Named, Claimed and Changed

Hi friends!

I am a few weeks behind in posting sermons here, I had an issue getting into my blog last week.  I will get caught up sometime this week!

In the meantime, here is this morning’s sermon and the video from worship.

Peace be with you. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 28, 2021

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Named, Claimed and Changed

Last Sunday, after worship, I logged onto a New Members Zoom Coffee Chat.  It was amazing; we have over 20 people interested in joining our church right now.  Dan Cogar said it best afterwards in our Deacons group text: “Still can’t get over the fact that during a time where churches, businesses, organizations etc. are justifiably struggling, we have the biggest group of potential new members that I can remember since we joined.”

God is good, friends.  Even though it is hard right now, God is still good.

It is weird, though, how we are currently living in this in-between time.  The crisis is not over, and yet we do see a light at the end of the tunnel.  We are still very much nurturing and putting our energy towards worship and programs that are either online or in some sort of drive-thru, socially-distanced format and yet we are starting to think about – and plan for – what it is going to look like when we re-gather in person again.  Yes, we have settled into what we are doing right now, but I do have a feeling that, similarly to the way things shut down last march, we are going to quickly find ourselves in a position where we can (with proper planning and protocols in place) gather in person again.

And so it is fun to celebrate what we are doing now and what we have done throughout this time of covid, but also to think about the things that we so desperately miss and look forward to getting back to them.

During our conversation at the New Members Zoom Coffee Chat, Jodi Durette talked about one of the things that she is most looking forward to when we get back to in-person and that is the children’s sermon.  And the thing is, I do not know what they are going to look like at first, obviously covid has changed a lot about how we gather children together to learn (we know this from watching the challenges schools have faced this year), but there was something about reading this scripture and reflecting on it throughout the week that made me long to be in worship in person with you all and call the children to gather around me up front and talk about this story in the bible.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Genesis; we were here last week when we were talking about Noah’s Ark and we have moved ahead a little bit in the narrative to the story of Abraham and Sarah.

I do not know about the rest of you, but I think that there are few stories in the bible that have catchier or livelier songs from our childhood Vacation Bible School days to go with them.

Who remembers the song?  Father Abraham, had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham.  I am one of them, and so are you; so let’s all praise the Lord!  And then, of course, there is a dance; right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around, sit down.

I have always loved preaching on the Abraham and Sarah narrative because it just lends itself to a really fun and boisterous children’s sermon where we sing and dance and then the kids run down to Church School while the adults spend the rest of the day with that song stuck in their head.

The story of Abraham and Sarah is another story about a covenant; a covenant that God made with Abraham, but also one that was intended to be passed throughout the generations.  In other words, similar to the covenant God made with Noah, this covenant God is making, here in this morning’s scripture, with Abraham, is one God also makes with us, today.

God says to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NRSV)

And while this covenant does not have nearly the beautiful imagery that the Noahic Covenant has (that rainbow was really something last week!), there is something really special about this covenant that I think actually makes it stand apart.

Before we go on, let, us really quickly, review the story of Abraham and Sarah.  We are first introduced to Abraham in the 11th chapter of Genesis; his father’s name was Terah and he was a descendent in the line of Noah.  Abram was married to a woman named Sarai; before we even get to this point in the story, there is actually a pretty long narrative detailing Abram and Sarai’s time in Egypt, where they fled when there was a famine in their own land.  We learn in this narrative that Sarai was barren and that she told Abram to conceive a child with their slave, Hagar; he did this, the slave bore a child, whose name was Ishmael.

While it would take much longer than the amount of time y’all want to sit in front of your devices and listen to me talk to go over the entire story of Abram and Sarai in detail, I do think it is important to point out that there is a lot of history with them leading up to this moment where God makes a covenant with them; they walked through some valleys before arriving at this point (and, of course – spoiler alert! – there are still challenging times ahead).

And yet, this is when God shows up and names them and claims them as God’s children.

No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful. (Genesis 17:5-6)

‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her. (Genesis 17:15-16)

There are two parts os this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful.

First of all, God calls them by name:

Your name shall be Abraham. (Genesis 17:5, NRSV)

Sarah shall be her name. (Genesis 17:15, NRSV)

Remember that, like the Noahic Covenant, this covenant is not just one that was made with Abraham, it is a covenant made with us, as well.  When God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations,” this means that these words are as much for as, as they were for Abraham.

