Nurturing Our Own Soil

Hi friends!  We were back in the sanctuary this morning – still trying to figure out how to make the sound better!  But it still felt good to be there. Here is my sermon – with the video from the whole service.

Enjoy …

***

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

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Nurturing Our Own Soil

Many of you know that Bruce and I faithfully plant a vegetable garden every year.  Since we moved to Rehoboth in 2011, we have only missed two summers – one when Harrison was born and the other the summer we were moving out of the parsonage and into our house.  Yard work last spring – our first spring in our house – was focused almost entirely on building a big fence so we could start planting.

Gardening is fun for me, because you start with something small and nurture it in various ways and then watch it transform and grow right before uour very eyes.  I particularly enjoy growing vegetables, because then I get to enjoy the fruits (or, I guess, the veggies) of my labor.  I find so many powerful parallels between nurturing growth in a garden and nurturing personal growth in my life and my faith.

Which is why I always love this parable’s placement in the lectionary for us.  It pops up in the middle of the summer, usually when we are surrounded by an abundance of fresh flowers, berries and vegetables.  It is so relevant, because when Jesus talks about what seeds need to really take root and grow and produce, we have tangible examples of this metaphor all around us as we try to apply these words in our own lives.

I have to admit, however, that one of the things that has always perplexed me about this particular parable is the fact that I believe God can work with any kind of soil, which is not exactly what this parable is saying.  This parable is saying that the soil has to be “good”.

If you look at the passage we just read, the first part is the parable, itself, where Jesus explains what happens to seeds when they fall into or are planted in less-than-desirable soil.  They either do not take root or the growth that does happen cannot be sustained.

The second part of the passage is when Jesus then explains what this means in terms of our faith.  The Gospel – the word of God – are the seeds and we are the soil that the seeds are being planted in.  We need to be good soil so we can understand the word as it is planted within us and then nurture growth so it will bear fruit.

So my question has always been, but what if we are bad soil?  Where is the room for redemption?  For second chances?  For grace?  For the whole reason Jesus came into this world in the first place?

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that was kind of Jesus’ whole point.

Let’s look at the passage.

We have reached the point in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is really starting to show the true depth of God’s Kingdom.  Leading up to this particular chapter, chapter 13, was the section at the end of chapter 12 where Jesus’ mother and brother show up, wanting to speak to Jesus and Jesus, instead, points to his disciples and calls them his mother and brothers, saying that whoever does the will of God, his Father in heaven, is his brother, mother and sister.

In other words, what Jesus is talking about – this Gospel he is proclaiming – is so much bigger than any of our earthly lives.  Jesus is not just speaking to his family – at this point he is not just speaking to his disciples anymore!  Jesus is gathering crowds (albeit a concept that is a little strange to us right now, but I will just picture everyone in masks as they listen to Jesus talk).  Jesus is trying to reach as many people as he can with the Gospel.

So Jesus begins speaking in parables to give concrete examples and metaphors in order to explain the Kingdom of God, not only so those who had gathered that day could understand, but so we could understand, as well.  He begins with the parable of the sower, which is this morning’s passage.  The parable of the sower kicks of a series of planting-related parables – the parable of the weeds among the wheat, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast.

The point Jesus is trying to make with the parable of the sower is that God’s word will do nothing to us if we are not ready to receive it.  In the same way that a seed will not grow in the ground if the ground is not ready to receive it – if the soil is not good – we will not be able to grow in our faith and spread the Gospel without ensuring first that our soil is nutrient-rich.

Let’s get back to my original issue with this particular parable.  At first glance, it appears that if you do not have nutrient-rich soil that you will not be able to nurture growth in your faith and in the Gospel.  But what about those of us with rocky soil?  That are on a path with no soil?  That are surrounded by thorns?  What about those of us that do not have a strong foundation in faith?  That have a lot of questions?  That doubt more than we believe?  That have made mistakes?  That did not have the privilege of growing up in a household where going to church was part of our lives?

It is naïve to think that all we have to do is proclaim a belief in Christ in order to have nutrient-rich soil so we can nurture God’s word and let is grow in our lives.  I would argue that many of us likely do proclaim a belief in Christ and do not always think we have nutrient-rich soil in which to receive and nurture God’s word.

But, actually, I think that might be the point.

You see, it is not about what we are planting – it is about the soil in which we are planting it in.  The point of this parable is not to “weed out” (sorry, bad pun) the Christians with good soil from the Christians with bad soil.  The point is that we all have to nurture our soil before we stand a chance at nurturing growth within it.  So often we focus on how the seed is growing and what it is producing when we should be focusing on what we are planting that seed in in the first place.

