This Is Our Moment

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

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

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

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

This Is Our Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only if we let it.

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

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

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

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

This moment where the Gospel can transform our lives.

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

This is our moment.  God is calling us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, speak; for your servants are listening.

Come on; let’s go.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Redefined

Hello!  It is so wonderful to be back after a week away.  I have to say, I’m kind of digging this whole more-official-podcast thing that I’ve got going on.  I am hoping that my dad might have some time now that his musical has closed (hi, Dad!) to create some theme music for me.  Right now I record Jordan or the choir if something sounds like it could work (although I love listening to them sing/play so I’m okay with that, too!).

Here is this morning’s sermon.  We are halfway through our sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul.  Today’s theme is redefined.  Enjoy!

***

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

1 Samuel 16:1-15
John 9:1-41

Redefined (Sermon Series: Boot Camp For The Soul)

When I was in college, I dyed my hair brown.

This change elicited a whole slew of responses, which ranged everywhere from, “Oh my gosh, this highlights your face and matches your eyebrows and it is absolutely perfect!” to my boss at the time, who said, “Well, this is about the dumbest thing you could have possibly done.”

I did not really have a good reason for doing this; I just sort of needed a change. I felt like I needed to speak to whatever quarter-life crisis I was going through at the time. I think, in a way, I was trying to redefine a piece of who I was (albeit a cosmetic one).

This morning we are on week four of our Lenten sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul and this morning the theme is, redefined.

We just heard two scripture readings, the story of the anointing of King David in 1 Samuel and the story of the blind man who gained his sight in the gospel of John.

These stories are both captivating narratives about men whose lives were redefined in powerful and God-sized ways. These stories bear witness to the great possibilities God can achieve in our lives if we have faith and allow ourselves to be who God is calling us to be. These stories allow us to believe transformation is possible in our lives; they help us grab ahold of the hope that we can shed pieces of who and what defines us now and boldly claim a new identity.

Take David, for example. Samuel had traveled to Bethlehem to anoint a new king; God told Samuel to invite Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice where one of them would be anointed. But David, himself, was not even part of this sacrifice at first. He was the youngest of Jesse’s sons and had been given the task of keeping the sheep, so that was what he was doing. It was not until Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” that Jesse even mentioned David; and even then, Samuel was the one who had to say, “Send and bring him.”[1] And in the moment that followed, David was redefined.

The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.[2]

Who would have ever thought the youngest of Jesse’s sons – that small, rosy-cheeked shepherd boy – would have been the one anointed king?

God’s imagination is quite something sometimes, is it not?

God said to Samuel, “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”[3] God looked into David’s heart and did not see a meek and mild boy; he saw a king.

In the same way, Jesus’ disciples looked at the blind man and saw a sinner. “Rabbi,” they said to Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”[4] The disciples only saw this man’s outer appearance; they only saw a sinner.

But Jesus saw that something greater was at work within this man; Jesus saw that, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”[5] Jesus spat on the ground, made mud that he wiped onto the blind man’s eyes and told man to wash it off in the pool of Siloam.[6]

And in that moment, a change happened. The blind man was refined. The man was no longer blind; he was transformed and given a new definition in life. He shed the identity of a sinner and humbly asked Jesus to help him believe in the Son of Man.

Again, I say: God’s imagination is quite something, is it not?

A small and inexperienced shepherd boy was anointed king. A man who was blind his entire life could suddenly see clearly. Transformation is not only possible with God; it is spectacularly probable. It happened extraordinarily in the lives of these two men.

And it can happen in our lives, as well.

In both of these scriptures, there is a poignant emphasis on what we see on the outside versus what God can see on the inside. God did not see a young boy or a blind man, God saw a king and a man who could not only see, but also reveal God’s works within him. God saw the potential, power and presence of these two men long before anybody else did.

This makes me wonder: What does God sees in us, as well?

So often, we look in the mirror and see who we are, who we have been up until this point in our lives and who other people want us to be. But how often do we look into our own hearts, as God looked into David’s, and see the great potential of who God is calling us to be? How often do we, like the blind man, see the way God’s works can be revealed in us?

We have to open our eyes to see this potential. We have to believe in God’s transformative power. We have to believe that we, too, can be redefined.

Sometimes I get nervous when I start preaching about personal change, because I would never want someone to think they are not good enough or worthy of God’s love just the way they are. You are enough; your faith is enough.

