Finding Hope

Well, if you were wondering how I’m finding the whole balance between motherhood and ministry, the fact that I am here with LAST week’s sermon might give you an indication (insert face palm emoji here).

I preached on the Ten Commandments the week after the Las Vegas shooting.  I think every now and then we need to remind ourselves that we need to hold one another (and ourselves!) accountable for our actions and our faith.  We don’t really like rules in the protestant church (particularly this old congregational ones), but we do need to take responsibility and live our lives worthy of God’s grace.

Here is last week’s sermon.  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Finding Hope

Friends, I am growing weary of the struggle to find adequate words to speak from the pulpit following senseless acts of violence.

I will admit that this weariness has been compounded as of late by devastating earthquakes and frustrating political debates. But 59 people were killed in Las Vegas on Sunday night when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd story of hotel overlooking an outdoor concert.

And that is not okay.

You know, I spent about 15 minutes yesterday googling the official death count. Some places were reporting 58 and some were reporting 59. For some reason I felt the need to make sure my facts were 100% accurate before I got up here to preach today.

And then the thought crossed my mind: Does it really make a difference? 58 or 59, we are still living in a very broken world.

On Monday night, a small group of us gathered in the sanctuary for prayer. We sang together, read the Prayer of Saint Francis out loud, listened to powerful words of scripture and lit candles in the confident hope that even in the darkness of those moments, God’s light would still shine. We had a time of reflection, where we named our fears and our frustrations. We talked about where we go from here, how we can have an impact on this world, how the lives we lead can help to heal our brokenness. Again, I reminded everyone that the work we do here, at the church, matters. We – both as individuals and as a church – can and will make a difference, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those we meet along our journey.

I believe this now more than ever.

I was following a lot of threads on Facebook this week that my clergy colleagues were participating in. They were discussing how to approach this morning’s sermon in light of last weekend’s tragic violence in Las Vegas. Several of them said they were going to preach hope.

Now you know how much I love to preach the resurrecting hope of the Gospel, but y’all I am getting tired. The violence does not seem to stop. To be quite honest, I had a really hard time this week figuring out what I wanted to say this morning.

And then I was singing to Harrison last night, because the kid loves to be sung to. I was singing the song, Beautiful City, from Godspell. It starts:

Out of the ruins and rubble, out of the smoke.
Out of our night of struggle can we see a ray of hope.
One pale thin ray reaching for the day
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

There is something about looking into the eyes of innocent child smiling back at you that makes you want to believe in the kind of hope God gives to us; that makes you want to fight like hell to create that kind of hope around you.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Exodus, which is the second book in the Old Testament that begins the narrative of Moses. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt and were trekking through the wilderness with Moses. When they arrived at Mount Sinai, God summoned Moses to the top of the mountain; when he arrived, God told him to tell the people they were not permitted to go up the mountain themselves, that they should set a perimeter around it and keep it holy.

Moses went down off the mountain and then God spoke to people of Israel, defining the Ten Commandments. These commandments were (and continue to be) a core of ten rules outlining things individuals should and should not do in their lives.

Sometimes, as adults, we are not great with rules. We set and enforce them with our children in order to give them structure and boundaries as they grow up and learn how to live in this world, but when we get older many of us feel as though we do need these same structure and boundaries. We are adults, after all; we know how to live in this world without someone telling us how. We like the flexibility of making our own decisions, setting our own priorities.

One of the statements I hear most often in regards to our church is how much people like the lack of rules. We do not have many – if any – requirements for membership. Members do not have to attend worship a certain number of times, participate in a certain number of events, give a certain amount of money and so on and so forth. We all come to this space, free to make our own choices and decisions about how we want to live out our faith and participate in this community.

And yet there is part of me that always wonders if rules and requirements hold us accountable, if they unite us in a common purpose, if they give us that moral compass so many people feel is gone from our world today, if they create a structure that gives us a space to find that ray of hope and build that beautiful city.

As I was reflecting on this scripture in light of what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, I realized just how important the timing of it is. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the Israelites during the Exodus. They had fled Egypt under Pharaoh’s reign and were wandering in the wilderness, unsure of what their future was going to look like. There were many points along this journey when they were hungry and thirsty, tired and weak. They had moments where they doubted God, were frustrated with one another and grew weary.

And this was the moment when God appeared to the and said, “Here; follow these rules. This is how you should live your life.”

Scripture reminds us that time and time again throughout history, God appears when people are broken and vulnerable and in need of some sort of guidance presence.

And I absolutely believe that in this moment in time, God is appearing to us in our brokenness and our vulnerability and guiding us forward.

But we have to do the work.

