We Need A Little Christmas

Hi Friends!

As I mentioned in my post earlier today, we moved up the start of Advent for several reasons this year, most of which I outlined in my sermon.  According to Facebook, I would say it was pretty evenly split as to whether people moved up the start of Advent or are waiting until next week.

My second year in Rehoboth, I did a Hanging of the Greens service.  That first year, everyone pretty much thought I was nuts.  The second year, the flower committee tried to help me set up, but ended pretty much decorating everything the day before.  The third or fourth year, Bruce and I got into an argument about whether or not we could pull off the greens on the balcony could be hung during the service itself (or if we had to be totally lame and pre-hang them).  Last year, his point was proven when the greens almost fell off the balcony during The Holly and the Ivy.

Suffice is to say, it’s a work in progress.

That being said, every year the service has gone a little bit smoother and I thought this year was the smoothest it has ever gone!  I asked for extra help and – gracious – it’s amazing what happens when you ask for help!

Here is my sermon – a little bit shorter, since the beginning of worship was a little bit longer with the hanging of the greens.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 26, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

We Need A Little Christmas

I am breaking all sorts of liturgical protocol this year.

As I said earlier, Advent technically does not start until next week. Because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, the liturgical calendar has us celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent the morning of Christmas Eve and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

I have to admit, part of me was kind of excited when I realized early in the year how this was all going to go down. I know people are used to Advent beginning the weekend of Thanksgiving; in fact, people have talked about both the Hanging of the Greens worship service and Advent workshop as the things we do every year the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Well, I thought to myself somewhat snootily. This is fantastic. I am going to use this year as a teachable moment to show all of these silly people who think everything just lines up with Thanksgiving that this is about when Advent begins and not just about Thanksgiving weekend.

And then, I thought to myself, I am going to make them wait a week to hang the greens. There will be no sign of Christmas until Advent officially begins.

Forgive me, congregation, for I have sinned. I climbed up on my liturgical high horse and really enjoyed that view.

Liturgical protocol? Talk about liturgical buzz kill.

A few weeks ago, I had a change of heart. I started to think about everything we have been through this year.

In our country, we have experienced a year of political tension, several natural disasters and multiple mass shootings, all of which are weighing heavily on people’s hearts.

Here at RCC, we are in the middle of a more than one transition. Not only are we carefully moving in the direction of governance restructuring (which is a lot, in and of itself), but we also said goodbye to Jordan and Lauren and then a few weeks later again found ourselves without a Music Director.

Personally, I am trying to figure out how to balance ministry and motherhood, which is comical even on the best of days. And I know everyone here has their own story of both finding and losing balance this year.

So I thought about all of this stuff, and I came to this conclusion: We need a little Christmas!

In this morning’s scripture reading, Paul says to the Corinthians, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”[1] Notice Paul does NOT say, “God is faithful; by him you were called to make everyone wait a week to sing Christmas carols.”

So let us get this season started.

Friends, I think we need a little Christmas this year. And so this morning, I am going to talk about why it is so important to celebrate the magic of this season here at the church and also some of the ways that you can get involved and enrich your own celebration.

Here are three reasons I think we need a little Christmas.

  1. We need a little Christmas because grace comes alive in this story – and right now, we all could use a little grace.

Paul says in this letter to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”[2]

Think about this for a second: Grace not only appeared in the manger when Jesus was born, it was ignited. Into this world came the incarnational presence of God, the promise of redemption and a way to live our lives.

The Christmas story sets us up for a Gospel that can change lives and transform this world. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because it reminds us that God is here with us, in our lives; that God walks with us through the highs and the lows, the successes and the imperfections.

Emmanuel means, God with us; and when Jesus was born and placed in that humble manger, there was living proof that sometimes grace is found in the most unexpected places.

And I believe that today, despite some of the challenges we all face, grace will still be found in the most unexpected places.

  1. We need a little Christmas because Christmas is happening anyway all around us, so we might as well put Christ back into it.

Paul writes, “The testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.”[3] As Christians, it is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to strengthen this testimony. I know this sounds cliché, but we have to keep Christ in Christmas.

Now listen: I am not saying that we need to reject Santa Claus or anything (in fact, there is be a pretty good chance that Harrison Weaver has already had his picture taken with Santa Claus), but I am saying that I think we should really embrace Christ this season.

This is going to look different for every single one of you. But there are so many ways to hold onto Christ as you also get swept up in the Christmas celebration that is happening all around.

Take a tag off of the Giving Tree and shop for a child who might not otherwise receive a gift on Christmas morning.

