A Faith Like Abraham’s (All Of It!)

Hi Friends!

Ignore the fact that I kind of sound like a baritone in the audio this week.  I’m pretty sure one of us has been sick at some point throughout the entire month of February.  I’m SO ready for spring!

I decided to preach through the Epistle selections in the lectionary throughout the Lenten season this year.  Obviously, I preached the Gospel last week (Lent 1 = Jesus in the wilderness), but I am going to try to stay in the letters from here on out.  I preached out of Romans this week, which was paired with the Abraham narrative in Genesis, because Paul talks about having a faith like Abraham’s.  We sang and danced to Father Abraham during the children’s sermon and then I talked about looking at the entire Abraham narrative when we think about having faith like his.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 25, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25

A Faith Like Abraham’s (All Of It!)

Bruce and I met when we were both on staff at a youth leadership program at Lancaster Seminary called Leadership Now. The mission of the program – the tagline that was on all of our brochures and shirts and other SWAG – was, “Cultivating a faith that celebrates questions.”

This program was built on the opposite foundation of blindly following religious doctrine. Students were encouraged to ask questions; about their faith, about their parents’ faith, about the church, about the bible, about worship and about the world we live in (everything, really). This program wanted to resist spoon-fed Christianity; rather, they wanted each student to foster their own beliefs.

This idea was new to me. I did not grow up in a heavily indoctrinated church, but I think I always kind of took thinks at face value. I do remember sitting in Sunday School one week and our teacher was explaining the meaning of the word, “Amen,” which essentially means, “So it be.” When you say, “Amen,” at the end of a prayer, in a way, you are affirming whatever was just said in the prayer. My Sunday School teacher said she was going to read several statements and we were to respond affirmatively with the phrase, “So it be,” to each statement as our way of saying, “Amen,” and agreeing with what she said. I piped up, “Well, what if I don’t agree with what you said?” (Sorry – even the most well behaved preacher’s kids have their moments.) I distinctly remember her taking a deep breath, raising her eyebrows at me and exasperatedly saying, “Trust me, you’ll agree with these statements.”

And I did; she certainly was not saying anything controversial. The point of the exercise was not to stir up an intense theological debate; it was to teach us the meaning of the word, “Amen.”

But that moment always kind of stuck with me. Because I never really thought I was allowed to ask questions about what I was being taught in church or – gasp! – have doubts.

I was heavily influenced by Leadership Now; now, I take the same approach of “celebrating questions” when I teach confirmation and lead bible study. Even here in worship, I think it is okay (albeit frustrating for you at times) for me to look at a scripture and say, “I am just not sure I believe this” or, “I struggle with this story,” or, “I cannot reconcile what this means.”

Which is why, at first glance, our two scriptures for this morning – read in conjunction with one another – are a little bit troublesome for me.

Let’s start with the second passage we heard from the New Testament; Paul was writing to the church in Rome in response to growing tension between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. He was addressing the differences between adherence to the law (which Jewish Christians were accustomed to) and righteousness of faith (the path understood by many of the Gentile Christians, who just did not grow up following the law). Paul’s point was that it was not the law that mattered most in how they lived their lives and built their church, but their faith.

In other words, Gentile Christians – even without strict adherence to the law – had the same access to God through the grace of Jesus Christ that Jewish Christians did.

For the record, I completely agree with the point Paul was trying to make.

But there is another layer to the grace we receive through faith that I want to explore this morning. In this particular passage, Paul points to Abraham, which, of course, leads us back to this morning’s Old Testament reading from the book of Genesis.

I want to take a slight detour for a moment and talk about how I choose our readings every week. For the most part, I follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a three-year cycle of weekly readings from the bible used by many Protestant and Catholic churches in the United States and Canada. Every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the letters of the New Testament and the Gospels. The reading from the Gospel follows the rhythm of the church year and the other passages are often thematically related to it. Preachers can choose one or any combination of the four passages for their weekly worship.

I was recently asked about the lectionary and why I follow it and I thought my responses were worth repeating here, in case anyone was curious. Do I have to follow the lectionary? No. There are advantages and disadvantages to it. The advantage is that is brings me around the bible and encourages me to preach on books and passages I might otherwise overlook. It is nice that the passages are often thematically linked, which creates a more cohesive understanding of the bible. It is also nice that a lot of my colleagues are also following the lectionary, so we are all essentially preaching on the same thing and can brainstorm together. The disadvantage, though, is that sometimes, because it jumps around so much, we only get pieces of the story.