Beautiful City continues on with these lyrics:

We may not reach the ending, but we can start
Slowly but truly mending, brick by brick, heart by heart
Now maybe now we start learning how
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can

I believe that when we are faced with adversity in our lives and in the history we are writing, we can either remain in the cycle we are in or we can make a conscious effort to journey forward and find hope.

And I do not know about you, but I want to find hope.

The Ten Commandments remind us that God calls us to live and act a certain way and more and more, I am starting to believe that call starts here, at the church. We might not be able to change what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, but we can change lives in our own community. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can; Yes we can.

This morning, I want to encourage everyone to think seriously about how you can create hope in your own life and in this church. I know we are not big on rules around here, but we need to have accountability. It is not enough to simply profess a belief in God; there has to be more than that. We have to live out our faith. We have to show tangible signs of our commitment to God and to this church.

This means coming to church and getting involved in the community in some way, whether it be through committee work, attending bible study, helping out at missions events, teaching church school, singing in the choir, etc. This means makes a financial commitment to the church so we can sustain our organization. This means familiarizing ourselves with scripture and making prayer a priority in our day-to-day lives. This means encouraging other people in their ministries so, together, we can strengthen and nurture the Body of Christ. This means being the hands and feet and face of Christ to the people we meet along our journey; shining light on the hope we find so that they, too, will believe that they can build a beautiful city.

The work we do here matters.

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but it is true and if last weekend’s carnage in Las Vegas teaches us anything it is that there is still so much work that needs to be done.

I, for one, am grateful for this community of faith, that together we can listen to God’s voice speaking to us; calling us, commanding us to live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us, to find hope even in the darkest of moments and to build a beautiful city.

Yes we can.

Yes we can.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Let Yourself Be Changed

Hello and Happy Transfiguration Sunday!  I was so excited to have my podcast officially up and running that I forgot to actually hit record when I started preaching this morning!  So I went back and re-recorded the first 20 seconds.  Oh well, imperfection is a sign of grace, right?

We had such a fun Sunday at the church.  We had two baptisms – two of the most beautiful little girls and more tulle than I think was at my wedding.  Then I handed out Marti Gras beads and masks to the kids and we all paraded around the church singing Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.  Once the kids got started, I could really get them to stop!  So eventually, I just sent them marching out of the sanctuary (they had church school in our hall today – Pancake Sunday to learn about Shrove Tuesday).  It was so cute – everyone broke out in applause as they marched out.  I  couldn’t have planned it better!

Here is my sermon, enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 25, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

Let Yourself Be Changed

So how is everybody doing with their New Year’s Resolutions? Is anyone totally rocking them? Has anyone dropped the ball already?

Sheepishly raises hand.

Well, if you, like me, have already fallen back into old habits, then you are in good company. According to an article in Forbes, only 8% of people actually achieve the New Year’s Resolutions they make.[1]

But there is still hope! For those of you who might be looking for a resolution do-over, Lent starts this week. And while Lent will not turn back time and bring us back to the beginning of January, it does give us the opportunity to give something up, take something on or participate in some sort of spiritual practice or discipline. It gives us all the opportunity to say, “Okay, maybe I was not able to make an entire year (or even two months), but this Lenten season – for 40 days – I can try again.”

The practice of giving something up for Lent is not necessarily a Protestant tradition (in fact, I think I have mentioned this before, but growing up I was always envious of my Catholic friends who “got” to give something up, because it seemed so cool and hardcore). But I would argue that lately there has been a rise of Protestants seeking to reclaim this ancient custom as a way of creating a more meaningful Lenten experience for themselves.

Customarily, Christians would give something up for Lent as a way of connecting whatever sacrifice they were making with the penitential nature of the Lenten season. In a way, they would induce their own small suffering as a way of honoring Jesus’ great suffering.

But more than that – and I think this is why lately Christians have started to reclaim the practice – Lenten traditions have always been about taking part in some sort of spiritual disciple that can act as a catalyst for change in a person’s life.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which is all about change. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent begins. We hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, where he took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and literally changed right in front of them. His face shone brightly, his clothes became dazzling white and suddenly Moses and Elijah were standing next to him. A cloud then appeared and God’s voice was heard saying,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[2]

We pair the story of Jesus’ transfiguration with the Exodus text where God sent Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the law. We do this, not only because Moses was one of the men that appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration, but also because it was in this story – where Moses received the law – that Moses had an experience of his own that changed him. It is in both of these stories that God is not only revealed to individual people, but individual people are changed by this revelation of God as well.

