The Telephone Game {A Children’s Sermon On Prayer}

A few weeks ago I preached on taking back evangelism and one of the points I was trying to make was that we all have the ability within us to both speak to God and hear God speaking back to us.  I was racking my brain trying to come up with a children’s sermon and my Music Director gave me a great idea – the telephone game!

One of the things that I have focused on lately is how I can better empower my lay people – young and old – to pray.  I want them to see that they are capable of praying the same way that I am, that they do not need me to pray for them, that they can communicate to God directly, that prayer can and WILL change their lives.

I know it starts when they are young.  So I asked the kids if it was important that they pray to God instead of just letting me do it.  Some of them thought they should pray, but some of them thought that I should just do it.  So I had them play a game of telephone!  I gave one of my kids – one of the older kids – a message and he passed it to the person next to him, who passed it to the person next to him and so on and so forth.  It went through all the kids – whose ages ranged from 3 to 14 – and the end result was hysterical.

I started with the message, “We are a church of extravagant welcome,” and by the time we got to the last child, they were just babbling gibberish to each other!  I’m not really sure where the break down happened, but we tried to trace the message back to the last person that heard actual words and what they heard was still was nowhere close to the original message.

After we all had a good laugh, I talked to the kids about why each of them needed to pray to God so that they knew what God wanted them to do and what God was saying to them (and not what someone else thought God was saying to them!).

This was a simple children’s sermon that could be adapted for any season and would work well with a wide range of ages and group sizes.  I take no credit for it and am so grateful Jordan had the idea!

Putting God First {Children’s Sermon}

Children’s sermons are something of a mystery to me.  They are pure chaos, I never feel like I have any semblance of control, and yet my parishioners always tell me it is one of their favorite parts of the service and very often parents text me or post something on Facebook that their kids are talking about something I’ve said.

Soooo yeah.  I don’t claim to be an expert.  In fact, I just bought a book with 26 different children sermon ideas and when I pulled it out of the envelope it was mailed in, my husband laughed hysterically.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take that?

Anyway, I saw this idea floating around on the internet – various blogs, youtube videos and email chains (so I don’t have one post to link it back to).  It’s a cute idea – easy to do – very visual – great message.  It worked well, because this was exactly what I was preaching on that day, so the adults basically got to hear the same message twice. :)

Putting God First {A Children’s Sermon}


So start with your supplies …

1 tennis ball
golf balls
small stones
empty jar
funnel (not pictured, but it will be later!)


For the purpose of this demonstration …

The sand represents the unimportant things in your life
The stones represents the quasi-important things in your life
The golf balls represent the important things in your life
The tennis ball represents God


So you probably get where this is going, but here goes.  When you add the sand to the jar first, everything doesn’t fit.  So when you add the sand, you talk about what it means to put the unimportant things in your life first …


Then you put the quasi-important things … and there’s SOME room left …


Then you add the important things.  At this point, the jar – your life – is overloaded …


… and there’s no room for God.


So once you’ve demonstrated that, you take the whole thing apart.


This is where the colander is necessary!  I realized about 45 minutes before church started that I didn’t have a good way to separate the rocks from the sand.


A funnel is also helpful!  When I practiced without one, I got sand all over my desk.


Okay.  Let’s start again.  Put God first in your life!


Then add the important things.


Then add the quasi-important things.

IMG_4706 IMG_4707

And then – guess what!




And you even have room for a little bit more and to put the top on.

Literally, when I finished this, the sanctuary erupted in applause.  I can’t decide if people were so overwhelmed by my bold proclamation that everything fits into your life when you put God first or just relieved that this actually worked the way it was supposed to.

I’m thinking it was the latter.

Go Light Your World

I was at a friend’s church bazaar on Saturday and picked this up for $3.

I need to epoxy or glue the cracks back together, but other than I may just clean it out, give it a nice shine and leave it as is.

I actually was able to use it sooner than I thought!  Our youth took part in their Homeless Awareness Weekend and during Sunday’s service we did a candle lighting while the choir sang “Go Light Your World” (a tradition).  The kids usually blow the candles out after the song is over, but I was thinking yesterday morning that it might be nice to keep them lit.

