To Call The Church Into Being

Hi Friends!

We were off the Year of Mark this week for Pentecost.  There was no denying the Holy Spirit was present on Sunday when you walked into church!  We had a big fabric installation and a cake with sparkler candles and everyone wore red.

Sunday was also Children’s Day at RCC, so it was a really short sermon before the older kids did their “memorable moments” skit, where they each talked about their most memorable moment at the church this year.

Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

To Call The Church Into Being

I was texting back and forth with Abbie St. Martin this week about my ability (or lack thereof) to make a Pentecost cake and she said, “You could just make any old cake and set it on fire.”  She then immediately followed it up with the text, in parentheses, “That’s Pentecost, right?”

As a pastor, I have never been more proud.

This morning is Pentecost and it is the tradition of the Church to use the color red to symbolize the fire and the might movement of the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully not long after my conversation with Abbie, Jen Healy texted me and said she and Matt would be happy to make an actual Pentecost cake, one that we would nothave to set on fire.

Pentecost is the day when we commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the apostles and the earliest followers of Christ and called the Church into being.  This morning, before we move to this year’s Church School skit, I thought I would talk about what it means to call the Church into being today.

Last Sunday was New Member Sunday.  With joy in our hearts, we officially welcomed 11 new people into our church family.  Leading up to last Sunday, one of the new members asked me, “What is it that you expect of us, now?”  I have thought about that question all week.  Of course, with congregational polity, it is a fascinating and not-easily-answerable one.  Because I guess, technically we don’t expect anything; but when people join the church they areaccepting our invitation to help us call the Church into being today.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Today is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a celebration of what the Holy Spirit has done in our midst, a celebration of what we do when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and our lives and a celebration of the Church that the Holy Spirit has called into being today.

And what a Church is it.

Perhaps we do not expect anything “official” of our members, but when we call the Church into being, we are doing something powerful and bold and life-changing.

To call the Church into being means creating a safe space where we can learn and grow in our faith.

To call the Church into being means singing together and praying together and sharing the peace of Christ with one another.

To call the Church into being means gathering around a table and breaking bread together, remembering Jesus every single time we pass around a tray of bread, grape juice, turkey, pasta or lemonade.

To call the Church into being means hearing prayer requests offered up by those in our church family and earnestly pray for them; sharing in both their joys and their sorrows.

To call the Church into being means asking hard questions and not being afraid of what happens if someone has a different answer than you do.

To call the Church into being means making meals for people when they are sick, recovering from surgery or bringing a new baby home.

To call the Church into being means rescuing the first row of worshipers from a falling speaker.

To call the Church into being means sometimes entering a peaceful space and sometimes being surrounded by chaos.

To call the Church into being means celebrating all generations – young and old.

To call the Church into being means knowing that you are not alone.

Today we celebrate the Church that was, that is and that will be in the future.  We celebrate God who created us, Christ who redeems us and the Holy Spirit that sustains us always.

Today, with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we make a commitment to continue to call the Church into being.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Hi friends! It is my tradition on Confirmation Sunday to write a letter to the Confirmation Class for my sermon. This year’s class was amazing and I was so humbled by the authenticity of the statements of faith they turned in.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Pentecost! It is crazy to me to think that last year I didn’t get to preach Pentecost because it was late (first Sunday in June) and I was in the hospital with a new baby! The year went fast …

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Here’s a picture of our altar from Pentecost!  I loved the way it turned out.

Have a safe holiday weekend!

Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21

A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Dear Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric,

I have to be honest – I was not sure how Confirmation was going to go this year.

First of all, I was a little out of practice. Not only did we not have a Confirmation class last year, but I was also fresh off of maternity leave – slightly sleep deprived and not sure how to balance this whole ministry and motherhood thing.

Second of all, the church was in a bit of a transition. Lauren and Jordan had just moved and we were getting ready to vote on a new governance structure. A lot felt like it was up in the air at the church; it was hard to teach about RCC history when I felt like we were, instead, living it out in very real time.

And lastly, the demographic of your class is unlike any one I had ever experienced here before. All four of you live in different towns and attend different high schools; not one of you attends Dighton-Rehoboth High School.

