Far From Ordinary

Do you ever have one of those moments where you outline one sermon and end up writing a completely different one?  I had one of those moments last week.  The sermon I ended up preaching has nothing to do with what I outline – and, truth be told, I’m not really sure how I ended up where I did.  But I was happy with the way God told the story on Sunday.  It was a message a lot of us – including me! – needed to hear.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 13, 2018

Psalm 47
Luke 24:44-53

Far From Ordinary

Someone asked me this week when Easter was officially over. They said they like when the bulletin says, “Ordinary Time,” at the top, because that is when we hear about the day-to-day – the ordinary, for lack of a better term – parts of our faith.

I, on the other hand, like when the bulletin says, “Easter,” at the top, because that means I can still justify eating candy every day.

To each their own.

But for those of you who are bored with my white stole collection and wondering when we are finally going to be done with the glitter and confetti-filled Easter season and move on to Ordinary Time, the answer is, well, never, because the glitter from Easter is never coming out of the carpet.

In all seriousness, the Easter season will officially be over next weekend, when we all wear red and celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Christian Church.

(So don’t forget to wear red next week!)

The Easter season is 50 days long. It is more than simply an extended celebration of the resurrection; in the early church the Easter season was a time for new converts to continue their faith formation. Today we use this season not only to proclaim resurrection, but to live it out as well.

This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, which occurs on the 40th day of the Easter season. This is where, in the resurrection narrative, after spending 40 days hanging out with the apostles on earth, breaking bread with them and teaching them a few final lessons, Jesus is carried up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

The Ascension is kind of the icing on the resurrection cake; Jesus not only defeated death on Easter morning, but then 40 days later, the apostles watched as his physical body ascended into heaven where he would sit at the right hand of God.

Now, for those of you Ordinary Time fans out there, I regret to inform you that the Ascension was far from ordinary. There is a dramatization to the whole thing that really is kind of unbelievable. Jesus was standing in front of his apostles, teaching them about the scriptures and then he blessed them and while he was doing this, he was, quite literally, picked up and carried into heaven. My favorite Ascension comparison comes from a tweet Nadia Bolz-Weber posted in 2009 that said, “And then Jesus got all Mary Poppins and just sort of floated away.”

The Ascension has always perplexed me for this very reason. According to scripture, Jesus’ spirit did not ascend into heaven, but his whole body did.

So I have this weird thing with bodies. I believe our physical bodies are just the vessels that we are in for our time on earth; and while we spend a lot of time in them, I do not believe they do not define us or who God created us to be. Human bodies are imperfect and flawed and limited. Human bodies sin and make mistakes. Human bodies get sick and feel pain, sadness and anxiety. Human bodies fail us. And when we go to heaven, I believe, that we are released from the constraints of our human bodies as we are welcomed into our heavenly home.

But Jesus, in human flesh, ascended into heaven. Christ did not shed his humanity as he left the earth to be in the presence of God; he maintained it. According to this narrative, Christ’s humanity now, also, sits in the presence of God.

That’s wild, isn’t it?

But here’s the thing: Six months ago, as we were anxiously preparing for Christmas, we sang, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” As Christians, we believe that – in some way – God came to us in the humanity of Jesus and I have to wonder if, at the Ascension, Jesus brought a piece of our humanity back to God in heaven with him.

Okay, but does that really make sense? Maybe? Let’s be honest – not really. I think the reason this person I was talking to likes Ordinary Time so much is because it actually does make sense. During Ordinary Time, we talk about things like feeding the hungry, reaching out to the marginalized and loving the people around us. We focus on the practical side of Christianity, on how we should live our lives and be a church. We do not confuse ourselves wondering if Jesus is in heaven in body or spirit.

Because, truthfully, the whole thing is kind of hard to wrap your head around.

And, in the end, does it really matter?

So I would argue that, yes, it does, in fact, matter. The Ascension really is an important piece of the resurrection puzzle. The Ascension means that God’s promise of grace has truly been fulfilled; that not only did death not have the final word, but that our humanity can and will be forever found in the presence of God. The Ascension means that God not only understands our humanity because God experienced it in the human body of Jesus Christ, but that our humanity is now with God. The Ascension means that God holds our humanity.

And this means that God holds the whole of who we are. God holds our imperfections, our flaws and our limitations and yet still calls us children of God. God holds our sins and our mistakes and yet forgives us and loves us. God holds our sickness, our pain, our sadness and our anxiety and reminds us that, even in our brokenness, we can still be made whole.

The Ascension is confusing and perplexing and somewhat mystifying, but it reminds us that, as human beings living on this imperfect earth, we are never alone. God is not some far-away God who does not see or know or understand us. God is with us. God understands us. God loves us to our very core. God holds us. God carries us.

