This Was Not My Vision

It is Star Sunday!  Even though we are having virtual worship, we still decorated the sanctuary for Star Sunday and it was beautiful.

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Since we wouldn’t be able to hand out Star Words in person this year, we put them on the front lawn of the church …

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… and we installed a star above the doors so it can be lit up at night!

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Our Star Stories are included in this morning’s Gathering Music, so I would strongly encourage you to watch that at the beginning of the worship video.  They were amazing!

Here is my sermon from this morning.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 3, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

The Was Not My Vision

“This was not my vision.”

A friend of mine suggested that I go back on all of our worship and prayer services and mash together all the clips of me saying this sentence over the past year.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I received my Star Word back in January, I smiled and got a little giddy.

My word was vision.

And while I loved the suggestion from someone that my Star Word was actually a declaration that everyone around me had to acquiesce to my vision, I actually thought that this word was going to be the culmination of years of discernment that I have done at this church.

You see, I believe in this church; I believe in what we are doing and also what we have the capacity to do in the future.  When I started at the church in 2011, I did not really have a plan.  Some pastors come into new calls much more organized and strategic than I did; but it was never my intention to make changes based on some greater vision that I had.  Maybe I should not admit this, but I did not actually have a vision for this church.  I always said that, when I looked towards the future, I could see the vision God had cast out for RCC, but that it was still blurry and so we just had to keep doing the hard work of listening to God speak to us and wait for that vision to clear.

When I first laid eyes on my 2020 Star Word – vision – I thought that this year would be the culmination of all of this discernment that we have done.  Knowing that the year would end with the kickoff to our 300thanniversary celebration and shortly thereafter I would mark my ten-year anniversary at the church, it seemed too good to be true.  I figured God’s vision for us would clear at the same time we were getting ready to celebrate these milestones and when this all came together we would be stronger than we ever were before.

Cue covid, stage right.  All of a sudden all of the plans we had made for this year – all of the hopes and dreams, yes, even visions, were lost in a sea of public health recommendations and safety precautions.  Like all of us, I had to let go of and adjust my expectations of what the year was going to look like.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos of last year, grace appeared in the most unexpected ways and places.  Virtual worship, nightly prayer services, drive-thru dinners, emails meetings, peace be with you signs and cards and care packages sent in the mail, to name a few.  We did church, even though we had to do it in a way that was different than any of us were accustomed to.  And so what I realized throughout the year was that this was, of course, not at all about my vision – but it was still about the vision that God has cast for us, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

You see, under the most unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, we proved to be the church – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to refuse to let anything but love win.  We did this in the midst of quarantine and social distancing and constantly-changing safety rules and recommendations.

What I realized this year is that it is not about my vision; it is about the vision God casts upon us to be the church in the midst of what is going on around us.

And we did it.

So perhaps this word and this year were not the culmination of years of discernment like I thought a year ago; but I still think – in ways that I never could have imagined – we lived into God’s vision for us this year.  And despite the fact that we have not gathered in person in nearly ten months, I still believe we are stronger than we ever have been before.

I was thinking about the beatings that our Star Words took last year and how our endurance and our perseverance to see them through to the end of the year actually mirrors the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus.  You see, King Herod, knowing that Jesus had been born and that people were calling him the king of the Jews, sensed a disturbance in his own power.  He sent the wise men to find Jesus, not so that he could eventually go and pay Jesus homage, as he said to the wise men in this passage, but so that he could eventually go find the one that was going to threaten his power and deal with that problem himself.  I do not often preach on the passage that follows the visit of the wise men, but after they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod was infuriated and issued an order that all children in and around Bethlehem two years or younger be killed.  Herod, of course, assumed Jesus would be part of that massacre; but at that point Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt, ensuring Jesus’ safety.

My point is this:  We often romanticize the wise men’s journey to visit Jesus.  But the reality is that it was actually a harrowing one; it was one that was filled with great fear and uncertainty – much like the year we just had.

And yet there was that star – that perfect light, as the hymn so beautifully says – that guided the wise men on their journey.  It was strong and bright and steadfast.

For many of us, our Star Words were that same perfect light – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

And so it is time, now, to turn our attention to our Star Words for 2021.  Many of us have picked them already; I have not opened mine yet, I was waiting until today to do that.  If you have not picked a Star Word yet, I would encourage to come to the church to get one; they are hanging on the front lawn.  Grab one when you come for Drive-Thru Communion this afternoon or anytime this week – they will be there until Friday.  If you are not able to come to the church, head to our website – rehobothcongregational.org/starwords – to fill out a request form and we will mail one to your house.

This year I am going to try something new with my Star Word.  I got the idea when I was listening to Debby Jarocki offer her Star Story; she said she kept a notebook and wrote down a sentence or two every day about where she saw, heard or felt her word at work in her life that day.  I am going to try this myself and encourage you all to, as well.  I think we all really need the fresh start of a new year and the hope and the promise of a new beginning.

Friends, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to use this time of musical reflection following the sermon to open your Star Word.  It is my prayer that the word that chooses you will not only guide you, but inspire you throughout the year.  May it be that perfect light that you need – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder that God is with you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

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 …

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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.