Lucky for me my husband did not raise his eyebrows or ask too many questions when I said to him on Sunday morning, “Any chance you could bring a big bucket full of sand to church?”

I was also lucky that the kids on the field (and the adults, for that matter) didn’t raise their eyebrows or ask too many questions when I asked them to bring one of their cardboard “homes” back to the church on Sunday morning. It was a great visual and also gave the younger kids a chance to crawl in and out of it during the children’s sermon and see (on a smaller scale) what it is like to “live” in a box.

I’m looking forward to using it in the future. Any ideas on how?

Practicing Faith

Sunday’s sermon …

You know … it’s really great to have the church school back in session.  I missed it.

James 2:14-17

Practicing Faith

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: An Essay By The Rev. Sarah Weaver

I baptized seven beautiful children.
I officiated three weddings.
I presided over two funerals.
I broke the stove at the parsonage.
I profusely apologized to the Trustees for breaking the stove at the parsonage.
I watched Jesse and Bruce replace the stove at the parsonage.
I bought a tractor.
I lost two weeks’ worth of sleep watching Olympic coverage (who knew “speed walking” was an Olympic event?)
I “finished at the 50” at Gilette Stadium with a group of people from the church.
I went to Martha’s Vineyard with my New Clergy Group for an overnight retreat.
I caught my first striper.
I spent a lot of time in my running sneakers, on my bike or in my kayak.
I redecorated my bedroom.
I preached a sermon using Ken dolls as visual aids.
I read a lot of books.
I went down to the Cape for a few days with Bruce.
I ate a lot of mints at my desk.
I put forth a less-than-stellar gardening effort.
I made several trips to Connecticut.
I visited with my family and my friends.

I went for long walks. I listened to music on repeat. I sat alone in the sanctuary at the end of long days. I looked for answers and found more questions. I felt God’s presence in my life, even when I did not know what it meant.

I thoughts about this church a lot; a congregation of people that – 18 months ago – called me to be their pastor. I took a step back and thought about the time that has passed since I received my first phone call from the search committee. I thought about what I thought was going to happen and what actually happened. I thought about what I have learned about the church and what I have yet to learn about the church. I thought about the church’s strengths and weakness. I thought about my own strengths and weaknesses; where my strengths fit well with the community and where I still need to improve. I thought about where the passion lies in the community. I thought about how lucky we are as a congregation to have such phenomenal nursery, church school and youth fellowship programs. I thought about how grateful I am for the older generation of members, who continue to share stories and wisdom with me – and who give me a glimpse into the life of this church so many years ago.

I thought again and again about the great hopes that I have for this church.

This morning’s scripture comes from the book of James. The book of James is a letter, though we really do not know by who or to who. The Letter of James contrasts many of the Apostle Paul’s letters, because there is an emphasis on works – faith is not enough, this writer implies. There needs to be some sort of correlation between faith in speech and faith in action.

I actually trimmed down this text from what was suggested in the lectionary. I could not think of a better way to start off our church year. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? … Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

“Faith without works is dead.” If there was ever a time to make a commitment to live out this statement, the time is now.

I read a book this summer by Diana Butler Bass called Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. In this book, Butler Bass talks about the changes that are happening in the church right now – and how it may be time to focus more on faith and spiritual practices and less on institutional church structures.

Butler Bass talks about the three strands of religious faith – believing, behaving and belonging. The strands, themselves, are not changing, she says; what is changing, however, is the order in which we live them out. She suggests that belief does not come first; we must first belong, and then behave – and then we will believe.

Towards the end of the book, Butler Bass references specifically this passage from James when she talks about what it means to “behave” in the 21st century. She says:

The early community that followed Jesus was a community of practice. Jesus’s followers did not sit around a fire and listen to lectures on Christian theology. They listened to stories that taught them how to act toward one another, what to do in the world. They healed people, offered hospitality, prayed together, challenged traditional practices and rituals, ministered to the sick, comforted the grieving, fasted, and forgave. These actions induced wonder, have them courage, empowered hope, and opened up a new vision of God. By doing things together, they began to see differently.

