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!

***

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.

To Stand Together In Community

Hello friends!  I know it has been awhile, but I was actually on sabbatical!  I had a really amazing six weeks off (two of those in the Czech Republic & Hungary!).  It felt great to get back behind the pulpit this morning – and we had two baptisms!  Here is my sermon.  We are halfway through a summer sermon series called, “Why I Come To Church” – this week the theme was community.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Acts 2:37-47
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Community

To Stand Together In Community

When we planned the summer preaching series and chose this scripture from Acts of the Apostles to correspond with the theme of community, we actually did not know, at the time, that we would also be baptizing two beautiful children this morning. But what a beautiful opportunity this has been; to bear witness to and participate in the sacrament of baptism allows us to heed the call of Peter in this very scripture to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that … you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

This is a really poignant reminder for us, today, that, when it comes to the church: Where there is community, God is present. The two are synonymous.

When I first started thinking about this sermon, I originally thought that I would talk about the activities that we do together as a community: Suppers, events, the bazaar and various outings. I wanted to pat us on the back for being the “fun” church and for making church about more than religious dogma or strict rules.

But then I thought about this scripture and about the earliest Christians; and I thought about the fact that, from the very beginning, Christianity was a shared practice, a faith that was “done” together.

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. … And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

They spent much time together; and as these new Christians gathered together, more and more people were welcomed into the faith that we now share today.

I want to dispel the myth that the “God stuff” and the “church stuff” is somehow separate from the community piece of the church. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh I do not really come to church for the churchy stuff; for me it is about the community.” And while I think that is true and that the community is so important to who we are, I also think it is also so important for us to remember that the community piece of church is not void of God. God is present when we gather to worship and God is present when we do everything else. God is as present here today, in the safety of our worship space, as God will be next weekend when we gather at McCoy stadium to watch the PawSox play (which, by the way, you can still reserve your tickets for, come see me after worship). Gathering as a community is a scripturally integral part to being the church, to enacting our faith. We cannot compartmentalize the two; they go together.

This scripture that we just heard is a story about a group of people, the Apostles; the earliest Christians who had experienced the Risen Christ and were changed by that experience and wanted to live out their new faith and share it with others. This scripture records that almost immediately in the very beginning of our Christian history, community was formed.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

They devoted themselves to fellowship.

Christianity was probably one of the first grassroots movements to ever exist. When the narrative of this scripture was playing out – when the first converts were gathering together and breaking bread and being baptized – there were no rules, there was no structure and the Gospels (the stories of Jesus’ life) had not even been written yet.

But do you know what there was? There were people; coming together in community.

This is how God called the Church into being; God called the Church into being by bringing people together; God called the Church into being through community.

And God is still doing that today.

God is calling us to be the Church by being in community. God needs us to come together so that we can serve with one another and learn from one another and pray for one another. God needs us to come together so that our faith can reach its fullest potential of rich depth and beautiful diversity. God needs us to come together so that we can join our voices with one another and boldly share the Gospel with the people around us. God needs us to come together and give hope to a world that so desperately needs it.

Here’s the thing: You can find community pretty much anywhere. You can find community through sports, at the gym, at school and through any activity or organization you are part of. But Church community is different. Church community is inspired by God’s presence and love and grace; being together in Church community means not only that people coming are together, but that God has a powerful impact on how that community will come together and what that community will do.

I missed out on the opportunity to preach on some very significant news stories while I was away. And it bothered me, not because I did not trust Anne Marie and the Board of Deacons to do an outstanding job in my absence; but because I missed being in community when bad things were happening. When the world was hurting, I missed standing with my community of faith.

Because I believe that when bad things happen and there is not a lot that we can do about it, we can still stand together in community.

We may not be able to fix them, we may not be able to understand them, we may not be able to make them better and we may not be able to agree on them; but my God, we can stand together in community, a community that is intentionally inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.

Like the earliest Christians, we, too, can devote ourselves to the teachings of Christ. We, too, can share fellowship. We, too, can break bread together. We, too, can pray for and with one another.

This is what God is calling us to do.

In a world where tragic and uncontrollable things happen and where diversity sometimes turns into hatred and division, God is calling us to rise above and stand together in community. God is calling us to come together and, as a community, choose love over hate, light over darkness and hope over fear. God is calling us to bridge divides, to reach out in service and to show compassion. God is calling us to be honest, humble and willing to compromise. God is calling us to show the rest of the world that is possible to come together in community even if everyone does not agree with one another. God is calling us to demonstrate what it means to be a community of faith, a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.

Because that will make a difference in this world. That will make this world a better place for the next generation.

I love everything that we do together as a community. I love when we go kayaking together and go to baseball games together and compete in races together. I love Vacation Bible School and Beatles Sunday and the Christmas Bazaar. I love the Rally Day breakfast and the Soup Supper and the Dessert Auction. I love our fellowship and I love that Church is not just a one-hour Sunday morning time commitment.

But mostly I love that, through it all, we demonstrate what it means to be a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace. We are at our strongest when we stand in the presence of God and allow ourselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit. We come together, knowing that it might not always be easy, but that God is always with us. We take the baptismal vows that we make to our children (and to their parents) seriously by creating and maintaining a safe space and community where they can grow, learn and serve. We welcome others into our midst so that they, too, might be moved and changed by the Gospel.

This morning’s scripture records that, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42) I believe that this is still happening today. I believe that, when we come together, God is present. I believe that, even when we experience tragedy, God’s love will win. I believe that, even when we struggle, God’s grace can be uncovered. I believe that our community can and will change the world and make it better.

So today I invite all of us to open our eyes and, like the earliest Christians, stand in awe of the wonders and signs that are being done within our community of faith.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.