Faith Construction

Good afternoon!  Sorry for the delay in posting this week.  I have no other excuse other than I am two weeks away from my due date and we are busily getting ready for my maternity leave at church and the baby at home.  And holy cow, spring is in full swing and things are BUSY at church!  I think I have something going on every night this week – all good things, but I’ve been trying to keep track of everything and I keep thinking I’m going to miss something.

I won’t be preaching this weekend, so I won’t post another sermon until Memorial Day weekend.  Our Children’s Day & Choir Sunday is this Sunday, so the children are leading worship and we have some special music planned.  We’re looking forward to a great celebration with the theme, It Takes A (Church In The) Village!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:4-10

Faith Construction

Has anyone driven across the Tappen Zee Bridge lately? They are building a new one; construction began in 2013 and the project – which is estimated to cost $3.9 billion – should be completed in April 2018.

Bruce and I have taken a few trips down to Pennsylvania in the last year or so and every time we make the trip, we get almost geekily excited to see the progress that has been made on the bridge since we saw it last. I do not know about the rest of you, but bridge construction has always fascinated me. I understand it is an engineering process but, from my background of theology and church, it just seems like only a series of divine miracles could construct something so sturdy over such a large body of water.

There is just something about construction – any kind of construction – that seems so daunting to me. Think about it: You start with materials that, individually, really do not look like much or have all that much function, and yet somehow, by the end of the process you have something not only functional, but, most of the time, sturdy as well.

My parents had a sunroom put on their house a few years ago and I remember sitting and watching their contractor – who is a good friend of ours – work one afternoon. Eventually I looked at him and said, “So you just took a bunch of wood and put it together and made a whole new room on their house, didn’t you?”

He looked perplexed by, what I can only imagine from his perspective was one of the stupidest questions he had ever heard, and said, “Well, yeah, that’s the idea.”

But, again, not knowing how to do it myself, I really am just fascinated when I observe the construction process! It is methodical, it is intentional, it is creative, it is adaptable, it is collaborative and it is visionary.

Which is why the metaphor used in this morning’s scripture has always been so compelling to me.

This morning’s reading comes from First Peter, which is a letter written during the first century addressed to various churches facing religious persecution. The author of the letter draws from the Prophet Isaiah, who said:

thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’[1]

The author of this letter makes a promise to the persecuted Christians he is writing to; a promise that their sacrifices are not being made in vain. He assures them that Jesus Christ, even though he was rejected, is a living stone; and, like Isaiah prophesied, that living stone is tested, precious and a sure foundation. He tells the people that they are building something on this foundation; something not only functional and sturdy, but life changing, as well.

And even more than that, the author tells these struggling churches that they, too, are living stones; they are called to allow God to build them into this church – into this “spiritual house” – where they can offer themselves to God. It is here in this church, the author says, that they can gather together, learn and grow in their faith and invite others into the narrative of the Gospel.

This is not a passive religious experience. The author is describing the difference between attending a church and being a church. “Now you are God’s people,” the author writes. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[2] Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone and the sure foundation of our faith, but we – we, the persecuted Christians who first read these words 2,000 years ago and we, those of us reading them today – are not only building the church, but we are the pieces of the church as it is built, as well.

I think this is where the engineering process stops and the series of divine miracles begin.

So what does this mean for us? As a church, we are not necessarily building something out of nothing at the moment. We are part of the Christian faith that has been around for 2,000 years, a protestant tradition that has been around for almost 500 years, a denomination that was formed 60 years ago and a church that was incorporated nearly 300 years ago. The situation we face today is different than the Christians this letter was first written to.

But I would argue that there is still very much a sense of urgency to the work that needs to be done in our generation. We live in an increasingly secular society; we, especially, feel this in New England, where we yield some of the lowest percentages of church attendance countrywide at 10%-15%. It is not easy to be a Christian in a world where the culture rejects the very notion that faith is something that should be valued. Being part of a church is no longer something that necessarily fits easily into the routine of our lives. We have to fight hard to make church “work” in our schedule and, even then, sometimes we struggle to find balance.

This is why I think it is imperative for all of us to keep in mind that this scripture is not just talking about building the institutional church; it is also referring to the more widespread notion of building the Church universal and sharing our faith with the world.

I believe the authors identifies us as living stones not simply so we can walk into a church and be members, but so that we can nurture our own personal faith, as well.

Bruce and I have talked about this a lot recently, especially as we think about our growing family and how we can be intentional about building a life, as a family, on the foundation of our faith. We know it will not be easy. We see the struggle people of all generations and stages of life have to find balance and are under no illusion that we are somehow immune to it just because I happen to be a pastor.

