Living A “Careful” Life

I know I am delayed in posting this!  I have no excuse, other than things have been busy at church, I’ve been trying desperately to fit my workouts in and I’ve been trying to make the most of my time at home (ie I started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and ever since nothing is safe from purging).

Here is Sunday’s sermon!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 16, 2015

Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20

Living A “Careful” Life

“Be careful.”

Does anyone else find themselves saying that phrase from time to time? (Or – for some of us – more often than that?)

Poor Bruce; I have a tendency to be a little overdramatic at times when it comes to my fear that something bad might happen. Take, for example, this past winter. It was snowing (of course) and Bruce had been at work since 5:00 am. As the day went on, the snow got worse. I kept getting text messages from Bruce letting me know that people were calling out because of the weather and he was going to stay and help. This happened until about 9:00 PM when the stored finally closed and Bruce texted me, “I’m leaving work now.”

Awesome! Let the praying commence.

“PLEASE BE CAREFUL,” I texted back in all capital letters.

So I prayed, I paced and I finally got on the treadmill to run out my anxiety while I waited for him to get home. 45 minutes later, my phone went off.

“Marc and I were helping someone get their car out of a snow bank. I’m leaving now!”

Okay, bless his Good Samaritan heart, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

“Okay, but please, please, please, please PLEASE be careful!!!!!”

“I will.”

“No, really. I’m serious. Be careful.”

I spent the next hour on the couch clutching my rosary beads until I finally saw his truck pull into the driveway.

(At which point I ran out of the house with no shoes or coat, jumped about two feet to hug him and screamed, “I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE HOME!”)

(My neighbors must love me.)

“Be careful.”

When we say these words, we are generally trying to protect someone from something.

Be careful driving home.
Be careful when crossing the street.
Be careful when you’re out in the sun.
Be careful in the water.
Be careful on that ladder.
Be careful with that chainsaw.

The ramifications are usually negative when we use the phrase, “Be careful.” There usually is something to fear.

So what is this scripture trying to protect us from?

The author of this letter to the Ephesians begins this passage, “Be careful then how you live.” What is the author trying to protect us from?

Let’s think about this for a second: What if the author was not trying to protect us from something? What if, instead, the author was trying to free us to something?

“Be careful then how you live.”

First of all, let’s talk about the context that scripture was written in. Like many of the letters in the bible, the Book of Ephesians was written to a community that thought the second coming was imminent; they thought that the end of the world was right around the corner. There was a sense of urgency in this letter because the space between earthy life and everlasting life was diminishing and there was a real fear of what was going to happen next. In a way, “Be careful then how you live,” in this context meant, “Be careful, because when Jesus comes back, we want to be ready for this.”

But in saying this, was the author trying to protect them from something? From what? From Jesus? From everlasting life? No; I think that the author was trying to free them to something. I think that the author was trying to free them to Jesus; I think that the author was trying to tell them to take care in how they lived their lives; to live their lives in a way that – when Jesus came back – they would be freed to this realm of everlasting life.

Now, we do not have the same sense of urgency today, but do we have our own sets of issues and brokenness that create real stress and fear in our lives. Our world is not perfect; we are not perfect. We face challenges and heartaches. Tragedies strike when we least expect them. We experience pain that is real and realities that seem hopeless. This passage is so relevant in our world today, not because we need to be protected from something, but because we, too, need to be freed to something.

I think the author is trying to free us to a new way of life: A way of life where God’s overwhelming love defines our existence. A way of life where the Gospel is not just the story of Jesus’ life, but a radical call to action. A way of life where individual members of the Body of Christ work together to live out what God is calling them to do.

I know that in life there are a lot of things that are out of our control, but this scripture reminds us that – even in the midst of that uncertainty – we need to live our lives carefully because the way we live our lives matters.

What we spend our time doing matters.

How we spend our money matters.

The way we interact with other people – how we treat other people – matters.

The way in which we seek happiness matters.

The author of this letter is telling us to be careful how we live our lives not because something bad might happen if we don’t, but because something incredible and grace-filled could happen if we do.

