Our 2017 Star Words

Hello and Happy New Year!

My dad called me at one point over Christmas and said, “Are you ever going to update your blog?”  I had the best of intentions, but I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and do it.  We had a lot going on at church and at home and any form of organization that I may have cultivated last year flew out the window.

I have a lot of things that I really do want to post about – Advent and Christmas ideas, Christmas Eve sermon, altars – but the biggest news around Rehoboth is that last week Bruce and I announced to the church that I am pregnant with our first child, a baby boy, due June 1st!  So things have definitely been a little bit hectic in our world (though not as hectic as they are going to be, I’m sure!).

In the meantime, here is Sunday’s sermon!  A friend of mine has done “Star Words” with her congregation for several years now and I thought I would try it at RCC this year.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go (and then when it dumped 12″ of snow the night before and we only had 40 people in church I was even less sure!) but everyone who was in church LOVED it.  I love getting “Star Stories” already and I’m just making sure as I see people throughout the week (and next weekend) that everyone is able to get a star.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 8, 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

Our 2017 Star Words

I do not know if any of you know this about me, but I like things done a certain way.

I prefer to think of myself as “detail oriented,” but I would be willing to bet that my husband, friends and the people I work with on a regular basis might use the phrase, “control freak” instead.

For example, last week I was setting up for our New Year’s Day Worship Brunch when I decided I wanted to use my black tablecloths with a gold runner for the buffet table. Beautiful, right? The only problem was that I only had two black tablecloths and I knew we would need three.

Which is how Bruce and I found ourselves at Target at 8:30 PM on New Year’s Eve, dressed up from dinner, in search of a black tablecloth.

Since, unfortunately, we could not find one, I stood in Fellowship Hall on New Year’s morning, staring at the three tables, two beautifully covered in black tablecloths and one just mocking me.

So I took it down. The food will just have to fit onto two tables, I thought to myself.

About an hour later, as people was piling in and the two tables were quickly filling up with food, Ray Medeiros said to me, in his usual, helpful manner, “I’m just going to set up another table in case the food doesn’t fit.” I instantly replied, “You can’t do that – I only have two black tablecloths.”

I think he thought I was kidding.

I was not kidding.

So fast-forward to this week: A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about something she did with their church on Epiphany, which is the January 6th celebration of the arrival of the Wise Men. They handed out paper stars to everyone in the congregation; each star had a word on it (for the most part, all different words) and that became your word for the year. She said she encouraged her congregation to reflect on their “star words” throughout the year and be intentional about living into them and allowing those words to be a transformative part of their lives throughout the year.

Knowing how many people in our congregation were ready to get a fresh start this year, I thought we would have a “Star Sunday” of our own at RCC this year. So I had my friend email me the file with all of the stars on them and cut them out, little by little, throughout the week.

As I cut out each star, I looked at the words and thought about what each of these words would mean to me if I picked it as my “star word,” how I would live into them with intention.

And then I started thinking, “I kind of wish I could choose my own word.”

Which, you know, is really not the point of the whole exercise.

This morning we remember the story of Jesus’ baptism; when Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended down, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about my own baptism. I was at my grandmother’s funeral, sitting in the same church where my grandfather baptized me 30 years ago. At the time, he baptized me into the faith and family of the Christian Church; there was great joy, hope and expectation that morning – not only for me, but also for our whole family.

No one knew that my grandfather would die less than a year later; that our family and his congregation would face an unexpected and heavy loss. There were things that happened that we could not control.

But see here is the thing about the living waters of baptism; they often give us a heartbreaking victory over the uncertainty of our world. Because despite the loss we have all felt over the past 30 years, we have still uncovered an immeasurable amount of grace along our journeys. We have felt joy, shown love, learned invaluable lessons and strengthened our faith.

We are not in control; some days this is more blaringly obvious than others. But even in the midst of this uncertainty, God’s love remains steadfast. The waters of baptism that pour over all us in our own baptisms are living waters; they continue to heal us, transform us, unite us and make us whole.

