My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

Hi friends!

Yesterday was Star Sunday at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  We did this for the first time last year and I think it really started to gain traction this year.  My sermon is part sermon and part star story.  After I preached, I invited three members of the congregation to stand up and share their star stories.  It was wonderful!  I hope next year more people are interested in sharing, as well.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 7, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

After hearing my colleagues talk about them for several years, I introduced star words at RCC for the first time last year. Truth be told, more than anything else, I was just excited to get a star word of my very own. I have never been great at resolutions and I thought perhaps this would focus me throughout the year in a way that resolutions always have failed to.

So Star Sunday arrived and I eagerly preached my sermon and then sent around the basket of star words. Having had cut out the stars earlier that week, I knew the different words people were receiving.

Faith
Confidence
Mercy
Determination
Hope
Devotion
Compassion

The list goes on. I could not wait to see what I would pick.

The basket came around to me, I reached in, grabbed my star and …

… responsibility. My star word was, responsibility.

First of all, the irony of the whole scenario was not lost on me. I had literally announced my pregnancy two days earlier, so my initial thought was that perhaps God had a way funnier sense of humor than I ever realized because I certainly would be taking on a huge responsibility in 2017.

Beyond that, though, I kind of thought the word was, no offense to anyone who gets it this year, kind of lame. Being responsible, in and of itself, is not particularly fun most days; why would I want to spend an entire year thinking about it?

But given the fact that I had just preached a sermon saying we could not choose our own star words, I went with it. And what I learned throughout the year is that there are far more layers to this word than I initially thought.

12 months ago, I thought I would stand up on Star Sunday in 2018 and tell you all of the responsible things I did in 2017. I thought I would tell you that I revolutionized the way I organized my house and office (which I tried to do); I thought I would tell you that I finally figured out a good system for dealing with my taxes (which I mostly did); and I thought I would tell you that I finally made a long-overdue dentist appointment (which I did not).

However, I feel like my revelations on responsibility came from a much deeper place than the adulting I was just trying to avoid.

A few weeks into the year, my sister came across a company that makes bracelets and necklaces with custom words on them. She offered to buy me one and asked me what word I wanted engraved on it.

“Responsibility,” I told her.

“That’s weird. Don’t you think it will confuse people?” she asked me.

She had a point.

But in wearing this bracelet almost every day, I was asking God to open my eyes to understand responsibility in a new and deeper way.

First of all, when I put this bracelet back on after a three-month hiatus from wearing it while I was on maternity leave, it kind of took my breath away. Of course, you all knew this was going to happen, but the second Harrison was born, this word overwhelmingly took on a new meaning. Being a mom is, by far, the most responsibility I have ever had. Decisions – even the seemingly small ones – always seem daunting. I cannot count the number of times Bruce and I have looked at one another with the most perplexed looks on our faces until one of us asks the question, “Uhhh, what now?”

To which the other usually replies, “Not a clue.”

But even more than that, I strongly believe God has opened my eyes to my responsibilities as a Christian; as an individual Christian living in this world, as an ordained leader in the church and as the pastor of this church.

As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to proclaim a Gospel that changes lives and is inclusive to all. I believe I need to be unapologetically authentic in my faith and show others that it is possible, through our faith, to create the type of peace that this world so desperately needs. I have realized this year that negative stereotypes about Christians only exist if we allow them to; it is our responsibility to illuminate Christianity through a positive lens.

As a church, I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate an environment where love always wins, light always shines and grace always prevails. We need to open our doors and show hospitality to all people and create opportunities for worship, service and learning that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. We need to focus on our outreach and evangelism efforts and welcome others into our community. We need to be honest, transparent and humble as we tend to the business of our organization, particularly as we implement our new structure this year.

And the reason I mention all of these things is not to pawn my star word off on you; but to point out that I feel like, as a church, we did a lot of these things last year.

Or, at least, we tried to.

And it was only the beginning.