Bad things will still happen; unexpected things will still arise; tragic things will still strike. But we are being called as children of God to live our lives in a way that does not let those things win. We are being called as children of God to live our lives strengthened by God’s all-encompassing love. We are being called as children of God to have courage in the face of fear, strength in the face of weakness and peace in the face of war.

How we live our lives matters; the small pieces of our lives come together – and they matter. We need to be careful as we put those pieces together.

I am not talking about striving for perfection (because God knows I am far from that!). But I am talking more about a way of life; a way of life that makes our world – and the lives that we are living in it – better.

Okay, so how do we do this? How should we live our lives so that God’s love can win in the midst of our imperfections and brokenness? How can we live our lives so we can be free from the crap that is constantly wearing us down?

Let’s look at what this morning’s scriptures have to say about it.

 

Ephesians 5:18 – “Be filled with the spirit.”

Imagine yourself as an empty and unsteady vessel – and then imagine yourself being filled to the top with something that will make you strong. This is what happens when we allow ourselves to be filled with God’s spirit.

This starts here, at church. We need to make our faith a priority, not only within the structures of our church institution, but also out in the world, in our lives. We need to allow ourselves to be filled God’s spirit so that we can be a living reflection of God’s love into the world. We need to allow ourselves to be filled with God’s spirit so that we do not have to walk through life alone and so that others can see that they do not have to walk through life alone.

 

Ephesians 5:20 – “[Give] thanks to God the Father at all times.”

Even when we are experiencing grief and sadness, we need to praise God. Think about this: Even if we are grief-stricken and broken, as soon as we make that connection to God through our praise, we let God in. And once we let God in, then God can work to heal us.

 

Psalm 34:13 – “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Okay, okay, I know that this is kind of a tough one and that we all need to blow off some steam from time to time, but we need to try to (even in those moments when it is so difficult) to speak with love.

In a way, speaking with hate versus speaking with love is kind of like eating junk food versus healthy food. The junk food may taste better at first, but the healthy food will make you feel better in the long run.

If we speak with love, we are putting love into the world.

And the world needs more love in it.

 

Psalm 34:14 – “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”

Peace is not always the easy and often-travelled path.

But it is the path that we are being called to take.

 

This list is only the beginning; each one of us can find our own way to live with a faithful purpose.

Listen; the resurrection will mean nothing if we do not live our lives as a real testament to God’s love. How we live matters in this world and that is a truth that we need to take seriously in our lives. We need to be careful in our lives; we need to be careful in our steps, in our words and in our actions. We need to be careful so that God can you use us to do something miraculous and full of grace in our lives.

So think about this as you leave this space. Let us be careful in our lives. Let us be careful, but not in a scary, something-bad-might-happen way. Be careful in a faithful, God’s-grace-is-about-to-amaze-you kind of way.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Good News That Brings Us New Life!

Hello!  I was away on vacation last week and came back to a busy, busy, busy week at the church.  We had our annual women’s event on Wednesday night (we’ve done a breakfast the past few years but changed the format a bit this year and did a dinner, which was great!), some youth group stuff on Friday night and a huge yard sale on Saturday.  VBS starts tomorrow and we have a Youth Group Week of Service the week after.  July is a busy month, but thankfully things are slowing down in August!

Here is this morning’s sermon.  I kept things super short because we had communion and a baptism, but it was still a really wonderful message to preach.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 12, 2015

Ephesians 1:3-14

The Good News That Brings Us New Life

One fact remains that does not change: God has loved you, loves you now and will love you always.

We hear these words in church every single week. Together, during our worship service, we confess our sins through the act of public confession and then we sit quietly as we think about the mistakes that we have made – throughout the week or even just in general. We reflect on the ways that we have not measured up to our own standards and we give to God those moments in our lives that we would – perhaps – like a do-over.

(Because – let’s face it – we all have those moments!)

And do you know what? Every week – no matter what we have done or what mistakes we have made (or how many times we have snapped at our husbands when we probably should have just taken a deep breath) – we are assured of God’s love, forgiveness and grace.

