Remembering That We Are All Worthy

Last year I had some major FOMO when all my friends were preaching Baptism of Christ and doing amazing remembrance of baptism liturgies and I was on the Year of Mark and didn’t get to join in on the fun.  It didn’t work out this year that I was able to do a big baptism remembrance (which honestly, I’m not sure how you do logistically that with 160 people in church anyway!) but we did do a liturgy in between concerns and celebrations where I offered a blessing from the font and then that led into the pastoral prayer.  It was lovely!  And, after receiving a lot of positive feedback, it reminded me that sometimes less is more and simple things really can make a difference in people’s lives.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 12, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

In the church year, the second Sunday of January is typically the Sunday where we remember Jesus’ baptism.  The year begins with the Advent season, then moves to Christmas and Epiphany, which we celebrated last week on Star Sunday.  Jesus’ baptism kicks off the season after Epiphany – or, “Ordinary Time” – before Lent eventually starts and begins our journey to Easter.

The thing about this particular Sunday, however, is that it is not so much officially part of the church calendar as it is a staple in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Now, for those of you who do not know, the Revised Common Lectionary is a preaching calendar that a lot of preachers and churches follow, myself included for many years.  I wandered away from it in 2018 and started taking a sermon series approach to worship planning and preaching and to be quite honest, have not really looked back.

With the exception of the second Sunday in January last year.

It was on this Sunday when it seemed like all of my friends were not only preaching Jesus’ baptism, but also doing really cool remembrance of baptism liturgies with their congregations and I was just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday.  To make worse, it was, of course, the Sunday after Star Sunday, so I was not only just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday, but I was doing so in an empty sanctuary without the 150 three-dimensional paper stars that had suspended from the ceiling the week before.

That night I logged into Facebook and a friend of mine had posted photos of the children in his church running around the sanctuary during worship with tiny spray bottles spritzing everyone so they could remember their own baptisms and it was at that point that I decided I did not care what were in the middle of the next year, we would pause and reflect on Jesus’ baptism.

Now thankfully for you all, the fact that we had an actual baptism this morning put a moratorium on the whole spray bottle thing.

However, God’s timing is a funny thing, because little did I know last year when I promised myself I would take a Sunday and reflect on baptism this year that, in that same week I was planning on doing so, we would also have a baptism is worship.  And, more than that, in the week leading up to that Sunday, I would not only schedule three more baptisms for the upcoming weeks, but I would also begin to have a conversation at a Deacons meeting about creating an official baptism policy at RCC that talks about what the sacrament means to us at church, as well as outlines our process and answers frequently asked questions.

Suffice is to say, I have thought about baptism a lot this week.

The story of Jesus’ baptism appears, in some way, in all four of the Gospels.  The stories are similar in all four accounts:  Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  The heavens open when Jesus is baptized and the spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The intriguing thing to me about the account we just heard, from the Gospel of Matthew, is that John the Baptist actually tries to prevent Jesus from having John baptize him.  John essentially says, no wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you.  But Jesus says, no, it’s okay; this is how it is supposed to happen – and then John baptizes Jesus.

I have been thinking about this exchange between John and Jesus this week, because it is one of those moments where the Body of Christ is called into being and we are reminded that we are all worthy of God’s grace.  John says to Jesus, I can’t baptize you, you need to baptize me and Jesus says, no I need this, too and you are worthy of baptizing me.

In doing this, I think Jesus sets the stage for what baptism now looks like in the 21st century.  Like so many other parts of our faith, everyone does it a little bit differently and it means a little something different to everyone, as well.

And that’s okay.

Some parents bring their children to be baptized as infants and small children and some choose to wait until their children are older and can decide for themselves that they would like to be baptized.  Some churches have infant dedications and then practice believers’ baptism.  Some churches invite godparents to stand with the candidate for baptism and others invite sponsors.  Some churches require godparents to be members of their church and others do not.  Some churches allow parents to choose if they even want godparents or not.  Some baptisms take place around a font or basin where water is splashed or poured on the candidate and some take place in a larger body of water where candidates are submerged.

My point is this – I do not think there is a right or wrong way to baptize.  Do we have our way of doing it here, at RCC?  Of course we do.  But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all worthy, both to be baptized and to baptize.  And, as the Body of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone to the font so that they can feel the redemptive powers of those living waters, so that they, too can be claimed as God’s children and called beloved.