Always.

Always.

This morning’s psalm, Psalm 47, is an “enthronement psalm,” which means it is a hymn of praise affirming and celebrating God’s rule over the nations. The first verse says, “Clap your hands, all you peoples!” I had to laugh when I first read this, because it made me think of Harrison’s favorite book, The Barnyard Dance, by Sandra Boynton. The book starts, “Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance!” I wondered if I could get you all as excited to hear about the Ascension as Harrison gets when we read this book.

Somehow I am not quite sure your enthusiasm will quite match his.

But here’s the thing: This psalm reminds us that God is powerful, that God chose us and that God reigns over all the earth.

And yeah, we should get pretty excited about that! We should get excited about the promises God makes to us. We should get excited about the covenants God made thousands of years ago that still hold true for us, today. We should get excited about the entire Jesus narrative; that he came into this world in human flesh, that he lived out the Good News and taught his disciples how to do the same, that he died, but then was resurrected to new life and that he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. We should get excited that God’s love is interwoven into the depths of our own humanity. We should get excited knowing that, no matter what – in life and in death, in joys and in sorrows, God is with us.

Friends, today, as we hear the story of the Ascension of Jesus, I want you all to remember that God is good, that God seeks to be in relationship with us and that God is inextricably connected to our humanity. The psalmist calls us to, “shout to God with loud songs of joy,” and we do this, in confident hope that God’s grace will carry us, even in our most human of moments.

So clap your hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy! For Christ is risen, Christ has ascended into heaven and God dwells within us. Now, forever and always.

It is far from ordinary; but it is the Good News that brings us new life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

It Is That Simple

Sermon #2 of the hat trick of sermons posted today.  This one is a little bit shorter – we had communion and a baptism and I didn’t want to keep people in the pews until noon!  I preached on John 15:9-17 and the command to love one another as Christ loves us.  I talked about how the word “love” is translated from the Greek and how that helps us understand what Jesus was talking about.  Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17

It Is That Simple

After an overwhelmingly successful Baked Potato Bar fundraiser for Homeless Awareness Weekend back in March, Mike Barger enthusiastically texted me and told me that the next fundraiser would be a Taco Bar in May. Always excited at the prospect of a good themed-party, I volunteered to decorate for the occasion and immediately opened Pinterest to get ideas.

One of the first things that popped up was a sign that said, “All you need is love and tacos.”

My first thought was, “We need this sign for our Taco Bar.”

Okay, my first thought was actually, “I need this sign for my house,” but then I thought about the Taco Bar, saved the pin for later and continued to scroll through the search results.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon; I was having a hard time organizing my thoughts for this week’s sermon when I remembered the saying on this sign, “All you need is love and tacos.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was that simple?

It was a hard week for pastoral care; I found myself sitting in the silences of unimaginable grief, fear, pain and sadness with people and so desperately wished that a little bit of love and a plate full of a tacos could have fixed everything.

But that’s the thing about life – you can’t always fix things. When the rubber meets the road and bad things happen, sometimes we cannot make them better, no matter how badly we might want to.

We live in an imperfect world; a world where bad things happen, where people feel pain, where evil threatens our existence and where we often travel through the darkness, wondering where and when we will find light.

And yet, living in this imperfect word – feeling pain, experiencing evil and sitting in the darkness of the unknown – Jesus gave us a simple command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

Is it really that simple? In the midst of everything that happens in this world – the challenges we face, the humanity we cannot always reconcile and the questions that are far too often left unanswered – is it really simply a matter of loving one another?

The word, “love,” itself, is not exactly simple, because it translates several different Greek words. When the word, “love,” appears in the New Testament, it is hard, in a biblical understanding, to offer one mutually exclusive definition of the word.

In this case, the word, love, is translated from the Greek, agapē, which is translated into Latin as, caritas, which means, charity. Here love is not necessarily a feeling we experience, but an action we participate in. It is concerned with the good of others and it has no limits. This type of love is a characteristic of God that we, as humans, partake in. It is a grace that we do not necessarily understand, but that we uncover and stand in awe of as we care for others. This is the kind of love that moves mountains and transforms people’s lives; that reminds someone, that even in their darkest moment, they are not alone.

If we are truly going to live out Christ’s call to love one another as God loves us, we have to remember that this kind of love requires a bold and irrefutable action; a concern for our neighbors far greater than ourselves; and a resilient belief that we can make a difference in someone’s life.

Yes, my friends, I do believe that if we had this kind of a love AND a plate full of tacos, then we would be all set.

