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

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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.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

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!

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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.

Do Church

Hi Friends!

I’ve got two sermons to post today, one from yesterday and one from last week.  Last week I preached from Acts of the Apostles and I talked about doing church – church as a verb, not as a noun.  During my children’s sermon I had everyone do the wave.  At one point I yelled, “freeze!” and we looked at how everyone was doing something different.  And even though they were all doing something different, together they were all doing the wave.  I explained that’s the way church works – we all do something different, but together we’re all doing church.

Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 8, 2018

Acts 4:32-35

Do Church

When I was in high school, my dad and I used to bond over three things: Broadway, Basketball and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

You can imagine our delight when two of these worlds collided in the fall of 2001 and The Warner Brothers Television Network started advertising a very special musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling.

As it usually went with the plot of this show, there was a demon stirring up all sorts of trouble. This particular demon, however, was musical and it cast a spell that caused everyone to spontaneously break into song and dance.

Those of you who share my fond affinity for musicals might be wondering what the big deal was.

However, there was a catch. People were not just singing and dancing, their songs were actually exposing hidden truths; the characters were revealing secrets they had previously been keeping from one another.

At the end of the episode, with all of the secrets they had been holding onto for weeks out in the open, the characters were kind of left with a sense of, well, where do we go from here? Where do we go with all of this information, with these previously kept secrets, with this new perspective on one another? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before.

Not surprising, at that point they broke out into a song conveniently titled, Where Do We Go From Here?, complete with an underscoring dialogue between Buffy and one of the other main characters discussing what might happen next.

I always think about this song right after Easter because I can only imagine Jesus’ followers were going through the same thing immediately following the resurrection. Perhaps they were not breaking out into song and dance (although that’s a Gospel you know I can get on board with!), but they had to have been asking themselves the question, where do we go from here? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before, right?

Jesus was put to death on the cross, but death did not win; God’s love was victorious over the grave and, in a bold witness to this truth, resurrection happened and it was real and powerful and life changing. This was a monumental moment, not just in Christian history, but also the world as it was and the world as it would be.

But now what? Where do we go from here?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which, as a book, kind of takes a crack at answering this question. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke; it picks up right where the Gospel leaves off, starting with the ascension of Jesus. 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.

It is no coincidence that the title of this book is Acts of the Apostles, because it there is a very deliberate shift between the Gospel, which is about Jesus, to this continuing narrative of Christianity, which has to do with the acts and the actions of Christians.

Without the media we have today to transmit news, the earliest Christians relied heavily, of course, on the oral transmission of these stories. Because of this, not everyone had a clear understanding of what, exactly, had happened. But I think, for the most part, everyone understood the basic gist: Christ had died, Christ had risen and, they believed, Christ would come again.

But what now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?

To some extent, I believe we are still asking ourselves this very same question. Sometimes it is in response to something big that has happened in our lives or in the world – we ask ourselves this questions every time there is a mass shooting or a natural disaster or we lose someone we love – but very often it happens in those moments in our lives where we pause for a moment and think about how we are living up to the grace God has given us.

What now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?

In just four verses, I believe the passage we just heard gives us a powerful, yet tangible and attainable answer to this question.

We have to do church.

This passage describes the earliest church. There were no bylaws, like we have today; no bazaars, no board and committee meetings and no discussions containing the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way.” Church was not a noun, it was a verb. There was action and a united sense of purpose.

The earliest church was not an organization to be involved in, but a way of life for a group of people who fervently believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was gathering with one another, sharing what they had so that no one needed anything. It was giving testimony to the Gospel and to the grace God bestowed upon them. It was taking care of one another, in the name of Jesus Christ.

They did church.

Now, did they always do it right? Probably not, because they were human, after all. But what a beautiful testimony this is for us to read today as we continue to discern how we want to do church in our own lives and community.

After Earl Goff’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, Steve Brasier came up to me and said, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but that was the best funeral I’ve ever been to.” At that point I was on my third cup of peach ice cream, so I really could not argue with him, but do you want to know one of the things I loved so much about Earl’s visitation and funeral? Over the course of those two days – and even in the week leading up to it – we did church and I would argue that we did it right.

You – members and friends of this church worked tirelessly to make sure everything went off without a hitch. You showed up with food, stood in the kitchen and did dishes for hours at a time, sang in the choir, found a way to send a live video feed of the service into Fellowship Hall, handed out bulletins and helped with crowd control. Things happened and, to this day, I do not even know how they happened. You set up, cleaned up and hauled tables and chairs around when it was all said and done. You showed up when you could and usually found a way to stay longer than you originally said you were able to. You shared what you had and never asked for anything in return. In the end, we did not need anything, because this community provided everything we needed.

We did church that weekend. We were united in a common sense of purpose, came together and did church together.

And what a testimony that was to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the powerful truth that love can and will win in our midst.

Our scripture reading for this morning talks about giving everything you have and living in community. “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions,” it says. People who owned land and houses, “sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” The believers took everything they had and “laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

They are not talking about bringing food to a potluck. This is a bold and radical statement on what it means to live in community, one that is counter to the world we live in today. It is something I would argue is central to much of the political divisiveness that exists in our country right now. I would not even know where to begin to suggest we try to do exactly what these early Christians did.

But I believe we have to find a balance. We might not be able to give everything and live exactly as these early Christians did, but we can do church, every day. We can get involved here, at this church, and give back as we are able. We can stretch the boundaries of our own generosity, see the needs of others beyond our own and trust that God is actively working out the details.

The Friday before Easter, I was working late in my office. Now, have you ever had one of those moments were you were already tired anticipating how tired you were going to be? That was me on Friday night. I was packing up everything I needed for the Easter Sunrise Service, grumbling about the fact that I am not a morning person and I was already tired thinking about the fact that I was going to have to wake up so early and what, exactly, is wrong with an Easter Sun-is-already-risen Service?

But then I stopped myself – and I changed the narrative from have to, to, get to. Instead of saying, I have to wake up early, I said to myself, I get to wake up early and proclaim the Good News of resurrection. I get to hug my church family and wish them a Happy Easter before most people are even awake. I get to bear witness to the truth that love wins. I get to watch the sunrise and remember that, even in the darkest moments, God’s light always shines. I get to do church and, once again, figure out an answer to that question, where do we go from here?

And I do not know if it was that or the fact that I set four alarms for Easter morning, but I just about jumped out of bed when it was time to get up for sunrise this year. I just kept thinking to myself, it is an honor and a privilege to proclaim resurrection, to enact the Gospel, to live up to the grace given to us, to do church together.

And do we always do it right? No!

But I believe, with my whole heart, that, as a church community, we have all reached a point where we want to try really hard to do it right.

So – it is the week after Easter. Where do we go from here?

Friends, let us all make a commitment to do church. Let us gather together, share what we have with one another and make sure no one needs anything. Let us give testimony to the work God is doing in our lives so that others might know of God’s love and grace. Let us ask ourselves over and over and over again, where do we go from here? What do we do with these profound and life-altering ways God is working in our midst? How does this change our perspectives on life and faith? How do we share this news with others? How will we act moving forward? How will our actions define our generation of Christianity?

I believe that, as a church, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts. Together, we can act out our faith, continue to write this Christian story and see to it that people’s lives are changed along the way. We can share what we have with others – our time, our money, our talents, our resources – so that our testimony to God’s grace is a living testimony. We can do this using through our words, through our actions and – if we’re feeling musical – with a little bit of song and dance.

So let us, proclaiming the grace given to us by the resurrection of Jesus, do church.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.