Like I said, I have been thinking a lot about baptism this week, particularly as I began to work with the Deacons to prepare a policy for RCC that outlines not only our own process for baptizing, but also what we believe baptism means.  And I want to close out my sermon this morning by sharing something I wrote as an introductory.

Baptism is one of the two sacraments we recognize at the Rehoboth Congregational Church (the other is Holy Communion).  We believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God.  It both God’s gift and our response to that gift.  It is a tangible act where we use water to symbolize the cleansing of our sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ.  It is a sacred moment where we not only welcome an individual into our church and community of faith, but we also where bear witness to the life-changing truth that, just like when Jesus was baptized and the spirit of God descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” we are all claimed as God’s own children when the waters of baptism touch us and that God loves each and every one of us.

In baptism we make a promise to the one being baptized – and, in the case of infants and young children, their parents – that we will create a space for them here, at this church to learn and grow in their faith and love and support them on their journeys.

When we remember Jesus’ baptism, we are also invited to remember our own.  And so this morning, before our time of prayer, I will bring us through a brief remembrance of baptism liturgy.  Have no fear, there will not be any spray bottles involved!  But instead I will offer a blessing from the baptismal font and invite you to use this time as you need it today …

… to remember your own baptism.

… to remember another baptism in your life that was special to you.

… to think about what it means to be baptized in the same way Christ was.

… to know that you are claimed as God’s own child and that you are beloved.

… to feel connected with the people you are sitting with in worship today.

… to feel welcomed to gather around the font, even if you have not yet been baptized yourself.

May you remember that you are worthy, that you are claimed as God’s child and that you are beloved – and that you are loved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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My Affirmation Journey

Hi friends and Happy New Year!

Like so many other churches, we have adopted the “star word” tradition at RCC to coincide with Epiphany.  This is the 4th year we have done it, so my sermon is brief, as we invite people from the congregation to stand up and share their “star stories” from the year before.  Last year my word was affirmation, so I talked a little bit about that and also about star words in general.  If you didn’t get a star word and would like one, please let me know!  I’m happy to draw and send you one.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 5, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

My Affirmation Journey

I have an important update.

Two years ago, I stood up here on Star Sunday and began my star story about my star word, responsibility, by saying the following:

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).

Well.

Three years later, I am happy to report that – mostly because of the encouragement of Jen Healy (thank you, Jen!) I finally made that dentist appointment this year.

And I even went six months after that!

Which is my way of saying that you do not have to give up your star word just because the year is over.  The lessons that you have learned this year or the goals you have set or the inspiration that you have, perhaps, found – all of this you can carry with you into the new year as you receive your new star word.

Three years ago, we introduced star words for the first time at RCC.  For those of you who are new to Star Sunday, we celebrate it the Sunday closest to Epiphany, which is the Christian feast commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger.  Epiphany is January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas.  We receive paper stars with words written on them.  Then, like the wise men who followed a star to bring gifts to Jesus, we let the words on our stars guide us throughout the year.

Sometimes the words turn into our intentions and goals for the year.  Sometimes the words teach us lessons.  Sometimes the words give us a different perspective on things.  Sometimes the words frustrate us.  Sometimes the words confuse us all year and bring us back to Star Sunday saying, “I think maybe I did something wrong.”

But the cool part is that there is no right or wrong way to “do” star words.  And we see this, year after year, as people from our congregation share their own star stories from the year before.  Not only are everyone’s words different – but their perspectives about them are different, as well.

This year my word was affirmation.  I have to be honest, this word perplexed me from the very beginning.  I am not even sure I really knew what it meant, although as soon as I drew it, it was sort of like when you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere – I started hearing the word all the time.

The first time I heard the word affirmation was a few days after Star Sunday on a podcast; the host and her guest were talking about setting goals and intentions and how it is important to say them out loud, to put them out into the universe as a way, not only of holding yourself accountable, but also of believing in yourself and what you are capable of.

They referred to this process of vocalizing goals and intentions as daily affirmations.  Instantly I was intrigued, because this is something I have never been good at.  I have always been hesitant to set goals (or, at least, say them out loud) because I have been afraid of what happens if I do not actually reach those goals.  But I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and affirm, over and over and over again, what I thought what we, as a church, were capable of.  I raised my expectations and set goals where I used to just say, “well let’s see what happens.”