Which is kind of the problem this morning.

Okay, let’s get off of our detour and jump back into this morning’s text. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul points to Abraham when he talks about the righteousness of faith.

“The promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed … to those who share the faith of Abraham.”[1]
“Hoping against hope, [Abraham] believed.”[2]
“[Abraham] did not weaken in faith.”[3]
“No distrust made [Abraham] waver.”[4]

Paul paints Abraham as the picture of obedience and then, in the passages from Genesis that have been paired with the lectionary readings, this picture is kind of set up for us.

In this morning’s reading from the book of Genesis, we hear part of the story of Abraham. Abraham was 99 years old when God appeared to him and told him he was going to make a covenant with Abraham that he was going to be the father of all nations; and this covenant was not just between God and Abraham, but also between God and all of Abraham’s offspring, generation upon generation. This, God explained, would be an, “everlasting covenant.”[5]

I was reading a commentary this week that pointed out that, okay, this is all well and good and everything, but Abraham still had doubts along the way and did not fully submit to trusting God. Perhaps not in these particular passages, but when you look at the entire Abraham narrative, he stumbles once or twice. On not one, but two occasions when they were traveling as aliens outside of their own land, Abraham did not trust that God would protect them on their journey; Abraham took matters into his own hands and told people that his wife, Sarah, who was beautiful and desirable, was his sister so they would take her as a wife and his life would be spared.[6] And when Sarah was not able to bear him children, Abraham did not trust that God would reverse her fertility struggles; Abraham took Hagar, the Egyptian slave-girl, as a wife so that she could conceive his child.[7] And, in Genesis 17:17, which the lectionary conveniently cuts off one chapter before (this morning’s reading stops at chapter 16), Abraham literally fell on his face laughing after God told him that God was going make this covenant with him and he was going to have all these children.

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’[8]

This is not the picture of perfect obedience. This is the picture of a man who had doubts along the way; who sometimes took things into his own hands because he was unsure of where God was taking him. This is a man who sometimes had a hard time believing in the promises of God’s covenant.

I have to laugh because, in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he said that, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”[9] No offense, Paul, but I beg to differ.

That being said, I do not think his distrust made Abraham an unfaithful man; I think it made him human.

I think we can do one of two things here. We can look at the picture of Abraham that we see solely from this morning’s lectionary and then read Roman’s reflections in his letter to the church in Rome and seek to have that kind of faith; the kind that does not waver, the kind that is strong and obedient, the kind that lives up to God’s covenant.

Or, we can remember the other parts of Abraham’s story and give ourselves permission to have that kind of faith. We can give ourselves permission have doubts along the way, to struggle to fully submit to God. We can be gentle with ourselves if we get impatient while we wait for God’s promises to come to fruition. We can laugh at God when those promises seem impossible and know that God is not going to take those promises away.

Because faith is believing in God’s promises, but it is also working through those moments when you do not.

Paul was trying to settle a dispute between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, saying that it is not strict adherence to the law that gives us access to God’s grace, but faith like Abraham. And I agree with him – but not necessarily for the reasons he gave. Paul kind of put on rose-colored glasses when it came to what Abraham’s faith looked like; but I love the whole story. Abraham’s story is a beautiful one, full of struggles, full of doubts and full of moments – just like the ones I experience in my own life – where he did not feel as though his faith was strong.

And absolutely, a faith like that will give us access to God’s grace.

Friends, I do think we should share the faith of Abraham – all of it. I think we should share his struggles. I think we should share the moments where he hesitantly takes things into his own hands. I think we should share the times when he believes that God is not listening. I think we should laugh when the promises seems out of reach or too good to be true.

But, then; then, we should remember that the everlasting covenant God made with Abraham is a covenant made with us as well. We should hold onto the hope of that bold truth that God is faithful; that the promises made to Abraham are still made to us today and that God is always with us.

Paul is right. The grace that comes from this kind of faith is not something we can get from the law.

So may our faith give you the strength to believe in the promises made to Abraham. May you allow yourself to have doubts, to be frustrated in God’s timing and even to laugh at the possibility of what those promises might look like. May you celebrate your questions and those child-like moments when you think, “But want if I don’t agree with that?”

This Lenten season, may you also hope against hope that God is with you on your journey; that Easter is coming, that redemption is always possible and that resurrection is real and true and powerful.

Thanks be to God!
Amen. 