Jesus did not walk by the Sea of Galilee and shout to fishermen, “Have faith!” Instead, he asked them to do something: “Follow me.” When they followed, he gave them more things to do. At first, he demonstrated what he wanted them to do. They he did it with them. Finally, he sent them out to do it themselves, telling them to proclaim God’s reign and cure the sick. When they returned from this first mission, they could not believe what had happened. They discovered that proclaiming the kingdom was not a matter of imitating Jesus’s actions. Jesus did not tell them to have faith. He pushed them into the world to practice faith. The disciples did not hope the world would change. They changed it. And, in doing so, they themselves changed.

Later, in the New Testament book of James, the writer says, “Faith without works is dead” (2:17, 26). This verse has caused much consternation in Christian history. Does that mean we work our way to heaven? That good works save us?

It is a mistake to think that this verse is about some future salvation—about whether or not a person will go to heaven. The context is not eternal life; rather the context is this life. When place in the here and now, and in the context of following a spiritual path, the meaning is crystal clear: actions shape faith. Spiritual practices engender hope. Behavior opens the door for believing. Doing what once seemed difficult or impossible empower courage to envision a different world and believe we can make a difference. Without practices, faith is but an empty promise.

“Without practices, faith is but an empty promise.”

Here are my hopes for the Rehoboth Congregational Church this year:

I hope that we will continue to grow, continue to heal and continue to thrive as a community of faith.

I hope that we will find our niche, discover what we do well and allow ourselves to improve upon them even more.

I hope that we gracefully let go of some of the things that we do not have time for right now and are willing to see change as an avenue towards great opportunities.

I hope that we learn to love one another unconditionally.

I hope that we strengthen our faith – both as a community and also as individual people.

I hope that we explore new opportunities for service and missions.

I hope that we continue to upgrade our facilities.

I hope that we experiment in worship and education, finding new ways to experience God and our faith.

I hope that we embrace who we are as a community church, reaching out to those around us with a spirit of evangelism and extravagant welcome and hospitality.

I hope that we “practice faith”.

Practicing faith does not mean spending 24 hours a day at the church. Practicing faith does not mean volunteering for every committee, regardless of whether you have an interest in or time for it. Practicing faith does not mean constantly evangelizing to your neighbor. Practicing faith does mean forcing yourself to read the bible or a daily devotional. Practicing faith does not mean writing over your entire paycheck to the church.

Practicing faith means making a commitment to be patient with yourself and with others along this journey we are all on. Practicing faith means being willing to come and worship, serve, learn and fellowship with people who you may not always agree with. Practicing faith means looking at the needs both inside and outside of the church walls. Practicing faith means listening to how God is speaking to you. Practicing faith means knowing that everyone around you is on their own journey of faith – and accepting people where they are. Practicing faith means supporting others and allowing others to support you. Practicing faith means being open to the possibility of change. Practicing faith means looking at where our community is now and seeing how we can best move forward into the future. Practicing faith means loving unconditionally, serving consistently and learning and growing always. Practicing faith means standing in community and saying together, “We are the Body of Christ”.

My hope, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, is that this year, we will truly “practice faith”.

So … what did YOU do this summer?

Thanks be to God!


A Letter To The 2012 Confirmands

I have no words to describes yesterday’s worship service.  I am so proud of our confirmation class and they positively shined!

I was explaining confirmation and the affirmation of baptism to the kids during the children’s sermon.  Then I called the confirmands up and the kids prayed for the confirmands – so cute!

My awesome class!

Here’s my sermon …

A Letter To The 2012 Confirmands

Dear Alyssa, Tommy, Spencer, Nick, Julia, Hannah, Morgan, Rebekah, Matt, Emmie, Ally and Loren,

What do I say?

I will be honest – when we started this Confirmation journey back in September, I did not know what to expect. I wanted to try something different with you guys; something that would allow you to spend more time talking than listening, more time asking questions than getting fed answers and more time growing in your own faith than fitting into the mold of a religious structure. In order for this program to work effectively you all needed to be willing to open up – not just to one another, but to yourselves as well.

Well – nine months later, you have far exceeded all of my expectations.

A few months ago I was meeting with my new clergy group. I was talking about one of our night class worship services when one of my group members turned to me and said, “Do you realize that every time you talk about your confirmation class, you absolutely glow? I want that.”