But I think there are some things we can do – things all of us can do – to try. It might not necessarily look like “church” the way is has over the past 100 years, but it can and will be what God is calling us to do, today.

I believe the most important thing the author says in this passage is this:

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house … to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[3]

I do not think the author is talking about elaborate and bizarre ritual sacrifices; I believe the author is reminding us to ask ourselves the question, “Will this bring glory to God?” as we set out to live each day.

Now, will this seem like a silly question when we are doing some of the more mundane tasks in life, like shopping for groceries or pumping gas or cleaning the house? Maybe, but I would also argue that these activities create a sense of home and stability in our lives. And maybe if we approach everything we do – even the seemingly mundane stuff – with this mindset and by asking the question, will this bring glory to God and how, we may find a better sense of balance in our lives.

It starts with the basics. Think about it: When my parents set out to build their sunroom, they did not start by picking out light fixtures and buying furniture and accessories; they started with the basic structure.

And I think as we all seek to live out our faith, to be the church of the 21st century and to continue to write this Christian story, we need to go back to the basics, as well. We need to make a commitment to break bread with our family and friends, find time for personal prayer and devotion, get involved at the church and give back to the community. We need to think about how the different pieces of our lives bring glory to God, in ways both big and small. This is how we will strengthen the foundation of our lives and our faith so it is sturdy enough to withstand everything else we put on top of it.

And I know this is not easy. People are busy, the world is crazy and faith is not exactly mainstream, these days. But here is something I do know about the building and construction process – it is adaptable.

When I was getting ready for my junior year of college, I asked my dad if he could build me a loft for my bed so my roommate and I could maximize our space a little bit more. He drew up some plans and build the loft according to them, but was not satisfied with how sturdy it was when he finished. I remember him saying, “You know, if this was scenery, I would just screw it into the stage to secure it,” and then shrugged, grabbed his drill, screwed the whole thing through the carpet and into the floor of my dorm and said, “There we go!”

We have to be adaptable in today’s world. If we truly want to build our lives on the foundation of our faith, we need to set attainable goals for ourselves, goals that bear in mind the craziness of the world we are living in today and set us up to succeed. For example, it might not be possible to have family dinners every night, but it might be possible to schedule them three or four nights a week. It might not be possible to completely disconnect from technology, but it might be possible to do this for an hour or two every day. It might not be possible to come to church every week, but it might be possible to come twice a month. It might not be possible to join a committee or take on a role at the church that requires hours of commitments every month, but it might be possible to participate in a few projects every year. Give yourselves some grace as you seek to grow in your faith in this crazy world.

I do not think that being the living stones of our faith is as complicated a process as building a nearly-$4 billion bridge; I think it starts at home, supported by our church family and surrounded by a God who is with us always.

So may we all be blessed as we embrace who we are as living stones, building this faith that sustains our lives and truly makes this world a better place. And may we, too, be assured, that our efforts are not being made in vain. May we always remember that we do have to always necessarily understand the process; that divine miracles are happening all around us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 28:16, NRSV
[2] 1 Peter 2:9-10, NRSV
[3] 1 Peter 2:5, NRSV

To Do What Is Good

Have a blessed Memorial Day celebration!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth Ministerial Grounds, Pond Street
Rehoboth, MA
5/25/2014

1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

To Do What Is Good

So I am not going to lie – I spent a solid 25 minutes last night googling Mister Rogers quotes when I was stuck trying to figure out how to start my sermon.

When you first read it, this passage from 1 Peter sounds really complicated – the author is kind of long-winded and convoluted and rambles on a bit about suffering and conscience and sanctification. But as I read it over and over again yesterday, I started to widdle some of the wordiness away and realized that perhaps it was not as complicated as it first sounds. In fact, I think that the core of what the author is saying is that we should just be good people.

(Hence me looking for Mister Rogers quotes, because – let’s face it – “we should just be good people” is pretty much the core of what Mister Rogers spent his life teaching as well.)

First of all, I think it is important to remember that there is a huge difference between us as a community reading this passage of scripture today and the community that this letter was originally addressed to. 1 Peter was addressed to Christians living in the northern half of the peninsula of Asia Minor (what is now Turkey) during the end of the first century. Christians were being persecuted. Their lives were at stake. The author was telling them to push forward in their faith, even if meant oppression or death. There is a sense of intentional urgency in this letter that we do not necessarily feel or understand today when it comes to how we express our beliefs and our faith.

That being said, I still think we have a lot to learn from this letter. The author was talking about suffering and fear and defense, because this community was under religious attack and those were the (very real) things that Christians were experiencing at the time. But if you take that out of the equation for a second, what you essentially have is the author saying to this community, “You have been dealt a very difficult hand of cards, but it is still so very important to simply do what is good and be true to who you are.”