If you are trying to come up with a gift for someone who really does not need or want anything, consider making a donation in their name to your favorite charity (or perhaps your favorite church in the village?).

Tap into some of the fun things we are doing here at the church – Polar Express Movie Night on Saturday, December 2nd, the Christmas Pageant (there is a planning session after church on December 3rd) and the Old Fashioned Evening of Christmas Caroling on Sunday, December 16th.

Incorporate a devotional or an Advent calendar into your daily routine.

For far to long, I fought the juxtaposition of celebrating Advent inside the walls of the church while the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas outside of our walls. And this year, instead of fighting it, I am just going to dance with it. While I am not going to skip over the Advent section in the hymnal entirely, we will be singing some Christmas tunes in worship this year, so hopefully you find yourself getting swept away not only in the commercialism of Christmas, but also in the magic of it as well.

  1. We need a little Christmas because sometimes we need the reminder that God is faithful.

Paul says to the church in Corinth, “God is faithful,”[4] and the Christmas story is a story about faithfulness. It is a story about our faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to us.

In the Christmas story, angels appear to ordinary humans and tell them that God is calling them to do extraordinary things. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, the innkeeper; through the faithfulness of these individual people, something amazing happened.

We are reminded as we prepare to hear this story again that, through our faithfulness, amazing things will happen, as well.

But this faithfulness is a covenant; through our faithfulness, God is just as faithful. Not only did God walk alongside the characters in this narrative of the Christmas story so long ago, Jesus’ birth into this world proclaims to us that God is with us. God has experienced life in this imperfect world. God feels what we feel; God celebrates in our joy and weeps with us in our sorrow.

And we are not alone.

Advent has been moved up a week here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. This is partially to accommodate our Christmas Eve worship schedule – we will be celebrating Christmas Eve at the morning service, it will be our Family Worship & Christmas Pageant.

But, even more than that, we have jumped headfirst into this Advent season because this story changes lives and I just cannot wait to tell it again. This is a story about hope that can be found in humble places, like the manger of quiet stable. It is a story about peace that comes from trusting God, even if you find yourself traveling along a difficult journey, perhaps from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is a story about joy that is proclaimed so loudly that everyone around you can hear, as if it were coming from a multitude of angels. It is a story about love that always wins – from an empty manger to an empty tomb.

This story is too important to wait. Especially now.

Friends, Paul says we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord. Today, we prepare our sanctuary so we are read to step into this season together.

Our sanctuary is ready! Come, Emmanuel, come! Let our Advent journey begin!

Thanks be to God!
Amen. 

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:4, NRSV
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:6, NRSV
[4] 1 Corinthians 1:9

Building Something With Purpose

Well, it’s taken me a little over a month into the year to mention Fixer Upper in a sermon.  Let’s be honest – for me, that’s pretty good!  Our Women’s Book Club is actually reading The Magnolia Story for our meeting next week – has anyone else read it?

Someone came up to me after church and commented on how everything in the worship service gelled together really well (scripture, sermon, children’s sermon, music, liturgy).  I responded with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm at the time, but inside I was doing a little jig – I definitely try make sure worship is cohesive and flows like that, but some weeks are better than others!  Nice to know we made it work this week …

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Building Something With Purpose

My love of the television show, Fixer Upper, has been well documented here at church. Some might call it obsessive, but I actually do have some concrete – and I would argue, relevant – reasons for loving this show so much.

(And I really do have a point, so bear with me for a moment and hear me out!)

FIVE REASONS I LOVE FIXER UPPER

  1. I love pretty things.

There is a reason that I have painted and rearranged my office three times in the last six years, that I have a fixation with photography and that I usually put up more than one Christmas tree. I love pretty things; I love looking at pretty things and I love being surrounded by pretty things. And, let’s face it, this show is pretty much chock-full of pretty things, whether you are looking at architecture, design or Joanna’s fashion.

  1. I love a good before and after.

This show loves the shock value of an incredible makeover and week after week, the results are spectacular.

  1. I love how Chip & Joanna Gaines ground their family in faith.

I love that, as a couple, they are unapologetic about their faith, but also not exploitative, either. They have a set of values they believe in, and this comes through as they design spaces meant for families and friends to gather, break bread together and be in real and authentic community.

  1. I love Chip’s antics.

While there are times when I am watching the show and think to myself, “Gee, I’m glad Bruce has taken a bet to eat a cockroach,” (which. actually. happened.), but I appreciate Chip’s sense of humor and zest for life.