On a small scale, I think your class actually represents a shift happening in the demographic of our church community right now. More and more, instead of just coming here because people live in town and that is what they are supposed to do, people are coming from different towns to intentionally be part of this church and this community. People want to be here! It is an exciting time to be part of the Rehoboth Congregational Church; and I am so grateful, not only that you decided to be part of the confirmation class this year, but also that you are making the commitment to join and become a member of this church.

But that being said, the four of you did not really know one another when we started our time together. So, rather than just jumping in, we started with a covenant. We sat down and brainstormed what we wanted to get out of the year and what we wanted our classes to look like. Here is what the covenant said:

As members of this year’s confirmation class, we promise to create a safe space where we are all welcome and free to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We promise to be active listeners and contribute honest participation with mutual respect for one another. We will joyfully include music and worship into our classes and hope to have fun, maybe learn something and possibly even teach something. We will create a comfortable space, bringing delicious food and fostering fellowship and fun. Laughter will fill our space and love will always win.

I can say with confidence that we did all of these things. We talked, we sang, we laughed and we turned to Google when we were confused. You told stories and taught us about school, pop culture and what is actually cool (versus what we thought was cool). We respected one another, genuinely cared about what was going on in each other’s lives and followed up on things we had talked about in previous months. We had conversations that were relevant to our topics of conversation and also occasionally got sidetracked. I have to admit, that, in achieving the delicious food portion of this covenant, I have a new appreciation for the loaves and fishes story. I realized this year that perhaps God might not always provide by multiplying the loaves, but in having me conveniently schedule class on days when we had a luncheon after church and plenty of leftovers for our evening meal, otherwise one evening dinner might have consisted of meatloaf, potato chips and jello that hadn’t set yet.

Every month, I started off our classes by asking you the same thing: What are three things you’re loving? And while I am sure you are grateful to no longer have to come up with three new things to love every month, I do hope you appreciated and learned something from the practice, itself. It is good to force yourself to think about the things in life you love; it is good to find and see joy, even when things are hard.

Because the world, as imperfect as it is and as hard as it can be to live in it sometimes, is beautiful. There is so much to be thankful for. There is so much to appreciate. There is so much to love.

But I hope you know that it is also okay to say, “You know, it’s been a really hard week, so I’m going to need to go last so I have more time to think of something.” If you remember, the adult mentors groaned as much as, if not more than, you did, when I asked this question. Sometimes I had a hard time coming up with three things and I was the one that ASKED the question! The truth is, life can be hard; you will face challenges along your journeys and you will not always love life.

I wish in confirming you I could protect you from these challenges.

But here’s the thing: This is why you have a church community. This is why you surround yourself with people who love God and love another. This is why you have safe spaces, like our worship, bible studies, committee communities, community events and missions activities, where you can be the most unapologetically authentic version of yourself, no matter how whole or how broken you happen to feel.

Because this church can and will be your spiritual tribe. This church will love you and love you hard through all of the challenges of life. This church will pray for you and share your burdens. This church will show up with meals, prayer shawls and the occasional sing-a-long. This church will laugh with you, cry with you, celebrate with you and share in your sorrows and frustrations.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on “doing church,” and I talked about the fact that church is verb, not a noun. And so today, I invite you to “do church” with us. As of today, you are no longer children of this church; you are members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

And I want that to mean something in your life. I want this church to change your life. I want this church to open your eyes and your minds and your hearts to the Gospel; to world that is just and fair, to a light that shines even in the darkest of places and to a grace that can be uncovered in the most unexpected ways.

And I want this church to be changed by you, as well.

Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric, I was blown away by the work you did in Confirmation this year. I said that I did not know how Confirmation was going to go this year, but the truth is, God did something so much cooler than I ever could have dreamed up myself. I never could have predicted how strong of a community we would create, how easily our conversations would flow and how much we would learn about one another. I truly loved our meetings this year.

Even more than that, it was so much fun to watch each one of you get involved in different ways in the wider church community.

Lexi, you faithfully sang in the choir, week after week, made delicious baked goods for this year’s dessert auction and took charge during last week’s children’s sermon, getting all of our supplies and offering to water and care for the flowers we planted.

Julia, you played your viola in your worship, made the most creative baked goods for the dessert auction and made the guacamole for our taco bar that was so good it was gone by the time I went through the line.