I love the passage we heard from the prophet Isaiah:

Arise! Shine! For your light has come!

The prophet spoke these words as a vision of Jerusalem’s coming exaltation. The nation had just come out of exile; light was dawning and Jerusalem was being drawn into that light. Today, as we read these words, we remember that God’s light is dawning here and we, too, are being drawn into that light.

So let God illuminate your star word this year. If you get a word that you are immediately excited about, shine God’s light onto that word with fervor and enthusiasm. If you get a word that you think is totally and completely lame, shine God’s light onto that word with trust and hope.

Today, we will receive new star words. Like the wise men followed the star to see the Christ child in Bethlehem, we, too, will follow our star words this year. Perhaps we, too, we travel a journey that will change our lives. Perhaps we, too, will see the world in a new light. Perhaps we, too, will find Christ in our midst.

So, arise! Shine! God’s light is here, lighting your star words for the year ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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May We Be Joyful

I was SO excited about worship this week.  The amazingly talented Mary Bee was in town and singing in worship.  She sang the Francesca Battistelli song, Heaven Everywhere and also Sweet Little Jesus Boy.  I was able to bring in a drummer and a bass player for Heaven Everywhere, which just rounded out the sound.  It was so much fun!

Next Sunday is Christmas Eve!  That’s so hard to believe.  I know technically it is Advent 4, but we are going to have our Family Worship & Pageant at the 10AM service this year.  The pageant is shaping up to be adorable, as always (and I am not just saying that because my son is going to be a lamb).  One of the parents came to me with a really cute idea and it’s going to be so fun to see it all come together.

I hope you all are are finding God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season!  Thank you for being part of my year.  I am thankful for you!

Many blessings,
Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 17, 2017

Luke 1:46-55

May We Be Joyful

I think I have mentioned this from the pulpit before, but as a way of introducing this sermon, it is worth repeating: I have a Mary medal that I sometimes wear around my neck. In fact, I was wearing it when Bruce and I first met, causing him to – he admitted years later – assume I was Catholic and consider what it would mean for him to convert if we ever got married.

What can I say? I love Mary. On a very human level, she fascinates me. I love her story, I love her obedience and I love the way God used her – an ordinary, humble, not particularly wealthy or powerful girl – as a vessel for God’s ministry in the world.

All of this is to say: I get excited when I have the opportunity to preach on Mary because I think she has a lot to teach us. Our scripture reading for this morning is no different; it is known as the Magnificat, which is the Song of Mary.

So let’s review the story: An angel appeared to Mary and told her she was pregnant with God’s son and that she was to name him Jesus. Mary asked her how this was possible, because she was a virgin and the angel told her that nothing was impossible with God. With faithful obedience, Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.”[1]

Shortly after, Mary traveled to a Judean town to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant (with John the Baptist). When Mary arrived, scripture says Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb and then Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith. ‘Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth said. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary responds to this praise with the scripture we just heard, the Magnificat; Mary responds to Elizabeth by proclaiming God’s greatness and finding delight in the wonder of God.[2]

The Magnificat appears in Advent every year and, I have to admit, last year when it came around, I gained a new respect for Mary. At the time, I was, like Mary, in the first trimester of my pregnancy, feeling like garbage and – you can ask my husband for confirmation – not really proclaiming the greatness of anyone or finding delight in anything at that point.

And yet, here is Mary, pregnant with God’s son and joyfully singing about how wonderful God is.

Now, Mary’s faithful obedience when she said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” has always been striking to me. In fact, I had that passage read at my ordination; in my mind, there was no greater call in scripture than the one to give birth to Jesus. I have always figured if Mary could handle that, I could handle parish ministry.

But I realized as I was reflecting on the Magnificat this year that Mary was more than just obedient when she responded with affirmation to God’s call; she was joyful. She praised God, saying that future generations would call her blessed because of the work God was doing through her; she gave thanks for the good things God was doing for her and spoke of God’s power and charity.[3]

Let’s get this straight: Not only did Mary say, “Okay, God, I trust you; I guess we are doing this whole Jesus thing,” she also said, “And do you know what, God? You are amazing.”

