A Fresh Start

Hi friends!  We welcomed 27 (!) new members into the church this morning.  During a time of physical distancing, we are humbled and grateful for the way God is continuing to work within our church and community.  What a grace that we have uncovered!

Here is this morning’s sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 21, 2021

Psalm 51:1-12

A Fresh Start

Two years ago, I did something that I had not done in well over a decade.

I went to the dentist.

I know.  Not good.

I think part of the problem was, at the beginning of my, let’s call it a, “hiatus”, my life was kind of in transition.  I was in college and therefor moving back and forth between school and home – my dentist was in Connecticut, but I was spending most of my time in Pennsylvania at that point.  Then I moved to Atlanta, which was a permanent residence (we had Georgia license plates and everything), but I was still in school and part of their internal healthcare system and so annual physicals and exams were just not on my radar.  Then Bruce and I spent a very short amount of time in Connecticut before finally moving to Rehoboth.

Now I know that this is the point in the story where I should have found a dentist and made an appointment to see them.

(I also know that we have dentists in the congregation, so really there is no excuse.)

But it just kept slipping my mind.

That is, at first it just kept slipping my mind.

But eventually, it was very much on my mind – because I knew I really needed to go.

And the thing is, the longer I went without making that appointment and just going, the worse I felt about it.  Because I knew the longer I went without going, the worse any potential problems I had were going to be.  I knew the longer I went without going, the scarier it was going to be to walk into that office for the first time.  I knew the longer I went without going, the harder it was going to be to admit to the dentist just how long it had been since I sat in one of those chairs.

The longer I waited, the guiltier I felt.

And truth be told, the only reason I ended up finally making an appointment and going to see the dentist was because I had admitted my dental negligence to Jen Healy, who is our Financial Secretary, and she actually held me accountable to make that first appointment.  She said to me one day, “I am going to text you at noon tomorrow to make sure you’ve done it,” and so at 11:55 the next day I was on the phone making the appointment.

Accountability partners are a good thing – and I will get back to that in a minute.

As strange as this sounds, it felt really good to finally go to the dentist.  It was like I was getting a fresh start.  From that point on, I could do exactly what I was supposed to do – go every six months, be a dutiful dental patient.  And the best part is that my dentist was so gracious towards me; she said, in such a kind and gentle tone, “I know it’s been a long time, but now that you are back, you are going to come back every six months, right?”  And I said, “Yes!” and she said, “Great!” and then we moved on.

It was like a weight had been lifted.

I was doing something wrong.

First I admitted my wrongdoing.

Then I was forgiven.

And finally, I took steps to do better.

This is kind of what happens in prayer.

I was thinking about my experience getting back to the dentist this week as I was looking at the lectionary.  This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Psalms; it is a Psalm of David.  David wrote this when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.  It is a prayer for forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is what is known as an “exilic individual lament.”[1]  A lament is an expression of sorrow or regret.  “Exilic” means that it was written in exile and individual means it was not communal, it was written by one person.

One of the reasons I love this psalm is because it demonstrates a crucial, but simple practice that we all should be doing in our lives.  David uses this psalm as an opportunity to confess his personal sins; to admit the moments in his life where he has fallen short, where he has sinned, where he has made the wrong choice.  David rips off the band aid and puts it all out on the table.

And then David asks God for forgiveness, knowing and affirming that God’s love is steadfast, that God’s mercy is abundant.  David is able to boldly admit his brokenness because he knows that God is ready and waiting to make him whole again.

And the same is true for us, today.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David writes, “and put a new and right spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”[2]

It must have felt like a weight had been lifted for David when he wrote these words, as if he was getting a fresh start.

And here is the Good News that brings us new life:  We can get this fresh start every single day of our lives.

We just have to ask for it.

We just have to ask for it.  We have to, like David demonstrates here, admit our shortcomings to God.  We have to shed light on our brokenness, without shame or embarrassment.  We have to seek reconciliation in real time, knowing that God is waiting for us, believing that God’s love is more powerful than our mistakes, more forgiving than our sins and more hopeful than the hopelessness we often feel as we try desperately to bury our imperfections.