  1. I love that, every episode, they build something with purpose.

There is a reason behind every decision the Gaines’ make when they are working on a house, whether those decisions are related to safety, budget, construction or design. Everything they do has a specific purpose; no part of the process is meaningless.

As I was thinking about our scripture from 1 Corinthians this week, particularly the comparison Paul makes to a skilled master builder laying a foundation and someone else building on top of it, I could not help but think of Fixer Upper. Because more often than not, they build and rebuild the fixer uppers on top of foundations that have already been poured. The aesthetics of the house may change, but the foundation of the home remains in tact.

Well, isn’t that what Paul is saying here? The churches we build and the Christians we become may look different from one another, but the foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ – always remains in tact.

This morning we pick up 1 Corinthians where we left off last week. In the scripture we read last week, Paul talked about divisions in the church; divisions related to allegiances that were forming with different religious teachers. And while, to some extent, Paul was still talking about this, he also went deeper in this passage to talk about why this sense of unity is so important.

Paul believed that churches needed to be unified in God in order for them to grow and thrive. And the reason for this, Paul said, was because Jesus had already laid the foundation of the Church. That part has already been done; the church needed, now, to build on top of that. Building on top of anything else would render a structure unstable and not strong enough.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ … [1]

Paul, of course, had a vested interest in this community. He planted the church in Corinth and obviously wanted it to succeed, but his words are powerfully spoken to more than this one church. These words speak to us, today, in our lives, in our church and in this Christian story that we are writing together.

We are building something in our lives. Every day, every decision we make, every journey we take creates something in our lives and in the story of our faith.

And so Paul’s words remind us that we have to be intentional about this process, we have to ask ourselves: What are we building? What are we building in our lives, in our faith and in our church?

Perhaps the harder question to ask might be this: What do we want to build? What is God calling us to build?

Every stage of life comes with new challenges, something new to build. Whether we are in school, growing careers, raising families, walking through a challenging medical crisis, understanding the nuances of empty nesting or learning how to accept care when we have always cared for others, we are building something, piece by piece.

And while we may not always get to control the circumstances surrounded what we are building, we do get to make some choices in the process. We figure out the “how”: How are we going to build this? Where do we start? What tools do we use?

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Leviticus, the third book of the bible, which is part of the narrative of Moses. This passage gives a really practical discourse on how we can live our lives as people of God. It offers simple, basic practices for us, as human beings, as we try to navigate this crazy world, build our lives and grow our faith. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t fraud others, don’t judge people unfairly, don’t profit from other people’s misfortunes, don’t hold hate in your heart and ultimately, as Jesus later said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is how we ought to live our lives; these are the tools we need to build our lives, our faith and our church. Every piece we add should hold basic principles of love, human decency and hospitality. This is what the bible tells us, over and over again; this is how we can and will build something meaningful and life changing in our lives.

And this is how we can and will build something meaningful and life changing in our church, as well.

What are we building at this church? What do we want to build? What is God calling us to build?

Here’s the thing: We are as much a part of this church’s story as it is a part of ours and I do not know about the rest of you, but I, for one, want to write a story that is worth telling in the years to come.

Paul called the people of Corinth to build their church off of the foundation that Christ had already poured and it seems to me that we must heed this call in our church, today. We must be intentional about what we are building, we must take care with every piece we set and we must build on the foundation Christ gave us us. We must ground ourselves into the life-changing truths of the gospel and be diligent about living that out, not only in our lives, but also within this community. We must build something here that is worthy of the glory of the God, of the Gospel that has been given to us and of the lives and ministries God is calling us into.

I said earlier that this scripture made me think of Fixer Upper and here’s why: Because when I think about the five reasons I love that show, they mirror some of the exact same things I love about the church.

FIVE REASONS I LOVE FIXER UPPER MY CHURCH

  1. I love pretty things.

I love the beautifully arranged flowers our Flower Committee puts together and the altarscapes and fabric installations I am able to do. I love my stole collection and the way we use color in worship to breathe life and purpose into a space. I love powerful music that resonates not only through the walls, but also through the very essence of my soul. I love the mouthwatering food everyone makes and the sweet Valentine’s Day cards our Church School made for several members of our church.

Here at this church, we create beauty. 

  1. I love a good before and after.

The church is about changing lives. And while there’s no giant portrait of us that gets pulled away to reveal our new and improved self every week, the shock value of the life-changing magic of the Gospel is every-present here in our worship, in our fellowship and in our mission work. As we do the hard work that is required of us to build this church, lives are being changed. And that is that Good News of Jesus Christ; that is resurrection in motion.

