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.

Epiphany & New Year’s Resolutions

Happy Epiphany, friends!  Here is this morning’s sermon …

***

Matthew 2:1-12
Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany & New Year’s Resolutions

Have you ever mixed up the time when heading to a party and shown up with an armful of food and presents, only to find that the guests are long gone and the hosts are cleaning up?

Sometimes that is how I envision it must have been for the wise men.

Think about it –

We really do not know much about the timing of their arrival. Some scholars indicate that it may have taken up to two years for the wise men to complete their journey to see the Christ child.

We really do not know much about the whereabouts of their arrival. We do not know if they showed up at the manger in Bethlehem or if Mary and Joseph had already made the pilgrimage to Egypt.

We really do not know much about who arrived with them. Some scholars believe that these men would not have travelled alone and simply on camels – they would have brought their families, servants and belongings along with them.

We really do not know how many wise men there actually were. The bible indicates that the men paid homage with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it never specifically said that three wise men showed up.

This leaves us with very few answers regarding what actually happened, but it does quickly shatter the picture perfect nativity scene that we have all grown to know and love over the years. You know the one I am talking about, right? Where three wise men on camels unobtrusively come over one final hill and see Mary and Joseph tending to Jesus in a manger while shepherds tend to their flocks from a distance?

In reality – the wise men’s arrival was probably more like the image of someone showing up late to a party with an armful of food and presents. They were likely late, numerous and not traveling light.

When you think about it, Epiphany itself – which is the church’s celebration of the wise men’s appearance in the Christmas story – is much like this image of someone showing up late to a party. We celebrate Epiphany on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. By now New Year’s has come and gone, kids have gone back to school and adults have gone back to work. Stores have heavily marked down their Christmas inventory in order to clear out and make room for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter goodies. Most people have taken down their Christmas decorations – actually, we have even taken down the greens in the sanctuary.

Everyone is ready to start fresh, face the new year and let go of things that may have been holding onto in 2012.

And yet here at church we are still holding onto Christmas; we are reading a scripture from the birth narrative and singing a hymn that is usually reserved for Christmas Eve. We are adding wise men to a crèche that should have been put away already. It feels a bit awkward and out of place with what is going on in the world outside of our walls.

Truth be told, I thought about preaching on another scripture this morning. It just feels uncomfortable to be telling this story after most people in the church have closed the door on their Christmas celebrations for the year.

But then again – isn’t Christianity about being uncomfortable every now and then?

Jesus often lived in the discomfort of what it meant to be a person of faith living out God’s call here on earth. We know the stories: He healed the sick, fed the poor, reached out to the marginalized, embraced societal outcasts and rejected the Roman authorities. He endured a very uncomfortable betrayal and trial and then died a very uncomfortable death on the cross.

I do not think Christianity was ever meant to be a religion of comfort.

The New Year is upon us. And while many of us have put away our Christmas decorations and are looking ahead to other activities and celebrations, I think we still can learn a lot both from the wise men’s late arrival to the nativity scene and the church’s prolonged celebration of their arrival. I think we can learn what it means to be slightly uncomfortable and out of place while still humbly following God’s call for us and paying homage to Jesus and his ministry.

Actually, I think we may be able to learn what it means to still humbly follow God’s call for us and pay homage to Jesus and his ministry DESPITE feeling slightly uncomfortable and out of place.

It is New Year’s Resolution time; and while the declaration of a New Year’s Resolution tends to be met with skepticism these days, I want to make a proposition. I propose that we, as a community of faith, make a New Year’s Resolution this year. Let us resolve to make this year the year of the Epiphany.

Let us – in the world that we are living in – be willing to step outside of our comfort zones in our faith and in our ministry.

In a world where we are told we always need more, let us put the needs of others before the needs of ourselves.

In a world where “normal” is defined in stringent and definitive ways, let us reach out to those who need it most, even when that outreach goes against the societal grain.

In a world where technology and social media takes overwhelming precedence, let us focus less on the material things in our lives and more on our relationships with our friends and our families.

In a world that inadvertently nurtures cliques and exclusivity, let us not only be the face, but also the hand of Christ’s radical hospitality to the people that we meet.

In a world and culture that often encourages us to be negative and show hatred, let us always be positive and show love.

In a world where political correctness forces us to change the way we communicate and act, let us not be afraid to still respectfully share our faith with the people around us.

It is not always easy to act out our Christian faith in today’s world.

But today’s world desperately needs us to act our Christian faith.

I was looking at the other lectionary texts for this week and I was intrigued by the Epistle selection. It seemed relevant to push us forward and worthy of sharing this morning.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to the Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way of my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

{Ephesians 3:7-12, The Message}

Blessings into your year of the Epiphany!

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

Bringing Our Gifts To The Baby Jesus

This is the day that the Lord has made!  It is gorgeous outside!

Here is today’s sermon – enjoy!  Have a great day.  xoxo

Bringing Our Gifts To The Baby Jesus
Matthew 2:1-12

This week’s sermon just about killed me.