Cassandra, you valiantly balanced cheerleading and confirmation for most of the year. You often came running in to our meetings, still in your uniform and jumped right into the conversation, without missing a beat. You volunteered at the cookie walk at the bazaar and served at our lunches and suppers.

Eric, you surprised us all with how well spoken and poised you are. You led worship at the Easter sunrise service and last week better than most of the pastors I went to seminary with. And you were always up for a challenge, even if that challenge meant paddling a kayak in the rain at 5:30AM on Easter morning.

I could not be more proud of the young adults that you are – and the church members that you have become.

So thank you. Thank you for the community. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for conversations. Thank you for the grace. Thank you for the food. Thank you for sharing the things you are loving. Thank you for making this a year of confirmation I will never forget.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Conversations That Change Lives

I am very behind in posting sermons!  I’ve got three that are going to go up today.  This one is from three weeks ago.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 29, 2018

Acts 8:26-40

Conversations That Change Lives

Do y’all remember the Bacons? Sarah and Jason and their two daughters; they moved to Arizona about a year and a half ago; they attended RCC faithfully for about two years before they moved.

I first met Sarah on a Thursday, December afternoon. I was getting ready for a friend’s wedding in Connecticut that weekend and I was trying to wrap everything up for our Sunday service before I got swept up in the weekend’s festivities.

That morning I received a call from the volunteer coordinator at Sturdy Memorial Hospital; at the time, I was one of their volunteer chaplains. As a volunteer who had direct patient contact, I needed to comply with staff regulations for things like immunizations and safety courses; this included getting an annual flu shot.

Which I, of course, had neglected to do.

That Thursday was the deadline for getting a flu shot and the volunteer coordinator told me that I had to find my way over to Occupational Health Services at some point that day to get a flu shot.

Here’s the thing: I had places to go and people to see; I had stuff to finish at the office that day and a pre-wedding dinner to get to in Connecticut that night. Do you know what I did not have time for that day? A flu shot. But do you know who did not care about how busy I thought I was? The volunteer coordinator who told me I had to get a flu shot by 3:45 that afternoon.

So I scrambled to finish my work in the office and then drove up to the hospital, just barely making my 3:45 deadline. They called me back to the exam room and I was on my phone working on my sermon. The door opened and a really nice woman walked in, shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Sarah; I’m going to give you your flu shot today.” I made polite small talk, but, in my head, I was kind of already on the road to Connecticut. I am embarrassed to admit this now, but, at the time, I was kind of thinking, “Just give me the shot, I’ve got places to be.”

Sarah flipped through my paperwork as she was putting gloves on when she paused, looked up at me, with kind of a surprised look on her face. “You’re a chaplain?” she asked. “Where is your church?” Now, to my credit, I did answer her question; but beyond that, I did not really engage the conversation. I was focused on what I had to do next, where I had to be, the fact that 195 was probably already backing up.

A few minutes later, I thanked her for the shot and went on my “busy” way. Ten minutes after I left the hospital, my phone went off with a text from Allison. “I just got a Facebook message from a friend of mine from high school, Sarah Bacon. She said she met you today; she and her family are going to check out our church on Sunday.”

Now, at that point, I thought I had blown it. I knew that I had not engaged the conversation as well as I could have, that I did not give any details about me, my ministry or the church beyond simple answers to the questions she asked. I knew that I had not asked her any questions about her own faith journey. I knew that – even given the window of opportunity that she opened when she asked where I was a pastor – that I had not even invited her to church.

And yet, there but by the grace of God, the Bacons showed up in church that Sunday – and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that.

Months later, we had a new members class and I asked everyone to share their story. Sarah stood up and talked about the fact that, while Jason had been raised in the church, she never attended church growing up, so this whole faith-thing was kind of new to her. But she said that, for some reason over the past year or so, she felt God pushing her to dig deeper and explore her faith. She said she did not necessarily know where to start, but one December, Thursday morning, she woke up and decided that was the day; she was going to talk to Jason that night about finding a church for their family.

And that afternoon, a chaplain walked into her exam room for a flu shot.

A chaplain, by the way, who almost blew it.

