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!

***

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!

***

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.

293 Years Of Blessings

What a great Sunday! We celebrated our stewardship, were blessed with an incredible choir anthem and had a fabulous trunk-or-treat event after church. Blessings abound!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 26, 2014

Genesis 8:20-9:1
Genesis 12:1-3
Ephesians 1:3-14

293 Years Of Blessings

The theme for this year’s stewardship campaign is Blessed to be a Blessing.

We, as a Stewardship Committee and a congregation, have had the opportunity over the past several weeks to talk about the many blessings in our lives and in our church. And we have reflected on those blessings as we discerned our financial commitments to the church for the upcoming year.

I said in my stewardship sermon last week:

We give to this church to give glory to God; to make visible the invisible signs of God’s grace in the community and in the world. Giving is an act of grace and grace is something that is far more important to this church than any line item on our budget is.

We do not give to the church because we need money to fund our programs and maintain our buildings. We give to the church because throughout the generations God has blessed us in so many ways. And we are called to give back and be a blessing to others.

This morning we were reminded of God’s ever-constant presence in our lives for thousands and thousands of years. God’s blessing over Noah and Abraham 3,000-4,000 years ago was the same blessing that Paul talked about when he wrote to the church in Ephesus nearly 2,000 years ago. And those blessings are the same blessings that we are experiencing in our lives today.

Some days it seems as though nothing in life is constant. We, as human beings, constantly have to adapt as the world around us changes. Life moves at an ever-quickening pace. Tragedies seem to strike when we least expect them to.

And yet one thing always remains the same.

We are so very blessed by God.

We have been told, generation upon generation, that we are in covenant with God. Scriptures prove to us these covenants have weathered storms, wars and tragedies. These covenants have remained strong throughout the wilderness and all the way to Calgary. These covenants remind us that God has made promises to us and – in turn – we make promises to God and to one another.

It is not always easy to remember this fact. We are human beings. Life has a way of taking over. We often feel stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. We do not always know how to pause and seek out God’s presence.

But we choose to focus on and celebrate the blessings of God not because it is easy, but because it is what gives us strength when we feel weak, love when we feel hate and wisdom when we feel lost.

In fact, this is one of the reasons that we come to church; because from time to time we need to be reminded of the blessings that surround us.

As we celebrate our church and community this morning, let us be reminded of the blessings that abound. A few weeks ago, I asked the question on Facebook, “How have you been blessed by the church?” Last week I handed out paper balloons and posed the same question, asking people to write down their responses. The responses we received represented blessings from 293 years of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

So now let us, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, celebrate the blessings in our lives and in our church. I invite you listen to what your church family had to say.

I love that you are welcomed, no matter where you are on your journey as you say.

The church school program is a huge blessing! For parents and kids.

The wonderful people who make up this great community we are a part of.

A place for caring and sharing.

With wonderful new friends.

The prayer shawl program and lay shepherd outreach program have both helped my family during difficult periods in our lives.

The love our church family gives us!

The bonds among women of all ages at RCC are so strong! I’ve made friends I’ll have forever.

Blessed by the baptism of our children.

This church has blessed me with a home for my extended family.

Our family can be a part of this wonderful church family with so much love.

For the welcoming and warmness of this church and congregation.

I am blessed by God.

I have been blessed by God! I will continue to be blessed by God! Thanks be to God!

Inspiring sermons. Friendship. Fellowship. Beautiful music.

A welcoming place for me to worship at my own pace, guilt free!

This church has blessed us by providing the baptism of two of our children.

The sharing of God’s stories with family.

Prayers of healing.

Family.

Blessed to raise my kids in God’s teaching.

Friends.

Comfort in bad times. Love – peace – friends.

We are blessed by the church to help us teach our children the love of God.

We have been blessed by a new church family, lots of desserts and laughs, a seat at the table for all events, the choir, uplifting lessons from Sarah’s sermons and new connections from the past.

We are blessed to have a welcoming sanctuary that provides a weekly opportunity for the recharging of our souls and warming of our hearts.

Blessed by the fellowship of the Disciple Dudes and Divas, the Prayerful Paddlers and Pedalers. Also blessed by the community that gathers for dinners.

Being welcomed into the church as soon as we stepped in. Sermons which speak to Christianity in our lives today.

Being welcomed by warm people, listening to beautiful sermons and a talented choir.

Marriage.

I have been blessed with a second family – when I was younger, the Youth Group advisors were like a set of 20+ parents; now, the Youth Group students are 20+ younger siblings. The rest of the congregation is like a giant extended family – aunts and uncles, grandparents, nieces and nephews. Where would I be without my church family?

Friendship and support in good times and in need.

I have been blessed by the people of this church. It is so special to feel part of the church community.

Friendship and fellowship.

I have been blessed by the small town comfort of this church.

I feel blessed to be welcomed with smiles and warmth. And to be touched with spirit and goodness that I can share with others.

Congregation.

Friendship.

Sunday School, music and prayer.

Christian Education for our children.

Homeless Awareness Weekend.

We are thankful for feeling closer to God and feeling accepted into the church.

Our congregation and the Rehoboth Congregational Church has helped me with my spiritual strength when I needed it most over the years.

Fellowship of this church.

Experiencing God’s love through friends, love, caring, generosity and grace.

I have been blessed by the mission of helping the needy.

Opportunities to help the less fortunate.

The rich history evident in the church inspired me to remember those before me that they, like me, love God, others and their church. This is my blessing.

The support this church has given me and my family is amazing.

I am so blessed by being a member of this church. I have received love and hope during the difficult times by life-long friends here at church. Also during the times of joy. This church and its members have filled my life with goodness. The children and youth made teaching Sunday School so easy and fulfilling. God blesses us all who love this church and all that come here.

I am thankful for 59 wonderful years in my church … and many more!

We are blessed to have a safe and loving place to be when things don’t go quite right. Thank Him always for all your blessings!

I feel blessed by the positive energy I find in the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Being baptized.

Friends and community.

Our ministers – past and present!

For the love of our children.

The blessing of feeling like a member of a supportive community.

Friends, these are the blessings in our lives, the blessings that give us new life and the blessings that surround us always.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.