This Is Our Moment

Hi friends!  As soon as I hit publish on this post I am signing off for two weeks, so if you don’t see a post from me, I’m okay!  Just on vacation and taking a little step back from my virtual world.  My sermon from this morning and the video from worship are below.  See you in February!

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-10
John 1:43-51

This Is Our Moment

When I was in seminary, we talked about call stories a lot; stories highlighting the moment or moments in our lives when we knew God was calling us into the ministry.  For some of us, there was one crystal clear moment where we knew for certain what God was asking us to do, for others of us there was a series of moments and some of us just found ourselves in seminary, not really sure what God was up to.

I consider myself to fall within that middle group where there were a series of moments that led up to the realization that I was being called into the ministry.  From that point on, I can even say that there were a series of moments that led me into ministry in a church setting and even moments that specifically led me here and moments that have kept me here and helped me to see that vision (there is last year’s Star Word) that God has for us together in ministry.

I have always loved call stories.  They are, essentially, somebody welcoming you into an intimate moment between themselves and God.  Call stories can be a moment of vulnerability for someone as they try to explain something that might not necessarily be explainable in human words.  They are a peak into someone’s life and purpose.

They can also be a significant moment of purpose and change, not only for the person sharing their story, but also for those who are bearing witness to it.  They are an opportunity for a wider community of people to see where God is at work in this world, something that I think we need desperately, now more than ever.  To see and hear and know that God is at work within the people around us is to believe that God is with us and that God has not abandoned us and that God has a purpose for all of our lives, as well.

Which brings me to this morning’s scripture readings.  I decided to look at both the Old Testament passage from the lectionary and also the Gospel this week.  They both include call stories – one of the Old Testament prophets, Samuel and the other of Philip and Nathaneal, two of Jesus’ disciples.

Our reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of 1 Samuel, which is part of the narrative history of Israel in the Old Testament called the Deuteronimistic history.  God called Samuel when he was a young boy; he was ministering under a high priest named Eli when he hears God calling out to him.  Assuming it is Eli calling his name, Samuel runs to Eli, who tells him he had not called Samuel and that Samuel should go back to sleep.  This happens three times before Eli realizes what is happening, that it is actually God calling out to Samuel.  At this point, Eli instructs Samuel to go lie down and when he hears God calling him again to respond by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Our Gospel reading comes from the Gospel according to John, where Jesus calls Philip and Nathaneal.  Nathaneal is only mentioned in the Gospel of John, though some scholars (not all, but some) also identify him as the disciple, Bartholomew, who is mentioned as one of the 12 disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Philip’s call story is pretty straight forward – Jesus finds Philip, says, “Follow me” and Philip follows him.  But in this record of Nathaneal’s call story, it is a little more complicated.  Nathaneal wants to know where and how Jesus came to know Nathaneal.  And when Nathaneal recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus tells Nathaneal that he is about to see and believe more than he can conceive right now.

What I love about both of these call stories is that they are complex.  The person being called does not necessarily know right away that it is God calling them or how they are supposed to respond.  Samuel assumes the voice he hears is an earthy voice and Nathaneal has some questions about why, specifically, he is being called.  What we learn from both of these stories is that when God calls us, whether we are being called into vocational ministry or, more likely, when we are being called, personally, to the work of God in our lives, it might not necessarily be straightforward or easy to decipher at first.

Samuel thinks Eli is calling him at first.  Nathaneal wants to know how Jesus knows him.  Both of these call stories remind us that it is okay if we do not figure it out right away, if we do not know or understand the precise moment God calls what, exactly, we are supposed to be doing.

But the thing is, God is persistent.  God does not give up on us.  If God has something for us to do, God is going to keep calling us until we, like Samuel, say, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” or we, like Philip and Nathaneal, respond to those words, “Come and see … follow me.”

We are living through a very complicated moment in our history.  And, in many ways, I am over it; I think we all are.  At some point I think we would all like to go back to a world that will not fill volumes of history books one day.  That being said, we have the opportunity right now to define what this narrative is going to say and how future generations will see God at work in our lives and in the world.

We were talking about the insurrection in bible study on Wednesday morning, particularly the flags bearing Jesus’ name on them that were carried into the Capitol.  The concern, of course, is what happens when a non-Christian or, perhaps, a discerning Christian, sees Jesus’ name cast in such a violent light.  Does that define the narrative?  Does that tell the story of the Gospel and of the work God has done and is continuing to do in this world?

Only if we let it.

Friends, I believe, with every ounce of my being, that God is calling us right now to do something really important.  We are being called to share a message of light, of love and of grace.  We are being called to offer faith and reconciliation to a world that is broken.  We are being called to proclaim the bold and radical truth that resurrection means something, and that redemption is always possible.  We are being called to show the world that God is not finished and that hope real – and that it is always worth holding onto.