She is right. I have so much joy in my heart every time I think about you, talk about you or spend time with you. You are a unique and special group of individuals – and I am so very lucky to have been able to teach you this year.

As a group, you are smart, polite, respectful, faithful and caring. You allowed yourself to be completely engaged in the process of confirmation. You supported one another along this journey through confirmation. You laughed together and cried together. You shared meals, fellowship and worship together. You were willing to take risks, to try new things. You pushed each other and encouraged each other as you explored your faith. You never passed judgment on one another. You did not criticize each other when your views differed. You just showed friendship and love to each other.

You have helped me to grow through this process as well. You asked me difficult questions and waited patiently as I fumbled my way to come up with some sort of an answer the even remotely sounded eloquent. You offered feedback on our classes and our Sunday night worship services. You gave me new ideas for changes and ministries that could take place within and benefit our church. You came through for this community when we asked you to lend a hand. You have given us a lot to think about – and a lot of things to grow on as well.

One of the most popular subjects in theological circles right now is the decline of mainline churches. Churches – like ours – are getting smaller and smaller; general concern is that many churches will not be able to survive long-term.

I used to be just as concerned as most people – but I am not sure that I am anymore. You all have given me so much hope for the future of the church. I hope the adults that are sitting in this sanctuary today trust me when I say that as long as there are youth like you that are passionate about their faith and about nurturing strong communities of faith, the church that they love and care so much about will be absolutely fine in the years to come.

Before we move into the Rite of Confirmation, I have a few last things to say.

The first scripture I chose for this morning’s service was from Jeremiah – his call story. I read it at one of our Sunday night worship services and pointed out that when God called Jeremiah into the ministry, he said no. Jeremiah had doubts about himself; he said that he was too young, that he would be inadequate, that he did not have enough answers and that he did not know why God was calling him. I told you then and I am going to tell you know – it is okay to have doubts.

You are 14 and 15 years old. You do not have to have all of the answers right now. You do not need to know what you want to do with your life or how you are going to do it. It is not necessary for you to have come to any insightful conclusions about your faith and your belief system – that wasn’t the goal of confirmation. When you say, “I believe” today you are not making a definitive an infinite statement – you are simply expressing where you are in this moment. And you are promising to continue on your faith journey, asking questions and being open to finding answers in unexpected places. Selfishly I hope that your faith journey keeps you right here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. Because I think that each and every one of you has the propensity within yourself to do great things here.

Please – always be true to who you are. Know when to apologize – but also know when not to apologize. Do not be afraid to speak up when you feel like your voice needs to be heard. Never stop asking questions. Embrace your gifts. Sense the strength that you hold within yourself – use that strength. Love yourself.

Let your heart see your vision – and let your mind guide your journey.

Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

I am so very proud of each and every one of you. Now go out into the world and let your light shine!

You are a magnificent creation of the divine!


Overlooking Discipleship

Sooooo yeah.

I don’t want to talk about it.

I hope my sermons make up for the fact that I often come off as a complete ditz during children’s sermons.  Here’s today’s!

John 3:14-21

Overlooking Discipleship

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” {King James}

My, my, my – that is a familiar one, isn’t it?

One of my commentaries hit the nail on its head this week when it said the following about the difficulty of preaching on such a well-known passage:

If you grew up going to Sunday school, you cannot remember a time when you did not know this particular verse of Scripture. It is and has been the centerpiece of uncounted Sunday school and vacation Bible school classes (not to mention sermons!) and is frequently lifted up as the perfect and pithy summation of Christian faith. For a few years, references to the passage seemed to be everywhere. In every end zone, in every crowd, in every place that a television camera was pointing, it seemed as though you would find someone holding up a placard: “John 3:16”

This particular trend may have waned a bit of late—and not a moment too soon for most of us—but still it is true: everyone knows John 3:16 or at least knows of John 3:16, including, of course, our congregations, filled with people far more likely to need to stifle a yawn when this passage is read than to limit the urge to leap into any immediate action. How does one preach a text that has become a cliché? How is life to be pumped back into words that are so well known that they can no longer be heard? {Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 116}

So where do I even begin to start with a verse that is so well-known, not just in the Christian world, but also in the secular world? We are talking about a verse that was the most googled phrase on the day the Florida Gators won the 2009 BCS Championship because Tim Tebow had it written on his face.