I have talked about this, off and on, throughout the year; I think my most exciting moment of affirmation came as we approached the Hillside Takeover and, despite having to overcome multiple obstacles to get to the Tiki Bar, I bravely set a fundraising goal of $5,000 and was overwhelmed when we far exceeded that goal.

But my poignant moment came the morning after Giving Tuesday.  We had set a fundraising goal of $2,019, one that, as the day went on, I was not sure we were going to reach.  I went to sleep that night and we were still well under the $2,000 mark; I actually had a moment of regret where I was mad at myself for setting an unreachable goal.  For the first time that year, my star word frustrated me more than anything.

The next morning, I logged into our PayPal account and saw that a few new donations came in; those donations, combined with the checks we had received in the office, totaled $2,019.65.

Now, in full disclosure, we had a few more donations come in over the next few day and, in the end, we ended up exceeding (I think) $2,200; however, in that moment, I was equally 1) relieved that we reached our goal and 2) needing to figure out what happens when you set an affirmation that you do not meet.

Right before the new year, I was listening to a personal finance blogger talk about the fact that she had not met her 2019 goal of maxing out her IRA contributions.  She used it as an example of how sometimes we just do not meet the expectations of our own affirmations and why not reaching our goals should not deter us from setting them again (or, in the spirit of Star Sunday, from reaching for the stars!).  Because we learn just as much from stating those affirmations and the journey to try to reach them as we do once we get there.

And, I would add, God is faithful as we take that journey.

And so I think I have taken two things out of my star word this year.  First of all, I am excited now to continue to integrate affirmations into my life, both here at the church and also at home. But second of all, I think I need to be okay with giving myself the grace I need to potentially fall short.  Because it is not about a destination, it is about the journey; and along the journey, God is faithful.

May you all see God’s faithfulness in the star words you choose this year; and may the light from that star illuminate your journey ahead.

May you find hope, wisdom and strength.

May you be inspired.

May you be frustrated at times.

And may your star word illuminate your year.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

Hi Friends!

We finished up our Advent sermon series on spiritual practices this week by looking at evangelism through the story of the shepherds and the angels.  This is my last Advent sermon – our Christmas pageant is this Sunday.  I will be back a few days after Christmas to post my Christmas sermon.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 15, 2019

Luke 2:8-20

Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

I have to admit, I had a different plan for my sermon earlier this week than where I finally landed by the time I started writing.

Okay, so perhaps not so much different, as a whole, but as I was putting some of the pieces together, I came across a commentary that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion in the end.

But I will get to that in a little bit.

This is the third and final week of our mini Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices highlighted in the Christmas story.  We have already looked at service and hospitality; the topic for this morning is evangelism.

First of all, I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by admitting that I have a complicated relationship with the word evangelism.

To some extent, I used to be kind of scared of it.  When I was in high school and college and thought about the term “evangelical” I thought about a very specific stereotype of Christian; the type of Christian that was more on the extreme side of things and, for lack of a better way to describe it, shoved religion down people’s throats.

I hate to even say this, because I really don’t like feeding stereotypes like this, but I do think that for a long time, there was this line drawn in Protestantism where you were either evangelical or you weren’t.  Unfortunately, the way I understood evangelism was in a negative context; the thought never crossed my mind that I would even have something in common with evangelical Christians, let alone consider myself one.

And yet here I am, years later, and that is exactly what I would consider myself.

In fact, that is what we should all consider ourselves.

The word “evangelize” means to preach the Christian gospel.  And, as Christians, this is something that we are all called to do, regardless if we realize it is what we are doing.  We are all called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – in both word and action.  We are all called to preach of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, a love that triumphs over evil, hatred and death.  We are all called to preach a message where redemption is real and possible and holy.  We are all called to preach the hope that comes from not being defined by our brokenness, but our wholeness in God.

This call to evangelize is something very different from what I used to understand it to be.  But this, in fact, is the scriptural call to evangelize; this is the call from Jesus, himself, to go and make disciples, to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it, to shine light into the darkness of the world.

Our 9th and 10th graders are currently going through Confirmation.  Last month during our meeting, we were talking about the history of Christianity.  One of the things I said in our conversation is that I think it is more important to understand Christianity as an experiential religion and not just memorize dates and other facts about it.  Because, at its foundation, Christianity is about an experience; it is about individuals experiencing God’s love and then sharing that experience with others.