And to be clear, I do not believe that this takes away from the individual calls that we all have.  We have all been called on personal levels, professional levels, community levels, to our families and even here, at the church.  But in addition to those calls – in addition to the things that we are already doing and the ways that God has already called us into some sort of ministry and service – I believe that we have been called into this moment.

This moment where the world is broken and in need of healing.

This moment where Christ’s message of love needs to overpower the rhetoric of hatred and violence.

This moment where the Gospel can transform our lives.

This moment where we are tired and weary, but we believe in the capacity that we have to hold it together and keep going forward.

This is our moment.  God is calling us.

After a long, tumultuous and exhausting election season, a new president will take the oath of office on Wednesday.  Following the attack on the Capitol, there are growing threats of violence around our beloved country; in fact, our conference sent an email this week encouraging churches to close their buildings on Wednesday because of threats specifically made to churches.  No matter who you voted for, I think we all feel a little bit uneasy right now.

But I just keep thinking that we can shine light into this very dark moment.  We – as children of God, as devoted followers of Christ – can do something to make this better.  We can share the Gospel in real and practical ways, ways that actually make a difference in people’s lives, ways that restore people’s faith and define the narrative of Jesus as one of love and hope and reconciliation and peace and justice and compassion and mercy and kindness.  This is what defines our beloved church in the village and I believe this can define our greater Christian Church, as well.

Friends, I believe that God is calling us.  And like Samuel and like Nathaneal, it might not necessarily be clear or easy to understand or easy to respond to.  But this is our moment and God needs us.  God needs us to say yes.  God needs us to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  God needs us to follow God.  God needs us to show up; show up in our churches and show up in our communities.  God needs us to take the Gospel and share it with the world.

Friends this is our moment and the moment is now.  Let us say yes to God’s call.  Let us take the Gospel and share it with the world.  Let us write this chapter of the Christian narrative and tell future generations about the love that was shared and the hope that was real.

And let us believe that God has prepared us and strengthened us for this moment.

Friends, as church, I believe this is our call story.  May this be a significant moment of purpose and change – not only for us, but for those we will meet along our journey.

God, speak; for your servants are listening.

Come on; let’s go.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

Hi friends.

It was hard to preach this morning.

I know there are people that think I said too much.  I know there are people that wish I would have said more.  It is something of an exhausting period in history to preach through, but I tried to say what was on my heart and what would be most helpful for my congregation. The text from my sermon is below, as well as the video from this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

I stared at a blinking cursor on an empty word document for a long time on Friday trying to figure out what to say this morning.

You see, this pulpit is a privilege.  It is a privilege that has been given to me because of my call, but it is also one that comes with great responsibility.  I feel a responsibility not only to you all, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, but also to those who stood behind this pulpit before me who, just like I did this week, struggled for 300 years to find adequate and appropriate words to speak in the midst of wars, tragedies, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorist attacks.

What happened on Wednesday was not okay.  Like most of you, I am sure, I spent a lot of time this week trying to process it and understand it and also trying to reconcile the issues of injustice that were powerfully put on display.

I read and heard a lot of comments on Wednesday into Thursday that said this is not who we are, but it is; as a nation, we are so very broken right now.  The chaos that ensued this week was shocking but, sadly, not surprising.  This is, unfortunately, exactly who we are.

To be clear, I do not think it is my job to stand behind this pulpit today and offer political commentary on what happened this week.  You all know that, knowing we are such a diverse community, for better or for worse I try to stay as politically “neutral” as possible and focus on the Gospel, though many argue that the Gospel is inherently political, which is a sentiment I would certainly agree with.  And so it is tricky; it is especially tricky, because one of my goals is to be a relevant preacher.  To stand up here today and not acknowledge what happened this week would not be true to who I am – and who I believe God is calling us to be, as a congregation.

I guess this is my way of saying that this might not actually be a good sermon.  Like everyone else, I am having a really hard time finding words that are both adequate and appropriate and also speak to you all, my church family, no matter where you are today.

Despite the events that happened this week and despite the fact that this is, unfortunately, who we are right now, I do not believe that this is who we are called to be.  This is not who we are called to be, as a country and certainly not who we are called to be, as a church community.  We are called to proclaim to Gospel; to live into the vows we made at our baptisms, resisting evil, seeking justice and loving others the way Christ loved us.

