed by the Gospel.

This morning’s scripture records that, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42) I believe that this is still happening today. I believe that, when we come together, God is present. I believe that, even when we experience tragedy, God’s love will win. I believe that, even when we struggle, God’s grace can be uncovered. I believe that our community can and will change the world and make it better.

So today I invite all of us to open our eyes and, like the earliest Christians, stand in awe of the wonders and signs that are being done within our community of faith.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Redemption Does Not Have An Expiration Date

Good morning!  I ran from worship to a meeting to a funeral on Sunday, so I was spent by the end of the day and am just logging on to post this now.  Here is my sermon from Sunday – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 5, 2016

Galatians 1:11-24

Redemption Does Not Have An Expiration Date

Okay, I feel the need to get this out of my system before I start: The Apostle Paul was, at times, a very arrogant man.

I mean, maybe it is just hard to interpret tone when you are reading scripture, but it is hard to imagine, when he said things like, “God … set me apart” (Galatians 1:15, NRSV) and “[people] glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24, NRSV), that Paul had any kind of self-esteem issues.

I say this not to discredit Paul or his writings or the work that he did to grow the early church, but to acknowledge the fact that there are parts of the letters that he wrote, the scriptures he is ascribed to, that are eyebrow raising.

That being said, I think it is okay for us to put those eyebrow-raising pieces aside for a moment and try to understand the core of what Paul was trying to say here. You see, I do not think that Paul was just trying to talk about how amazing and faithful he was or how incredible and powerful his ministry was (although he did make that perfectl clear!). I think Paul was trying to point out that he had been going down a very different path before all of these amazing, faithful, incredible and powerful things started happening in his life. I think Paul wanted people to see that God changed the course of his life. I think Paul wanted people to believe that anyone can start following the Gospel and living out their faith, no matter what their journey might have looked like up until that point.

I have to hand it to him: Paul is very honest in this letter about his life before his conversion into the Christian faith. Before his conversion, Paul was a scholar and an avid follower of Judaism. He violently persecuted Christians and tried to destroy the very thing that he was now trying to grow and spread throughout the world.

But God – who has always been in the business of miracles – worked the most miraculous transformation in Paul’s life. Paul was, in his words, “called through [God’s] grace” in his conversion (Galatians 1:15, NRSV). And then he not only believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ, but he put his own life on the line to spread that Gospel so that others would believe and be changed as well.

If there is one thing that Paul’s story teaches us it is that it is never too late to be transformed by your faith. Redemption does not have an expiration date.

So we are less than two months away from the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics in Rio. Those of you who have lived with me through the Olympic Games over the past five years know that there are three stages of experiencing the Olympics with me: The first stage involves me overflowing with pride and patriotism because our country is united and everyone is gloriously putting aside differences and coming together and cheering for and with one another. The second stage encompasses me fixating on one sport and obsessing over the grief of the fact that I missed my chance to learn and excel at that sport so I could win my own gold medal (two years ago, during the winter games I actually found myself at one point googling “how to become a biathlon athlete”). And the third, and final, stage is where I am just happy that the games are over so I can get my life back.

The second stage of my Olympic experience is the one that is relevant to what I am talking about here; the stage where I become obsessed with a sport and spend weeks wishing that I had the forethought to take it up when I was younger because it is too late now. One year I was giving my parents a lecture about never pushing me to become a figure skater because, “that could be me out there skating and I would find way better music than the theme song to the pink panther” when my dad calmly interrupted me and said, “Sarah, you are too big to be a figure skater.”

Which I do not think he meant the way it came out.

My point is this: In life there are certain things that you can kind of miss the boat on completely.

Olympic Figure Skating being one of them.

But do you know what you can never miss the boat on? Focusing your life on your faith. Experiencing God’s love. Being part of a church. Learning about the bible and reading scripture. Taking part in religious traditions.

It is never too late to start any of those things. Redemption does not have an expiration date.

A lot of times people are afraid to come to church or to get involved in certain things because they were not brought up going to church and do not know how things work. Some people are hesitant to walk through those front doors because they have made mistakes in their lives or because they think they do not know enough about the bible or Christianity. Some people try to avoid the whole church thing all together because they have fallen out of the habit of going to church and are afraid people are going to judge them if they come back.