If it has been a while since you have had a conversation with God and admitted the things that you have done wrong and asked for forgiveness, I would strongly encourage you to have that conversation and have it soon.  Humble yourself before the cross and admit your shortcomings.  Remember what David says in this Psalm – he says that God’s love is steadfast and that God’s mercy is abundant.  God is ready to hear you confess your sins.  God is ready to shine light upon those sins in order to help you heal from them.  God is ready to give you that fresh start so that you, like David, can hear joy and gladness.

I think we all have things in our lives that weigh us down.  Some things are bigger and more serious than others, but I think it is important to remember that nothing is too big or too small to receive the grace and mercy of God’s love and forgiveness.  Part of our call, as Christians, is to believe the resurrection not only happened in Christ, but that it happens in us; that God is constantly working on us, through us and within us.  We have to believe that reconciliation did not just happen when the blood of Christ was shed, but that it continues to happen in our lives today.

The season of Lent is a season of repentance where, at the end of 40 days, we experience resurrection.  But as people of faith, we do not have to wait for Lent to come around every year in order to repent; we can pray to God – directly to God – and seek forgiveness every single day of our lives.  We can admit the things that are getting worse, harder and scarier the longer we bury them.  We can be restored with a clean heart, ready to do the work that God is calling us to do.

The work that God needs us to do.

So I would encourage you today to have a conversation with God – an open, honest and humble conversation.  Tell God about the moments where you have fallen short and where you have made mistakes.  Be truthful about how you are feeling in sharing this and how you are hoping to move forward.  Talk about your stumbling blocks and ask God to help you move them.  Know that this is your fresh start – and that it can be, every single day.

And this does not have to be a really formal thing, either, it just needs to be a conversation; a conversation with God where you just talk about what is on your heart, the things you have been afraid to admit, but know you should.

A weight will be lifted.  This will be our fresh start.  We will be able to do better.

And really quickly – back to the thing about accountability partners.  As people of faith, we are called to hold one another accountable.  And the thing is, we do not have to know the specifics of one another’s sins and shortcomings in order to hold each other accountable to confess them to God and seek reconciliation.

So use one another; hold one another accountable.  You do not have to share your deepest and darkest secrets with our entire church family, but we can all make sure that we are sharing them with God.

Today we are welcoming new members into our church family.  Part of being in community – being a member of a local church – is pledging to support one another along our journeys of faith.  Today we make this pledge to our new members and they make this pledge to us – this pledge to not only serve God and our church, but one another, in love, friendship and faith.  As members of this church, we know that faith does not happen in a vacuum and we are ready to stand together and help one another along our journeys.

Friends, in so many ways, a fresh start is happening right now.  Resurrection is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha © 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Page 819
[2] Psalm 51:10, 12, NRSV

One Year Later

Hi friends!

It is crazy to think that we have been worshiping online for an entire year.  In many ways it feels like it has been longer than that, but in other ways it feels like no time has passed since I composed that email to the congregation letting them know we were suspending in-person worship.  I reflected a little on this anniversary this morning.  Here is my sermon, as well as the video to worship.

Peace, be with you friends – there is light at the end of the tunnel!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 15, 2021

John 3:14-21

One Year Later

I went down something of a rabbit hole this week.

The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the shutdown have felt a little bit like when 9/11 rolls around every year; it seems as though we have been in this national state of “what were you doing when” as we approach and reach significant milestones.  News anchors and podcast hosts have been recapping the year.  Our Facebook memories keep popping up reminding us of the last time we did certain things (or at least the way we were used to doing them).  I actually had a picture pop up of Harrison and Samantha and me standing outside of the Sadie Perry Room before worship that popped up this week that kind of took my breath away; because I remember that moment like it was yesterday and yet in some ways it seems so far away.  Bill and Wendy talked about our final in-person worship service and then our first virtual worship service and 9:00 prayer time when they led prayers on Monday night.  And on Wednesday, while I was preparing for evening prayers, I re-read the last sermon that I preached in-person and the first sermon that I preached in virtual worship.

Unexpected, but not surprising, the last sermon I preached in-person was actually on this very text that we are looking at this morning.  The reason I say unexpected, but not surprising is because we are in the season of Lent and so, year-to-year, there is overlap with these Lenten texts in the lectionary; it is not surprising that we would look at the same – or similar – stories right now.  It was unexpected, however, because, in so many ways – good and bad – life feels vastly different than it did a year ago.  It was unexpected to be reflecting on this passage of scripture in order to get ready for today’s worship service and then pull up last year’s sermon – a sermon preached at the very beginning of this time of great chaos and angst and unknown – and realize that these were the same words we were reflecting on.  It feels very full circle.

