Redemption Does Not Have An Expiration Date

Good morning!  I ran from worship to a meeting to a funeral on Sunday, so I was spent by the end of the day and am just logging on to post this now.  Here is my sermon from Sunday – enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 5, 2016

Galatians 1:11-24

Redemption Does Not Have An Expiration Date

Okay, I feel the need to get this out of my system before I start: The Apostle Paul was, at times, a very arrogant man.

I mean, maybe it is just hard to interpret tone when you are reading scripture, but it is hard to imagine, when he said things like, “God … set me apart” (Galatians 1:15, NRSV) and “[people] glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24, NRSV), that Paul had any kind of self-esteem issues.

I say this not to discredit Paul or his writings or the work that he did to grow the early church, but to acknowledge the fact that there are parts of the letters that he wrote, the scriptures he is ascribed to, that are eyebrow raising.

That being said, I think it is okay for us to put those eyebrow-raising pieces aside for a moment and try to understand the core of what Paul was trying to say here. You see, I do not think that Paul was just trying to talk about how amazing and faithful he was or how incredible and powerful his ministry was (although he did make that perfectl clear!). I think Paul was trying to point out that he had been going down a very different path before all of these amazing, faithful, incredible and powerful things started happening in his life. I think Paul wanted people to see that God changed the course of his life. I think Paul wanted people to believe that anyone can start following the Gospel and living out their faith, no matter what their journey might have looked like up until that point.

I have to hand it to him: Paul is very honest in this letter about his life before his conversion into the Christian faith. Before his conversion, Paul was a scholar and an avid follower of Judaism. He violently persecuted Christians and tried to destroy the very thing that he was now trying to grow and spread throughout the world.

But God – who has always been in the business of miracles – worked the most miraculous transformation in Paul’s life. Paul was, in his words, “called through [God’s] grace” in his conversion (Galatians 1:15, NRSV). And then he not only believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ, but he put his own life on the line to spread that Gospel so that others would believe and be changed as well.

If there is one thing that Paul’s story teaches us it is that it is never too late to be transformed by your faith. Redemption does not have an expiration date.

So we are less than two months away from the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics in Rio. Those of you who have lived with me through the Olympic Games over the past five years know that there are three stages of experiencing the Olympics with me: The first stage involves me overflowing with pride and patriotism because our country is united and everyone is gloriously putting aside differences and coming together and cheering for and with one another. The second stage encompasses me fixating on one sport and obsessing over the grief of the fact that I missed my chance to learn and excel at that sport so I could win my own gold medal (two years ago, during the winter games I actually found myself at one point googling “how to become a biathlon athlete”). And the third, and final, stage is where I am just happy that the games are over so I can get my life back.

The second stage of my Olympic experience is the one that is relevant to what I am talking about here; the stage where I become obsessed with a sport and spend weeks wishing that I had the forethought to take it up when I was younger because it is too late now. One year I was giving my parents a lecture about never pushing me to become a figure skater because, “that could be me out there skating and I would find way better music than the theme song to the pink panther” when my dad calmly interrupted me and said, “Sarah, you are too big to be a figure skater.”

Which I do not think he meant the way it came out.

My point is this: In life there are certain things that you can kind of miss the boat on completely.

Olympic Figure Skating being one of them.

But do you know what you can never miss the boat on? Focusing your life on your faith. Experiencing God’s love. Being part of a church. Learning about the bible and reading scripture. Taking part in religious traditions.

It is never too late to start any of those things. Redemption does not have an expiration date.

A lot of times people are afraid to come to church or to get involved in certain things because they were not brought up going to church and do not know how things work. Some people are hesitant to walk through those front doors because they have made mistakes in their lives or because they think they do not know enough about the bible or Christianity. Some people try to avoid the whole church thing all together because they have fallen out of the habit of going to church and are afraid people are going to judge them if they come back.

Well, guess what? Those things do not matter to God.

God is not keeping score or grading our ability to be a good Christian. God is simply calling us – all of us – into this Christian story that is still being written. God does not care if we have been coming to church our entire lives or if this whole faith thing is new to us or if we have temporarily fallen off the church wagon. There is no hierarchy or points system when it comes to deepening our faith. God just wants us to meet us where we are and embrace us as children of God. God wants to be in our presence, help us find balance and walk with us as we seek to live out our faith.

