Living In A New Age Of Faith

Jon and I participated in a pulpit sway on Sunday!  I drove out to Danielson to preach at Westfield and he came here to Rehoboth to worship with my folks.  We had a blast!  Here is my sermon that I preached there …

Pulpit Swap 1Pulpit Swap 2

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Living In A New Age Of Faith

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with some friends and somehow we got on the subject of the meaning of different names. We started off the conversation by sharing the meanings of the names that we knew and eventually started looking up the meanings of the ones we did not know.

As often happens when I get together with my girlfriends, the conversation got a little bit loud as we delighted in discovering new things and all tried to talk over one another (the women in the congregation understand this, I’m sure!).
At one point, however, my friend’s daughter wandered into the kitchen and asked us what we were doing. We told her we were talking about what our names meant. She nodded as if she understood, but then cocked her head to the side and suddenly had a very curious look in her eyes. “Well what does my name mean?” she asked us.

And in an instant – despite the presence of seven women – the kitchen was silent. No one knew how to explain to her what her name meant.

Her name is Faith.

Of course, with all of those women, as instantly as the silence took over the kitchen the babbling started again. We all frantically tried to come up with a definition of faith that made sense and sounded plausible. Of course none of our definitions were the same and we were simultaneously laughing and horrified that we could not come up with an answer or a consensus for her on the meaning of faith.

Eventually Faith looked over at me and – as only an eight-year-old can – said, “Uhhh, you’re a minister, shouldn’t you know these kinds of things?”

She had a point.

So what does ‘Faith’ mean?

Truth be told, faith is just something that is difficult to define. But it is also something that we all want to define; it is something that we want to know and understand in our lives. As human beings, we wish that we could find answers to our questions, that we could see palpable proof of God’s presence in our lives and that we could know what to believe and what not to believe. We wish that we could not only understand that the Gospel is truth, but also see and know the Gospel as truth.

The world around us is often a difficult place to live in and understand. And, as people who are trying to navigate this world, we are thirsty for a faith that is both easily understandable and easily accessible. We are craving a faith that will guide us and give us strength along our journeys.

Let’s be honest – we struggle – every single day. And while faith may seem like the obvious place to turn to when we are struggling, so very often during those difficult times God seems far away and our faith is lost.

In this morning’s Epistle reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, the author described faith as, “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The author reminded us of the faith of Abraham; a man who – thousands of years ago – journeyed through his life and faith often not knowing where he was going; a man who faced real challenges and whose faith helped him fight to overcome them; a man who saw difficult times and whose faith could have been lost.

Faith is not something that we can always see tangibly, but time, history and scripture have proven to us that it is something that is real and that is active in our lives.

I come from a long line of clergy; my mother is ordained and still serving a congregation here in the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ and my grandfather and great-grandfather were ordained clergy as well. Ordained ministry runs through our veins; but each generation of clergy saw and continues to see a very different view of the church and ministry.

Church ministry is very different today than it was 10 years ago … 25 years ago … 50 years ago. The world is different, people are different and – yes – our churches are different. Our churches have changed and continued to change. I am sure that many of you sitting here today have been around Westfield long enough to witness some of these changes. Some things have changed us for the better; some changes are kind of scary for us to experience. And while I do not think that our faith has changed, I do think that the way we access and express our faith has changed.

Where does faith fit into these changes?

I was reading a commentary on this passage from Hebrews and the author posed the question, “Do we live in an age of faith?”

What do you think? Do you think that we live in an age of faith?

This is actually a really intriguing question for me to think about. As I watch churches around the country decline in numbers and vitality, I am tempted to answer ‘no’. I think that we live in an age of social media, where people build virtual connections and community instead of physical ones. I think we live in an age where youth and children have sports commitments and adults have work commitments on Sunday mornings. I think we live in an age where both parents are working and do not have as much time to volunteer. I think we live in an age where people are turned off by the church. I think we live in an age where the church often does not seem relevant to people’s lives. I think we live in an age where people who are active in church communities are in the minority, not the majority.