  1. I love how Chip & Joanna Gaines the church ground(s) their family its community in faith.

I love that this church gives individuals, couples and families a safe space to learn and grow in their faith. In today’s world it is not always easy to proclaim our faith outside of our walls; and while I would argue that, now more than ever it is important that we do that, this church gives people a safe space to be who they are and listen to who God is calling them to be. It gives people a place to learn about Christian values, ask questions, pray for others and hold one another accountable.

  1. I Chip’s our church’s antics.

We do not have a Chip Gaines running amok, but we do have choir members throwing their music, candles that won’t light during the prelude and communion trays discovered with leftover cups filled with moldy grape juice that were never thrown away and discovered a month (okay, two) later. Sometimes it seems like a comedy of errors around here, but the people around me are always reminding me that sometimes this is just what grace in motion looks like.

We learn at this church that it is okay to laugh and that we do not have to be perfect.

  1. I love that, every episode day, they we build something with purpose.

Every day, we are building something, with purpose, at this church. Whether we are shoveling snow or leading worship, there is a reason for everything that we do. If you come to this church and participate in one way or another, you are part of that. I would argue that there is not only a place for you at this church, but there is a purpose for you at this church, as well.

There are so many ways to participate in the life of this church and this scripture reminds us that as long as we are building on the foundation of Jesus Christ, we are building something that will practices resurrection and change people’s lives.

This church is a place where children are baptized, where people in need are cared for, where gifts are transformed into ministries, where prayers are lifted up and where people of all backgrounds come together to worship, serve and learn. This church is a place where breaking bread together is not only a sign of nourishment, but also friendship and covenant. This church is a place where the secular becomes sacred and the ordinary becomes holy. This church is a place we are building together.

So let us heed the call. Let us, like Paul said, according to the grace given to us, build something with purpose. Let us heed the call to build on the foundation Christ set for us – in our lives, in our faith and in this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

Remember: It takes a (church in the) village. And we are building that church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:11, NRSV

On Becoming Spiritual People

I had originally planned on preaching just out of the Psalms this weekend, but decided when I read the passage from 1 Corinthians that I really wanted to preach out of that and supplement with the Psalms.  I think the lesson of Paul’s words here – that we really all belong to God – ring true, now more than ever!

Here is my sermon from the weekend.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 12, 2017

Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9

On Becoming Spiritual People

On Wednesday night, as schools, businesses and organizations were announcing their closings for the following day, someone on one of my clergy forums posted about how excited they were for the upcoming snow day. Someone else replied that they would be excited, but the prospect of keeping their two children occupied without fighting all day already had them exhausted and the snow had not even started falling yet.

I am sure other parents of young children can commiserate. I know the scripture says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,”[1] but I would imagine that for parents of multiple small children some days it feels more like, “Where two or three are gathered on a snow day, they will start fighting.”

The truth is, sometimes we, as adults, do not do much better than children. Sure, we might be able to occupy ourselves during a blizzard without fighting, but we do not always get along with one another. Just like children, we often find ourselves at odds with the people around us, sometimes even with the people we love.

Being in community – whether it is here at the church, in our families, with our friends, at work, in our towns or within other organizations – is not easy. When conflicts arise, we try the best we can to be mature and use our ‘I’ statements to find some sort of resolution, but we are human beings living in a very imperfect world. When the rubber meets the road and tensions are running high, sometimes we are not much better than siblings squabbling on a snow day.

In our second scripture reading this morning (from 1 Corinthians), Paul did not talk to the Corinthian people as if they were grown adults, but addressed them as if they were those squabbling siblings. He said he was not speaking to the Corinthians as spiritual people, but as infants in Christ, who needed to be fed with milk and were not even ready to eat solid food.[2]

Ouch!

I mean, certainly we all have our moments when we are not as mature as we could have been, but think about it: As a church, if we were experiencing some sort of conflict, would we really want someone to come in to help us resolve it and basically put us in the same maturity category as the preschool Church School class?

It certainly was an effective way for Paul to make his point.

Paul had a history with this community in Corinth. He traveled there sometime around the year 51CE and spent about 18 months establishing and cultivating a church.[3] His goal was to build a flourishing Christian community, but, unfortunately, this community was full of people, human beings that also lived in a very imperfect world. There were differences among them, differences that often threatened to divide them. And as the people in Corinth tried to live and be in community, they realized just how challenging it actually was; not surprisingly, they experienced tension and conflict.