Love in action, of course, is not always easy. The nature of this kind of love, the expression of love towards others, whether they be our friends or our enemies, is not something that necessarily comes naturally to us all the time (let’s go back to that whole living in an imperfect world thing, shall we?).

But Jesus reminds us that we do not have to go searching for this love, it is already within us; it is a gift God has given to each and every one of us, a grace bestowed upon us through love, itself. Jesus said:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; [so] love one another as I have loved you.

So we can do it; because the love we are being called to express is a type of love that has been infused within us.

One of my favorite lines in this passage is verse 16, where Jesus says:

You did not choose me but I chose you.

We are chosen; we are called. God put us on this earth and is commanding us to love one another; to be tangible expressions of light, healing and hope to a world that is broken; to be the hands and feet and face of Christ to those who so desperately need to see and hear and experience the Good News.

Very often, when bad things happen to the people around us, we cannot fix them. But in those moments, we can love and we can love hard. We can live out agapē, bestowing love upon others the way God loves us every day. We can show up with meals, drinks and an endless supply of chocolate. We can mail cards and send prayer shawls. We can offer to take care of pets and do household chores. We can shovel driveways in the winter and do yard work in the summer. We can hold one another’s hands and tell them that we love them. We can tell jokes and help people laugh, maybe not taking away their pain, but reminding them that one day they will, again, feel joy.

Remember, this kind of love is not something that we have to learn, this kind of love is something that is already within us. In the same way God gave us the ability to breathe, God gave us the ability to love. As blood flows freely through our body, so, too, does love.

So as you heed Christ’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us, remember that this kind of love requires action. So let us take action; let us love and love hard. Let us change people’s lives and show them that they are not alone.

It is that simple.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Conversations That Change Lives

I am very behind in posting sermons!  I’ve got three that are going to go up today.  This one is from three weeks ago.  Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 29, 2018

Acts 8:26-40

Conversations That Change Lives

Do y’all remember the Bacons? Sarah and Jason and their two daughters; they moved to Arizona about a year and a half ago; they attended RCC faithfully for about two years before they moved.

I first met Sarah on a Thursday, December afternoon. I was getting ready for a friend’s wedding in Connecticut that weekend and I was trying to wrap everything up for our Sunday service before I got swept up in the weekend’s festivities.

That morning I received a call from the volunteer coordinator at Sturdy Memorial Hospital; at the time, I was one of their volunteer chaplains. As a volunteer who had direct patient contact, I needed to comply with staff regulations for things like immunizations and safety courses; this included getting an annual flu shot.

Which I, of course, had neglected to do.

That Thursday was the deadline for getting a flu shot and the volunteer coordinator told me that I had to find my way over to Occupational Health Services at some point that day to get a flu shot.

Here’s the thing: I had places to go and people to see; I had stuff to finish at the office that day and a pre-wedding dinner to get to in Connecticut that night. Do you know what I did not have time for that day? A flu shot. But do you know who did not care about how busy I thought I was? The volunteer coordinator who told me I had to get a flu shot by 3:45 that afternoon.

So I scrambled to finish my work in the office and then drove up to the hospital, just barely making my 3:45 deadline. They called me back to the exam room and I was on my phone working on my sermon. The door opened and a really nice woman walked in, shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Sarah; I’m going to give you your flu shot today.” I made polite small talk, but, in my head, I was kind of already on the road to Connecticut. I am embarrassed to admit this now, but, at the time, I was kind of thinking, “Just give me the shot, I’ve got places to be.”

Sarah flipped through my paperwork as she was putting gloves on when she paused, looked up at me, with kind of a surprised look on her face. “You’re a chaplain?” she asked. “Where is your church?” Now, to my credit, I did answer her question; but beyond that, I did not really engage the conversation. I was focused on what I had to do next, where I had to be, the fact that 195 was probably already backing up.

A few minutes later, I thanked her for the shot and went on my “busy” way. Ten minutes after I left the hospital, my phone went off with a text from Allison. “I just got a Facebook message from a friend of mine from high school, Sarah Bacon. She said she met you today; she and her family are going to check out our church on Sunday.”

Now, at that point, I thought I had blown it. I knew that I had not engaged the conversation as well as I could have, that I did not give any details about me, my ministry or the church beyond simple answers to the questions she asked. I knew that I had not asked her any questions about her own faith journey. I knew that – even given the window of opportunity that she opened when she asked where I was a pastor – that I had not even invited her to church.

And yet, there but by the grace of God, the Bacons showed up in church that Sunday – and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that.