In fact, I think that is what these stories are trying to teach us.

The potential to be redefined by God – to be changed, to be transformed – is within all of us. We are already not only who God created us to be, but also who God is calling us to be. Our faith is full of stories of individual men and women who sought wholeness and were redefined by God’s love and grace.

The truth is, we live in a broken world. As Christians, we believe Jesus came to this earth to intercede on behalf of our own brokenness. Part of our journey to the cross during the Lenten season is about reflecting on the enormity of what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection means to us today. Part of Lent means looking at our own brokenness and discerning how God’s works can be revealed in our earthly lives. It is okay to seek change – to crave God’s redefining presence in our lives – because that is all part of this journey we are one.

We are all a collaborative work in progress. The church is in the business of changing lives; one of the reasons we come to church is because as human beings, we want our lives to be changed. And I am not talking about cosmetic changes, like a new hairstyle (although, those can be quite liberating). I am talking about real, palpable, God-sized changes. I am talking about changes that strengthen our faith and feed our spirit. I am talking about changes that teach us about who we are and draw out our best pieces so we can be confident and faithful ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am talking about changes that make us better husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, bosses and coworkers, neighbors and friends. I am talking about changes that enable us to be the very best versions of ourselves.

We are halfway through the Lenten season. There are three more weeks until Easter; three more weeks until we are reminded that in death there is resurrection, in darkness there is light, in hatred there is love and in sorrow there is hope. In three weeks, we will stand in awe of the bold and redeeming truth that God gives us second chances and third chances and fourth chances (and 15th chances, if we need them!).

So now is the time. We may not be redefined in the grandiose ways King David and the blind man were, but we have to believe in that possibility. We have to believe that we can achieve our goals, strengthen our faith, better ourselves and maybe even try something new along the way.

Friends, in our brokenness, it is by the grace of God that we are made whole again. Seeking change in our lives – trying to redefine pieces of who we are – does not make who we are bad or not enough; in fact, I think it just brings more power to the Christian story. As we work on who we are and redefine ourselves, I believe grace gets more and more powerful.

So take this time to think about who you are. Look in the mirror and think not only about who you see, but also who God sees. And let yourself be redefined by God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Samuel 16:11, NRSV
[2] 1 Samuel 16:12-13, NRSV
[3] 1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV
[4] John 9:2, NRSV
[5] John 9:3, NRSV
[6] John 9:6-7, NRSV

Taking Back Evangelism

Enjoy this morning’s sermon!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 18, 2015

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

Taking Back Evangelism

Evangelizing. Witnessing. Giving your testimony. Proselytizing. Hearing God speak to you. Talking to God. Being saved. Born again. Prophesying. Sharing the Good News.

For mainline protestant Christians living in small town New England, these can be somewhat scary words and phrases for us to think about and especially to talk about. First of all, they kind of carry a negative connotation; they are often attributed with extreme traditions and Christian churches. And as the line between church and state grows wider and wider in our culture, no one wants to stand out in a crowd and be labeled by some sort of controversial belief system. We do not want to be stereotyped as a pushy Christian. We do not want someone who may not share our belief system to judge us for ours. So we just don’t talk about it.

I get it; I really do.

But aren’t we called as Christians to talk to God – in some way or another – and then to share our faith with the people around us?

When I was a hospital chaplain I was sitting in on an ethics panel where a psychiatric case was being presented. A patient in the hospital was very sick, but on top of that she was refusing to eat, stating that God was speaking to her and telling her not to eat.

So the question was simple: Should the hospital force her to eat by using a feeding tube – which would save her life – or should they respect her wishes – which would likely end in her eventual passing?

The answer to this question was anything but simple.

This woman claimed that God was speaking to her and telling her not to eat.

Doctors and nurses and social workers and hospital board members debated around in circles for what seemed like hours. Finally one doctor in the back of the room stood up and said, “Oh sure – like God just SPEAKS to people these days.” The entire room erupted in laughter.

Meanwhile, I was sitting in a row with 9 other chaplains; each one of us with a story to tell of the way that God spoke to us and called us into ministry.

Not one of us stood up to speak.

Here is the thing about talking about our faith: It’s scary. It is as simple as that: It’s scary. Even for a group of people whose sole purpose was to make sure there was a space to talk about God and faith in the hospital – it is still scary.