The ironic thing is that I usually use the resurrection as an example when I talk about this.  The women who discovered the empty tomb told others what they had seen; they experienced God’s love through the resurrection of Jesus and then shared that love with others.  But if you think about it, this is also exactly what happens in the part of the Christmas story we just heard with the angels and the shepherds.  An angel appears to the shepherds and tells them that God’s love has come into this world through the birth of Jesus.  They then run to see for themselves and when they return they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”

They experienced God’s love through the birth of Jesus and then they shared that love with others.

One of the miraculous parts of this story is that people were sharing the Gospel long before Jesus even them to.  They knew they had seen and experienced something that was going to change the world and so they shared that something – that Good News – with the world.

This is evangelism.

And that, my friends, is not scary.  It does not feed into negative stereotypes.  It does not shove religion down people’s throats.  Instead it promotes the hope, peace, joy and love of this season.  It points people not only to Jesus, but to the Gospel he lived and calls us to live.  It shines light into the darkness of the world and assures people that redemption is always possible; that, even when the moments of our lives seem bleak, God is not finished writing our stories.

This is what the Christmas story calls us to do – to tell people about this kind of love, to share our stories and to invite them to be part of this narrative.

And this is where I discovered something this week that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion.  The thing is, what I have come to learn about evangelism is that it is something that we all are called to do – even those of us who might not always be comfortable talking about our faith.  We are all called to share our faith, to talk about our faith in a way that brings comfort and hope to our world.

But how do we do this?  How do we do this in a way that feels comfortable to us?  How do we do this in a way that others will listen to and understand?  How do we do this when there are so many competing voices around us, especially at Christmastime when the commercialized narrative of presents and parties and other holiday chaos is so loud?

Listen to what I came across in one of my commentaries:

As elsewhere in these narratives, the word of God come through an angel, a divine messenger.  Luke speaks of angels as easily as he speaks of human beings.  In fact, when a sign is offered as proof of the good news, it is not what moderns might regard as a sign; i.e., something as extraordinary as a heavenly host.  Rather, the sign is as common as a baby to be found in poor circumstances, lying in a feeding trough. (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Jame L. Mays, General Editor with the Society of Biblical Literature, page 931-932)

For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, 2,000 years after this story unfolded, we know that this was just not an ordinary baby lying in a feeding trough, but a savior who will not only one day proclaim the Gospel, but also live, die and be resurrected to new life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would all have a place in God’s eternal home.

But they did not know that at the time.  At the times they just saw a baby.

And yet this was their sign.  This was their sign that a miracle had just happened.  This was their sign that God’s love had broken into our world.  This was their sign that was hope was real and that redemption was possible.  This was their sign that there was Good News happening in this world that was worth sharing.

It did not come through pomp and circumstances and other extravagant things.  It came through the simple image of a newborn baby lying in a manger.

Here’s the thing – sharing God’s love does not have to be complicated and over the top.  It can be as simple as a conversation with a family member or friend about what this season means to you.  It can be a moment where you share a tangible sign of peace with someone else.  It can be sending someone a card, bringing them a meal or surprising them with decorations if their house seems dark.  It can be inviting them to church on Christmas Eve and grabbing their hand if the songs make them cry.  It can be welcoming them into your home if they don’t have family close by to celebrate with.

I think sometimes we are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism because we overcomplicate it.  We think we have to do something grandiose and over the top.  We think that our voices have to be louder than everyone else’s.  What we do not realize is that evangelism can and will happen in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of our lives.

People do not need huge and overwhelming signs to believe in God’s love, they need signs that are accessible and real and easily connect them to this story.

So if there is one thing that you remember from this particular part of this story, may it be this – you, too, can proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth.  You, too, can join the angeltude of voices singing about the birth of Christ.  You, too, can tell the world that God’s love is real and here.  You, too, can help others bear witness to the signs around them – however ordinary they might seem – that will open their eyes to God’s love.

So go, therefore and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to a world that needs to see grace in the ordinary and hope in the mundane.  Share God’s love with others this holiday season.  Sing with the angels.  And may your voices be heard and your signs be recognized.

And may the world be forever changed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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