But we also live in an age where – because of the Internet and social media – people are exposed to a lot more pain and tragedy than they used to be. We live in an age where people struggle in real ways – physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. We live in an age where our to-do lists seem to grow and our time seems to disappear. We live in an age where we can never seem to catch up. We live in an age where we are constantly asking difficult questions and not finding any answers. We live in an age where people are crying out for help.

Let’s face it – we live in an age where we need faith more than ever.

The same author, the Rev. David Gray, that posed the question, “Do we live in an age of faith?” also spoke beautifully on why we so desperately need faith in our lives. Gray wrote:

It is difficult to follow God when we are not sure where God is leading. When we do not see evidence of action, we begin to wonder whether God is watching over us. We hope that God is watching. We see loved ones grow ill and pray in faith that God will hold their future. Then every once in awhile something positive happens in our faith, something special that restores our conviction, strengthens our hearts, and reminds us why we believe what we believe.

Faith matters. Our faith gives assurance that God has our best interests at heart, knows what we hope for, and holds our future.

We can hope, but in faith we often have to trust God and other people with our future and find our assurance outside ourselves.

Believing in something is what faith is all about. Our faith is a gift of God’s grace.

{Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, Page 328}

Faith is truly a gift that has been given to each and every one of us. It exists within us and it exists in different and unique ways.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to crowds who had gathered, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The world can be a very scary place to live in, but we are reminded through Jesus’ words that we are not alone, that God is with us always and that – if we allow it to – our faith will carry us through the ups and the downs of life.

Yes, I think we do live in an age of faith. But I also think that we live in an age of a new kind of faith. I think we live in an age where faith is personal, where faith is individually based and where faith is challenged. I think we live in an age where faith is expressed in a multitude of ways – yes within our religious traditions, but also in the secular worlds that we live in every day. I think we live in an age of faith where we do not need to separate our faith from the rest of our lives, but rather where we should live our lives faithfully.

And I do think that now more than ever we, as church communities, need to create a space for people to engage, explore and strengthen their faith.

“Be dressed for action,” Jesus said, “and have your lamps lit.”

So let the light of your faith shine. Let it shine in this church, let it shine in your families, let it shine in your communities and let it shine in the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Good Friday

The altar looks like this …

… and yet outside …

… it looks like this.

Weird contrasts during the Easter Triduum.

I grabbed breakfast to go so I could get to church early today …

… and there was a card waiting for me in the office!  Thank you thank you thank Carrie – I love it!

Our church is open from 8 to 6 today for people wanting to come in for a time of personal Good Friday reflection and meditation.  This is the bulletin that I prepared – feel free to take it and worship!

Wishing you peace for your journey …
Sarah

***

REHOBOTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
GOOD FRIDAY
A GUIDE FOR PERSONAL PRAYER & REFLECTION
Rev. Sarah Weaver – Pastor
Friday, April 22, 2011

Prepare yourself for worship by reading this portion of Psalm 52, a Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do no cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:10-12

What part of this portion speaks to you in this moment? Read it several times, pausing for silent reflection between each reading. What words continue to jump out at you?

Holy Week can be a time of anxiety and guilt. As you hear, think about and possibly struggle with the story of the crucifixion this year, I invite you to offer those thoughts to God with this Prayer of Confession.

Almighty and everlasting God, always more ready to hear than we are to pray, always willing to give more than we either desire or deserve: pour upon us the abundance of your mercy; forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, your Begotten One, our Sovereign. Amen.

Hear, believe and live out these Words of Assurance:

One fact remains that does not change: God has love you, loves you now, and will always love you. This is the good news that brings us through this dark Easter Triduum – and gives us new life on Easter morning. Amen.

Hear now what happened after the crucifixion, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sire, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Matthew 27:62-66

It is hard to sit through Good Friday – we want so badly for Easter morning to be here so we can proclaim, “Christ is Risen!” But we know we have to wait. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Slowly inhale. Slowly exhale. Now – pray these words:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do no cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:10-12
Here is the Psalm in its entirety …
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing* spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51

Now slowly bring yourself out of your personal prayer & reflection by singing – either to yourself or out loud – Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind by now I see.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.

(To hear it sung click here.)

MAY GOD’S PEACE BE POURED OVER YOU AS YOU WAIT FOR THE RESURRECTION.