Reset

Week two of our sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul and today’s topic is, Reset.  I’m not preaching next Sunday, so there won’t be a post or podcast.  If you want to know what I’m up to, check out the Facebook page for my dad’s musical this week and next. 😉

Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 12, 2017

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 3:1-17

Reset (Lenten Sermon Series: Boot Camp for the Soul)

Do you ever wish that you could just start over?

Yesterday morning, I was out running errands when I noticed my gaslight was on. I pulled into the gas station and popped the cover to the gas tank, all the while grumbling about the fact that it was 18° and, who wants to pump gas when it is that cold? It was not until I got out of my car and went to run my debit card that I noticed the cover to my gas tank was frozen shut. It did not matter how many times I pulled the little lever, the cover would not open. So I tried to use my debit card to jimmy it open and promptly cracked the card.

At that point, I just kind of sighed and wished I could have started the day over.

Jesus said that yes, in fact, we can start over. In our Gospel reading for this morning Jesus was talking with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus that, through God, it was possible to start over; that though we are all born of the flesh, we can be born of the spirit. And this spirit gives us a chance to seek redemption, to uncover grace and to start over in those moments in our lives when we need it most.

What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[1]

Though I am not sure Jesus was talking about different better choices when it comes to what one might use to defrost a gas tank cover, I do believe that one of the foundational pieces of who we are a Christian is the beautiful and overwhelmingly remarkable truth that we can always start over.

This exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is overflowing with what clergy nerds would refer to as eschatology. Eschatology is a doctrine that talks about the end of the world, the Second Coming and what happens to humans when their earthly lives come to a close. Jesus talks about what it means to be “born again” and is fairly straightforward in his dialogue with Nicodemus about what this means for people.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.[2]

Christians often use this scripture to answer questions such as, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” and, “How do you get into heaven?” And yet, I do not think Jesus was just talking about what happens after we die here. I do not think, as Christians, we are called to be changed by the Gospel only in our death; I believe we are called to be changed by the Gospel in our lives, as well.

Our reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Genesis; it is the call of Abram. In this story, God told Abram to leave his home – his house, his people and the life he was accustomed to – and go to a place God would show him; it would be there where Abram would begin a new life.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.[3]

Abram lived out the call to start over quite literally. His story reminds us that, good or bad, no matter how established, comfortable or settled we are into our own lives and routines, it is possible to do something different.

God makes the big changes in our lives possible; this was true for Abram and this is true for all of us. But in order for God to do this great work within us, we have to believe that we are worthy of starting over.

And we also have to believe that it is never too late or too soon for a new beginning in our lives.

It is the second Sunday of Lent and we are in the middle of the Lenten sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul. Last week we talked about the need for change and this week’s topic is, reset. I love this topic because I believe, as Christians, one of the most radical and redeeming truths of our faith is that we have the ability to reset ourselves when we feel like we are starting to drift, when we lose our way and when our faith starts to weaken. And this is not a once and done thing, this is something that can happen over and over and over again.

Someone once shared with me that the reason they love coming to church is because they feel like they get to hit the reset button every week, whether it be in worship, at bible study or through some sort of community activity. Coming to church not only holds us all accountable in our faith, but it also opens our eyes to the possibilities within our faith, as well. Just like God asked Abram to reset the course of his life and journey, God asks this of us, in our lives as well. God not only creates this space for us to hit the reset button, but God also asks us to hit it, as well. God wants us to be changed by our faith; God wants our lives to be transformed by the new beginnings that are always possible.

I do have to caution you, though, not to get caught up in the enormity of what we often read in scripture or the stories that have a tendency to make headlines. While I do believe the Gospel calls for radical change in our lives, this does not mean that we have to make massive changes, week after week. Jesus’ call to be born of the spirit does not mean we need to give ourselves spiritual whiplash, but instead seek spiritual wholeness.

I believe God makes the big changes in our lives possible, but I also believe God makes the small changes possible, as well and the small changes are just as important as the big ones. The important thing to remember is that the Gospel creates a sort of malleability within all of us and God is always at work within our lives and our faith; through the big changes, through the small changes and through all the weekly (and perhaps even daily) resets we need.

