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.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Rejoice In Stewardship

I kicked off stewardship this morning and someone said to me as they were leaving church, “That was the best stewardship sermon I’ve ever heard, I forgot you were talking about money for awhile!”

Jury’s still out as to whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 😉

I followed the lectionary and it just happened to line up really well with our theme for the year, It Takes A Church In The Village.  I really love the theme this year, because it puts to words what I have been learning about this community for the past 6+ years.  We are a church founded in our community and I am so glad we are finally celebrating that!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 15, 2017

Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice In Stewardship

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

The first time Bruce and I ever visited what would eventually become our home church in Atlanta, a really nice man came running up to us about two minutes after we sat down and introduced himself as the president of the congregation. He then frantically explained that this Sunday happened to be Consecration Sunday, where everyone brings in their pledges for the year, the pastor preaches about the importance of giving and, specifically pledging, and then, as a congregation, they celebrate and bless their pledges for the year ahead.

Basically – an entire service about money.

You can imagine how horrifying it must have been for them to see a young, energetic looking couple walk into the sanctuary for the first time on the one Sunday out of 52 in the entire year where all they do is talk about money.

Luckily for them, Bruce and I had been around the stewardship block a few times in our home churches so we were not scared off by all the money talk. It is an interesting, though, how apologetic pastors get when they start preaching about money. In theory we all know that the church has bills, just like any other business or household, but when you actually start talking about the reality of paying those bills and needing money to pay those bills, people start to get a little squirmy.

Thankfully, that Sunday we visited Pilgrimage for the first time, the pastor got tongue tied and accidentally said something about a man’s teeny weanie in her sermon, which was not at all what she meant to say, but kind of distracted everyone from the fact that she was talking about money.

Hopefully that will not happen here this morning.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, which I explained a few weeks ago was a church Paul knew really well. He founded the church; it was the first church he founded on European soil, and he cared deeply for them.

I thought it was fitting that this passage popped up in the lectionary this week, on a Sunday when I really needed to be talking about stewardship. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”[1] For what it is worth, I do try to talk about money and pledging in a positive light; we give not out of obligation, but with great joy as an expression of our gratitude and thanks for all that God has given us. Paul’s words are actually an enthusiastically chipper way for me to kick off a few weeks about talking about stewardship.

Of course, Paul was not exactly talking about money when he wrote these words. He was addressing a conflict (big surprise). Though it was not clear what, exactly, was going on, there was some sort of conflict between two women, Euodia and Syntyche.

Paul said:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.[2]

Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church. Scholars are unclear about what their dispute was all about, but clearly it was causing problems in the church, because Paul addressed it here in his letter.

This has absolutely nothing to do with money.

And yet, Paul’s sentiment when he talks about how hard it is to actually do the work God calls us to do and how we should rejoice in that work, let go of our worry and give everything to God through prayer has everything to do with the conversation surrounding stewardship at the church.

In his letter, Paul urged the two women in conflict with one another to “be of the same mind,”[3] but he also commissions the people in the church, itself, to encourage and help these women. And he does so, because – and this, to me, is one of the most compelling part of this passage – they “struggled beside [him] in the work of the gospel.”[4]

You know, I always say that the work we do here matters, but rarely do I acknowledge the fact that the work we do here, at the church, is also very hard. It is time consuming, it is spirit consuming and it is financially consuming. When you make a commitment to this church, very often the church (whether it be what God is calling you to do in the church or what the people in the community are calling you to do in the church) requires a lot of you.

And I am not saying we should be martyrs and walk around and tell everyone how hard it is to be a member of the Rehoboth Congregational Church (that would be the worst marketing campaign ever, actually), but I am saying that we need to recognize the fact that sometimes this – being church and doing everything that comes along with that, which includes talking about money and tending to the fiscal responsibilities of our institution – is hard.

It is hard.

But there is also a lot of grace that can be found in it.

The way I see it, we have two options when we talk about money here. We can either get really anxious and uncomfortable. We can stop coming to church until after the bazaar when you know pledge cards are due and I will move on to preaching about something else. We can get frustrated with one another when our projected income is not as high as we want or need it to be. We can hate the process and wonder why the Trustees cannot just figure out the money stuff without bothering the rest of us.

Or we can rejoice in the Lord always.

Again, I will say, rejoice.

We can live out these words of scripture. We can be gentle with one another as we talk about money and pledges and budget. We can speak to one another with the kind of respect and civility that is worthy of the grace given to us by God. We can choose to not worry about the things we cannot control. We can center this process around prayer and give to God our fears and our uncertainties, but also our hopes and our visions. We can keep on doing the work God is calling us to do with confidence that God is walking with us on our journey. We can live into Paul’s call to do what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

That actually sounds like a lot of fun.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice! Stewardship is actually fun! Right?

The theme for our stewardship campaign this year is, “It Takes A Church In The Village,” which is a motif that has been woven throughout our year here at the church. It boldly reminds us that, together, we are stronger than simply the sum of our parts. The work we do here matters, but the work we do here together brings grace to life.

Stewardship packets were mailed out on Thursday afternoon, so you should have either received one yesterday or will tomorrow. If, for some reason, you do not get one, we do have plenty of extra here at the church. Pledge cards need to be filled out and returned to the church, preferably by Sunday, November 5th. This morning I ask you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2018 year, remembering the words of Saint Francis of Assisi said that, “It is in giving that we receive.” I will humbly and (hopefully with some grace) remind you about the fact that we have bills to pay at the church, just as you do at home, and pledges help us estimate how much money we are going to have in the upcoming year to pay those bills and budget accordingly.

And finally, I invite you to join with me as I rejoice; as I rejoice in the resurrecting truth of the Gospel, of a God who walks with me through every step of my journey and of a church that is a village, not only for its people, but also for the people who need it, as well.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

Harrison’s baptism is next week and I hope to, at a some point throughout the service, share my testimony on how this church has been my village as I make this transition into motherhood and ministry. Please come and celebrate with us; Bruce and I want nothing more than our entire village to bear witness to the living waters of baptism as they wash over our son.

And then the following week, October 29th, I will be inviting members of the congregation to share their testimony about how this church has been their village. We will celebrate this church; we will commend to God with great thanksgiving this church in the village.

After church, we will come together as a community. Our annual Trunk or Treat is that Sunday, so Allison and I invite the kids to come to church dressed in their costumes and everyone else – regardless of whether or not you have kids in Church School – to decorate your cars and hand out candy down in the field.

If you do not want to participate in Trunk or Treat, but want to get involved in the church on that Sunday, Rob Johnson is working on organizing a makeover of the island out in front of the church and will need volunteers to help plant some bulbs that will come up in the spring and bring some beautiful colors to the village. Come to church dressed to work that Sunday.

And then the following weekend is the bazaar – which is where our community shines. We will be receiving new members in worship that Sunday. If you are interested in joining the church, please let me know. If you are interested in getting involved in the bazaar in some way, talk to me and I will point you in the right direction.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you. You are the reason that together we are the church in the village.

So let us rejoice in the Lord always!

Again, I will say, Rejoice!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:2-3, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:2, NRSV
[4] Philippians 4:3, NRSV