[1] Romans 4:16, NRSV
[2] Romans 4:18, NRSV
[3] Romans 4:19, NRSV
[4] Romans 4:20, NRSV
[5] Genesis 17:7, NRSV
[6] Genesis 12:10-20, 2:1-18
[7] Genesis 16:1-16
[8] Genesis 17:17, NRSV
[9] Romans 4:20, NRSV

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We Need A Little Christmas

Hi Friends!

As I mentioned in my post earlier today, we moved up the start of Advent for several reasons this year, most of which I outlined in my sermon.  According to Facebook, I would say it was pretty evenly split as to whether people moved up the start of Advent or are waiting until next week.

My second year in Rehoboth, I did a Hanging of the Greens service.  That first year, everyone pretty much thought I was nuts.  The second year, the flower committee tried to help me set up, but ended pretty much decorating everything the day before.  The third or fourth year, Bruce and I got into an argument about whether or not we could pull off the greens on the balcony could be hung during the service itself (or if we had to be totally lame and pre-hang them).  Last year, his point was proven when the greens almost fell off the balcony during The Holly and the Ivy.

Suffice is to say, it’s a work in progress.

That being said, every year the service has gone a little bit smoother and I thought this year was the smoothest it has ever gone!  I asked for extra help and – gracious – it’s amazing what happens when you ask for help!

Here is my sermon – a little bit shorter, since the beginning of worship was a little bit longer with the hanging of the greens.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 26, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

We Need A Little Christmas

I am breaking all sorts of liturgical protocol this year.

As I said earlier, Advent technically does not start until next week. Because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, the liturgical calendar has us celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent the morning of Christmas Eve and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

I have to admit, part of me was kind of excited when I realized early in the year how this was all going to go down. I know people are used to Advent beginning the weekend of Thanksgiving; in fact, people have talked about both the Hanging of the Greens worship service and Advent workshop as the things we do every year the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Well, I thought to myself somewhat snootily. This is fantastic. I am going to use this year as a teachable moment to show all of these silly people who think everything just lines up with Thanksgiving that this is about when Advent begins and not just about Thanksgiving weekend.

And then, I thought to myself, I am going to make them wait a week to hang the greens. There will be no sign of Christmas until Advent officially begins.

Forgive me, congregation, for I have sinned. I climbed up on my liturgical high horse and really enjoyed that view.

Liturgical protocol? Talk about liturgical buzz kill.

A few weeks ago, I had a change of heart. I started to think about everything we have been through this year.

In our country, we have experienced a year of political tension, several natural disasters and multiple mass shootings, all of which are weighing heavily on people’s hearts.

Here at RCC, we are in the middle of a more than one transition. Not only are we carefully moving in the direction of governance restructuring (which is a lot, in and of itself), but we also said goodbye to Jordan and Lauren and then a few weeks later again found ourselves without a Music Director.

Personally, I am trying to figure out how to balance ministry and motherhood, which is comical even on the best of days. And I know everyone here has their own story of both finding and losing balance this year.

So I thought about all of this stuff, and I came to this conclusion: We need a little Christmas!

In this morning’s scripture reading, Paul says to the Corinthians, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”[1] Notice Paul does NOT say, “God is faithful; by him you were called to make everyone wait a week to sing Christmas carols.”

So let us get this season started.

Friends, I think we need a little Christmas this year. And so this morning, I am going to talk about why it is so important to celebrate the magic of this season here at the church and also some of the ways that you can get involved and enrich your own celebration.

Here are three reasons I think we need a little Christmas.

  1. We need a little Christmas because grace comes alive in this story – and right now, we all could use a little grace.

Paul says in this letter to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”[2]

Think about this for a second: Grace not only appeared in the manger when Jesus was born, it was ignited. Into this world came the incarnational presence of God, the promise of redemption and a way to live our lives.

The Christmas story sets us up for a Gospel that can change lives and transform this world. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because it reminds us that God is here with us, in our lives; that God walks with us through the highs and the lows, the successes and the imperfections.

Emmanuel means, God with us; and when Jesus was born and placed in that humble manger, there was living proof that sometimes grace is found in the most unexpected places.

And I believe that today, despite some of the challenges we all face, grace will still be found in the most unexpected places.

  1. We need a little Christmas because Christmas is happening anyway all around us, so we might as well put Christ back into it.

Paul writes, “The testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.”[3] As Christians, it is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to strengthen this testimony. I know this sounds cliché, but we have to keep Christ in Christmas.

Now listen: I am not saying that we need to reject Santa Claus or anything (in fact, there is be a pretty good chance that Harrison Weaver has already had his picture taken with Santa Claus), but I am saying that I think we should really embrace Christ this season.

