Stretch Out Your Hands

Hi friends!  It is Rally Day at RCC and even though we have not yet re-gathered in person, we are very much excited to kick off the program year!  Our worship began with some really special gathering music – our choir recorded an anthem in their homes and then Nathan compiled it together. There are also images from our first ever Drive Thru Communion, which we hosted last week, included at the end of the music – and a welcome from my family!

We ventured into the Old Testament this morning – one of my favorite stories from Exodus.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 13, 2020

Exodus 14:19-31

Stretch Out Your Hands

We are going to do something a little bit different today; we are going to hang out in the Old Testament.  We have spent a lot of time in the New Testament lately; in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans.  These two books of the bible have been so good for us as we have been reminded about God’s goodness, the promises of hope and grace and also the realness of love.  They have also commissioned and challenged us as a church, about what we can do during this time of uncertainty.

However this week, I felt drawn to the Old Testament, particularly to this passage of scripture, from the 14thchapter of Exodus.

I have to be honest; one of the reasons I love this story so much is because I associate it with a really good memory.  When I was a first-year seminary student, an animated movie version of the Ten Commandments came out and it was in theaters when my seminary friends and I were studying Exodus – which is where the story of the Ten Commandments is – in our Old Testament class.

I mean, what were the odds?

So – like the really cool biblical scholars that we were, a group of us decided to go out one Friday night to see it – and, of course, critique its biblical accuracy.

Now before you say, “Oh Sarah, but you probably ruined all the other movie-goers experience by critiquing the entire movie,” have no fear – we were the only ones in the theater.

Apparently that is not how the rest of Atlanta wanted to spend their Friday night.

Anyway, the movie was terrible; the animation felt about as good as the animation for Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, both of which came out in the 60’s.  But there was actually something very endearing about how they played out this particular scene, the parting of the Red Sea (or the “Sea of Reeds” as it actually translated too, which we so obnoxiously pointed out that day in the theater).

It’s not that the animation was any better when Moses parted the seas; it actually felt like the Israelites were walking through the big exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium.  But there was this sense of safety and amazement when the seas parted and the Israelites began to journey through it.  It is almost like they knew they were going to be okay; that they were going to make it to the other side and that the Egyptian army following them would be stopped.

In the movie, there was a sweet moment where a little girl got separated from her parents because she stopped and stuck her face into the water to see the fish.  Moses then scooped her up and carried her to her parents, who, at this point, were frantically looking for her; Moses was laughing and said, “She wanted to see the fish!” (quite frankly sounding more like what I think Santa Claus sounds like and less like Moses).

To be clear, I do not think this is actually how this all happened.  But there is something really comforting about a story that reminds us that even when we are faced with an enormous obstacle in front of us – like a body of water – God can intervene and lead us to safety.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Exodus, which can be found in the Old Testament – it is the second book in the bible.  There are two narratives in this book – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (and, of course, the instructions and laws that follow).

The name, Exodus, is derived from Greek; and it refers to that first narrative – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, which can be found in chapters 1-15.  The passage we are looking at today – 14:19-31 – is at the end of this narrative.

You can look at the Book of Exodus in two ways:  The first as a continuation of the story of Jacob and his clan in Egypt, which began in Genesis and the second as a distinct account of Israel’s formation and the ensuing covenant God makes with them.[1]  Either is fine; I think for our purpose of trying to see how these words and this story apply to us today, it is helpful to look at Exodus as this distinct account; to think about God’s covenant with Israel then and therefore God’s covenant with us, today.

We pick up the story today as the Israelites are approaching the Red Sea.  Now, these Old Testament stories do tend to get a little long, which is why we are not looking at more of this narrative, but I do think it is important to at least remind ourselves of what happened immediately prior to this passage.

So Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt; the journey was long and arduous and the Egyptian army was actually following them and starting to starting to close in on them as they approached this, seemingly, impassable sea.  And so the Israelites started to question Moses, which you do not necessarily blame them for.  But then God told Moses to lift up his staff, to stretch his hand over the sea and then to divide the sea so the Israelites could travel through it on dry land.[2]

And he did.

And they did.

And once they were through then God told Moses to, again, stretch out his hand over the sea to bring the waters back down so the Egyptians would not be able to pass through and the Israelites would be able to continue their journey safely.

What I love about this story is not that it reminds me of the Georgia Aquarium (although that was one of my favorite places to go when I lived there), but that it proves that no obstacle is too big for God to intervene.

This story reminds us that God can do the impossible; it shows us that nothing, not even an impassible body of water, is too big for God to intercede with a solution that we never could have come up with on our own.

In so many ways right now, it feels as though every day we are approaching a new sea that needs to be parted.  And some of this is covid-related, but some of it is not, because even without the pandemic, life is hard.  We are constantly faced with obstacles that we have to figure out how to get over, around, under or through and so often we stand in front of them and think to ourselves, it is not humanely possible to do this.

And you know what?  You’re right.  It is not humanely possible.

But that is where God comes in.

We are up against some really big obstacles right now – in our personal lives, in our life at church, within our community and certainly throughout our country.  And many, if not most, of them, I do not have solutions for; I do not necessarily even have good ideas, either.

However – isn’t that where faith comes in?  Are these not the moments where we have to stretch out our hands and put our faith and our trust in God that the seas will part and that we, too, will be delivered to safety?  Are these not the moments where we have to believe that it is not by our own human flesh, but there but by the grace of God that we will find ways over, around, under and through these obstacles.

Last week we hosted our first-ever Drive-Thru Communion.  We had never done this before; there was no tradition or precedent for us to follow.  We wanted to honor the sacredness of the sacrament, but also needed to ensure we were complying with state regulations and public health recommendations.  Truth be told, a few weeks ago we had no idea what we were doing.  It seemed like we had come up against an impossible obstacle.

But we put our faith in God, stood in front of that sea and stretched our hands over it.

And it parted.

And we stepped forward onto dry ground.

And it was good.  And it was holy.  And 55 people were able to come to this table we created in our driveway and receive grace in abundance as they shared in the meal.

Friends, I know the obstacles in front of us seem large and impassable right now – reopening schools, putting out wildfires, bridging political divides, reconciling systemic racism and inequality and putting an end to this pandemic.  This does not, of course, include the obstacles that we, as individuals and families face in our personal lives.  A lot of things feel impossible right now.

But God is in the business of the impossible – the impassable.  God parted those seas and brought the Israelites to safety and we have to believe that the same will happen to us, today.

So let us, like Moses, put our faith and our trust in God.  Let us approach obstacles not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and hope.  Let us stretch out our hands and believe that God is going to part those waters and bring us safely to the other side.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised Edition. Copyright © 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers. Page 83.
[2] Exodus 14:10-16

 

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

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/