And I think that is a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Here is what jumped out at me when I picked apart this passage:

“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”
“You are blessed.”
“Do it with gentleness.”
“Keep your conscience clear.”
“Baptism saves you.”

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, excitement and challenges. We cannot always control the hand of cards that we will be dealt, but we can control how we will respond to them. We can face conflict and still be good people. We can face challenges and still make good choices. We can be eager to do what is good, we can defend ourselves with gentleness and we can live out the promises made to us in baptism.

Jesus said in this morning’s gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He said these words right before he was betrayed and crucified; this was one of his final prayers for us as his earthly life was coming to a close. But he knew that this would not always be easy for us. And that is why he made sure that we would never be alone.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” {John 14:15-17}

We are never alone in this world. Yes, as human beings we will experience loneliness and sadness and tragedy and sorrow, but we will never be alone – Jesus made sure of that. God’s spirit is alive and at work here on earth. Sometimes we see it in tangible ways and sometimes it is unexplainable. But it is always there – I really do believe that. And we can use that spirit to help us live out this call that the author of 1 Peter gives to us to do what is good and to be true to who we are.

The second verse of this morning’s passage says, “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” The author said this – “but even if you do suffer” – because the Christian community was suffering. But there are two parts to this sentence – the first part is “but even if you do suffer” and the second part is “you are blessed.” I think the author wanted Christians to understand that – while they might face adversities and challenges in their lives – they would still be blessed.
And this is something we need to always remember as well.

Whatever you are facing in your life, know that you are blessed. You are blessed by a God who loves you and who is always with you. You are blessed by a God who shares both in your joy and in your sorrow. You are blessed with a God who rejoices with you and weeps with you. You may face earthly challenges, but you are blessed by a God who lives within you always and who – through the waters of baptism – showers his healing and renewing grace upon you.

It is fitting that we read this passage of scripture on Memorial Day Weekend, a time when we pause and remember those who lost their lives serving and protecting our country. Because I think the best way that we can honor our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the line of duty is to be good people: To choose love over hate, peace over war, friendship over hatred and charity over greed. I think that we can celebrate this holiday by – as the scripture says – being eager to do what is good and also by remembering that the living waters of baptism draw us closer both to God and to one another.

So this morning I leave you with words of wisdom from Fred Rogers that I think are appropriate: “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

What Will Your At-Bat Song Be?

Happy Sunday!  It is so gray and gross here – I just kind of want to curl up for the rest of the day with a big heavy blanket and a good book!  Where is spring?!

Here is my sermon from this morning … when you finish reading, comment and tell me what your at-bat song is going to be!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 27, 2014

1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

What Will Your At-Bat Song Be?

Good news! Spring has finally sprung, which means the days are getting longer, the temperatures are slowly creeping up and baseball season is in full swing (get it? Full swing!).

When Bruce and I lived in Atlanta, we spent a lot of time at Turner Field during the spring and summer. Here is what I loved so much about going to see the Braves; it wasn’t so much a game as it was a cultural experience. Riding MARTA down to Five Points and transferring to the shuttle with thousands of other baseball fans, tailgating, Friday Night Fireworks, getting dressed up (this was the south, after all!), the tomahawk chop – I could go on and on.

If I am being really honest, I guess I should say that I never really went to see the Braves play just for the actual game itself. I was there for the social aspect and all that that encompassed as well.

Needless to say, very rarely did I ever actually know what was going on in the game. I could usually tell you what the score was, but – let’s face it – there a big giant board that tells you that, so I’m not really sure I should get a lot of credit there.

But here is one of the great things about baseball – you do not really have to pay complete attention to the game in order to know what is going on. Not only is there a big board that tells you what the score is, but you also know at any given time where each team is in their lineup and which player is coming up to bat by what song is playing when they walk up to the plate.

So – I may never have actually known if the pitch thrown was a strike or a ball or if the ball flying through the air was a hit or a foul, but the second I heard Ozzy Osbourne scream, “ALL ABOARD!” I knew that Chipper Jones was coming up to bat because his at-bat song was “Crazy Train.”

I love at-bat songs. Truth be told, I kind of wish I was a major league baseball player for the sheer fact that I would get to pick my own at-bat song. Maybe I am overthinking this, but I just think that an at-bat song has the opportunity to say so much about a person. It is what pumps someone up, what inspires them, what prepares them. It not only identifies them to the outside world (or, okay, the crowd in the baseball stadium), but also reflects who they are and what they want to do when they step up to the plate.