In remembering Jesus’ baptism and also our own, we are affirming the bold and life changing truth that these waters are ever living, ever flowing and ever life-changing; that no matter what happens in our lives, we are constantly being swept up in the current of grace and carried to safety in God’s arms.

The stars that we will receive today remind us that the Wise Men from the East went on an uncertain journey of their own to Bethlehem. They followed a star to bring gifts to Jesus, to worship him and to (without fully understanding it at the time) write their own chapter of this Christian story. They did not return to Herod as they had been instructed, but instead put their faith and trust in God and allowed themselves to be transformed. They did not get to choose their own star; instead, God called them to step outside of their comfort zones and live into the promise of God’s love, light and grace.

And so today, as we receive stars of our own, we do the same. We let go of our fear, of our need to control, of our uncertainty and of our pain and we grab hold of God’s presence in our lives as tightly as we can. We allow the waters of baptism to, once again, wash over us like the healing rain of reconciliation and redemption. We look at the word that we have chosen not as a random word chosen out of a basket, but as our star word for the year, a word and idea that God wanted us live into with intention in 2017.

May these stars guide us in the days, weeks and months to come. May the words we have chosen be our guiding lights in a dark sky, illuminating our journey and reassuring us that God is always with us. And may we live into them with intention; strengthening our faith, changing lives and uncovering grace along the way.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Healed By The Waters

It was a wonderful Sunday to reflect on Jesus’ baptism!  After church several women were telling me about a trip they had taken a few years back.  They were in Philippi and re-affirmed their baptismal vows.  How powerful!  I know we often think that baptism is a one-time thing, but I feel – like with other sacraments – it should be shared and re-affirmed throughout your faith journey.

Enjoy the sermon.  Blessings!

Isaiah 43:1-2
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Healed By The Waters

Alan Watts, British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, once said, “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

When I was doing my chaplaincy rotation in Atlanta, I used to do 24-hour on-call shifts at the hospital once a week. Only one chaplain would be on call at a time; we would be on the premises and responsible both for our hospital, Grady Memorial, and the children’s hospital across the street.

I have to be honest – I did not like being on call. I hated the feeling of being alone and not having the other chaplains around for support if I needed it. I never knew what was going to happen or what trauma might come through the doors of the Emergency Room or land on the helipad. The entire time I was on call I almost existed in a state of fear over the uncertainty of what might happen when my pager went off or a code blue rang.

There were times when I was called to two or three places at once and felt like I spent more time on elevators and running up and down the hallways of the hospital than giving pastoral care. There were heartbreaking, tragic and traumatic calls. There were long and sleepless nights. I often looked at my watch all night and counted down the hours until 8 a.m. when the other chaplains would arrive for the day and I could hand the pager off, go home and take a nap.

I lived about 20 minutes from the hospital. Some mornings I would be so exhausted that I struggled to keep my eyes open as I made the drive home. When I walked in the door to my apartment all I ever wanted to do was crawl on the couch, pull a blanket over my head and try to forget that I ever thought a chaplaincy rotation at a Level 1 trauma center would be a good idea.

That being said, it never mattered how tired I was, I never came home and immediately crashed on the couch. I always had to take a shower first.

My post-on-call shower was never really about washing away the physical reminder of the on-call off of me (although washing away the smell of the hospital was always fairly necessarily at that point). In a bizarre way, I needed to wash away the emotional, mental and spiritual reminders of the on-call.

I needed to wash away the tears that I had cried, the distraught family members that I had held and the words that I had prayed. I needed to wash away every call that I had hurried to and everything that I had seen once I got there. I had to wash away the sound of my pager, my inner grief and turmoil over why bad things happen to good people and the sad reality that there is real pain in the world.

In a strange way, like Watts said, I trusted myself to the waters that poured over me those mornings. They helped me feel refreshed and renewed; they allowed me to pause and clear my head; and they forced me to take a deep breath, relax and calm myself down.

I felt healed by those waters.

Have you ever felt like you needed to be healed?