Which means when God calls Abraham and Sarah by name and claims them as God’s own children, God is doing the same for us.  God is calling us by name.  God is claiming us as God’s own children.  I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: Even though we are walking through some dark moments right now, God has not abandoned us.  God is calling us by name, claiming us as children.  God is calling us by name, upholding a covenant made thousands of years ago with us, today.  God is calling us by name, calling us to proclaim God’s message of light, love and grace to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Beloved, know that God is calling you by name; God is claiming you as a child.  You are loved, you are cherished and you are worthy of this call.

This is what is promised to us in this covenant.

The second part of this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful is the fact that Abraham and Sarah were changed as a result of this covenant.  God said, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham … as for Sarai your wife … Sarah shall be her name.”  This covenant was so powerful and transformative and life-changing that they took on new names to live into it.

This is what it means to believe in God and follow God – to let your lives be changed, truly and powerfully changed, by God.  To make a commitment that is so strong and so resilient that you are willing to be changed, to give up part of your life that might be comfortable and easy and take on something that you might not yet know or understand.

How many of us are willing to make that commitment?

As I was reflecting on our gathering of new members on Zoom last week, one of things that really stood out to me was (and is) the way we were kind of forced to strip away a lot of the stuff that we thought was the fun and meaningful part of church – we cannot physically be together, watch the carnage unfold during the children’s sermon, eat together, sing together, enjoy activities together and so on, and so forth.  And yet, I think, in some ways (certainly not all), we have been changed for the better throughout this time.  Our faith is stronger.  Our relationship with God is more personal.

But the thing is, when we took away “the fun stuff,” we were left with the most basic, but foundational elements of our faith – we were left with scripture and prayer.

What a gift it has been for us to quiet the noise of the rest of it and to see and hear and know that God is naming us and claiming us.

And changing us.

Like I said last week, the season of Lent is a time of repentance; it is a time when we journey to the cross and remember the part of the story that grounds our faith in hope and resurrection.  It is a time where many of us give things up or take things on with the intended purpose of trying to draw closer to God.

One of the things I have been doing during Lent (although, full disclosure, I did start a few weeks ago) is to go through each room in my house and pay attention to the different spaces throughout the rooms.  I have been slowly clearing out clutter and putting together systems of organization that are simple and easy for young families to maintain.  The reason I started is because I felt like there was a lot of noise in my life (and not just the audible kind that a 3.5 year old and a 10 month old bring).  I am trying to try to quiet some of that noise and create a calmer space where there is room for God.

Where I can see and hear and know that God is naming me and claiming me.

And changing me.

It is my hope and my prayer that you are finding something this Lenten season – that is not too overwhelming nearly a year into a pandemic (remember to be gentle on yourself!) – that will help you create a space where there is room for God, where you can see and hear and know that God is naming you and claiming you and changing you.

So – this covenant does not come with a beautiful rainbow; but I think we have something just as special, just as powerful and just as promising.

Remember that Abram and Sarai walked through some valleys before arriving at a point where God showed up and named them and claimed them as God’s children.

May God do the same for us in this moment as we continue to walk through the valley of this season of life.

Friends, hear this Good News: You are a child of God.  God wants to be in relationship with you.  God want to name you and claim you and change you.  God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years ago and this promise has remained steadfast.  Nothing can, nothing will, break its bounds.  This is who we are, pandemic or not.

We are children of God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

Hi friends.

It was hard to preach this morning.

I know there are people that think I said too much.  I know there are people that wish I would have said more.  It is something of an exhausting period in history to preach through, but I tried to say what was on my heart and what would be most helpful for my congregation. The text from my sermon is below, as well as the video from this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

I stared at a blinking cursor on an empty word document for a long time on Friday trying to figure out what to say this morning.

You see, this pulpit is a privilege.  It is a privilege that has been given to me because of my call, but it is also one that comes with great responsibility.  I feel a responsibility not only to you all, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, but also to those who stood behind this pulpit before me who, just like I did this week, struggled for 300 years to find adequate and appropriate words to speak in the midst of wars, tragedies, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorist attacks.

What happened on Wednesday was not okay.  Like most of you, I am sure, I spent a lot of time this week trying to process it and understand it and also trying to reconcile the issues of injustice that were powerfully put on display.

I read and heard a lot of comments on Wednesday into Thursday that said this is not who we are, but it is; as a nation, we are so very broken right now.  The chaos that ensued this week was shocking but, sadly, not surprising.  This is, unfortunately, exactly who we are.