The Gospel has not changed.  Our world has changed; but the Gospel has not changed.

This morning’s scripture reading, like our scripture reading from about a year ago, comes from the Gospel of John.  It contains, I would argue, one of the best-known passages of scripture, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

This is one of those passages of scripture that sounds so beautiful in the King James Version of the bible – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  These words are just so poetic and beautiful and powerful.

When I reflected on these words a year ago, I talked about the fact that this was the world that Jesus came into – this messy and chaotic world.  At the time, very little made sense to us, but that was okay, right?  Because this scripture says “everyone who believes in [Jesus] may … have eternal life,” not, “everyone who understands what is going on may have eternal life.”

Looking back, I really do believe that we needed to hear those words in that moment.  Because we were entering a season where our faith in God through Jesus Christ was the one thing that could not be taken away from us; in fact, it was arguably the thing that carried most of us through.

So here we are, one year later.  I think many of us still need to hear these words as we pass this one-year milestone.  Because much is still up in the air about the vaccine rollout and what life is going to look like in a post-covid (or, at least, mostly-post-covid) world; there are still many unanswered questions.  And it has been a really hard year; we are all exhausted.  We need to be reminded that our mess of a world was and is so deeply loved by God that Jesus came to save it; that, even a year into all of this, our world is still worth saving.

But there is more.

Something really cool happens with the lectionary this week that I think relevant and necessary right now.

Last year we looked at this passage in the context of John 3:1-17.  This year, the lectionary has us looking at this passage in the context of John 3:14-21.  Meaning we still see John 3:16, but this iconic passage is at the beginning of what we are looking at instead of the end.

Last year when we looked at this passage, it was almost as if the passage led us into John 3:16 and that was where we landed.

And we needed to, right?  We needed to land on John 3:16 so that we could sit there for awhile and really lean into our faith in Jesus.  We needed that throughout the past year.

But this year – this is where we start.

This is our starting point; this – John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” – is where our passage begins and then Jesus continues on to tell us what that means for us.

And friends, I think now, a year into the pandemic, at a time where vaccines are rolling out and we are trying to get things open again, we are ready to keep going and see what’s next.

This is how the passage continues:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world.

But those who do what is true come to the light.

Light.

Jesus says that what comes next is light.

Jesus gives us this promise – that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world and that all we have to do to receive eternal life is to believe in Jesus.

But it does not end there.  Then Jesus gives us a charge; a charge to believe in the light, a charge to love the light and a charge to do what is true and to bring that to the light.

Friends, if you are like me, you are probably wondering, what’s next?  When can I travel again?  When can I host dinner parties again?  Will my children be able to go back to school full-time?  Will I feel anxious when it is time to get back out into the world?  What is the world going to look like?  What has changed?  What will go back to “normal”?

I do not have answers to most of these questions.  But I do think it starts with this charge, this charge to be the light.  I think the answer to the question, what’s next, starts with this charge from Jesus to believe in the light, to love the light, to do what is true and to bring that truth to the light.  I think the next steps in re-opening the world have very little to do with the phases of reopening and everything to do with all of us boldly shining light into a very dark world.

I think for an entire year we have been desperately holding on this light; we have been holding it close to us, perhaps because we were afraid it might go out if we held it too far away or just because it was comforting to us, it was like a security blanket that we gripped tightly when it felt like everything else was slipping away.

But friends, now it is time to shine that light into the world.  It is time for all of us to extend that light into the darkness.  It is time for us to celebrate that light, to love that light and to honor that light.  And it is time for us to share that light, to bring all of our lights together so that we can conquer the darkness.

It is time for us to do what is true – to love one another, to care for one another and to lift one another us – and then bring that into the light.

Our world is so very broken right now.  But we have something that can heal it.  We have this incredible faith that can and will bring healing and peace and wholeness.  We need to bring this into the light; we need to share with the world that this kind of healing is possible.  We need to demonstrate that the Body of Christ is ready to do the work that is necessary to bring about restoration.