Well, guess what? Those things do not matter to God.

God is not keeping score or grading our ability to be a good Christian. God is simply calling us – all of us – into this Christian story that is still being written. God does not care if we have been coming to church our entire lives or if this whole faith thing is new to us or if we have temporarily fallen off the church wagon. There is no hierarchy or points system when it comes to deepening our faith. God just wants us to meet us where we are and embrace us as children of God. God wants to be in our presence, help us find balance and walk with us as we seek to live out our faith.

Paul changed; that is what he was trying to say here. And even more than that – God was the reason that Paul changed. God ignited something within Paul that sparked an overwhelmingly grace-filled change in his life.

And God can be the reason that we change as well.

God can ignite something within us that sparks a change no matter who we are, what our journeys have looked like up until this point or what kind of trouble we may have gotten ourselves into.

So I would encourage you all – especially as we wrap up the program year and prepare to take some much-needed Sabbath time this summer – to renew your commitment to God and to your faith. You do not have to come to church every single week, but try to come when you can. Pick up your bible (or use the app I talked about a few weeks ago!) or start a new devotional or book on faith. Try to pray more or, if you are not quite comfortable praying on your own, journal your prayer requests.

Slow down this summer so that you can truly appreciate the beauty of the season. Make family a priority; try to sit down to dinner together whenever you can. Try to put down your electronics at night and have a conversation or watch a movie or lay on a blanket and look at the stars.

Sometimes it feels like our lives are busy and out of our control, but God has proven, time and time again throughout history, that it is never too late to make a big change in our lives; a big change that will make an even bigger difference in who we are and what our lives mean. It is never too late to turn back to our faith; it is never too late to live out this life that is God is calling us to live. It is never too late to set different priorities in order to find balance in our lives.

It is easy to look at other people who are strong in their faith and who boldly live their lives according to their religious beliefs and think that it is too late for us to live our lives like that – but it is never too late. Change may seem unattainable, but God is in the business of the unattainable. God took a man who persecuted Christians and transformed him into an apostle of Christ and a great evangelist of our Christian faith.

And God can do the same caliber of extraordinary in our lives as well. God wants our lives to be transformed by our faith; God wants us to open ourselves up to the possibility of grace. God wants us, like Paul, to be changed.

And we can be – anytime.

Remember, my friends, it is never too late to live out your faith. So do not sell yourself short. Cling on to your faith and let God meet your where you are. Allow yourself to be redeemed and may find many, many blessings along the journey that will lie ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

What Is God Calling You To Do?

Good morning and Happy Memorial Day!  We had our annual outdoor worship this morning.  Bruce took “bring your own chair” to a very comfortable level:

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Thankfully, this was not taken during my sermon.

Here is my sermon.  A few things to note:

  • The article I referenced (Chip and Joanna Gaines Attribute Their Unparalleled Success To One Person) can be found here.  If you are a Fixer Upper fan I would HIGHLY recommend you read the article.  Someone came up to me after worship and said, “I like them even more now” which is EXACTLY how I felt when I read it.
  • I talk about a new sign that we hung on the front lawn of the church inviting the community to check out our Facebook page.  You can like our Facebook page here! #shamelessplug

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 29, 2016

Galatians 1:1-12

What Is God Calling You To Do?

Bruce sent me a text on Thursday night that said, “I tagged you in an article on Facebook that kind of makes me want to watch your new show now.” Seeing that Bruce has not trusted my taste in television since the Kardashians premiered several years ago, I was kind of curious as to what show he was talking about. So I opened Facebook to read the article; it was about the show on HGTV (Home & Garden Television), Fixer Upper.

For those of you who do not watch Fixer Upper, first of all, you need to promise me you are going to go home and try to catch some reruns this weekend because it is that good. But secondly, the show follows a couple from Waco, Texas who have built a business where they help clients find and buy a house in dire need of repair – or a “fixer upper” – and then use the money their clients saved by purchasing a less expensive house to remodel and fix up that one. This show proves to its viewers, every week for three seasons (with a fourth one on the way and I cannot wait!) that with a little bit of imagination, some patience and a lot of hard work, a dilapidated old house actually can become a home.