In this morning’s reading, Paul talked about alliances he heard were forming in Corinth:

For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?[4]

Essentially, communities within the community were emerging within the church; each with their own religious teacher that each group believed had superior wisdom and knowledge.

Paul had actually addressed the same thing earlier in the letter – in the first chapter of this book – when he wrote:

Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?[5]

A lot of this tension boiled down to the simple notion of everyone thinking they were right and anyone who believed differently was wrong. But Paul strongly urged the Corinthians not to put the human wisdom of their religious teachers over the divine wisdom that comes from being in a relationship with God. Keeping God at the center of the Corinthian community – not splitting off according to religious teachers – was going to give them spiritual strength and growth. “For we are God’s servants,” Paul said, “working together.”[6]

Paul’s use of this spiritual infancy metaphor is actually really intriguing to me because, as much as it sounds like it, I do not think Paul was trying to insult the Corinthians or act like he was somehow superior to them. I think Paul wanted the Corinthians to experience the fullness of God’s grace in a way that they could not when they were splitting off according to their human leaders.

Paul said there was more to our faith than the spiritual infancy where we all begin and where the Corinthians seemed to be stuck. He said that in order for the Corinthians to be spiritual people and not infants in Christ, they needed to look away from the things on earth that were threatening to divide them (these alliances to various religious teachers) and look instead to God, who could and would unite them.

Paul reminded the people in Corinth that religious teachers were servants of God, but they were not God. Yes, they played a crucial role in sharing God’s message and cultivating this community of faith, but God was still the one that should be the ultimate power and authority for Corinthian people.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.[7]

Paul was trying to impress upon the Corinthian people that spiritual growth and maturity would come from putting God at the center of their lives and their community. They needed to start there – with God – if they wanted their church to grow and thrive.

Now, as much as this letter is about a specific conflict Paul was attempting to resolve, I actually think his words go much deeper than that. I think Paul was talking about more than just reconciliation; he was talking about spiritual wholeness. At its core, this letter showed the Corinthians one of the ways they could grow in their faith from infants in Christ to spiritual people.

This is a wonderful lesson for all of us as today we seek to learn how to grow in our own faith. Far too often we look to earthly people, things and desires for authority in our lives and forget to look to God. Paul not only believed this – this ultimate focus on God – would bring unity to the church in Corinth, but spiritual wholeness to the individual people that made up the church.

And I strongly believe this can bring us spiritual wholeness as well. So often our lives are crazy, busy and out of our control, but Paul’s words remind us that regardless of what else may be going on, we all have the capacity within ourselves to be spiritual people, to experience the fullness of God’s love, light, grace and wisdom in our lives. But we have to remember to turn our focus on God. We have to center our lives around God. We have to wake up every day and make a commitment to live out the Gospel as we seek to strengthen our faith.

I wanted to read the psalm from the lectionary this morning because I think it gives us a really beautiful prompt on how we can live our lives as we seek to grow into spiritual people.

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.[8]

We need to walk in the law of the Lord.

This means that if we really want to grow as Christians, then we have to let go of the things on earth that often consume us and cling to God in a way that gives us life. Even when our lives are super distracting and making us crazy, we need to try that much harder to focus on our faith and live our lives for the glory of God. This means making time for prayer, reading the bible, coming to church, doing some sort of mission work, helping others and giving our time and our money. This means doing the sometimes hard work that God requires of us to not only live out our faith, but also to share that faith with others. This means holding ourselves accountable and always seeking to dig deeper into our faith.

There are a lot of things in this world and in our lives that are extraordinarily distracting. Some are good – Super Bowl comebacks, for example – and some are bad – illnesses and tragedies unfortunately impact a lot of us. All have the potential to turn our attention away from God and this is not always easy to control. But we can push back. We can make a commitment. We can make our faith a priority. Paul wrote this letter because he wanted this community not only to feel a sense of unity among themselves, but also the freedom and wholeness that comes from keeping God at the center of our lives.

And I think, more than ever, his words ring true for us in our lives today. I believe we all have the potential to become spiritual people, we just need to tap into the wholeness that comes from knowing God, nurture our faith and give ourselves space to grow into spiritual people.

So may we all find this grace, understand this fullness of divine authority and feel the wholeness of God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 18:20, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthian 3:2, NRSV
[3] The CEB Study Bible, edited by Joel B. Green, NT pg. 303
[4] 1 Corinthians 3:4, NRSV
[5] 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, NRSV
[6] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
[7] 1 Corinthians 3:7, NRSV
[8] Psalm 119:1-3, NSRV