In the original Greek, the word used when talking about the transfiguration is metamorphoō, which means, “transfigured, transformed [and] changed in form.” It refers to an inner transformation that appears on the outside.[3] The transfiguration of Jesus was a literal change that happened to him that the disciples could see on the outside; but there was very much a change that happened within him on the inside, as well. The Lenten practice of giving something up is often a change people can see on the outside – but it almost always changes someone on the inside.

Talking about transfiguration, about metamorphoō, prepares us for the Lenten season because it is in reading this text that we bear witness to the story of a God-sized change in the Gospel narrative.

And so today I ask you to think about this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season?

In my sermon last week, I talked about the television show, Fixer Upper and how one of the reasons I love it so much is because I love a good before and after. The church, I argued gives us some of the greatest before and afters because it is in the business of changing lives. Yes, we come to church to praise God and live out the Gospel, but we also come so that our lives might be changed. After all, God is in the business of personal transformation.

Peter, James and John bore witness to an outward change in Jesus at the transfiguration and this opened their eyes to see the true power of who Jesus was on the inside. But I would be willing to bet that this experience also opened their eyes to the possibilities within themselves; to the promise that they, too, could experience a powerful and God-sized change in their own lives.

So, again, I ask this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season? God-sized changes are possible in our lives, as well; changes that start on the inside and changes we might even see on the outside.

One final note: In re-reading the story of the transfiguration this week, I was particularly struck by the moment where Peter, James and John were overcome with fear and fell to the ground and Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.” This phrase kept running through my head, because it is one we see over and over again in this bible. We heard it at Christmas; the Angel Gabriel said it to Mary[4] and later in the story the angels said it to the shepherds.[5] My bible study heard it this week in our study of 1 Samuel; David said it to the son of a priest who had just been slaughtered by King Saul.[6] In fact, I read online that the phrase, “Do not be afraid” appears 70 times in the bible (and that does not include variations such as, “fear not” or “don’t fear”).[7]

Change can be a really scary thing, but time and time again, our faith teaches us that we do not have to be afraid. Lent gives us a safe space where we can jump blindly into the darkness of the unknown and make feasible and attainable changes in our lives. We do not have to be afraid; God is with us and we are surrounded by the Body of Christ within our church community.  Sometimes it takes a village and our church in the village not only holds us accountable, but also supports us on this journey.

And even if we really struggle to live out these changes (as apparently 92% of us who tried to make New Year’s Resolutions do), as people of the resurrection, we know that Easter morning is coming. We can try for 40 days, knowing that Easter is coming.

So let yourself be changed: Let yourself be changed by the mystery of the Lenten season. Let yourself be changed by being intentional for 40 days and bearing witness to how that might transform you both on the outside and also from within. Let yourself be changed knowing that resurrection is coming – both in our faith and also in our lives. Let yourself be changed and may your Lenten season be full of God-sized changes and blessings.

And do not be afraid.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/26/7-secrets-of-people-who-keep-their-new-years-resolutions/#6c6ef7507098
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[3] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017, edited by Scott Hoezee, pg. 27
[4] Luke 1:30, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:10, NRSV
[6] 1 Samuel 22:23, NRSV
[7] https://bodytithe.com/frequent-command-bible/

The Transfigurations Of Us

I am loving all of my colleagues posts about Ashes to Go this morning!  It makes me wish I lived in a more commutable place and could do something like that.  We are having a labyrinth available in our Fellowship Hall tonight 6-7 and then worshipping at 7.  I am looking forward to it!

Here is my sermon from last Sunday …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2016

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfigurations Of Us

By now, most of you have heard that longtime RCC members, Paul, Kathy and Cassandra Lumbra were on vacation in Mexico two weeks ago when Paul became very ill. He was hospitalized and eventually life flighted to Fort Lauderdale last Friday. I was able to fly down to be with them this week; I showed up at the hospital armed with the prayers and well wishes of a concerned church community (as well as an RCC prayer shawl, of course!).

I am sure that it will come as a surprise to no one that Kathy is down there making friends with the other families in the ICU. She and I were sitting together in Paul’s room and it seemed like she waved to every other person that walked by.

Eventually Kathy started telling me some of their stories. One girl was the daughter of a man who had complications from his cancer treatments while on vacation. One woman was staying vigil by the bedside of her estranged son, who had been shot. One couple was visiting their son, who was terminally ill. They, like Kathy, were all from out of town. They were away from their homes, their friends and their support networks. Their worlds had been turned upside down.

And yet, in the midst of their chaos, they found one another. They checked in with one other and kept track of how everyone’s loved ones were doing. They brought each other coffee and food. One family let the mother of the boy who had been shot stay at their hotel when she did not have a place to stay. They prayed together and they rejoiced when one person’s loved one was doing better, even if theirs was not. “It has become our own little community,” Kathy told me over breakfast on Friday.