There definitely is a sermon in there somewhere about resurrection and new life (so stay tuned for that one probably sometime in the fall) but today I want to talk about this article that Bruce shared with me. The title of the article was: Chip and Joanna Gaines Attribute Their Unparalleled Success To One Person.

Of course, at this point, my interest was piqued. Chip and Joanna Gaines not only have a television show, but they have built a hugely successful empire. They have a real estate and construction company. They recently bought, remodeled and opened a bed & breakfast. They acquired a silo property where they opened up shops and will soon open a bakery. They wrote a book. They design furniture. They launched a paint collection.

So I not only wanted to know who this one person was that has the secret to so much success, but I also kind of wanted to know what, specifically, about this article had Bruce wanting to check out a show that he always tried to avoid on account of constantly hearing the phrase, “Babe, I think we need to redecorate.”

Hear what the Gaines’ had to say about their success:

Our family has made a commitment to put Christ first, a lifestyle our parents modeled for us very well. They showed us how to keep our marriage and family centered around God. As for “Fixer Upper”, we have been surprised at the impact of our faith through the show. We haven’t been overtly evangelical, but the rich feedback we have received on family and love all source from our faith. Jesus said the world would know His disciples by their love for one another, and we’ve glimpsed this in practice and strive for it every day. [read the full article here]

In a world where it is often taboo to talk about faith, this couple boldly, humbly and prophetically attributes all of their success to their Christian faith.

I think this is far more impressive than the beautiful homes they design.

In this morning’s scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he talks about how important it is to make a commitment to Christ and to center your lives around your faith and God’s love. Granted, he was a little bit blunter than Joanna Gaines was in his wording, but he certainly got his point across.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel … If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! [Galatians 1:6, 9 NRSV]

In other words, stop getting distracted by shinier, prettier and fancier things! Stop making priorities that do not consider your faith first. Stop worshiping human things instead of God things. Stop trying to please other people and start trying to please God. Do not “talk the talk” if you are not actually willing to “walk the walk”. Paul holds nothing back as he impresses upon to the Galatian church that they urgently need to put God first; this is not a letter, this is more of a rant!

Of course I thought about preaching that sermon this morning (how we need to prioritize and put God first) but then I realized that it did not make much sense to preach that sermon to the people who showed up to church on a holiday weekend.

So instead of preaching to the choir this morning, I want to dig through the layers of apostolic ranting and uncover the core of what I think Paul is trying to say here: That this is bigger than all of us.

The Apostle Paul wrote – or is attributed to – many of the letters in the New Testament (they are the books in the New Testament referred to as “epistles”). These letters were written to churches all around the Eastern Mediterranean during the first century as Christianity was first starting to grow. And Paul did not visit and preach and write to all of these different churches because he had a hankering for travel; he did so because he truly felt God was calling him to do it.

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father … did not receive [the gospel] from a human source … but [he] received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [Galatians 1:1, 12 NRSV]

God called Paul to travel great distances to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is God calling you to do?

I know that “call” language can sound a little bit crazy, especially in the world that we live in today, but do me a favor and suspend your disbelief for just one moment and open yourself up to the possibility that God is right here in our midst, calling us into a real, bold and powerful ministry. Believe that your life is more than simply the things that you can see, touch and understand.

What is God calling you to do?

This is a hard question for many of us to answer, because it requires thought, discernment, time, quiet and imagination; all things that our busy lives do not often give us.

But, time and time again, Paul reminded churches in his letters that this is not about us; it is about God. There is something so much greater happening in this world than what we can see. Our lives are not defined by earthly moments; our lives should be inspired by God moments. And so we should take time to think about this question.

What is God calling you to do?

I think that this weekend is a wonderful opportunity for us, as participants of this church community, to reflect on this question. It is Memorial Day Weekend, a time where we humbly acknowledge that actions do speak louder than words; where we honor the past, but also pray for the present and the future; where we celebrate an important moment for the country that we live our earthly lives in, but also discern what God is calling us to do and where our faith will take us next. We can honor the lives that have been lost in service to our country by asking God how we can make this world a better place.

This weekend also provides a wonderful opportunity for us, specifically, to reflect on this question as we sit in the beauty of this outdoor worship space. As we breathe in the fresh air, hear birds chirping and feel the warmth of summer on our skin, we are reminded, in a very real way, that this is God’s world that we are living in. This is bigger than us.