Mary was not just obedient when God called her to do something that was not easy; she was happy about it!

It is not easy to remain faithful and obedient to God when you are faced with challenges and adversities. But to do so with praise and adoration? Now, that is truly the remarkable part of this story.

I have always been intrigued by the way this passage appears in the lectionary cycle. We are actually supposed to readying chapter 1, starting with verse 46b, not at the beginning of the verse.

Verse 46 says this:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”[4]

The verse, itself, is just barely two parts: A – “And Mary said,” and B – “My soul magnifies the Lord”. But the lectionary instructs us to start with the second half, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” not necessarily citing Mary for what is being said.

As I was reflecting on this text this week, particularly the exclusion of Mary in how it shows up in the lectionary, I realized that perhaps this was an intentional way of forcing us to put ourselves in the narrative.

It is easy to read these words and attribute them to Mary. An angel appeared to her and told her God was going to use her for something amazing; that is a pretty compelling argument.

It is much harder, however, for us to read these words and attribute them to ourselves.

Because not only do we have to say yes to God, but we also have to be happy about it.

How are you proclaiming God’s goodness right now? How are you finding delight in God?

As with most things faith-related, this is easier said than done. It is not easy to trust God in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty of life, let alone praise God while we do so.

Mary’s role in the Christmas narrative reminds us that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But the Magnificat takes this one step further, boldly teaching us that as we respond to God’s call, we should do so with both trust and praise.

We have entered the time of year when many of us are reflecting on the year gone by and setting some goals for the upcoming year. As we do so, I think we should take the time to listen to God speaking to us; calling us to do God’s work in this world; in our families and in our communities.

And we need to do so by praising God for all that God is doing within us; for all who God believes we can be.

Mary sang in the Magnificat,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. [5]

As we reflect on 2017 and also think about what we want to do in 2018, may we all remember these words. Just like Mary, God is doing great things with each and every one of us. God is using our stories to tell the story of our faith. Our lives are bearing witness to the Christian story and to a God who believes that we can tell this story.

Think about this: God believes in us! God believes we can be part of this Christian story. God believes that we can share the Gospel and make this world a better place.

Just like God called Mary 2,000 years ago, God is calling us today. And faith is not only believing that we are who God says we are, but it is also giving thanks to and praising God for calling us to serve.

Because it is a wonderful calling.

So may we be joyful as we respond to God’s call this Christmas season and into the new year. And, like Mary, may we magnify God’s light in our lives, may our spirits rejoice in God’s name and may people know that we are blessed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 1:26-38, NRSV
[2] Luke 1:39-45, NRSV
[3] Luke 2:46b-55, NRSV
[4] Luke 2:46, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:49, NRSV

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Repent And Be Transformed

Hi Friends!

When I went to upload my sermon I was reminded that I have three separate documents with three different versions of Sunday’s sermon.  I couldn’t figure it out!  It just wasn’t working – probably because I was preaching on repentance and – ugh.  That’s hard.

I hope you enjoy my sermon!  I named my struggle right off the bat and I think people really relate when I do that.  But working through this actually gave me a lot to think about as I approach my own Advent season.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 3, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

Repent And Be Transformed

I told Bruce on Friday night that I was struggling with my sermon for this weekend and when he asked me what I was preaching on and I said, “repentance,” he replied, “eeeek.”

So here’s the deal: It’s Advent. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas. Homes are being decorated, Advent calendars have started, holiday cards have been ordered and Christmas music fills the aisles of stores bustling with shoppers crossing things off of their lists.

No one wants to go to church during this magical season and hear the preacher drone on about repentance.

The Gospel of Mark says:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4, NRSV)

Bruce’s suggestion? Change the scripture.