I talk about “grace – unexpected” all the time, but it was real to me this week. I saw – in vibrant color – what it truly means for God to work through ordinary people in this world.

Outward and visible signs of outreach and hospitality continued as the day went on. The drivers of the shuttle between the hotel and hospital knew Kathy by name. The woman in charge of cleaning up breakfast at the hotel packed a bag of snacks and drinks for Kathy to take with her to the hospital each day. The nurses cared for Kathy as if she was their patient as well. Other couples staying at the hotel asked Kathy how Paul was doing when they saw her in the lobby and celebrated when she noted his progress. My phone never stopped buzzing, whether it was about monetary donations, fundraiser ideas or wonderful comments from our amazing Facebook prayer community back home.

When I preached on the body of Christ last weekend, little did I know that I would have the opportunity to see it come alive in such a marvelous and grace-filled way this week.

In fact, I was starting to wish that I had been scheduled to preach on the body of Christ this Sunday. After all, everyone coming together to do God’s work in this world is seemingly an easier scripture for many of us to try to live out in our lives than the one where Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountain, starts to glow and then is seen standing next to thousand-year-old prophets.

Which, I can pretty much guarantee, is not going to happen today.

This morning we heard the story of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration marks the last Sunday before the beginning of the Lenten season. It is the powerful narrative of the moment in time when Jesus transformed on a mountaintop in front of his disciples; where Jesus became radiant and appeared with Moses and Elijah and God’s voice was heard claiming Jesus as God’s son.

This can be a challenging story for us to think about. It is a miracle; and miracles are not always easy for us to believe in and understand, especially when they seem so far out of reach in our own lives.

My Tuesday morning bible study and I just started working our way through the gospel of John. John is – by far – the most mystical and miraculous of the four gospels. In two weeks we have made it through just three chapters as we try to pick apart and find meaning in stories that really do not make sense in our world.

And yet we are captivated; captivated by the stories, captivated by the miracles and captivated by the language that John uses to express God’s miraculous, yet unexplainable grace in this world. We are realizing that even though we may not understand these miracles or see them literally unfolding in our own lives the way they do in scripture, we need these miracles. We need these miracles to draw us into God’s story, we need these miracles to inspire us to see what could happen in our lives and we need these miracles to leave us wanting more.

I think this is what the story of the transfiguration can do for us. It can draw us into the suspense of what God can do, not only in this world, but also through us. It can show us – in a spectacularly visual way – that God comes into this world through people. This narrative, the transfiguration of Jesus, was the point in Jesus’ life where God and human nature intersected; Jesus was not only changed, but he appeared with Moses, the giver of the law and Elijah, the prophet. This proved that time and time again throughout history God has used people – ordinary people just like us – to do God’s work in this world.

In the same way that God used Moses and Elijah, God uses us, today. We may not appear with Jesus in a literal way on a mountaintop, but we are illuminated by the light of Jesus Christ when we live our lives according to the gospel. We become the hands and the feet and the voice of God to a world that is broken when we bear witness to a faith that is still alive and a Christian story that is still being written.

The transfigurations that we witness in our lives may not be as dramatic as they were for the disciples that day, but I assure that they are happening. God is using us – all of us – to minister to a world that so desperately needs it. Every single time we do something in the name of our faith we are appearing on that mountain, illuminated by the light that Christ brought into this world and showing the world that hope is still alive, that grace is real and that God’s love always wins. When we allow ourselves to be changed by our faith and reach out to a world that is in need, even is that means being scared or uncomfortable or pushed outside of our comfort zones, we are standing alongside the cloud of witnesses who came before us and laid the foundation that we continue to build on today.

The transfiguration reminds us that not only can we be changed by our faith, but that we have the capacity within ourselves to change others because of our faith as well. Lives can still be changed because grace is found at the intersection of God and human nature and that intersection is happening in our lives today.

I have been humbled by the way that people in this community have reached out to the Lumbra family during their time of need. It has proven to me that good does exist in this world, that the Christian Church is more than the negative stereotypes sometimes make it out to be and that our faith can still be relevant, meaningful and accessible in our lives. It has reassured me that our lives can be still changed by this powerful gospel narrative and that we can change the lives of others because of it as well.

So today, as you remember the transfiguration, let down your guard – and let yourself be changed. Remind yourself that for thousands of years, God has worked through ordinary people; and hold onto the bold and radical truth that today, God is working through you. Let your faith change you so that you can go out into the world and not only proclaim the Gospel, but live it out as well. Beam with the light of the glory of God and shine that light into the world. Let is shine so that you will continue to be changed, let it shine so that others will be changed and let it shine so that the world will be changed – one person at a time.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.