Paul changed; that is what he was trying to say here. And even more than that – God was the reason that Paul changed. God ignited something within Paul that sparked an overwhelmingly grace-filled change in his life.

And God can be the reason that we change as well.

God can ignite something within us that sparks a change no matter who we are, what our journeys have looked like up until this point or what kind of trouble we may have gotten ourselves into.

So I would encourage you all – especially as we wrap up the program year and prepare to take some much-needed Sabbath time this summer – to renew your commitment to God and to your faith. You do not have to come to church every single week, but try to come when you can. Pick up your bible (or use the app I talked about a few weeks ago!) or start a new devotional or book on faith. Try to pray more or, if you are not quite comfortable praying on your own, journal your prayer requests.

Slow down this summer so that you can truly appreciate the beauty of the season. Make family a priority; try to sit down to dinner together whenever you can. Try to put down your electronics at night and have a conversation or watch a movie or lay on a blanket and look at the stars.

Sometimes it feels like our lives are busy and out of our control, but God has proven, time and time again throughout history, that it is never too late to make a big change in our lives; a big change that will make an even bigger difference in who we are and what our lives mean. It is never too late to turn back to our faith; it is never too late to live out this life that is God is calling us to live. It is never too late to set different priorities in order to find balance in our lives.

It is easy to look at other people who are strong in their faith and who boldly live their lives according to their religious beliefs and think that it is too late for us to live our lives like that – but it is never too late. Change may seem unattainable, but God is in the business of the unattainable. God took a man who persecuted Christians and transformed him into an apostle of Christ and a great evangelist of our Christian faith.

And God can do the same caliber of extraordinary in our lives as well. God wants our lives to be transformed by our faith; God wants us to open ourselves up to the possibility of grace. God wants us, like Paul, to be changed.

And we can be – anytime.

Remember, my friends, it is never too late to live out your faith. So do not sell yourself short. Cling on to your faith and let God meet your where you are. Allow yourself to be redeemed and may find many, many blessings along the journey that will lie ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

What Is God Calling You To Do?

Good morning and Happy Memorial Day!  We had our annual outdoor worship this morning.  Bruce took “bring your own chair” to a very comfortable level:

IMG_1419

Thankfully, this was not taken during my sermon.

Here is my sermon.  A few things to note:

  • The article I referenced (Chip and Joanna Gaines Attribute Their Unparalleled Success To One Person) can be found here.  If you are a Fixer Upper fan I would HIGHLY recommend you read the article.  Someone came up to me after worship and said, “I like them even more now” which is EXACTLY how I felt when I read it.
  • I talk about a new sign that we hung on the front lawn of the church inviting the community to check out our Facebook page.  You can like our Facebook page here! #shamelessplug

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 29, 2016

Galatians 1:1-12

What Is God Calling You To Do?

Bruce sent me a text on Thursday night that said, “I tagged you in an article on Facebook that kind of makes me want to watch your new show now.” Seeing that Bruce has not trusted my taste in television since the Kardashians premiered several years ago, I was kind of curious as to what show he was talking about. So I opened Facebook to read the article; it was about the show on HGTV (Home & Garden Television), Fixer Upper.

For those of you who do not watch Fixer Upper, first of all, you need to promise me you are going to go home and try to catch some reruns this weekend because it is that good. But secondly, the show follows a couple from Waco, Texas who have built a business where they help clients find and buy a house in dire need of repair – or a “fixer upper” – and then use the money their clients saved by purchasing a less expensive house to remodel and fix up that one. This show proves to its viewers, every week for three seasons (with a fourth one on the way and I cannot wait!) that with a little bit of imagination, some patience and a lot of hard work, a dilapidated old house actually can become a home.

There definitely is a sermon in there somewhere about resurrection and new life (so stay tuned for that one probably sometime in the fall) but today I want to talk about this article that Bruce shared with me. The title of the article was: Chip and Joanna Gaines Attribute Their Unparalleled Success To One Person.