Last week, in our conversation about Boot Camp for the Soul, we talked about why people take part in various types of boot camps, one of those reasons being that they see a need for change in their lives and they are ready make that change. I encouraged you all to think about the need for change in your own lives and now this week, together, we hit that reset button, allow God to draw us back in and reorient ourselves with our faith. We think about who we are, who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. We look at the week ahead, full of possibilities and grace yet to be uncovered.

We use this Lenten season as an opportunity to think about what it will mean to experience resurrection on Easter morning and reset ourselves so we can make that happen.

So hit that reset button in your life; let yourself be born of the spirit – over and over and over again. As we journey towards the cross this Lenten season, let us remember that God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to this earth to live in our midst, to share in our suffering and to prove that resurrection is not only possible, but that it is all around us. We are all worthy, not just of God’s love and grace, but also of God’s second chances, as well.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] John 3:6, NRSV
[2] John 3:16, NRSV
[3] Genesis 12:2, NRSV

Faith Before Belief

We sang “Hymn of Promise” this morning in church and I think everyone smiled when they sang the line, “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”  Even though it is snowing AGAIN, I believe that we are all learning things about ourselves throughout this winter season and God is working through us in ways that will be revealed in time.  As much as I am looking forward to a spring thaw, the time to rest has been nice as well.

Here is my sermon from this morning!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25

Faith Before Belief

Have you ever felt like you were out wandering in the desert?

In the church year, we are currently experiencing the season of Lent, a 40-day penitential season before Easter where we reflect on Jesus’ 40 days spent out in the desert and wilderness. We read this passage last week (unfortunately many of you were home stranded due to snow and ice!) and talked about the ways that God was with Jesus during that time – and how it eventually that time came to an end and Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.

The summer before my senior year of college I fund myself literally wandering through the desert. I was driving cross-country with a friend of mine and we had spent the day driving across Arizona on interstate 40. We were just east of Flagstaff when we heard a loud “BANG!” and the car started to veer off in different directions. My friend Kari – who was driving at the time – managed to cross four lanes of traffic and pull off to the shoulder and when we got out of the car we realized that not only did we have a flat tire, but we had just experienced what is known as a tire blowout.

Since neither one of us knew how to change a tire, we did the sensible thing and called AAA. Great, right? The only problem was the fact that – other than “on I-40 somewhere east of Flagstaff” we really had no clue where we actually were. And when I told that to the woman from AAA on the phone she asked, “Are their any landmarks around? We need to know where to send the truck.”

Which is how I found myself wandering down I-40 at dusk as the traffic whizzed by so I could find the most recent mile marker.

Somehow I do not think my experience wandering in the dessert was quite like Jesus’.

I do not think that it takes a blown out tire in the middle of Arizona for any of us to feel as though we are wandering in the desert or wilderness. We all have times when we feel lost, when we feel alone and when we are not really sure which path we are supposed to take on our journey. Tragedies have struck our lives, illnesses have devastated us and awful things have happened that we just were not expecting. We have had moments in our lives where we have cried out, wondering if God was actually listening. We have doubted the existence of God and the goodness in the world. We have had moments where we doubted our beliefs, asked questions that were never answered and literally did not know what we were supposed to do next.

Some of us may even be experiencing some of these things right now.

And that is okay. The Christian faith never promised us an easy life. But it does promise us an everlasting covenant with a God who loves us, who is on our side, who wants us to thrive and succeed and who desperately wants us to have an intimate relationship with him.

I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenants, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

God spoke these words to Abraham, an old man with a barren wife. God spoke these words to Abraham, a man who would be blessed with a son and who would be known throughout the generations as the father of all nations. God spoke these words to Abraham, a man whose life and legacy was proof of the fact that through God nothing is impossible. God spoke these words and 2,000 years later, the Easter story gave us further proof of this everlasting covenant.

So this is a great story, right? A nice anecdote that we learn as children that describes a miracle that happened 4,000 years ago? But how is this relevant in our lives today? What happens when we are waiting for that miracle and it does not come? What happens when our faith is challenged in real and scary ways? How do we believe in this God who loves us, who is on our side, who wants us to thrive and succeed and who desperately wants us to have an intimate relationship with him in those moments when we have no tangible proof to stand on?

This is when we are called to have faith.