When we first started to realize that covid was not going to be a quick here-and-gone thing and that the world was going to change in real and significant ways as a result of it, I was scared, because I did not know what we would be left with.  And, in many ways, I still don’t.

But I know what I have.

In fact, I know what we all have.

Light.

And I know that, together, our light is going to shine brighter than we could ever have imagined.

And that it will make a difference.

One year ago we needed to be reminded that our faith in God through Jesus Christ would carry us through the darkness of what was coming.  Today, even though it is not over yet, we celebrate that is has, even in those moments when it was really hard.  And today we accept the charge to get up and carry that light forward.

Because the world needs it.

Friends, it is time to break through the darkness and be harbingers of light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

Hi friends!

I preached on the Gospel this morning, Jesus cleansing the table.  I love talking about the placement of this story in John and why this might mean something different than the synoptics.  My sermon is below, as well the video from our service.

ALSO – I might be totally biased, but if you get a chance, check out this week’s Church School video.  My sweet little PK helped lead communion and then the Lord’s Prayer!  I’m so proud of him and everything he is getting out of Church School online this year. <3

Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 7, 2021

John 2:13-22

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, a lot of people (myself included) have been reflecting on what we were doing a year ago.  For many of us, these past couple of weeks have marked the one-year anniversary of the last time we did X, Y or Z.  It is on our radar, of course, but things like TimeHop or Facebook memories help us to remember these events, as well.

A few weeks ago, a video popped up in my Facebook memories from the Chocolate Festival last year.  I cringed when I saw the video, because I think there were close to 200 people crammed inside Fellowship Hall, shuffling around the room as best they could, filling their boxes with various delicious treats and gleefully gathering around the chocolate fountain.

In fairness, everyone that was handling food was wearing gloves, no one was handling money and food at the same time and no one was actually dipping food directly into the chocolate fountain (I believe there was a system where the person stationed at the chocolate fountain, who was wearing gloves, would put a bowl under the stream of chocolate and then the person getting the chocolate would pick out the things they wanted to dip into it and then it would just be handed to them in one bowl).

Regardless, when I saw that video, I thought to myself, my goodness, it looks like we hosted a super spreader event!

Guys.  I am sad to say that it might be a hot minute before we host a chocolate festival exactly like that again.  Moving forward, we might be a little more mindful of how many people we are shoving into a room at one time, regardless of how much money we are making.

But actually – THAT is what I wanted to talk about this morning.  The money.

We made over $4,000 at that event; the money went towards the operating budget and we absolutely blew my goal of $1,200 out of the water.  If you were not there, what we did was sell people tickets, which I think were $1 a piece.  Then we priced the chocolate items by an amount of tickets; items cost anywhere from one ticket to four or five tickets.  People would take their tickets and go over to the tables with the chocolate items, drop the number of tickets they needed for an item in a box and then our volunteers would put that item in their chocolate box.  This actually made it really simple to exchange money; people were crowded around the table where we were selling tickets basically throwing tens and twenties down and we would quickly hand them their tickets and then they would be on their way.

Essentially what we had in Fellowship Hall – what that video that popped up in my memories showed – was a bunch of people, a bunch of goods (items for sale) and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods.

And so while I was reading this passage this week – where Jesus walks into the temple and finds a bunch of people, a bunch of good and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods – I thought to myself, “Huh. Well that seems familiar doesn’t it.”

I wonder if Jesus would have made a whip out of twizzlers from the chocolate fountain, flipped over tables, sent truffles flying through the air and told us, “Take this chocolate out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a chocolate-market!”

Maybe not; I actually would like to think that Jesus would have grabbed himself a cup of Barb Medeiros’ delicious homemade hot chocolate and chatted with everyone for awhile, but I do think that this story reminds us that what we do matters.  In this story, Jesus makes it clear that he disapproves of the choices being made in the temple.

This is one of my favorite stories, because we see a different side of Jesus.  We are used to seeing a Jesus who teaches, preaches, prays, heals and feeds.  This is a Jesus who is angry; who sees corruption and oppression and is pushing back against it.  This is a Jesus who is not passively standing by, but actively making his displeasure known, knocking tables down and telling people to stop what they are doing.

How, exactly, did we get here?  Let’s back up for a minute.