Well, here is where I am going to start: I think we should throw it away. I think we are focusing on the wrong verse. John 3:16? That is not the meat of this particular passage.

When I was a sophomore in college I took a class called The Christian Religious Tradition. We started off the semester by reading the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark, for those of you who do not know, is the shortest of the four Gospels. It is also likely the earliest written and most scholars believe that it is the most realistic representation of Jesus’ life; it is focused on events that happened, not commentary about them. I have always likened reading the Gospel of Mark to the movie The Truman Show; we are simply observers watching the story of Jesus’ life on earth unfold.

So my class read the Gospel of Mark and my professor asked us what, according to the Gospel, it meant to be a Christian. A boy in the back – a devout Christian – raised his hand.

“You have to believe in Christ in order to get salvation,” he said.

“Where does it say that?” my professor asked.

“John 3:16,” the boy replied without skipping a beat.

“But we’re not reading John,” my professor cut him off. “We’re reading Mark.” The room went silent.

The rest of the semester was kind of a moot point for me. Because in that moment I learned one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned about the Christian Religious Tradition: It is about far more than just salvation. You see, the Gospel of Mark does not talk about what Jesus meant; it talks about what Jesus did.

When this passage comes up in bible studies and in worship my fear is always that people are going to get to John 3:16 and stop paying attention. Once we hear those familiar words, “for God so loved the world” we stop listening because we have all heard it before. But what about the rest of the chapter? What about the words that come immediately after the 16th verse?

For some reason, I was particularly drawn to John 3:17 when I was preparing my sermon this week.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. {NRSV}

“But in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus was more than just the Son of God; Jesus was also a teacher, a preacher, a healer, a crier of justice, someone who reached out to the marginalized. The world was saved not just because of who Jesus was, but also because of what Jesus did – and what Jesus called other people to do. The world is a different place because of what Jesus did during his life and ministry. And the world continues to change (and will continue to change) as more and more people respond to the call to be disciples in their own lives.

I have a version of the bible called ‘The Message’. It was written by a man named Eugene Peterson who saw the need for a bible written in contemporary language. He translated John 3:17 in the following way:

God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. {The Message}

“He came to help.”

Obviously, Christianity would not exist without Jesus. But we are just as much a part of the Christian Religious Tradition as Jesus was and is. Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection would not mean what it does without men and women, generation upon generation, responding to the call to be disciples.

I am not saying that salvation is not important. It is. But salvation without discipleship does not make any sense. What will make more of a difference in the world: Saying we have a relationship with Jesus Christ or – because of that relationship – actually doing some of the things that Jesus Christ called us to do? We cannot overlook discipleship. The church will not survive if we do.

The end of this passage – John 3:21 – also resonated with me this week.

But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. {NRSV}

I love the translation in The Message. It says:

But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is. {The Message}

We are called to work and live in truth and reality. We are called to see the world for what it is – a place that is broken. And while the world is full of many blessings and God’s grace and healing, it is still in need of human grace and healing. We are called to work towards a better world, a better place for humanity – God’s children, our brothers and sister in faith – to live. The world needs us – God needs us – to respond to the call of discipleship.

I am very proud of this church right now. In January the Missions Committee’s Souper Supper raised funds for the Rehoboth Helping Hands Food Pantry. Our neighbors who are in need will now be able to feed their families. In February Morgan and the Youth Group collected an entire carload of coats, hats, scarves, gloves and blankets for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. Persons living in homelessness had relief on those cold winter days and nights. Here we are in March and the children have made it their mission to CHANGE the world (and empty your wallets) with the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. With these funds, people around the world will have access to clean drinking water, food, healthcare, refugee and disaster relief services and more.

This is what it means to live the Gospel.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. {King James}

God sent Jesus into the world to be the catalyst; Jesus started something here on earth – call it salvation or call it something else. But without disciples, that salvation will be lost. We have to continue what Jesus started.

Do not overlook the call to discipleship. Heed the call. Respond to the call. Be part of the call. The world will be a better place when you do.