God Meets Us Where We Are

Hello and Happy Ash Wednesday!  I hope you all had a blessed day and are ready for Lent with an open mind and heart.  Here is my reflection from tonight’s service …

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

God Meets Us Where We Are

This morning I had the opportunity to join my colleague, Greta, at the Middleboro/Lakeville train station, where her church was offering “Ashes to Go” to early morning commuters. She has done this for the past four years, setting up a table with free coffee, donuts and ashes and offering any combination of the three to anyone walking by.

I have noticed over the past several years that more and more of my colleagues are doing this. Some are doing it in lieu of traditional Ash Wednesday services and some are doing it in addition to. The idea is that people are so busy – with work, family and life in general – that rather than forcing them to carve out one specific time of their day to receive ashes, the church can go to them; meet them where they are and give them a blessing and a sign of grace.

At one point in between trains, Greta and one of her parishioners and I were commenting on the different reactions we got from people. They ranged everywhere from, “Don’t make eye contact,” to, “Oh, that’s a really nice thing that they are doing,” to, “Can I get a donut without the ashes?” to, “I’m so glad you guys are here again – ashes, please!”

One of the things we all noticed was that no one was rude to us or seemed upset that we were there. I said to Greta, “Well, maybe they would be upset if we were chasing them onto the train with ashes.” We all chuckled at the image and then the next train showed up and we got back to work.

I was pouring someone a cup of coffee when I saw two girls, probably in their mid-twenties, heading towards the train. Greta offered them ashes and one of them said, “No thanks, I’m not practicing. I would feel like an imposter accepting ashes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greta pick up the ashes and say, “Wait a minute, get back here!” and run over to her, explaining that she is, in no way, shape or form, an imposter; that ashes are blessing from God, available to every single one of us, no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life.

My first thought was, “Well, I guess we are chasing people onto the train with ashes.”

But then I thought to myself, what a powerful moment I had just witnessed. Someone felt like an imposter; unworthy of the grace that is receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and we were there – at her train station, part of her morning routine, ready to show her just how powerful and profound God’s love is.

God really has a way of working out the details sometimes, Amen?

A few hours later, I was reading through the scriptures for this evening and almost fell over as I read this passage, 2 Corinthians 6:8:

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true.

Imposters.

Do you know what I love about Ash Wednesday? Ashes are the great equalizer. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, practicing or wandering, affirming or questioning, we all bear the same sign of the cross. We all humbly claim our sins before God and then boldly wear the ash of the burned palms that we once waved while shouting, “Hosanna!” Together, despite our differences, we admit our own brokenness, but also hold fast to the unchanging truth that we are true; that we are not imposters.

My prayer for you all on this Ash Wednesday, is that you not only feel proud to receive these ashes, but that you feel worthy as well.

In participating in this ancient practice of imposition, we remind ourselves of our humanity – from dust you came and to dust you shall return. But in using the palms that we once laid down for Jesus impose these ashes, we also remember that God came to us in human form; that God meets us in our humanity. This is why Jesus walked on this earth; this is what Lent is preparing us for. God came into this world in human flesh so that we can all bear witness to the life-changing reminder that where there is hatred, God’s love is more powerful, where there is darkness, God’s light shines brightly and where there is death, there is always resurrection.

In the same way that God made sure a couple of church folk were on at a train station this morning with coffee, donuts and ashes to meet somewhere where they were at on their journey, God always meets us right where we are on our journeys, as well.

And God is meeting us here tonight, as we prepare to enter this Lenten season.

So let us begin our Lenten season, receive the grace and blessing that is the sign of the cross and know that God is with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Fresh Starts & Reconciliation

Sunday’s sermon … If you in need of something uplifting or inspiring, go to YouTube and type in “Nelson Mandela Ubuntu” and scan through some of the videos of him talking about Ubuntu. They are really powerful and exactly what I needed to be watching on Tuesday night instead of the reports on Super Tuesday (blech).  Wishing you all light, hope and Fresh Start Mondays!

 

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 6, 2016

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Fresh Starts & Reconciliation

When I was in seminary, I worked with a friend who believed strongly in the power of “Fresh Start Mondays.” Every Monday, no matter how trying the prior week or weekend had been, she walked into our office with the bold declaration of, “It’s Fresh Start Monday!” before unlocking the door to her office and starting the day. It was always exciting to us when Monday happened to coincide with the beginning of a new month (that one kind of felt like a double fresh start!) and you can imagine our thrill one year when the new year fell on a Monday.