It is almost time for Passover and people from all over are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival.  When Jesus arrives, he realizes that people have set up a marketplace in the temple; they are selling cattle, sheep and doves and there are moneychangers exchanging currencies.

Why are they doing this?  Well, for starters, people who are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival need a place where they can purchase an animal to sacrifice; it is not always possible for them to travel to Jerusalem with these animals.  And, if you think about it, the temple is a pretty central – and known! – location to do this.  The moneychangers are there to convert foreign currency, so that everyone – no matter where they were traveling from or what kind of currency they were carrying – can purchase make their purchases for the sacrifice.

It is hard to pinpoint, exactly, why Jesus is upset, but it is probably a combination of things.  First of all, these people are likely charging exorbitant rates, both to change the currency and for the animals.  There is a high demand and the temple is the only place to take care of it, so it is kind of like electricity in Texas a few weeks ago – prices go up.  Second of all, Jesus is also not a fan of the fact that this is happening inside the temple, where people were supposed to be worshipping.

This story is an important one; it appears in all four Gospels.  Important to note this morning, however, is that this story appears much earlier in the Gospel of John than it does in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Here is why this is important; in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this story appears towards the end of the Gospels, acting, in many ways, as part of the catalyst for the crucifixion.  These Gospels tell the story as if Jesus calmly entered the scene, peacefully performed all these miracles and taught all these lessons, entered Jerusalem and then lost his temper in the temple.

And that very well may have happened.  However – this story appears in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, long before Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Which leads scholars to believe that these are different stories; that perhaps, this – Jesus storming into the temple and driving everyone out – happened more than once.  Scholars speculate, based on the timing of this story versus the temple story in the Synoptic Gospels, that Jesus’ actions in the temple were not simply a catalyst that led to his arrest, but that they were part of his ministry from the very beginning; that he challenged the institution long before his life was threatened for it.

This story, particularly the placement of it in John’s Gospel, is instrumental in our faith because it reminds us that Jesus refused to stand idly by when he witnessed oppression and injustice.  He pushed back; he made his voice heard and his presence known.  He literally flipped tables over to stop corruption from happening.  He risked everything for the sake of justice and he did not just do this at the end of his life and ministry, he did this from the very beginning.

This is actually a really hard one for me; because sometimes I think it is easier for me to live into the part of the Gospel where Jesus calls me to feed the hungry or heal the sick.  It feels a lot harder and scarier for me to live into this part; to turn over tables when I bear witness to oppression, to speak out against injustice and to hold others accountable to the promises we all make in baptism.  This feels like a much more complicated level to my faith.

And yet, this is as much a part of the Gospel as anything else.  Jesus’ resistance to injustice in order to care for the most vulnerable is part of who we are, who God is calling us to be, who Jesus needs us to be in order to keep the Gospel alive in our world today.

And friends, the world so desperately needs the Gospel, now more than ever.

So like I said, I actually think Jesus would have approved of our chocolate festival.  But I also think Jesus would have sipped his hot chocolate and asked us what our mission is.  I think Jesus would have snacked on a brownie and asked us what we, as a church community are actively doing to try to make this world a more just place.  I think Jesus would have grabbed some treats to fill his chocolate box and reminded us that the Gospel is not simply about words, but about actions – and that our actions should elicit change not only on surface levels, but on systemic levels, as well.

And this is going to look different for each one of us.  Like so many other pieces of our faith, we are all coming from different places.  But I do think this text challenges us to dig deeper into this more complicated level of our faith; to speak out against the injustices and the corruption we witness in the world.  I do think this text dares us to explore a level of activism and push for change, even if it means turning over some tables in the process.

Today is the third Sunday of Lent, a time of repentance as we journey towards the cross, but also a time of reflection.  It is a time to reflect on who we are and who God is calling us to be.  It is time to reflect on who we have the capacity to be and who God needs us to be.  It is a time to push ourselves to say and do things that might move us outside of our comfort zones, but that bring the Gospel to light in our world.  It is a time to experience the heartbreak and the brokenness of crucifixion so that, on Easter morning, resurrection is all the more powerful.

So may we all continue our journey to the cross this Lenten season by looking inwardly at who we are and who God is calling us to be.  May we challenge ourselves and the world around us.  May the Gospel prevail so that love can win.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.