THIS is the good news that brings us new life!

So here is the thing about us as human beings: We are not perfect. We’re not even close! We come into this broken world and are given virtually no set of instructions on how we are supposed to live our lives and nurture our communities. We often stumble along our journeys and make countless mistakes along the way.

But even in those moments we are still assured of God’s love, forgiveness and grace.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from a letter that was written to the church in Ephesus between 80 and 100 AD. Most scholars believe that this letter was written by the Apostle Paul (or – at the very least – someone who was strongly influenced by Paul).

This passage is theologically thick; it paints layer upon layer of the promises of God’s overwhelming and all-encompassing grace.

God has blessed us in Christ.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
God chose us in Christ.
God chose us to be holy and blameless.
Our destiny is to be adopted by God.
God’s grace is freely bestowed on all of us.
In God we have redemption and our sins are forgiven.
Through Christ, we are issued an inheritance that includes a promise of eternal life in heaven.

Can you see what the author of this letter is getting at? It does not matter if we do not always live up to human standards that have been set in this world, we will always (always, ALWAYS!) measure up to the standard of grace.

These are promises made to us in our faith. These are promises demonstrated to us when – on the third day after Jesus had died – the tomb was empty. These are promises revealed to us when a light shines in our lives, even in our darkest moments. These are promises confirmed to us every time something good can come from something bad. These are promises proven to us in our lives when – time and time again – God’s love wins over evil. We are people of the resurrection and to live into this truth means to believe in the unexplainable – yet undeniable – good news that brings us new life.

It is not easy to live in this world and it is even harder to live faithfully in this world. But this scripture is telling us that we are brought into this world with nothing to prove. Grace has been bestowed upon us from the moment we entered the world and there is nothing we can do that will make God take it away from us.

We have to believe this.

We have to believe this as we are stumbling along our journey through life and faith. We have to believe this when we fall and – more importantly – we have to believe this when we are trying to pull ourselves back up again. We have to believe this in those moments when we are beating ourselves up for one thing or another. We have to believe this when we are holding ourselves to a standard of perfection and not grace.

We have to believe this so that we know – every single day – that we are and have always been created, redeemed and sustained by a God who loves us unconditionally.

We have to believe this if we truly want to live out the Gospel in our lives.

So, my dear friends, believe in the good news that brings us new life! Believe that you are loved. Believe that you are forgiven. Believe that God will make you whole. Believe that you are enough just the way you are.

This is the good news that brings us new life!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Giving Thanks For A God That Fights For Us

Hello and Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! Here is this morning’s sermon – a combination of Thanksgiving / Reign of Christ Sunday.

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23

Giving Thanks For A God That Fights For Us

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study to determine what holiday most Americans prefer. I cannot speak with any kind of authority on this, but I would be willing to bet that a lot of people would choose Thanksgiving. It is a holiday where we are called to give thanks – nothing else matters.

We do not have to fight crowds and traffic in our quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on our list. We do not have to balance holiday parties, concerts and worship services with travel and family time. We do not have to worry about what we are spending on gifts and whether or not we will be able to make other ends meet.

No; on Thanksgiving, we celebrate with family, friends, food and the occasional Turkey Trot (by the way, please pray for those of us running in Pawtucket on Thursday morning!). We give thanks because it is the only time all year when no one expects us to do anything else.

This year, as the pastor of this church, I am giving thanks for so many things. I give thanks for new members, for a renewed spirit and for music that fills our worship service with joy, week after week. I give thanks for children who make me laugh and for youth who inspire me to do more. I give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses who have come before us and for the new generation that is excited to journey forward. I give thanks for a dedicated staff and for faithful volunteers. I give thanks for a God that is always present, always loving and always faithful, even in my darkest moments.

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the prophet Ezekiel, a Hebrew prophet in the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. Ezekiel prophesied during a time of great turmoil. Israel was in crisis: Jerusalem had been destroyed, the temple was gone and the Hebrew people had fundamental theological and political reasons to believe that God had abandoned them.