We all need a fresh start in our lives sometimes, don’t we? Whether we are feeling overwhelmed in our job or in our homes or in our relationships or in life in general, sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to turn the page and start over with a blank slate.

But it is never that easy, is it?

I was thinking about Fresh Start Mondays as I was reading Paul’s words to the church in Corinth this week.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

If you really think about it, Christianity gives us a Fresh Start Monday every day; every moment, in fact. Christianity is about second chances. It is about resurrection; it is about the living and radical truth that death and pain and evil and our own imperfections will never have the final word. This is where grace is real in our lives. Through our faith, we have the opportunity to give ourselves a fresh start whenever we are ready to take that first step. We each have the capacity within ourselves to look at a situation – no matter how dire it might be – and say, “This is not how my story is going to end.”

Jesus came into this world to prove that God’s power is far greater than any tragedy or mess that we manage to get ourselves into here on earth. We get that fresh start – that was and is God’s promise to us. And as we once again take that Lenten journey to Easter morning, we hold on to the miraculous truth that – even when things seem hopeless and dark – there are no lost causes and God’s light always shines.

Paul talks about the fresh start of reconciliation in this scripture; in fact, he uses a variation of that word five times in six verses.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ
And has given us the ministry us reconciliation
In Christ God was reconciling the word to himself
Entrusting the ministry of reconciliation to us
On behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God

I was thinking about the South African philosophy of Ubuntu as I was reflecting on reconciliation this week. Ubuntu is a philosophy that talks about our humanness; there is no exact English translation, but it means, in a sense, “I am because you are” or “I am because we are.” Ubuntu means that we exist because of the existence of others. We should care for ourselves in a way that also cares for others. We should try to live our lives in a way that not only makes our world a better place, but makes everyone’s world a better place as well.

Ubuntu reminds us that we are all connected; we are all connected to one another and to God. As much as some of us would like to just conquer the world by ourselves, that is not the way that we were created. We were created to be in relationship with one another. When God created the world, God did not create just one person; God created more than one person and then called them to multiply throughout the earth. From the very beginning, we were created to stand in covenant with each another and when human beings were not getting along (and we know that happens because, let’s face it, people are people), Jesus came into this world so that we could have a clean slate. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection allowed (and continues to allow) us, as human beings, not only to be reconciled with God, but also with one another.

This scripture is a letter; it is a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth because they were not getting along with one another. If you think about this scripture in very simple terms, Paul kind of pulled the Jesus Card on the church. Granted, “Jesus died on the cross for you, so y’all should just get along” does not quite have the same poetic and scriptural flow that Paul’s words do, but the point is virtually the same. Resurrection happened once and Paul was reassuring the people in Corinth that it was still happening in their midst.

But we have to seek reconciliation in our lives if we want that resurrection to be real.

I went back and forth this week as to whether I should focus my sermon on fresh starts and reconciliation for us, as individuals or for us, as a community and Body. I realized though, as I thought about Ubuntu and I thought about resurrection and I thought about what Jesus did in his life and what God calls us to do in ours, that the different layers of reconciliation are all connected to one another. We cannot truly be reconciled with ourselves if we are not reconciled with one another – and visa versa. And we certainly cannot be reconciled with God if we are not doing the hard work that is required to be reconciled with ourselves and with one another. And this is not a one-time thing; this is something that we have to constantly be doing every single day of our lives. Reconciliation is a journey, not a destination.

And that is where those fresh starts come in; because reconciliation takes work, it takes a lot of work. It is not easy to offer forgiveness. It is not easy to be on the receiving end of forgiveness. It is not easy to stand in covenant with someone that you do not agree with (and gracious, as this political season heats up, we all know that this is something that even our nation’s leaders are struggling with). It is not easy to let go of the things in your life that just are not fair. It is not easy to humbly and boldly live your life according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But in doing those things we are filled with so much grace and power. These actions, even though they are not easy, free us from the burdens in our earthly lives that weigh us down. They help us find peace. They act as the catalyst that we need in order to make this world a better place.