This is going to look different for every single one of you. But there are so many ways to hold onto Christ as you also get swept up in the Christmas celebration that is happening all around.

Take a tag off of the Giving Tree and shop for a child who might not otherwise receive a gift on Christmas morning.

If you are trying to come up with a gift for someone who really does not need or want anything, consider making a donation in their name to your favorite charity (or perhaps your favorite church in the village?).

Tap into some of the fun things we are doing here at the church – Polar Express Movie Night on Saturday, December 2nd, the Christmas Pageant (there is a planning session after church on December 3rd) and the Old Fashioned Evening of Christmas Caroling on Sunday, December 16th.

Incorporate a devotional or an Advent calendar into your daily routine.

For far to long, I fought the juxtaposition of celebrating Advent inside the walls of the church while the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas outside of our walls. And this year, instead of fighting it, I am just going to dance with it. While I am not going to skip over the Advent section in the hymnal entirely, we will be singing some Christmas tunes in worship this year, so hopefully you find yourself getting swept away not only in the commercialism of Christmas, but also in the magic of it as well.

  1. We need a little Christmas because sometimes we need the reminder that God is faithful.

Paul says to the church in Corinth, “God is faithful,”[4] and the Christmas story is a story about faithfulness. It is a story about our faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to us.

In the Christmas story, angels appear to ordinary humans and tell them that God is calling them to do extraordinary things. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, the innkeeper; through the faithfulness of these individual people, something amazing happened.

We are reminded as we prepare to hear this story again that, through our faithfulness, amazing things will happen, as well.

But this faithfulness is a covenant; through our faithfulness, God is just as faithful. Not only did God walk alongside the characters in this narrative of the Christmas story so long ago, Jesus’ birth into this world proclaims to us that God is with us. God has experienced life in this imperfect world. God feels what we feel; God celebrates in our joy and weeps with us in our sorrow.

And we are not alone.

Advent has been moved up a week here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. This is partially to accommodate our Christmas Eve worship schedule – we will be celebrating Christmas Eve at the morning service, it will be our Family Worship & Christmas Pageant.

But, even more than that, we have jumped headfirst into this Advent season because this story changes lives and I just cannot wait to tell it again. This is a story about hope that can be found in humble places, like the manger of quiet stable. It is a story about peace that comes from trusting God, even if you find yourself traveling along a difficult journey, perhaps from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is a story about joy that is proclaimed so loudly that everyone around you can hear, as if it were coming from a multitude of angels. It is a story about love that always wins – from an empty manger to an empty tomb.

This story is too important to wait. Especially now.

Friends, Paul says we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord. Today, we prepare our sanctuary so we are read to step into this season together.

Our sanctuary is ready! Come, Emmanuel, come! Let our Advent journey begin!

Thanks be to God!
Amen. 

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:4, NRSV
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:6, NRSV
[4] 1 Corinthians 1:9

Live In The Light

Hi Friends!  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  For the fifth year in a row, we trotted for Bella at the turkey trot in Pawtucket, RI.  It was extra special this year, because she had been admitted to Hasbro Children’s Hospital the night before.

Here is my sermon from last weekend.  I talked about living in God’s light and, the funny thing about this sermon was that it was POURING when I arrived at church that morning, but when church was over, the sun was coming out!  I guess when you preach on light, light shine!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 19, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Live In The Light

Does anybody else end up in a funk this time of year?

I blame Daylight Saving Time. Even though I am always grateful for the extra hour on that one Sunday morning when we turn the clocks back, there is something just so abrupt about the whole thing.

Granted, in the days and weeks leading up to it, the days are already getting shorter, but it is a gradual shift. Once we fall back, all of a sudden it is like … ugh … now it is dark when I pick the baby up from daycare.

And then I start to countdown to the winter solstice when the days will at least start to get a little bit longer again and I realize … ugh … well, that is still a month away.

So my solution this year has been to pull out some of my Christmas decorations a wee bit early. Nothing major – just some lights, tabletop pieces and of course, Christmas music.

I justify this in two ways:

  1. I am a pastor and I need to plan for Advent and Christmas. What better way to get into the spirit of the season than to surround myself with visual reminders of that season?
  1. We need light. This time of year, us New Englanders physically need light, because the days are getting shorter and shorter. We need light to give us energy, to lift our spirits and to illuminate a sometimes-dark world. When the days are as short as they are this time of year, sometimes that light can come from something as simple as Christmas décor.