To be clear, I do not think it is my job to stand behind this pulpit today and offer political commentary on what happened this week.  You all know that, knowing we are such a diverse community, for better or for worse I try to stay as politically “neutral” as possible and focus on the Gospel, though many argue that the Gospel is inherently political, which is a sentiment I would certainly agree with.  And so it is tricky; it is especially tricky, because one of my goals is to be a relevant preacher.  To stand up here today and not acknowledge what happened this week would not be true to who I am – and who I believe God is calling us to be, as a congregation.

I guess this is my way of saying that this might not actually be a good sermon.  Like everyone else, I am having a really hard time finding words that are both adequate and appropriate and also speak to you all, my church family, no matter where you are today.

Despite the events that happened this week and despite the fact that this is, unfortunately, who we are right now, I do not believe that this is who we are called to be.  This is not who we are called to be, as a country and certainly not who we are called to be, as a church community.  We are called to proclaim to Gospel; to live into the vows we made at our baptisms, resisting evil, seeking justice and loving others the way Christ loved us.

Speaking of baptisms, today is the Baptism of Christ Sunday.  It is, sort of, the kickoff to Jesus’ public ministry in the liturgical year.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is, of course, near the end of the calendar year; then we journey to Christmas, where Jesus is born and then to Epiphany, where the Wise Men follow the star to visit Jesus and offer him gifts.  Then there is a time lapse of about 30 years in less than a week and Jesus’ travels from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

You know I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a calendar of scripture that follows the liturgical year.  It is a three-year cycle and every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the Gospels and one of the Epistles.  More often than not these passages relate to one another and so when I am planning worship I will not just choose one passage, but two (some churches will even read all four passages every week) as a way of looking at recurring themes throughout multiple scriptures.

It is not necessarily a perfect method for planning worship, though and so I have, over the past few years, gone off-lectionary – we did the Year of Mark and then a couple of different sermon series.  I found myself back on the lectionary at the beginning of 2020, mostly in preparation for what I thought was going to be a completely offline maternity leave; but what I have found is that being on the lectionary has created stability for me, as a preacher, in an otherwise unstable time.

Which brings me to this morning.

On Monday morning when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service, it was not a question as to whether or not we would look at the Gospel this morning and remember Jesus’ baptism.  Out of curiosity, however, I decided to look at what the lectionary paired with the Gospel this year.  And I found it fascinating that in the other two years of the lectionary (remember, this is a three-year cycle), Jesus’ baptism is paired a passage from the Book of Isaiah.  This year, however, the Old Testament passage is Genesis 1:1-5, the very first verses of the entire bible.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

Without even knowing about the chaos that was about to unfold at the Capitol this week, I thought it was fascinating to look at these two passages side by side, one where Jesus is baptized and claimed by God as God’s son and the other where God creates order out of chaos.

Now it seems almost necessary to look at these two passages side by side.

I think we need to be reminded of both of these messages this week.  First of all, I think we do need to remember Jesus’ baptism.  We need to remember that Jesus came into this world, not because it was perfect, but because it was very much broken; that Jesus was baptized, not as an empty symbol, but as a powerful declaration that all must repent and confess their sins in order to be redeemed by the living waters of baptism.

If you, like me, are feeling disheartened or even helpless about who we are right now, remember this: God saw a world in need of redemption and sent a redeemer.  There was hope then and I do believe that there is hope now.

That being said, second of all, I think we also need to take a moment and remember our own baptisms, as well.  We need to remember the promises that we made or that were made on our behalf and that we later affirmed, either through our confirmation or by joining the church.  We need to remember that Christianity is about action; it is about the absolute refusal to be complacent to the evil and injustice that exists in the world.  Yes, it is about declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior and getting to know Jesus on a personal level, but it is also about following Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed, the Gospel he taught, the Gospel he demonstrated.  It is about living out the work that Jesus began here on earth.  As Christians, we have work to do.

At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.

But here is where I find this pairing of Jesus’ baptism with the beginning of the creation story so fascinating.  Because it is in this account of creation that God made order out of chaos.  It is in this account that God took a dark and formless void and created this earth that we are living on today.  It is in this account that God saw great and hopeful potential in something that was, essentially, nothing.

In fact, for thousands and thousands of years, God has seen nothing but great and hopeful potential in our world.

We have to believe that the same is true today.

The creation story reminds us that God can make order out of chaos; God can make order out of the chaos of the formless void that became the earth and God can make order out of the chaos of the world that we are living in today.  I do not know how, but I believe that God can make order out of the political chaos that our country is experiencing right now and that God still sees potential in our world.