We need to be focusing on the soil.

In other words, it is okay if we have not-so-good soil.  That is not the point – the point is that we can nurture our soil.  But that is where we have to start.  Not with the seeds – with the soil.

So we proclaim ourselves to be Christian.  Great!  But now what?  Christianity does not come with a shiny badge and a bag of nutrient-rich soil for us to plant seeds in.  It does, however, come with the promise of redemption and reconciliation and a Gospel that will challenge, comfort and strengthen us as we seek to learn and grow that so we can provide nutrients to the soil that we already have.

It is not about the seeds at all, it is about what we are planting them in.  And, as Christians, we have to do the hard work that is required to nurture our own soil before we even think about planting a single thing.  The message of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God that it invites us into will do nothing if we are not able to cultivate it in our own lives.

So the question is – how do we nurture our own soil?

In many ways, I think this time of social distancing has allowed us to get back to basics at the church.  Without the usual the flurry of activities (while I dearly miss them!) we have been allowed to focus on what brings us together in the first place – our faith, as Christians.

Our worship services center solely around God’s word and a reflection on that word.  Our nightly prayer meetings in our Facebook group not only connect us in prayer, but also strengthens our community as we check in with one another and hold one another in the light of God’s love.  We use the simple act of making phone calls and sending cards to have meaningful conversations and know that we are not alone.  Care packages are delivered to the homes of the children in our church school to remind them that their church loves them and has not forgotten them.

The more I reflect on what we are doing and how we are being church right now, the more I realize that now is the time to nurture our soil.  This time of social distancing will end eventually – we will, one day, resume our usual flurry of activities.  But I strongly believe that what will define us as a church is not what we produce then – it is the soil that we create now.

And so I know it is frustrating that we cannot meet in person yet.  I know it is hard to cancel so many of our favorite activities, not knowing when they will, once again, resume.  I know it is painful to not be able to look one another in the eyes and hug each other and do church the way we are used to.

But I invite you to take comfort in knowing that we are nurturing the soil in which we will plant our seeds in the future.  The work we are doing now is so important for what we can do and who we can be in the future.

The same is true for all of us, an individuals.  Many of our lives have slowed down – or, at the very least, changed – dramatically since things initially shut down in March.  And, in many ways, it is frustrating and heartbreaking – devastating, even.

But this is where we are – this is the chapter of history we are writing.  And so I believe that we, as individuals, can do the same work that the church is doing right now to nurture our own soil.  We can get back to basics – focus on reading scripture, on centering ourselves in prayer and on connecting with one another through meaningful conversations.  We can prioritize our personal faith journeys in a way that we never have had the time to do before.

We can read scripture.  Use a daily devotional for quiet time.  Write in a journal.  Participate in our evening prayers.  Pick up the phone and catch up with a member of our beloved community.  While I know we would all love nothing more than to plant seeds and watch them grow by getting out into the world and doing all of the things we want to do, perhaps now is the time to focus not on the seeds, but the on the soil that we will plant them in.

Friends, let us use this time – this time of social distancing, as frustrating as it might be – to nurture our soil.  Let us turn to scripture and prayer to give ourselves the strength, wisdom and courage to cultivate growth that can be sustained and will flourish in the future.  Let us nurture good soil within ourselves so that we can bear fruit and yield, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

I keep hearing people say that we need to keep the faith right now as we get through these challenging times.  And I agree.  Now more than ever, we need our faith to sustain us.

But I also think that in order to keep that faith, we have to have good soil for it to grow in.  And that takes work.

And that work starts now.

So let us nurture that soil that the seeds of the Gospel that fall within us will take root, grow, bear fruit and yield, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Giving Our Collective Burdens To Jesus

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

Enjoy …

***

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

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Giving Our Collective Burdens To Jesus

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

Yes.

100% yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says:

But to what will I compare this generation?

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

For better or worse, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we are connected to one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

How We Can Welcome Others Now

Hi Friends!

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

Enjoy …

***

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

Matthew 10:40-42

How We Can Welcome Others Now

Okay!

So.

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

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

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

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

God is not finished.

Amen?

Amen.

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

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

And yet, a lot has.

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

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

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

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

And yet, here I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet Jesus knew.

Jesus knew that it was not going to be easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither are we.

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

Onward.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.