Of course, at this point, my interest was piqued. Chip and Joanna Gaines not only have a television show, but they have built a hugely successful empire. They have a real estate and construction company. They recently bought, remodeled and opened a bed & breakfast. They acquired a silo property where they opened up shops and will soon open a bakery. They wrote a book. They design furniture. They launched a paint collection.

So I not only wanted to know who this one person was that has the secret to so much success, but I also kind of wanted to know what, specifically, about this article had Bruce wanting to check out a show that he always tried to avoid on account of constantly hearing the phrase, “Babe, I think we need to redecorate.”

Hear what the Gaines’ had to say about their success:

Our family has made a commitment to put Christ first, a lifestyle our parents modeled for us very well. They showed us how to keep our marriage and family centered around God. As for “Fixer Upper”, we have been surprised at the impact of our faith through the show. We haven’t been overtly evangelical, but the rich feedback we have received on family and love all source from our faith. Jesus said the world would know His disciples by their love for one another, and we’ve glimpsed this in practice and strive for it every day. [read the full article here]

In a world where it is often taboo to talk about faith, this couple boldly, humbly and prophetically attributes all of their success to their Christian faith.

I think this is far more impressive than the beautiful homes they design.

In this morning’s scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he talks about how important it is to make a commitment to Christ and to center your lives around your faith and God’s love. Granted, he was a little bit blunter than Joanna Gaines was in his wording, but he certainly got his point across.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel … If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! [Galatians 1:6, 9 NRSV]

In other words, stop getting distracted by shinier, prettier and fancier things! Stop making priorities that do not consider your faith first. Stop worshiping human things instead of God things. Stop trying to please other people and start trying to please God. Do not “talk the talk” if you are not actually willing to “walk the walk”. Paul holds nothing back as he impresses upon to the Galatian church that they urgently need to put God first; this is not a letter, this is more of a rant!

Of course I thought about preaching that sermon this morning (how we need to prioritize and put God first) but then I realized that it did not make much sense to preach that sermon to the people who showed up to church on a holiday weekend.

So instead of preaching to the choir this morning, I want to dig through the layers of apostolic ranting and uncover the core of what I think Paul is trying to say here: That this is bigger than all of us.

The Apostle Paul wrote – or is attributed to – many of the letters in the New Testament (they are the books in the New Testament referred to as “epistles”). These letters were written to churches all around the Eastern Mediterranean during the first century as Christianity was first starting to grow. And Paul did not visit and preach and write to all of these different churches because he had a hankering for travel; he did so because he truly felt God was calling him to do it.

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father … did not receive [the gospel] from a human source … but [he] received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [Galatians 1:1, 12 NRSV]

God called Paul to travel great distances to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is God calling you to do?

I know that “call” language can sound a little bit crazy, especially in the world that we live in today, but do me a favor and suspend your disbelief for just one moment and open yourself up to the possibility that God is right here in our midst, calling us into a real, bold and powerful ministry. Believe that your life is more than simply the things that you can see, touch and understand.

What is God calling you to do?

This is a hard question for many of us to answer, because it requires thought, discernment, time, quiet and imagination; all things that our busy lives do not often give us.

But, time and time again, Paul reminded churches in his letters that this is not about us; it is about God. There is something so much greater happening in this world than what we can see. Our lives are not defined by earthly moments; our lives should be inspired by God moments. And so we should take time to think about this question.

What is God calling you to do?

I think that this weekend is a wonderful opportunity for us, as participants of this church community, to reflect on this question. It is Memorial Day Weekend, a time where we humbly acknowledge that actions do speak louder than words; where we honor the past, but also pray for the present and the future; where we celebrate an important moment for the country that we live our earthly lives in, but also discern what God is calling us to do and where our faith will take us next. We can honor the lives that have been lost in service to our country by asking God how we can make this world a better place.

This weekend also provides a wonderful opportunity for us, specifically, to reflect on this question as we sit in the beauty of this outdoor worship space. As we breathe in the fresh air, hear birds chirping and feel the warmth of summer on our skin, we are reminded, in a very real way, that this is God’s world that we are living in. This is bigger than us.