The potential for good.

The potential for love.

The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.

But that does not mean that we are to stand by and wait for God to come in and fix it for us.  Friends, we have a lot of work to do.  We have to live into our baptismal promises.  We have to see a world that is broken and vow to do everything that we can to do draw forth that hope, healing and wholeness we are promised in baptism.

For some of us, that may mean political activism on local, state or national levels.  For some of us, that may mean some sort of volunteerism.  For some of us, that may mean putting our money where our mouth is.  For some of us, that may mean reaching out to a family member or a friend in need and helping them on an individual level.

We all have different, but equally important roles to play.  In many ways, I am viewing the events of last week as a call to action; a call to action to create the kind of world that I want my children to grow up in.

The kind of world that I believe God is calling us to create.

The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.

The kind of world that can be transformed by the Gospel.

The kind of world that where we are united by the living waters of baptism that have redeemed us and are continuing to redeem us.

Friends, I know we are all exhausted.  Dealing with political upheaval on top of a pandemic is no small feat.  But we can do hard things, I really do believe that.  And God has not abandoned us, God is still with us.  Together, we can be better than we are right now.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Why Are Names So Important?

I have been thinking about this sermon since last October when my family went to Disney and I became obsessed with name tags and then again since April and I was preaching on the resurrection narrative out of John and noticed that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus until he called her by name.  It was a long time coming and the coolest part was that we had a fundraising event at Hillside Country Club the next day and everyone who showed up to help wore their name tag – without me sending out a reminder!

I wrote some liturgy to go along with this – I will get it posted this week!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
July 28, 2019

Genesis 17:1-8
Isaiah 45:1-8
John 20:11-18

Why Are Names So Important?

When we were in Disney last fall, one of the details I noticed (remember from last week – no detail left unturned!) was the fact that not only did all of the “cast members” wear nametags, but that the nametags also include where the person is from, as well – what they consider their home town to be.

And for some reason, this really stuck with me; I think, because, this simple nametag – this seemingly insignificant 1”x 2” oval name tag – not only gave someone an identity with a name, but also a story with where they were from.

In other words, the person driving the magical express was not just a bus driver, they were Matthew from Jacksonville, Florida; or the person walking around with Mickey was not just a character handler, they were Melanie from Sweden; or the person at the gift shop was not just a cashier, they were Jeffrey from Boston, Massachusetts.

And because I knew this information, I could, first of all, greet them by name and then I could strike up a conversation with them based on one simple fact.

Hi Matthew, have you lived in Florida your whole life?
Melanie, how long have you lived in the United States?
You’re from Boston, Jeffrey?  We are from Massachusetts, too!

I was not only able to affirm them as a person, but I was able to engage them in a conversation and there but by the grace of God and a really small nametag, two strangers were able to see the humanity in one another and find a sense of unity and commonality.

So I came home on a little bit of a nametag mission.  I am honestly not sure if this was before or after the soap mission that I talked about last week (and if you have no idea what I am talking about, I would encourage you to go listen to my sermon, “Why Is It Important To Talk About Hospitality?” and you can hear all about the soap-acolypse).  But I will say that there was not a unanimous reaction to this particular mission of mine.  While there were some people that were extremely supportive – even excited at the prospect of becoming a “name tag church” – there were others that resisted the movement.

I already know everybody’s name.
Everyone knows my name.
But I already hate wearing my nametag at work.
I will never remember to bring it with me.

Or, my favorite:

Why?

Well, let’s tackle that question today.  Why?

I wanted to talk about the importance of names at some point during this sermon series on hospitality because, like the soap, I believe this is a hospitality issue.  Because I believe that every single person in this world deserves to be called by their name; their name that identifies and affirms them as a child of God worthy of being seen and heard and acknowledged in this world. And so I wanted to look at the ways in which scripture addresses this very subject.

I chose three stories to read this week so we could look at the ways different literature within the bible address this particular topic.  We have a reading from Genesis, the first book of the story of the Hebrew people, a reading from the Prophet Isaiah and then, into the New Testament, a reading from the Gospel of John.

Full disclosure – these three readings, in no way, fully encapsulate what the entire bible says about this subject; they are just a small snippet.  But their diversity from one another is what I love the most, because it means that there is this reoccurring theme throughout God’s entire creating narrative that boldly proclaims that what we, as human beings, are called matters.