Even more than that, I would argue that, as Christians, we need the physical and tangible presence of light to remind us that God’s light always shines; that we live in this light and that this light lives in us.

In this morning’s scripture reading, the Thessalonians are reminded that they are, “not in darkness … [but they] are all children of light.” I was drawn to this passage, especially in light of the darkness this time of year, because it reminds me that we are part of the light we need in our lives and in the world. Light shines because it shines through us. When the world seems dark, we have to shine light into it.

This letter is the first of two letters written to the church in Thessalonica. The first letter, which this morning’s reading is from, is said to have been authored by three men, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, though most scholars believe Paul had the biggest hand in writing it. This is one of Paul’s earliest letters and it is addressed to Gentile Christians who had left their pagan gods and practices for this emerging Christian movement.

One of the frequently mentioned topics in this letter is that of the end time. There was a growing concern as to what was going to happen to Christians who died before Christ’s return and Paul addresses this in the passage we just heard.

Now concerning the times and the seasons … you do not need to have anything written you. For you, yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

In other words, we do not have a clue when Jesus is coming back.

But, in the meantime, Paul assures the Thessalonians that they do not have to be afraid; that, no matter what, they will not be left in the dark. “You are all children of light and children of the day,” Paul writes. “We belong to the day … God has destined us for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul does not want the Christians in Thessalonica to live in the dark, worrying about the fate of their salvation. Instead, he wants them to live into the grace of their lives now, in confident hope that God is constantly drawing them into the light.

Far too often, our world is often filled with uncertainty, but Paul’s words remind us that, in the midst of this, God’s light is always certain and we are living in that light. Paul is not reprimanding the Thessalonians for living in the dark; he is assuring them that they are already living in the light. He is encouraging them to keep doing what they are already doing.

And today, as we read these words, we, too, are reminded that we live in the light. We are encouraged to keep doing what we are already doing to illuminate this world.

Thanksgiving is four days away. I encourage you this year, in addition to giving thanks, to also think about the ways you see light shining in your life and in the world. Because if you look around and really try to notice it, I think you will find that God’s light really does shine, even in the darkest of places.

Even though the days are getting shorter, I have seen a lot of light lately.

I saw light when the water pump died at the parsonage this week and Ray quickly called multiple companies after hours to get someone out to fix it as soon as possible, because it reminded me that the Trustees care about where my family and I live and that everything is working properly (or, at least, on its way to working properly).

I saw light when I dropped the baby off at daycare on Wednesday and I could hear the older kids shouting, “Harrison’s here!” before I even had him out the car, because it reassured me that when I am away from him at work, he is still well cared for and cherished.

I saw light when I heard a knock on my office window on Thursday morning and looked up and saw Deb Burns and Liam Ware waving to me while they were out for a walk, because it made me think about how special it is for a child to know they are loved by the people around them beyond their parents.

I see light every time I talked to a member of the music committee or the choir and witness them working tirelessly to keep our music strong throughout this transition in Music Directors, because their efforts have helped to create worship that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.

Friends, there is a lot of uncertainty in this world, but this letter reminds us that we can be tangible signs of grace in the midst of that uncertainty. This letter calls the Thessalonians to, “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In other words, it is through our faith and our commitment to the Gospel that we recognize and create a light that can illuminate even the darkest of places. It is through our trust in God that we are assured of our protection and the promise that we are never alone.

The world needs light; sunlight AND Sonlight. I believe our faith calls us to turn on those lights; not only to shine God’s light into the world, but also to recognize when others are shining it for us and to live in that light.

Paul said, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” He said this because he already saw the church doing what God was calling them to do: Shining light in the world, illuminating one another’s journeys, offering strength and encouragement and practicing resurrection in their midst.

And so this morning, I say these same words to you: Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Indeed, you are doing just this.

Rehoboth Congregational Church, our church in the village: This week I will give thanks for you! I will give thanks for the ways you illuminate my life, even when the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon. I will give thanks for the ways that, together, we live out God’s call to love one another, proclaim the Gospel and serve the community. I will give thanks for our worship, for our outreach and for our fellowship.

So if you find yourself in a similar funk this time of you, I would encourage you to do several things.

  1. Pull out some Christmas decorations and let yourself get swept away by the magic of the twinkling light.
  1. Open your eyes and be transformed by the ways that other people are shining light around you.
  1. Remember that, as a child of God, you live in the light. And you can take that light and let it shine for all the world to see.

Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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