Listen: No one wants to stand out in the crowd for having a strange belief system. No one wants to go against what other people in their culture and society are doing. No one wants to wear a label that gives people a reason to judge. No one wants to be the reason that an entire auditorium full of hospital employees erupts in laughter.

But if we will not do it – then who will?

The bible is full of scriptures that tell stories of moments in people’s lives – ordinary people’s lives – where God came into their midst and spoke to them. Where God called them into ministry. Where God asked them to take a leap of faith. Where God illuminated the vision of a path not yet travelled. Where God asked them to stand out in a crowd; to go out on a limb and trust that their faith was strong enough to hold them up.

In this morning’s reading from the Old Testament, God appeared to Samuel, who was only a young boy at the time. God called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and at first Samuel assumed it was Eli calling him so he went to Eli to see what he wanted. Eli told Samuel he had not called him. This happened again. But by the third time God called to Samuel, Eli realized what was happening; he told Samuel to go lie down and respond the next time God called, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

In this morning’s Gospel reading, early on in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was in Galilee and found Phillip. He told Philip to follow him; and he did. Phillip encountered Nathanael and told him about Jesus and when Nathanael questioned Phillip, Phillip said, “Come and see.” Nathanael followed Phillip to see for himself.

These two stories are very different, but they both share similar themes of moments in time where God came into a person’s life in one way or another and they were changed. God came to Samuel and called him. Eli encouraged Samuel to answer God’s call. Phillip encountered Jesus. Phillip asked Nathanael to follow him to Jesus. Nathanael followed Phillip to see for himself who Jesus was.

I believe that we all have these moments in our lives.

These moments might look different for us. I would be willing to bet that most of us probably will not physically encounter Jesus throughout our lives or hear God speaking to us in the earthly sense that we hear people speaking to us.

But that does not make our moments any less real; any less powerful; any less transformative.

Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel like we are being called to do something, oftentimes requiring us to make a big change or take a leap of faith. Some of us have moments in our lives where we are scared or sick or in pain and find peace and comfort by something unexplainable. Some of us have moments in our lives where we suddenly have the strength to do something that we never thought would be possible. Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel like we should pledge to take the road less travelled, knowing that it is a road that leads to justice, righteousness and peace. Some of us have moments in our lives where we step into leadership roles in our churches and communities, excited to see and be part of new growth and possibilities. Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel led to teach or be a parent or volunteer. Some of us have moments in our lives where an opportunity comes to us that we never thought would.

I am not talking about earth-shattering, ground-splitting, God-appearing-in-a-burning-bush types of moments. I am talking about the ordinary moments that define our lives. We all experience them.

Sometimes the moments are easy. Sometimes the moments are hard.

But these are not just moments in our lives; these are moments that define our faith. And even if it may not be obvious to the casual observer, God is working within us in all of these moments.

And I think we need to talk about them.

Because I think when we talk about these moments, we see just how powerful they are. And when we see how powerful these moments are, we believe in just how much they are transforming us. And when we believe that we are being transformed, we can show others that that they can be transformed as well.

This is the Good News that needs to be shared with an oftentimes broken world.

I think that oftentimes we are afraid to talk about our faith because of some of the stereotypes that are out there. We do not want to be one of “those” Christians. But we practice a faith that encourages us to ask questions, that allows us to have doubts and that rests on the principles of forgiveness and second chances.

This is not a faith to be ashamed of. This is not a faith that we should be afraid to share with other people.

In fact, I think the people around us – the people in our community, the people who we work with, who we see in our day-to-day lives – are craving a faith like this. They just do not know that it is out there.

So let’s tell them.

As we leave this place today, let us all pledge to, let us commit to – okay, let us try to live out our faith, proclaiming to the world without fear how God is speaking to us, teaching us, leading us, calling us and strengthening us in our faith.

Let us be like Samuel, who heard a call from God and answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Let us be like Phillip, who followed Jesus and then encouraged others to do the same. Let us be like Nathanael, who followed Phillip and believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

Let us rise to the examples that have been set for us. Let us take back the words that carry such negative meaning in our society. Let us not be afraid to evangelize, to witness and to share the Good News, because – my friends – we have news that is worth sharing. We have news of a welcoming church, of a judgment-free faith and of worship that is designed to be meaningful, relevant and accessible. I know that it can be scary. But I know that it will also be transformative.

So let us be who God created us to be, who Jesus redeemed us to be and who the Holy Spirit sustains us to be.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.