I hope I never forget this story; because it humbles me. It reminds me that I should never be so caught up in my own world and life and schedule that I do not take the time to talk to someone about my faith, about my church and about the way their life can be changed by God’s grace.

Because you never know when you are having a conversation with someone that might change their life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Acts of the Apostles. We talked about Acts a couple of weeks ago and how it is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. It is a firsthand account of the formation of early Christianity. It is filled with stories of what early Christians did in those days and months and years, even, following the resurrection. Acts is the only book in the bible that contains this narrative of the early church; through these stories, we can peak into the lives of the people who laid the foundation for the faith that is so boldly and miraculously still changing our lives today.

We just heard the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was, for all intents and purposes, part of the second generation of leaders in the Church. As the message of Gospel expanded, the apostles realized they, as a group were not enough to do the work that needed to be done to continue to grow the Church, so they called seven men to serve with them. They laid hands on them and sent them out in ministry; Philip was one of the seven.

So, in this story, an angel appears to Philip and tells him to travel along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. While he is there, he meets an Ethiopian eunuch assigned to the Ethiopian Queen. According to Acts, the eunuch had been in Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home, sitting in his chariot, reading from the prophet Isaiah. A spirit comes over Philip, telling him to go sit with the eunuch in his chariot. Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading from Isaiah and the eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” and then he invites Philip into his chariot, where Philip shares with him the Good News of Jesus and the fulfillment of this prophesy.

Unlike me, Philip was not concerned that he had places to go; he was fully present in the moment and shared with this eunuch a faith that changed his life.

The eunuch was an outcast; eunuchs were royal servants who had been castrated at young ages so as to be deemed safe to work around women in royal households. They were seen as scarred and defective and were not allowed to participate fully in the life and faith of Israel. The book of Isaiah that the eunuch is reading out of in this story is a book of scripture that gave eunuchs and other marginalized groups of people hope; hope that one day they would be freed from the bonds that held them captive.

And yet, in this moment, in this chariot, all barriers are broken down and Philip tells the eunuch that these prophesies have already been fulfilled; that he, too, has access to the grace of God through Jesus Christ; that he is free from the bonds that are holding him captive. Philip shares his faith with the eunuch; he tells him about Jesus and then, when they arrive at a body of water, Philip stops the chariot, they both get out and enter the water, and Philip baptizes the eunuch as a tangible sign of the grace he had just proclaimed. The story ends with Philip being taken away by the Holy Spirit and the eunuch resuming his journey with great joy. Philip, then, resumes his journey and continues to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I was reading a commentary on Philip this week and he was referred to as a Deacon, because of the way he and the other seven were called into ministry, but also as an Evangelist. After all, that is what he did in this story, right? He evangelized; he shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and then brought someone into the faith.

Here’s the thing about evangelism – it sounds like a scary word, but it really is not. It is not about being obnoxious or pushy or manipulative or getting someone to convert to your way of thinking; it is about meeting people where they are on their journey through life and telling them about your faith. It is about inviting them to ask questions and affirming to them over and over and over again that they are loved, they are cherished and they are not alone. It is about leading them to the sacraments that we believe make us whole and telling them that they, too, are worthy of receiving these gifts from God. It is about welcoming them into your narrative and telling them why your life has been changed by your faith, your church and the Body of Christ, your village, who acts as a tangible sign of God’s love in your life.

But more often than not, it starts with a conversation; a conversation that we have to be willing to have, to be fully present in the moment when it is happening.

We have to be fully present in the moment when these conversations present themselves. We have to approach them believing that God brought us together with this person in this moment and that this conversation has the capacity to change their life.

Evangelism is a good thing, it just has a bad reputation sometimes. This morning I am encouraging you to think about what it means to be an evangelist and to try to share your faith with others you meet along your own journey through life. I know we do not do this a lot in mainline protestant churches in New England, but don’t be scared; because by the nature of you being here this morning and making church a priority in your life, when you talk to someone about your church and faith you are talking about something that is important to you and that has impacted your life in some positive way.

Why wouldn’t you want to share that?

Friends, remember this: You never know when you are having a conversation with someone that might change their life.

So go; share the Good News, tell people about our crazy, but love-infused church in the village and be amazed as God’s grace is uncovered in the most unexpected ways and places.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.