There is something very magical about the Christmas story. Baby Jesus is born and placed lovingly in a manger and all is calm, all is bright and then we light some candles and sing, Joy to the World!

But this morning’s reading from the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark does not put us in the manger with the baby Jesus; it puts us in the wilderness with John the Baptist.

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5, NRSV)

There are four Gospels in the bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Two of these gospels – Matthew and Luke – begin with the birth narrative, with the Christmas story where Jesus is born.

But that is not where the Gospel of Mark starts. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry; it begins with John the Baptist entering the scene in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. There is no baby Jesus; no star for the wise men to follow; no animals milling around; no angels singing, Glory to the Newborn King!

Just a man preaching repentance, calling people to confess their sins.

John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1:6-8)

Now what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?

Mark stands in stark contrast to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where angels appear, babies are born and shepherds rejoice. Mark begins the story of Jesus by calling followers of Christ to repent and to be baptized as they confess their sins.

This is not the Christmas story many of us are used to. And yet, maybe this is exactly what we need this Christmas season.

It is easy to get caught up in the magic of Christmas. I do it all the time (the fact that I have two Christmas trees is proof of this fact). We deck the halls and sing Christmas carols and fill our homes with beautiful lights. Everything is so festive that sometimes we forget that, at the very beginning of it all, Jesus was born into a very broken world, a world that needed Christmas.

I do not know about the rest of you, but right now I feel like the world we are living in is also very much broken; it, too, needs Christmas.

And, as a pastor preaching her way through the season of Advent, I cannot help but think this whole repentance thing was the whole reason for the Christmas story in the first place. Jesus came into this world because the world needed to repent; the world needed to be redeemed. It was through our brokenness as human beings that God’s hope, peace, joy and love appeared in a manger 2,000 years ago and, I have to believe, that the same thing will happen again today.

I think the way Mark’s gospel begins reminds us that living into our call as Christians does not necessarily start with the magic of a manger; but with the hard work that is required to confess our sins and admit our own brokenness. The way this Gospel tells the narrative of Jesus’ life teaches us that part of the magic of Christmas is remembering why Jesus came into this world to begin with.

Which means that every time we celebrate Christmas, perhaps we should start by remembering why we need it in the first place.

And this is where repentance comes in.

Bruce joked with me yesterday that he would be happy to get up and repent for the, what I thought was a, questionable decorating decision he made at our house on Friday night when we were decorating for Christmas.

And I totally would have let him, but then I would have had to repent for the fact that, when I saw what he did, I immediately said, “Oh so this is the tacky side of the room, isn’t it?”

I think we all have moments in our lives that we wish we could take back.

And that is the point of repenting, is it not? That we look in the mirror, see the whole of the person that we are – including our faults and our imperfections and the things that we have said that we did not necessarily mean to – admit where we have fallen short and ask for forgiveness?

This is not easy. I know I am making light of it by talking about marital squabbles over Christmas décor, but true repentance – the kind that comes when we really dig deep and confess the things we have done wrong – is hard. It is not easy to hold ourselves accountable for the things we have done while we seek to also be the people God is calling us to be.

But we do this stepping out on faith, knowing we are forgiven, knowing we are loved and knowing we are made whole by God.

The cool thing about the Advent season is that it reminds us that Jesus’ work is not done yet. As we “prepare the way of the Lord,” we remember that it is always possible to prepare our hearts and our lives for the hope, peace, joy and love of God through Jesus Christ; we bear witness to the truth that redemption is not a one-time thing.

I believe in the power of the Christmas story. And I believe that when we start with repentance, we do so not out of guilt or shame, but out of trust in God and hope that we will be transformed this Christmas season.

So, as we continue journeying our way through the Advent season, I invite you to repent. Do not be scared of it; be freed by it. Allow yourself to be transformed as you look honestly at who you are and open yourself up and see how God’s hope, peace, joy and love can come into your life today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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