Speaking of baptisms, today is the Baptism of Christ Sunday.  It is, sort of, the kickoff to Jesus’ public ministry in the liturgical year.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is, of course, near the end of the calendar year; then we journey to Christmas, where Jesus is born and then to Epiphany, where the Wise Men follow the star to visit Jesus and offer him gifts.  Then there is a time lapse of about 30 years in less than a week and Jesus’ travels from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

You know I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a calendar of scripture that follows the liturgical year.  It is a three-year cycle and every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the Gospels and one of the Epistles.  More often than not these passages relate to one another and so when I am planning worship I will not just choose one passage, but two (some churches will even read all four passages every week) as a way of looking at recurring themes throughout multiple scriptures.

It is not necessarily a perfect method for planning worship, though and so I have, over the past few years, gone off-lectionary – we did the Year of Mark and then a couple of different sermon series.  I found myself back on the lectionary at the beginning of 2020, mostly in preparation for what I thought was going to be a completely offline maternity leave; but what I have found is that being on the lectionary has created stability for me, as a preacher, in an otherwise unstable time.

Which brings me to this morning.

On Monday morning when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service, it was not a question as to whether or not we would look at the Gospel this morning and remember Jesus’ baptism.  Out of curiosity, however, I decided to look at what the lectionary paired with the Gospel this year.  And I found it fascinating that in the other two years of the lectionary (remember, this is a three-year cycle), Jesus’ baptism is paired a passage from the Book of Isaiah.  This year, however, the Old Testament passage is Genesis 1:1-5, the very first verses of the entire bible.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

Without even knowing about the chaos that was about to unfold at the Capitol this week, I thought it was fascinating to look at these two passages side by side, one where Jesus is baptized and claimed by God as God’s son and the other where God creates order out of chaos.

Now it seems almost necessary to look at these two passages side by side.

I think we need to be reminded of both of these messages this week.  First of all, I think we do need to remember Jesus’ baptism.  We need to remember that Jesus came into this world, not because it was perfect, but because it was very much broken; that Jesus was baptized, not as an empty symbol, but as a powerful declaration that all must repent and confess their sins in order to be redeemed by the living waters of baptism.

If you, like me, are feeling disheartened or even helpless about who we are right now, remember this: God saw a world in need of redemption and sent a redeemer.  There was hope then and I do believe that there is hope now.

That being said, second of all, I think we also need to take a moment and remember our own baptisms, as well.  We need to remember the promises that we made or that were made on our behalf and that we later affirmed, either through our confirmation or by joining the church.  We need to remember that Christianity is about action; it is about the absolute refusal to be complacent to the evil and injustice that exists in the world.  Yes, it is about declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior and getting to know Jesus on a personal level, but it is also about following Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed, the Gospel he taught, the Gospel he demonstrated.  It is about living out the work that Jesus began here on earth.  As Christians, we have work to do.

At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.

But here is where I find this pairing of Jesus’ baptism with the beginning of the creation story so fascinating.  Because it is in this account of creation that God made order out of chaos.  It is in this account that God took a dark and formless void and created this earth that we are living on today.  It is in this account that God saw great and hopeful potential in something that was, essentially, nothing.

In fact, for thousands and thousands of years, God has seen nothing but great and hopeful potential in our world.

We have to believe that the same is true today.

The creation story reminds us that God can make order out of chaos; God can make order out of the chaos of the formless void that became the earth and God can make order out of the chaos of the world that we are living in today.  I do not know how, but I believe that God can make order out of the political chaos that our country is experiencing right now and that God still sees potential in our world.

The potential for good.

The potential for love.

The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.

But that does not mean that we are to stand by and wait for God to come in and fix it for us.  Friends, we have a lot of work to do.  We have to live into our baptismal promises.  We have to see a world that is broken and vow to do everything that we can to do draw forth that hope, healing and wholeness we are promised in baptism.

For some of us, that may mean political activism on local, state or national levels.  For some of us, that may mean some sort of volunteerism.  For some of us, that may mean putting our money where our mouth is.  For some of us, that may mean reaching out to a family member or a friend in need and helping them on an individual level.

We all have different, but equally important roles to play.  In many ways, I am viewing the events of last week as a call to action; a call to action to create the kind of world that I want my children to grow up in.

The kind of world that I believe God is calling us to create.

The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.

The kind of world that can be transformed by the Gospel.

The kind of world that where we are united by the living waters of baptism that have redeemed us and are continuing to redeem us.

Friends, I know we are all exhausted.  Dealing with political upheaval on top of a pandemic is no small feat.  But we can do hard things, I really do believe that.  And God has not abandoned us, God is still with us.  Together, we can be better than we are right now.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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This Was Not My Vision

It is Star Sunday!  Even though we are having virtual worship, we still decorated the sanctuary for Star Sunday and it was beautiful.

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Since we wouldn’t be able to hand out Star Words in person this year, we put them on the front lawn of the church …

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… and we installed a star above the doors so it can be lit up at night!

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Our Star Stories are included in this morning’s Gathering Music, so I would strongly encourage you to watch that at the beginning of the worship video.  They were amazing!