What is God calling you to do?

I think it is our responsibility as a church to encourage and inspire people to ask themselves this very question. Because this is not about us; this – this world, our lives, the ways we connect with one another, the ways we care for one another – is about God and what God needs us to do.

So I want you to think about this question. I want you to think about this question in a really out-of-the-box and to-the-rest-of-the-world-crazy kind of way. I want you not to simply entertain the idea that God is calling you to do something, but to believe it to be true – and to live it out. I want you to live out your faith in a way that not only changes your life, but changes the lives of others as well.

The Apostle Paul was, for all intents and purposes, an evangelist. He spread the gospel; he told people about his faith and encouraged others to accept Jesus into their hearts. This is something we are all called to do as Christians. And so, in the spirit of evangelism, I ordered a 10-foot banner for the church that says:

Rehoboth Congregational Church
Our community is #RCCSTRONG
Like us on Facebook!

We had a “banner raising” on Friday morning and it now hangs proudly on the front law of the church. I took a picture of it after we (okay, Jordan) hung it and posted it to our Facebook wall with the following message.

We are more than simply the sum of our parts. We are the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. We are the church of the past, the present and the future. We welcome ALL people on all walks of life. We are imperfect and grace-seeking. We encourage questions and doubts. We are a guilt-free zone. We seek to choose light over darkness, love over hate and reconciliation over division. We are ‪#‎rccstrong‬‬‬.

In two days, that photo was viewed by over 2,000 people. I received messages of both thanks and inquiry. Because here is the thing: In a world where, I think, Christianity has gotten a bad reputation, people need to hear that faith is relevant, that it is real and that it will change their lives.

We need to boldly and prophetically claim this message of hope, peace, reconciliation and love to the world. This is what Paul is calling us to do. We may not be being influenced by other religious traditions, but we are being influenced by a secular culture that sometimes makes it really hard to live out our faith and to tell the Christian story.
And this is a story that really needs to be told.

So I encourage you, this Memorial Day Weekend, as you take time out of your regular routines and reflect on what this holiday is about, to think about this question: What is God calling you to do? Like with a fixer upper, this may require some patience, imagination and hard work.

But I promise you, at the intersection of those three things you will find God’s grace.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Cling To Your Faith

I made 12 dozen chocolate chip cookies and decorated them with the symbol of the Trinity last night, gave them to the kids during my children’s sermon and said, “So the Trinity means God is three persons in one – so when your mom tells you that you can have one cookie, that really means you can have three.”

In other words, I’m ready for the program year to be over.

Here’s my sermon!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 22, 2016

Romans 5:1-5

Cling To Your Faith

I went for a run yesterday and was listening to the soundtrack from the musical, Hamilton. For those of you who do not know, Hamilton is a musical about the life of United States founding father Alexander Hamilton. It premiered Off-Broadway in February 2015 and made its Broadway debut in August 2015. Its music is an exhilarating and brilliant combination of show tunes and rap; the production is very unique and one of a kind.

So I am sure you can imagine, my father gets weekly text messages from me saying:

We need to get tickets to see this show.
Have you downloaded the music yet?
We need to get tickets to see this show.
You need to see if a medley is available for your chorus to sing next year.
We need to get tickets to see this show.
Omg, this music is amazing.
We need to get tickets to see this show.

Yesterday as I was running and thinking about my sermon, the song, Right Hand Man, came on, which is a dramatization of George Washington’s New York Campaign between British Forces and the Continental Army. Alexander Hamilton was charged up, ready to take on the British no matter what might happen to him when General (at the time) Washington reined him in with these lyrics:

It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger.
I was just like you when I was younger.
Head full of fantasies of dyin’ like a martyr.

Hamilton responded with a swift, “Yes,” when Washington said:

Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.

As I thought about the passage that we heard this morning from Romans, this line got me thinking about life, itself, and what might be easier in life – not having faith or having faith.

People often say things like, “I do not know what I would do without my church family” or “I never would have gotten through this tragedy or crisis without my faith or without God” and while I believe those statements to be true, I also do not want anyone to think that this whole faith and Christianity and church thing makes all the crap we go through in life any easier.

In fact, sometimes I actually think it makes it kind of harder.