This morning we are reminded of Jesus’ baptism through the Gospel of Luke. The Hebrew people were starting to wonder if John the Baptist, who had been preaching, baptizing and calling people into ministry among them, was the Messiah that had been prophesied to them. But John the Baptist said to them, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And here we are 2,000 years later, still practicing this ancient tradition in our churches and in our lives, still remembering those words, still using water to heal us.

What is baptism? Christian traditions and denominations each have their own interpretations, understandings and practices of baptism. Some baptize babies and young children and others practice believers’ baptism with youth and adults. Some baptize with water and others use oils. Some sprinkle water on their candidates and others completely dunk them in baptismal pools in the church. Some believe that the community should be present and others believe that baptism can happen privately. Some believe baptism can only happen within the walls of the church and other believe a baptism can occur anywhere.

Theologians, clergy and church leaders have spent a lot of time and energy debating the “truth” about baptism – what baptism means, what Jesus taught about baptism and how, where and when baptism should happen. Even at this church, the Board of Deacons and I have spent time discussing what baptism means to our community of faith. We have tried to, as a church, come to some sort of consensus regarding our baptismal beliefs and practices.

I have often wondered, however, if the sacrament and the practice of baptism is sort of like faith – unique and personal to everyone. Perhaps there is no consensus to come to. Maybe we do not need to agree on the mechanics of the baptism itself, but affirm the reality that – in a myriad of ways – God offers us grace and healing through these waters, not only through the baptism itself, but also each and every day of our lives.

I read something this week that caused me to pause and think about baptism in a new way. It was written by the Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, a pastor on staff at the national office of the United Church of Christ.

Today, in churches around the world, people are still being baptized, still being washed in the living waters, still thirsting for God’s grace and a word of forgiveness and life, still waiting to be included, to find their place in the story of healing and salvation, still longing for the chance to start their life over. {Sermon Seeds Year C: Inclusive Reflections for Preaching from the United Church of Christ, by Kathryn Matthews Huey}

Huey reminds us that baptism is not necessarily a practice, but a way of life. And I think she’s right. I am not sure we really need to understand what baptism is and how it should happen; rather we need to remind ourselves that – in one way or another and in ways that are very often unknown to us – we are all healed by the waters of baptism.

I think that we also need to remember that the act itself of baptism is truly only the beginning of the healing done by the waters of baptism. John the Baptist told the people that had gathered that Jesus was going to come and baptize not just with water, but also with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works within us always and allows us to be touched and healed by the waters of baptism every single day.

It is kind of ironic, actually – baptism is such a huge part of our journey of faith and because many of were baptized as infants and children we do not even remember them. But we do not have to remember our baptisms in order for them to have meaning in our lives and our journeys of faith. Martin Luther once said, “We must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church … [but] a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.” (The Large Catechism, by Martin Luther}

Sometimes the hardest part about living in the world is actually living in it. Life is not easy; bad things happen, tragedies occur and communities cry out in anguish. Over the past several years the media has inundated us with news of recession, natural disasters, violence, wars and illness. Lives have been lost, sometimes entirely too soon. People struggle in real ways, here in our community, in our country and throughout the world. Every single day we, as a people of faith, are forced to make difficult decisions based on our circumstances.

And we are thirsty for God’s grace. Our wells are dry; we are crying out to be flooded by the blessings and mercies of God.

Martin Luther was right, baptism does not just happen once. Walking a journey of faith allows us to be baptized daily, to be touched by the Holy Spirit and reminded of the power of the healing waters of baptism every single day of our lives.

I was thinking about the quote from Alan Watts, “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.” I think there is more to it than that; I think to have faith is to allow yourself to be healed by the waters.

I cannot make the world an easier place – but I can remind you that you do not have to live in it alone. Jesus brought healing to this world, not just through this life and ministry, but also through the holy and spirit-filled waters of baptism, waters that touch us all every single day.

God is with us always. The prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. {Isaiah 33:2, NRSV}

To have faith is to allow yourself to be healed by the waters. So let yourself be healed – today and every day.

Thanks be to God!
Amen