What is God calling you to do?

I think it is our responsibility as a church to encourage and inspire people to ask themselves this very question. Because this is not about us; this – this world, our lives, the ways we connect with one another, the ways we care for one another – is about God and what God needs us to do.

So I want you to think about this question. I want you to think about this question in a really out-of-the-box and to-the-rest-of-the-world-crazy kind of way. I want you not to simply entertain the idea that God is calling you to do something, but to believe it to be true – and to live it out. I want you to live out your faith in a way that not only changes your life, but changes the lives of others as well.

The Apostle Paul was, for all intents and purposes, an evangelist. He spread the gospel; he told people about his faith and encouraged others to accept Jesus into their hearts. This is something we are all called to do as Christians. And so, in the spirit of evangelism, I ordered a 10-foot banner for the church that says:

Rehoboth Congregational Church
Our community is #RCCSTRONG
Like us on Facebook!

We had a “banner raising” on Friday morning and it now hangs proudly on the front law of the church. I took a picture of it after we (okay, Jordan) hung it and posted it to our Facebook wall with the following message.

We are more than simply the sum of our parts. We are the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. We are the church of the past, the present and the future. We welcome ALL people on all walks of life. We are imperfect and grace-seeking. We encourage questions and doubts. We are a guilt-free zone. We seek to choose light over darkness, love over hate and reconciliation over division. We are ‪#‎rccstrong‬‬‬.

In two days, that photo was viewed by over 2,000 people. I received messages of both thanks and inquiry. Because here is the thing: In a world where, I think, Christianity has gotten a bad reputation, people need to hear that faith is relevant, that it is real and that it will change their lives.

We need to boldly and prophetically claim this message of hope, peace, reconciliation and love to the world. This is what Paul is calling us to do. We may not be being influenced by other religious traditions, but we are being influenced by a secular culture that sometimes makes it really hard to live out our faith and to tell the Christian story.
And this is a story that really needs to be told.

So I encourage you, this Memorial Day Weekend, as you take time out of your regular routines and reflect on what this holiday is about, to think about this question: What is God calling you to do? Like with a fixer upper, this may require some patience, imagination and hard work.

But I promise you, at the intersection of those three things you will find God’s grace.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Galatians Bible Study Week 2 {3-4}

Another great discussion!  Please feel free to answer the discussion questions in the comment section.

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Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
Week 2 {chapters 3-4}
7/8/2014

Galatians 3:1-14

Work vs. Spirit

Frustrated with the Galatians

  • 3:1 – Paul called the Galatians “irrational” and “foolish”
  • In previous chapters, Paul showed his frustrations towards the Jewish Christians who were coercing the Galatians, but here indicates that the Galatians are not without fault.

God’s law vs. man’s law

  • 3:3 – “Are you so irrational?  After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort?
  • Paul implies that the Galatians first came to Christ through the spirit and now they are abandoning the spirit for man-made laws and customs

We keep falling back on making rules

  • 3:4 – “Did you experience so much for nothing?
  • The people in this community experienced a powerful conversion – was it all for nothing now that they were adopting Jewish customs?
  • Depending on law vs. faith à Sue used the example of someone recovering from a leg/foot/ankle injury using a crutch.  At what point do you stop depending on your crutches or scooter and trust your body?
  • We need to trust God and not depend on something manufactured, like the law

Abraham: an example of righteousness

  • 3:6-9
  • Interesting that Paul uses the example of Abraham in his argument when speaking to Gentiles – as non-Jews, Abraham’s legacy shouldn’t mean much to them!  This comes up again.  We have to remember, however, that Paul did not have the New Testament to point to – all he could do was point to the Jewish scriptures

Curse/Burden

  • 3:10 – “All those who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone is cursed who does not keep on doing all the things that have been written in the Law scroll.
  • Again, pointing to the Old Testament, but Paul eludes here that the Jewish law is a curse to those who follow it.
  • Other translations use the word “curse” to describe the law.