When bad things happen, those of us with faith often question that faith. We question why God would let bad things happen to us, we wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering and we struggle with how we are supposed to trust and have faith in God when it seems like God has abandoned us. I wonder if it is easier to justify the bad things in the world if you do not believe in God at all; but how are we, we as people of faith, supposed to find answers to these difficult questions when we truly believe that God is in the midst of all the bad stuff?

The line from Hamilton that got me thinking about all of this is, “Dying is easy; living is harder.” Here’s a thought that perhaps is even more powerful: Abandoning your faith when it is tested is easy; clinging to that faith during your times of trial is much, much harder.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that:

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

These words were a declaration to the Roman citizens (and are to us) that the best things in life are sometimes hard to come by. The things that bring us great meaning in life are not always easily found. The things that bring us hope in life do not always come easy.

But that is where faith comes in.

Paul was not describing a faith that is light and fluffy and easy in this letter. Paul was describing a very real and human faith; a faith that is tested in the midst of suffering, a faith that does not simply and swiftly take away the bad things in our lives, but forges ahead through them. Paul was describing a faith that knows real pain, a faith that will often bring on more questions than answers. Paul was not saying that we MIGHT experience suffering in our lives, Paul was saying that we WOULD experience suffering, but that we should cling to our faith in those times and boast in that suffering anyway.

No one gets an easy pass through life. No one walks through life without some kind of pain or suffering or devastation at some point. But those tragedies are not what define us; it is how we respond to them that truly matters. It is who or what we turn to in those times of need; it is whether we choose to turn away from our faith because it does not make sense or suspend our disbelief, rise up to the glory of God and boast in our sufferings because we know that God will somehow take those sufferings and bring us hope.

This is where grace intervenes in our lives.

If you break it down, I think that when it comes to our faith, we essentially have two choices: We can let go of it or we can cling to it. We can cling to it in a way that is real and hard and frightening. We can cling to it by asking difficult questions and demanding answers to the nonsense of life. We can cling to it by making a commitment to be part of a church community that not only will support us, but hold us accountable as well. We can cling to it by believing against all odds that we are created, redeemed and sustained by a God who brought us into this world and promised to never leave us alone. We can cling to it by boasting in both our hope and in our suffering.

When I read this passage I am reminded of the age-old expression, No pain, no gain! I, myself, use that expression to justify tough workouts or minor burns suffered while crafting. But I do not think that was what Paul meant here. I do not think Paul was saying that in order to experience hope, we must first experience suffering.

But I do think that Paul was being realistic about the world that we live in. I think that Paul had lived a lot of life in this very imperfect and unfair and confusing world. He “got” it; he got what the Roman people were going through and what we, today, go through on a daily basis. He got the hardships and the confusions and the difficult decisions and the painful relationships. He got the tragedies and the disasters and the illnesses. He got the times in life when things are hard and faith is not easy.

But Paul also made a commitment to God and to his faith; and he found grace in the midst of all of it.

And so can we. We, too, can boast in our suffering and in our hope and in the journey that it takes to get there. We, too, can hold onto the bold and radical truth that hope does not disappoint us. We, too, can find grace in the midst of a world that is hard to live in.

There is so much to live for in this world. If you open your eyes and look around there is joy, there is compassion and there is love. Sometimes those things get clouded over by the bad stuff that happens, but it is our right and responsibility to uncover the good that is in this world. We are called to shine light on the hope that is real by sharing the glory of God.

Today is Trinity Sunday, which is traditionally celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost. It is a Sunday where we celebrate the complex and confusing, yet grace-filled pieces of the Trinity; where we hold in balance these three pieces of God that give us life, that help us find meaning and that bring us hope. Today we share the glory not only of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; of a God that was, a God that is and a God that will always be. Today we make a commitment to travel on this journey that Paul talks about from suffering to hope because we believe, without a doubt, that hope is alive and it is real and it will change our lives.

So cling to your faith. Cling to your faith in the good times and in the bad times. Cling to your faith when it is easy and when it is hard. Cling to your faith when you can see hope in front of you and when you only see suffering. Cling to your faith knowing that your God is not a God that is far away, watching from a distance, but here in your midst, sharing in the blood, sweat, tears and laughter of life, traveling with you on this journey through life and faith.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.