But Ezekiel assured the Hebrew people that God was most certainly still in their midst. He used the metaphor of God as a shepherd – one that most of us are familiar with from the 23rd psalm – to create a tangible understanding of what it means for God to protect us.

But more than that, Ezekiel’s description of God was a far cry from simply the gentle shepherd that we all imagine from the 23rd psalm or the image that hangs in many churches of Jesus softly tending to his flock of sheep at sunset.

(You all know the one I am talking about, right? Jesus is wearing a flowing white robe and cradling a sheep like a mother would cradle her newborn; it is simply precious and practically emanates the song, Jesus loves me.)

Yes, Ezekiel described God as that gentle shepherd that would feed his sheep in good pastures, watch over them as they slept, bring back those who were lost, heal the injured and strengthen the weak, but there was a also a bit of a harsher side to the shepherd that Ezekiel described. Ezekiel described God as the shepherd that would fight – really and truly fight – for his flock.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. {Ezekiel 34:20-22, NRSV}

A shepherd’s job was not easy. It required strength, it required courage and it required a bold declaration and expression of love for their flock. The Hebrew people knew this. They understood what Ezekiel was trying to tell them. God was fighting for them. God was stronger than the crisis that they were experiencing. And God was never going to leave their side.

This morning is Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year; a new year begins next week with the first Sunday of Advent and our Hanging of the Greens worship service. Some traditions refer to this Sunday as Christ the King Sunday. It is a time when we reach the end of one year in the church and – before the hustle and bustle of the Advent season inevitably begins – we give thanks for the all powerful, all willing and all encompassing love and power of Jesus Christ. We remember and give thanks for that moment in time when God broke through our imperfect humanity and made visible the invisible signs of his perfect grace. We give thanks that Jesus lived among us, but more so we give thanks that Christ now reigns above us.

We give thanks for the love of Jesus Christ: our brother, King and Savior; the Son of God; the alpha and omega; the beginning and end. We give thanks for a God that loves us so much that he would live and dwell among us, that he would be humbled in the midst of our imperfections by his death on the cross and that he would sustain us, even when we stumble along our journey.

We give thanks for the story of a faith that is still being written, for a God that is still revealing himself and for the great cloud of witnesses that were and are committed to sharing and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives.

We, too, give thanks for a shepherd that fights for us, that is stronger than whatever life throws at us and who will never leave our side.

In today’s reading from the New Testament, Paul proclaimed to the church in Ephesus that God’s extravagant shepherding love had been proven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that we, as a human race, had been given a tangible sign of God’s immeasurable power; and that the world would never be the same.

God has put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. {Ephesians 1:20-21, NRSV}

Paul saw that the Ephesian people were part of the great Christian mystery that was still unfolding and he was thankful.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. {Ephesians 1:15-16}

Paul saw a new generation of Christian disciples emerging and for that he gave thanks. He gave thanks that the church in Ephesus was one of commitment, courage and belief in the great shepherd. And he prayed that this commitment, courage and belief would only be strengthened as the people in Ephesus came to know Jesus on a deeper level; Jesus – their brother, King and Savior; the Son of God; the alpha and omega; the beginning and end.

Part of being Christian means standing behind the bold proclamation that God is doing something spectacular in our midst. It means letting go of the things that are pulling us down and quieting our lives so that we can hear God speaking to us. It means not being afraid to acknowledge Christ above others and to live a life worthy of the sacrifice that he made. It means trusting – even in our darkest of moments – that God is fighting for us.

As you gather with your family and your friends this week, I invite you to pause and allow yourself to really soak up the moment of pure thanks that this holiday gives to us. Be grateful for the life that you are living and for the privilege of being a blessed child of God.

Give thanks to our shepherding God for reminding us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can overcome death to find resurrection, war to find peace, hatred to find love and tragedy to find hope.

This is what God is fighting for. This is what God fought for 3,000 years ago when Ezekiel stood before a broken Israel and this is what God is continuing to fight for today as I stand before you on this Reign of Christ Thanksgiving Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! Have a safe and wonderful celebration! May it be a time of celebration, renewal and great thanks.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.