Here is my sermon from this morning.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 3, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

The Was Not My Vision

“This was not my vision.”

A friend of mine suggested that I go back on all of our worship and prayer services and mash together all the clips of me saying this sentence over the past year.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I received my Star Word back in January, I smiled and got a little giddy.

My word was vision.

And while I loved the suggestion from someone that my Star Word was actually a declaration that everyone around me had to acquiesce to my vision, I actually thought that this word was going to be the culmination of years of discernment that I have done at this church.

You see, I believe in this church; I believe in what we are doing and also what we have the capacity to do in the future.  When I started at the church in 2011, I did not really have a plan.  Some pastors come into new calls much more organized and strategic than I did; but it was never my intention to make changes based on some greater vision that I had.  Maybe I should not admit this, but I did not actually have a vision for this church.  I always said that, when I looked towards the future, I could see the vision God had cast out for RCC, but that it was still blurry and so we just had to keep doing the hard work of listening to God speak to us and wait for that vision to clear.

When I first laid eyes on my 2020 Star Word – vision – I thought that this year would be the culmination of all of this discernment that we have done.  Knowing that the year would end with the kickoff to our 300thanniversary celebration and shortly thereafter I would mark my ten-year anniversary at the church, it seemed too good to be true.  I figured God’s vision for us would clear at the same time we were getting ready to celebrate these milestones and when this all came together we would be stronger than we ever were before.

Cue covid, stage right.  All of a sudden all of the plans we had made for this year – all of the hopes and dreams, yes, even visions, were lost in a sea of public health recommendations and safety precautions.  Like all of us, I had to let go of and adjust my expectations of what the year was going to look like.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos of last year, grace appeared in the most unexpected ways and places.  Virtual worship, nightly prayer services, drive-thru dinners, emails meetings, peace be with you signs and cards and care packages sent in the mail, to name a few.  We did church, even though we had to do it in a way that was different than any of us were accustomed to.  And so what I realized throughout the year was that this was, of course, not at all about my vision – but it was still about the vision that God has cast for us, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

You see, under the most unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, we proved to be the church – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to refuse to let anything but love win.  We did this in the midst of quarantine and social distancing and constantly-changing safety rules and recommendations.

What I realized this year is that it is not about my vision; it is about the vision God casts upon us to be the church in the midst of what is going on around us.

And we did it.

So perhaps this word and this year were not the culmination of years of discernment like I thought a year ago; but I still think – in ways that I never could have imagined – we lived into God’s vision for us this year.  And despite the fact that we have not gathered in person in nearly ten months, I still believe we are stronger than we ever have been before.

I was thinking about the beatings that our Star Words took last year and how our endurance and our perseverance to see them through to the end of the year actually mirrors the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus.  You see, King Herod, knowing that Jesus had been born and that people were calling him the king of the Jews, sensed a disturbance in his own power.  He sent the wise men to find Jesus, not so that he could eventually go and pay Jesus homage, as he said to the wise men in this passage, but so that he could eventually go find the one that was going to threaten his power and deal with that problem himself.  I do not often preach on the passage that follows the visit of the wise men, but after they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod was infuriated and issued an order that all children in and around Bethlehem two years or younger be killed.  Herod, of course, assumed Jesus would be part of that massacre; but at that point Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt, ensuring Jesus’ safety.

My point is this:  We often romanticize the wise men’s journey to visit Jesus.  But the reality is that it was actually a harrowing one; it was one that was filled with great fear and uncertainty – much like the year we just had.

And yet there was that star – that perfect light, as the hymn so beautifully says – that guided the wise men on their journey.  It was strong and bright and steadfast.

For many of us, our Star Words were that same perfect light – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

And so it is time, now, to turn our attention to our Star Words for 2021.  Many of us have picked them already; I have not opened mine yet, I was waiting until today to do that.  If you have not picked a Star Word yet, I would encourage to come to the church to get one; they are hanging on the front lawn.  Grab one when you come for Drive-Thru Communion this afternoon or anytime this week – they will be there until Friday.  If you are not able to come to the church, head to our website – rehobothcongregational.org/starwords – to fill out a request form and we will mail one to your house.

This year I am going to try something new with my Star Word.  I got the idea when I was listening to Debby Jarocki offer her Star Story; she said she kept a notebook and wrote down a sentence or two every day about where she saw, heard or felt her word at work in her life that day.  I am going to try this myself and encourage you all to, as well.  I think we all really need the fresh start of a new year and the hope and the promise of a new beginning.

Friends, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to use this time of musical reflection following the sermon to open your Star Word.  It is my prayer that the word that chooses you will not only guide you, but inspire you throughout the year.  May it be that perfect light that you need – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder that God is with you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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