Law vs. Chaos

  • 3:10-14
  • Paul uses Old Testament references to describe the differences between righteousness of law vs. righteousness of faith.
  • Put yourselves in the shoes of the Galatians – without law, would there be chaos?  The law protects us from the unknown.

Galatians 3:15-25

Human experience

  • 3:18 – “If the inheritance were based upon the law, it would no longer be from the promise.  But God has given it graciously to Abraham through a promise.”
  • Abraham was not following Jewish Law (and was not circumcised) when God revealed himself to him.  God was not revealed to Abraham through the law, God was revealed to Abraham through the spirit.
  • The promise comes from God and not from the law.

The laws origin and purpose

  • 3:19-24
  • 3:19 – “So why was the Law given?
  • 3:21 – “So, is the Law against the promises of God?  Absolutely not!”
  • This brings up some sticky issues.  It would be easy for Jewish Christians to think, “Where we living a lie?  Where our ancestors living a lie?  What did we do all this work when now you are saying new converts do not have to do the same?”  Paul is not saying that the entire Jewish tradition was pointless.  He was just saying that the promises of faith give us more than the promises of the law.

No longer trapped

  • 3:25 – “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian.”
  • It is not that the law is bad, but there is a freedom that comes with faith that we never had access to before.

Galatians 3:26-4:7

All one in Christ Jesus

  • 3:28-29 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.”
  • This could have been written in direct response to claims from Jewish Christians that the Gentiles needed to adhere to Law in order to be in relationship with Christ.  Paul is saying that now there are multiple ways to get to Christ – it is not just about the law.

Law vs. slavery

  • 4:1 – “I’m saying that as long as the heirs are minors, they are no difference from slaves, though they really are the owners of everything.
  • Paul compares being under the law to being a slave.
  • 4:1-7 – we are no longer slaves, now we are children of God, just like Jesus

Galatians 4:8-20

We didn’t know better then – now we do

  • 4:8-10
  • It was one thing to follow the law when we did not know any better – but we know better now because of Jesus!  Do we want to – willingly – be slaves again to the law?

Was Paul’s hard work for nothing?

  • 4:11 – “I’m afraid for you!  Perhaps my hard work for you has been for nothing.”
  • Paul spent a lot of time with the Galatians when “The Mission” first started.  Was that hard work for nothing?  Was there hope for this community?

Paul’s first experience with the Galatians

  • 4:12-16
  • We find out in this section that the first time Paul was in Galatian, he was there for an extended period of time because of an illness.  Paul implies that he was very well-cared for at this point and that the community was extremely positive during his time there.  Is he feeling betrayed or upset that their attitude seems to have changed?

The enemy

  • 4:17 – “They are so concerned about you, though not with good intentions.  Rather, they want to shut you out so that you would run after them.”
  • A direct reference to Jewish Christians trying to coerce the community to follow the law.  Paul implies that they want to guilt the Galatians into following them.

How much Paul cares for the Galatians

  • 4:19-20 – “My little children, I’m going through labor pains again until Christ is formed in you.  But I wish I could be with you now and change how I sound, because I’m at a loss about you.
  • This is personal for Paul.
  • Other translations for “at a loss about you” say “stand in doubt” and “perplexed” – all strong statements.

Galatians 4:21-31

The problem of Islam vs. Christianity

  • 4:21-31
  • This has the potential to be troublesome – Paul talks about Abraham again and the son of Hagar vs. the son of Sarah, Ishmael vs. Isaac.  Christians could now point to this and make a scriptural argument against Islam.  BUT it is important to remember that Paul wrote these words before Islam existed.  His point was more to say that we are all descendants of Abraham and that we are free in faith, like Sarah was free (and not trapped in slavery with the law, like Hagar was trapped in slavery).

We are free

  • 4:21-5:1 – “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we aren’t the slave woman’s children, but we are the free woman’s children.  Christ has set us free for freedom.  Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.”
  • Paul does not want us to be trapped in slavery – he wants us to be free within our own faith.

Discussion Questions

  • Are we free in our own faith today?
  • How has the institutionalization of denominations and churches “trapped” us against the things Paul talks about?
  • Is there room for both law AND faith within the Body of Christ?
  • Why do we fall back on the law?