I wish I could say that this was easy. Here’s the thing: Sometimes I preach on something “easy” (and I use this term loosely, because none of this is really easy) like feeding the poor or reaching out to the needy and we can find tangible ways to turn those sermons into action. We can host a food drive or go visit someone in the nursing home or donate money and, in doing those things, we are living out the Gospel.

But reconciliation is not that easy; it is messy and hard and raw. There are no clear-cut rules when it comes to doing the right or wrong things and very often we have to do something that is hard for us to do.

But we have to remember that this is not something that we have to do by ourselves; this is something that God is doing through us.

Since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

God is using us to live out reconciliation in this world; to create fresh starts when hope is starting to dwindle and to be the hands and the feet and the face and the voice of Christ to a world that so desperately needs to be reminded that resurrection is possible.

We are halfway through the Lenten season. And while I know that, for many of us, that really does not mean much on a day-to-day basis, I also know that many of us are wandering in the wilderness right now. We are seeing death, but not resurrection; we are experiencing darkness, but not light; we are holding onto imperfections, but not grace.

And we need to turn to God. That is where true reconciliation starts.

Today can be a fresh start. It can be a fresh start for you, for your house, for your finances, for your relationships, for your parenting, for your job. Heck, it can even be a fresh start for the pile of dirty dishes filling your (okay, my) kitchen sink. It can be a fresh start for us as individuals and it can be a fresh start It can be a fresh start for us, as a community of faith and it can a fresh start for us, as a Body of Christ.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Bible Study Recap – 2 Corinthians 12 & 13

We finished up our 2 Corinthians bible study last week!  We are starting the book of Ephesians tomorrow – I can’t wait!  Feel free to comment and stay tuned for what we find in Ephesus!

2 Corinthians Bible Study Weekly Recap
November 4, 2014
Chapters 12 & 13

12:1-10

The “man” that Paul refers to

  • The man was Paul, he was talking about himself
  • We don’t know what revelation and vision he is talking about have to assume that this revelation was on the road to Damascus OR when he was stoned and left for dead
  • Even though he wasn’t saying it directly, Paul was boasting about the fact that he received a revelation from God
  • Paul wanted people to know that his revelation was different in a way than his opponents who claimed to know God

12:9 – but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

  • An opportunity to let our faith shine through
  • You have to let go of yourself in order to let God work through you

12:10 – Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

  • He’s trying to emulate Christ, suffering makes you a better person
  • By taking in Christ’s suffering, you become more like Christ
  • Paul is recognizing that our ego sometimes forces us to do wrong things – accepting our weaknesses allows us to connect to others
  • When we are weak in our physical bodies then we are strong in Christ

12:11-21

There is a very defensive tone at the end of this letter

  • Paul was upset because he started the church and the super apostles were coming in and asking the Corinthians to follow them instead of Paul
  • There is fear in the Paul’s tone that the church that he started might be slipping away from him

12:19 – Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up.

  • Who is “we”? Back then it was the people Paul was working with – today it is US!
  • “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” John Lewis
  • We have to interpret Paul’s words today and open ourselves up to the idea that WE are the ones who are speaking in the sight of God and in Christ and WE are the ones that have to build people up
  • The notion of building up vs. breaking down – a lot of times Christians believe that the church needs to die in order for it to be re-born and re-vitalized because of the crucifixion leading to the resurrection. But Paul calls us to BUILD up, not tear down!

13

13:3-4 – since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. 4For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

  • Christ allowed himself to be in a weakened state through his crucifixion
  • God’s power working through Jesus’ human weakness
  • It is okay for us to be weak, because God’s power works through our human weaknesses
  • God’s power sustains us – this is the same power that brought Christ back from the dead
  • When Jesus died, he appeared weak to the world – but God proved that he was not weak when he was raised from the dead

13:5 – Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test!

  • Christ is not something that you have to seek out, Christ is already in you
  • Faith is our starting point
  • We already have the tools we need
  • We need to get out of the way and let God work through us

13:7-8

  • There is a test here to do what is right – other people might not know if you pass the test, but you will know
  • Paul isn’t doing this because he wants to look like he’s done a good job, but because he wants them to do the right thing

13:9 – For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect.

  • There are a lot of parenting metaphors in this chapter.
  • Paul had so much hope for his community, even if their growth and success meant giving up a piece of who he was