I have always loved the story of Abraham and Sarah – partially because, as a child, I thought it was so cool that my name appears, in a somewhat prominent form, in the bible.  But what I love about this story, especially this partof the story, is the fact that God marks this transition in Abraham’s life – this covenant that he will become the ancestor of a multitude of nations – by calling him by a new name.

Abraham’s new name is part of a new covenantal identity. It takes his given name, Abram, and combines it with the Hebrew word for “father” – abba – and “multitude” – hamon.

Abraham.

No long shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.[1]

There is so much in a name.  Often it not only identifies a person, but it also tells their story and when you call someone by their name you are not only affirming who they are, but you are affirming their story and very often the legacy of those who came before them.

And that is why I love this passage from the Prophet Isaiah.

For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name[2]

The Book of Isaiah is the first of the major prophets.  It is a composite work, meaning it is not actually the writings of one prophet, but of several different prophets who were active at different points throughout Israel’s history.  It was written during the time of the Babylonian Exile and this particular scripture likely comes from during the time of the exile, itself – around 545-539 BC.

In this prophecy, God is speaking to Cyrus, who was a Persian King, the only non-Israelite designated as “anointed” in the Old Testament.  God names Cyrus as the one who is going to carry out God’s commission.  And here’s the thing:  Cyrus does not actually know who God is, but God knows who Cyrus is; God chooses Cyrus and calls him by name to be his servant in this world.

By calling Cyrus by name, God is validating who he is and who God is calling him to be in this world.

Back in April, I was writing my Easter sermon and I was looking at this text from the Gospel of John and, knowing that I wanted to spend the summer focusing on hospitality, I could not help but notice the fact that when Jesus appears before Mary Magdalene after she finds that the tomb is empty, she does not recognize him until he calls her by name.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).[3]

Don’t you find it striking that Mary finally recognized the resurrected Christ in her midst when he called her by name?  When he acknowledged who she was and who God was calling her to be?  That was the moment when she realized that resurrection was possible; that was the moment when she saw grace in a real and bold and life-changing way.

I think names are important.  I think they are important because they allow us to affirm the identity and the humanity of other people.  I think they are important because we know from scripture that God thinks we are all worthy of that affirmation.  I think they are important because it is in that affirmation that others, like Mary Magdalene, are able to see the presence of Christ and find grace in unexpected ways and places.

So we have, for better or worse, become a nametag church.

Well – we are trying, anyway.

Last December, we very excitedly passed clipboards around to collect names and towns and Kathy and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s printing, cutting, laminating, punching and attaching name tags to clips in our enthusiastic DIY attempt at making nametags.

And I think three people consistently wore them.

However, refusing to admit defeat, I consulted some of my clergy colleagues and looked to see how other churches are doing the nametag thing.  We put a little bit more money towards the project this second time around, purchasing RCC lanyards and perforated nametag sheets that use templates to make printing easier.  Sometimes we remind people to wear their nametags, sometimes we encourage them, sometimes we beg them and sometimes we flat-out lecture them.

And we have had a little bit more success.

Deacons wear their nametags when they staff funeral services, I have noticed people wearing them at community events and meals and people really do seem to be tryingto remember them on Sunday mornings. We even added this fancy little “I Give Electronically” sticker for electronic givers so they can flash their nametag at the ushers when the offering plates come around they do not have a physical offering to put in.

It is not perfect – but we are trying.  We are trying because we believe that every single person that walks through the doors of this church deserves to be called by their name; to be acknowledged and affirmed as a child of God.  We are trying believe we believe that we will bear witness to the resurrected Christ as we acknowledge one another by name; that we will discover grace in the most unexpected ways and places.

So here is my plea:

First of all, wear your nametag.  Even if you think everyone knows you or you know everyone – please, wear your nametag.  We are trying to create a culture.  You never know when someone is going to walk through our doors for the first time or even if someone is newer to the community and has not quite gotten everyone’s names yet.  Knowing someone’s name breaks down an invisible barrier that oftentimes prevents someone else from starting a conversation with them.  So let us make it easy for people – allpeople – to approach one another and have a conversation.

A second of all, try to learn other people’s names.  And then call them bytheir names.  Affirm who they are a child of God, who God is calling them to be and what God is calling them to do in this world and how they can be part of this church, this village, this Body of Christ.

So go therefore out into the world and call one another by name.  May we affirm the identity of one another and may we discover grace – unexpected – along the way.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Genesis 17:5, NRSV
[2]Isaiah 45:4, NRSV
[3]John 20:15-16, NRSV

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