My theory on this is partially why I got such a kick out of the fact that Tony Sanchez, who is a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, chose the song, “Let it Go” from Frozen as his at-bat song this year.

I am not really sure what that says about him.

(Actually, the other day Bruce and I were driving home and discussing what our at-bat songs would be if we were baseball players. So if you have ever wondered if the phrase “opposites attract” is truly an accurate understanding of relationships, I should mention that my husband chose the Metallica song, For Whom The Bell Tolls, while I decided my song should be the Overture from Phantom of the Opera.)

I have a point.

This is the week after Easter, referred to often in clergy circles as “Low Sunday,” because attendance in worship drops so significantly from where it was on Easter Sunday. I have to admit that it is a little depressing. The lilies are gone from the sanctuary; the choir is not singing; the special lights that we used to light the altar are gone; and the beautiful flowers that adorned our living cross in front of the church – well – died and the cross had to be taken down. The sacredness and exquisite beauty of that Easter morning is kind of gone.

But if you think about it, for us – individuals, brothers and sisters in Christ – the Sunday after Easter is anything BUT low. In fact, this is where is all begins! Easter is a pivotal moment in our faith and in our ministries. We celebrate something that happened many years ago, but we also celebrate God’s active grace in our lives today. Easter gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect – to really reflect – on Jesus’ resurrection and how his resurrection is affecting us, touching us and teaching us today. It is a time to think about how spectacular the Christian story really is and how lucky we are to be a part of it as it continues to unfold. It is a time for intentional new beginnings in our faith and in our lives and in our ministries and in our community; it is a chance for us to refocus and to look ahead. It is – to keep going with the baseball metaphor – that moment when you step up to the plate and say to yourself, “Okay, it is my turn now.”

It is your turn. It is your turn to live out your faith. It is your turn to proclaim your belief in the resurrection, whatever or however that may look for you. It is your turn to listen to God speaking to you. And it is your turn to be who God is calling you to be.

So here you go – it is the Sunday after Easter; you are back into your day-to-day routine and you are walking up to the plate, ready to take on your faith in a new way.
What song will be playing as you step up to bat?

What song defines your faith? What song defines who you are as a Christian? What song is an expression of your belief (or your disbelief)? What song asks the questions that you ponder of proclaims the joy or sadness that you feel? What song makes you feel connected to God in a way that no other song does?

As Christians, we are all different. There is no mold or formula that we have to fit into in order to be part of this great faith. On Easter morning we remembered the women who found the empty and immediately believed that Christ had risen and that he was alive and in their midst. This morning we remembered Thomas – doubting Thomas as most of us know him as – who said to the disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The scriptural juxtaposition of these two believers teaches us that we all come to believe in different ways.

And because we all come to believe in different ways, we certainly live out our faith in different ways as well. We each have a different song that plays as we step up to the plate and prepare ourselves to do what God is calling us to do. What did I say in my Easter sermon last week? “The Christian Faith is not about rules and dogmas, it is about a moment in time when God stepped in and revealed his glory to us.”

And I really hate to say it, but being part of a community of faith is not about making sure that there are 12 people on each committee and that those committees give reports at the end of every year; being part of a community of faith is about ensuring that every person is doing what God is uniquely calling them to do. It is about making sure that everyone’s at-bat song gets played. We are all such different reflections of God’s work in the world and I truly believe that being part of the Church in the 21st century means seeing these different reflections; it means thinking outside of the box and acknowledging the many, many different ways to live out our faiths both in our lives and in this community.

So picture me as your coach right now. It is the Sunday after Easter, we are getting ready to “play ball” and step up to the plate in this crazy and bizarre and mysterious and absolutely spectacular Christian faith and let me tell you, this is way better than baseball. This is Gospel. This is the Good News. This is God alive and at work in this world; in our world – right here, right now.

It is spring (finally!). It is a time of new beginnings. Every bud that appears on a tree, every daffodil that opens in a yard and every blade of grass that emerges from the ground in a vibrant shade of green is a tangible reminder that right now we have a chance for our own new beginning. We have the change to step up to the plate and to hear a song that reflects who we are, who we want to be and – perhaps most importantly – who God is calling us to be.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” our reading from 1 Peter reminds us. “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is unperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” This is the great faith that we are a part of and this is the great faith that God is calling us to minister within.

It is your turn. It is your turn to let your song be heard. It is your turn to be unique, to be you and to be who God is calling you to be. It is your turn to be an inimitable disciple of Christ and to proclaim the Gospel within your community and throughout the world.

So – what will your at-bat song be? On this “Low Sunday,” I invite you to step up to the plate and hear that song play.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.