In this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul writes:

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

The biggest thing that Paul was addressing here was the importance of faith over law – and of submitting to God’s grace through the resurrection of Christ rather than through Jewish laws and customs. But let’s take law out of the equation for a second and just focus on faith: Paul reminded the Roman people – a community of people who experienced their own troubles, just like we all do – that God’s promises came to Abraham through faith.

And in doing so, Paul was assuring the Roman people that God’s promises would come to them through faith.

And in reading this text today, we are assured that God’s promises will come to us through faith.

There will be moments in our lives where we are out wandering in the wilderness; where we are scared, where we are confused, where we are angry and where are not actually sure that we believe in God’s promises.

But I believe in these moments that we still have faith.

I do not think that faith something that you necessarily have or experience. I think faith is something that you do; something that you actively choose to participate in every day. I think that faith is a way of life – the way that we should live our lives, so that we can believe in God’s promises. I believe that faith comes before belief; that we need to live out our faith, that we need to live with faith in order to truly see – and believe in – God’s promises.

Okay, this is all well and good in theory, but how do we actually live in out?

Paul told the Roman people that, “[Abraham] grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”

So that must be where we start.

I think that if we are struggling in our lives and in our faith – if we are lost and wandering in the wilderness – then this is where we need to start. We need to – like Abraham – give glory to God.

It may feel weird at first, but when we are facing life’s greatest challenges and feel completely lost in the world that we are living in, I think we need to give glory to God, so that – even in the midst of chaos and heartache – we are practicing faith, we are living our lives grounded in faith. When we are wandering in the wilderness, we need to rise up our heads, stand tall and proclaim to the world the immeasurable and unmovable love of God in our lives so that we can feel that love. When we do not necessarily believe in the promises of God’s grace, then we need to start by living them out. Our tear-stained faces need to proclaim to the world God’s goodness just as much as our joy-filled ones.

How we live our lives can transform how we believe in God, I truly believe that.

I think we start by giving glory to God – then we strengthen our faith – and then we feel ourselves starting to believe.

It is okay if we do not always believe this stuff; it is okay if we doubt, if we feel lost and if we are unsure of where God fits into the chaos of our lives. It is okay to be out wandering in the wilderness (heck, Jesus did it!). It is okay because this is where we defy the odds of our earthly lives and practice our faith anyway.

Having faith does not always mean believing in God when everything around us is falling apart. Sometimes having faith means living our lives as a tangible expression of God’s love that we can believe in God when everything around us is falling apart.

Like Abraham, God’s promises will come to us through faith.

So whether you are running down the interstate looking for a mile marker or you are simply experiencing one of life’s challenges, I implore you to keep living out your faith.

I promise that your life will be changed.

So, my friends, go out and live your lives with faith. Proclaim God’s love to the people around you. Show the world what it means to be a child of God, created in his image and saved by the living waters of baptism. Live out your faith so that, hoping against hope, you, too, can believe that you are capable of living the life and ministry that God is calling you into.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Goodness

This morning we remembered Jesus’ baptism and then celebrated our own.  What a wonderful service!  After church we had a Membership Exploration Luncheon – it was awesome to see so many people who are interested in becoming part of RCC!  If you feel like you are searching for something in your life, I strongly encourage you to get involved – really involved! – in a church community.  Not only are there opportunities to serve others, but there is also such an amazing sense of family within church communities that can fill you in ways nothing else can.

Anyway … here is this morning’s sermon!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 11, 2015

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

Creating Goodness

Creationism according to Grey’s Anatomy:

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth … at least, that’s what they say. He created the birds of the air and the beasts of the field – and he looked at his creation and he saw that it was good. And then God created man. And it’s been downhill ever since.

The story goes on to say that God created man in his own image, but there’s not much proof of that. After all, God made the sun and the moon and the stars – and all man makes is trouble.

And when man finds himself in trouble, which is most of the time, he turns to something bigger than himself – to love or faith or religion – to make sense of it all.

Okay, so maybe that is not exactly how it happened.

But – with the chaos that sometimes tends to fill our newspapers and other media outlets – perhaps Shonda Rhimes was not that far off when she was writing the script for the voiceover on Grey’s Anatomy that week.

We live in a world that is not perfect. We live in a world that is plagued with disease, tragedy and violence. We live in a world that is often broken by the darker side of human nature. We live in a world that was created first and foremost to be full of light and yet often is overcome by darkness.