Okay, okay. Maybe I am exaggerating just a little bit. But I did have a horrible case of blinking cursor syndrome this week. You see, I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to say, but for some reason I just could not get the words down on paper. Perhaps my brain thought that I still needed to be on vacation?

To be quite honest, I think I bit off a little bit more than I could chew with this week’s service and worship. First of all, I wanted to talk about Epiphany, the manifestation of God in the person of Jesus, which happened this past Friday, January 6th. I wanted to talk about what Epiphany really meant for the world that was and the word that is. I wanted to talk about the wise men kneeling down and paying homage to Jesus with gifts so that we could talk about how we can do that today in our own lives.

But then I realized that there was so much more that I needed to talk about.

Here is where I went wrong: Epiphany always falls on January 6th – 12 days after Christmas. Traditionally and in the history of the church, Epiphany is a feast that celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles through the arrival of the Magi. The arrival of the wise men in the manger with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh was not just to give gifts to a baby in a manger, but to pay homage to a King born to save.

In the liturgical calendar, the Sunday after Epiphany is the recognition of Jesus’ baptism. This helps us to kick off Jesus’ ministry (so to speak) for the year. More often than not – if Epiphany does not fall on a Sunday – churches celebrate Epiphany the Sunday before it actually happens because they celebrate the baptism of Christ the Sunday after.

So, in theory, we should have celebrated Epiphany last week.

Whoops.

In fairness to me, this whole “Christmas falling on a Sunday” thing really threw me off. Typically a Sunday falls between Christmas and New Years and then you celebrate Epiphany the first week of the new year. But this year, the first week of the new year was New Years Day. And I wasn’t here. And there was no church school. And we were planning a hymn sing for less people. And we moved Communion back a week because New Years also fell on a Sunday. And my brain apparently wasn’t working.

Did I mention this whole “Christmas falling on a Sunday” thing really threw me off?

So there I sat this week – trying to figure out how in the world I could fit Epiphany, Baptism and Communion into one sermon. I had just about thrown in the towel when I had an “a-ha!” moment.

I wanted to – I want to – talk about gifts today. The three wise men travelled to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. They fell down onto their knees in the manger and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. To me, this story has always made it abundantly clear that we pay homage to Christ through giving to others, through looking outward.

It has really been interesting this week to now look at the Epiphany story in conjunction with the Baptism story and with the Communion liturgy. Jesus gave us these sacraments – these gifts – of Baptism and Communion. At the heart of the Christian story are gifts; gifts meant to bring unity, gifts meant to bring peace, gifts means to offer grace.

Let’s pause and hear those stories.

First – The gift of Baptism and the Holy Spirit that sustains us and unites us all.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ {Mark 1:4-11}

Second – The gift of Communion and the reminder that we do not have to be one in one mind to sit together and share a meal.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ {Mark 14:22-25}

Jesus gave to us these simple, yet oh so powerful, gifts. As it turns out grace and unity does not come from iPads, gaming systems, clothing and gift cards, it comes from flowing water and a meal.

The Wise Men traveled from afar to offer majestic gifts to Jesus in the manger. But we are reminded through the stories that we just heard of Jesus’ baptism and the first communion shared that we do not need to offer such grandiose gifts. We can offer simple gifts that make a huge and long-lasting impact.

What gifts can we bring to the Baby Jesus? What can we do here on earth, today, now to pay homage to Jesus the Christ, King, Emmanuel? What simple, but genuine gifts can we give to Jesus? How can we give back to Christ and make a difference in the world?

Here is what I think …

We give gifts to one another and to our community as an offering to Jesus. We can give the gift of love. We can give the gift of humility. We can give the gift of kindness and positivity. We can choose to be good people. We can be honorable people. We can respect one another. We can take hold of the negative thoughts that sometimes flood our subconscious and choose to be positive. We can stop and take a deep breath when we are about to lose our tempers. We can think twice before speaking harsh words or sending them in an email or text message. We can reach out to others, get involved in local mission and service projects in our community. We can make it a priority in our lives to take care of ourselves so that we can be strong and faithful servants. We can let go of the things that are holding us down and the things that are holding us apart from one another. We can share a meal, sit in worship and enjoy a time of fellowship with someone who we might not always agree with or get along with.

There are the ways that we can give back to all that Jesus has given to us. Will it always be easy? Not necessarily. But God is always with us to give us strength.

During his time on earth, Jesus gave us the gift of these two sacraments. Today, Jesus appears to us through the waters of baptism and a meal of bread and wine or juice. These are the eternal gifts that he has given to us here on earth.

And I think we can give back to Jesus by reaching out to one another in the simplest of ways.

In the end, the sermon worked itself out. In fact, I daresay the entire worship came together quite nicely. Because I cannot think of a better way to begin to think about giving back to Jesus than by acknowledging and giving thanks for the things that he gave to us.

What gifts will you bring to the baby Jesus this year?

Amen.