Months later, we had a new members class and I asked everyone to share their story. Sarah stood up and talked about the fact that, while Jason had been raised in the church, she never attended church growing up, so this whole faith-thing was kind of new to her. But she said that, for some reason over the past year or so, she felt God pushing her to dig deeper and explore her faith. She said she did not necessarily know where to start, but one December, Thursday morning, she woke up and decided that was the day; she was going to talk to Jason that night about finding a church for their family.

And that afternoon, a chaplain walked into her exam room for a flu shot.

A chaplain, by the way, who almost blew it.

I hope I never forget this story; because it humbles me. It reminds me that I should never be so caught up in my own world and life and schedule that I do not take the time to talk to someone about my faith, about my church and about the way their life can be changed by God’s grace.

Because you never know when you are having a conversation with someone that might change their life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Acts of the Apostles. We talked about Acts a couple of weeks ago and how it is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. It is a firsthand account of the formation of early Christianity. It is filled with stories of what early Christians did in those days and months and years, even, following the resurrection. Acts is the only book in the bible that contains this narrative of the early church; through these stories, we can peak into the lives of the people who laid the foundation for the faith that is so boldly and miraculously still changing our lives today.

We just heard the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was, for all intents and purposes, part of the second generation of leaders in the Church. As the message of Gospel expanded, the apostles realized they, as a group were not enough to do the work that needed to be done to continue to grow the Church, so they called seven men to serve with them. They laid hands on them and sent them out in ministry; Philip was one of the seven.

So, in this story, an angel appears to Philip and tells him to travel along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. While he is there, he meets an Ethiopian eunuch assigned to the Ethiopian Queen. According to Acts, the eunuch had been in Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home, sitting in his chariot, reading from the prophet Isaiah. A spirit comes over Philip, telling him to go sit with the eunuch in his chariot. Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading from Isaiah and the eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” and then he invites Philip into his chariot, where Philip shares with him the Good News of Jesus and the fulfillment of this prophesy.

Unlike me, Philip was not concerned that he had places to go; he was fully present in the moment and shared with this eunuch a faith that changed his life.

The eunuch was an outcast; eunuchs were royal servants who had been castrated at young ages so as to be deemed safe to work around women in royal households. They were seen as scarred and defective and were not allowed to participate fully in the life and faith of Israel. The book of Isaiah that the eunuch is reading out of in this story is a book of scripture that gave eunuchs and other marginalized groups of people hope; hope that one day they would be freed from the bonds that held them captive.

And yet, in this moment, in this chariot, all barriers are broken down and Philip tells the eunuch that these prophesies have already been fulfilled; that he, too, has access to the grace of God through Jesus Christ; that he is free from the bonds that are holding him captive. Philip shares his faith with the eunuch; he tells him about Jesus and then, when they arrive at a body of water, Philip stops the chariot, they both get out and enter the water, and Philip baptizes the eunuch as a tangible sign of the grace he had just proclaimed. The story ends with Philip being taken away by the Holy Spirit and the eunuch resuming his journey with great joy. Philip, then, resumes his journey and continues to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I was reading a commentary on Philip this week and he was referred to as a Deacon, because of the way he and the other seven were called into ministry, but also as an Evangelist. After all, that is what he did in this story, right? He evangelized; he shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and then brought someone into the faith.

Here’s the thing about evangelism – it sounds like a scary word, but it really is not. It is not about being obnoxious or pushy or manipulative or getting someone to convert to your way of thinking; it is about meeting people where they are on their journey through life and telling them about your faith. It is about inviting them to ask questions and affirming to them over and over and over again that they are loved, they are cherished and they are not alone. It is about leading them to the sacraments that we believe make us whole and telling them that they, too, are worthy of receiving these gifts from God. It is about welcoming them into your narrative and telling them why your life has been changed by your faith, your church and the Body of Christ, your village, who acts as a tangible sign of God’s love in your life.

But more often than not, it starts with a conversation; a conversation that we have to be willing to have, to be fully present in the moment when it is happening.

We have to be fully present in the moment when these conversations present themselves. We have to approach them believing that God brought us together with this person in this moment and that this conversation has the capacity to change their life.

Evangelism is a good thing, it just has a bad reputation sometimes. This morning I am encouraging you to think about what it means to be an evangelist and to try to share your faith with others you meet along your own journey through life. I know we do not do this a lot in mainline protestant churches in New England, but don’t be scared; because by the nature of you being here this morning and making church a priority in your life, when you talk to someone about your church and faith you are talking about something that is important to you and that has impacted your life in some positive way.

Why wouldn’t you want to share that?

Friends, remember this: You never know when you are having a conversation with someone that might change their life.

So go; share the Good News, tell people about our crazy, but love-infused church in the village and be amazed as God’s grace is uncovered in the most unexpected ways and places.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.