Last night’s headlines on CNN told stories of terrorism and a hostage crisis in Paris, a 200-vehicle accident in Michigan, a college gang rape in Oregon, an outbreak of measles at Disneyland and racial tensions in our justice system. Tragedies seem to be happening all around us and these days you have to click from page to page in order to find any kind of good news happening.

Do you ever look around and want so desperately to create something good in the world, but then just not know where to start? You are not alone. The turmoil and confusion that surrounds us in our community and that exists throughout the world often leaves us feeling helpless and unsure of what kind of difference we could actually make.

But I believe that the creation story gives us hope.

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament can be found on the very first page of the bible.

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

Do you know what the most amazing part of the creation story is? God started with absolutely NOTHING.

… when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep …

There was NOTHING – and God created the heavens and the earth. There was nothing and God brought light to darkness. There was nothing and God created land and sea. There was nothing and God created plants, fish and animals. There was nothing and God created humankind. There was nothing and God created a big and beautiful and majestic world. In the midst of a deep darkness, God created something amazing out of absolutely nothing, proving to us that we can create something good out of the oftentimes-dark world that we are living in.

If you think about it, from the very beginning, the creation story is a story of action.

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

The heavens and the earth did not just appear, God created the heavens and the earth. God created something good for this world.

And we are called – in our reading and in our living out of this story – to create something good for this world as well.

Even if we have to overcome some darkness in order to do it.

This morning we remember Jesus’ baptism, a moment on the shores of the Jordan River where God broke through a human act of baptism through water and opened the heavens to connect his creation in a new way. This moment changed baptism for the generations upon generations that would soon follow Christ. We are connected, not only through the waters of baptism, but also through the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus that day nearly 2,000 years ago.

And we are connected through the Holy Spirit that continues to descend upon us today.

Baptism is not a one-way street. It is not just a decision that we make; it is also a commitment that God makes to us. Infant or child baptism is more than just a moment in our lives when our parents dress us up in adorable outfits and everyone pledges to raise us in the Christian faith. Adult baptism is more than just a moment where someone commits his or her life to Christ. Baptism – in any tradition – is a moment where – once again – God breaks through the human act of baptism by water and opens the heavens to connect us to his creation. Through our baptism, we are connected to one another. Through our baptism, we are connected to those who have come before us. And through our baptism, we are connected to our God who created the world to be good – and who calls us to create more good in that world.

Last fall, Carrie Underwood came out with a song called “Something In The Water,” written about a person whose life changed after their baptism. The lyrics to this song create such a powerful image of baptism:

Felt love pouring down from above.
Got washed in the water, washed in the blood.
And now I’m changed.
And now I’m stronger.
There must be something in the water.

When we look at the world and feel overwhelmed at how we are supposed to create goodness in it – or even how we are supposed to live in – remember that love poured down from heaven when you were baptized and in that moment you were changed and now you are strong. Through the living waters of baptism, God promises to us that we are strong enough to live in this world and even more so that we are strong enough to create goodness in that world as well.

I was out in Connecticut visiting my family after Christmas and – in the spirit of our love of all things Sondheim – we all went out to see the new Into The Woods movie. Plenty of great sermon illustrations came out of the movie, but for now I want to talk about the preview I saw for the new Cinderella movie that comes out in March. The previewed showed Ella – who would eventually be named Cinderella by her stepsisters – as a young girl talking to her mother. Her mother appeared to be giving her final words of wisdom before she passed away. Ella’s mother said to her:

Where there is kindness there is goodness; and where there is goodness there is magic.

Creating goodness in the world may not be easy, but it is magical. And I truly believe that the love of God that comes down from heaven and fills us in our baptism gives us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to create goodness in a world that is sometimes filled with darkness. We are not alone in our journey through life.

Creation is not something that happened in the past; creation has always been and always will be an active act of God’s grace. It is an act that allows us to create goodness, magic and grace – unexpected.

So let us – children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ – create goodness. Let us create goodness in our lives, let us create goodness in this church and let us create goodness in the world. Let us be tangible expressions of the love that washed over us in our baptism. Let us not be defined by the chaos that often surrounds us, but by the goodness that we create out of it.

Let us be who God created us to be. Let us be who Christ called us to be. And let us be who the Holy Spirit is strengthening us to be.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.