Prepare To Change The World

I don’t normally preach on Homeless Awareness Weekend, but it light of what happened in Sutherland Springs, TX the week before, I really needed to respond from the pulpit.  We ended up having a really nice service – following my remarks and the choir anthem, I interviewed the kids that took part in Homeless Awareness Weekend and they were able to each talk a little bit about their experiences over the weekend.

Here’s my sermon!  Enjoy …

***

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

Matthew 25:1-13

Prepare To Change The World

(I could not help but laugh at the irony of the scripture that says, “Keep awake” being read the Sunday after Homeless Awareness Weekend, where students and chaperones traditionally yawn their way through worship.)

(Sometimes I think God has a funny sense of humor when it comes to what pops up in the lectionary.)

Last weekend, I was on a ministry high. We had an amazing bazaar on Friday and Saturday, we officially welcomed 16 new members into our church family Sunday morning, this year’s confirmation class was scheduled to meet on Sunday night and we were all looking ahead to our 11th annual Homeless Awareness Weekend. Church life was busy, but church life was also very good. There was vitality, a “sweet, sweet spirit in this place,” as we sung on Sunday morning.

But as I was preparing for confirmation, my phone started lighting up with news alerts from CNN; a gunman had opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Over 20 people had been killed.

A church.

A place that is supposed to be a safe space for people to gather, seek wisdom, worship God, find community and offer their prayers.

The question of how we, as a church, respond to gun violence has been the forefront of my mind all week.

The beginning of the week was a little surreal. I offered prayers for the victims of this shooting every time I gathered with even a small group of people. I participated in conversations that used the phrase, “active shooter protocol.” I reviewed our own policies and procedures and then discussed with my clergy group ways we could make our churches safer. My heart was heavy as, over and over again, I was reminded of our brokenness.

But since there was nothing I could do to fix what happened in Texas on Sunday, I turned my attention to Homeless Awareness Weekend preparations. Because not only did our youth and chaperones deserve my attention, I really do believe that the work we do makes a difference, not only in the lives of the people here, but also in our greater community and throughout the world. This weekend has, and will continue to, change people’s lives.

I also believe that, as Christians, when we are faced with adversity, it is our not only our privilege, but also our responsibility to respond with hope and to preach the Good News of resurrection and the unequivocal truth that God’s love always wins.

And so that is what we did this weekend.

As the forecast grew colder, we did adjust our plans accordingly, but this weekend RCC youth and advisors created an outward expression of God’s love in our midst. We took back the sacred space of our church sanctuary as we gathered for worship and communion on Friday night. We gathered around a table of extravagant welcome and remembered what it means to be nourished by simple elements of bread and juice, broken and poured out for every single one of us. We stepped boldly into the darkness, but did so carrying a light that illuminated the path in front of us.

On Saturday, we took to the streets, raising money for organizations who are working directly with people in need of assistance. We prepared food for the hungry, remembering when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We prayerfully discerned what it meant for us to have the ability to move parts of our weekend indoors and reflected humbly on what these harsh winter temperatures mean for people living in homelessness. We talk about the desperate need in our country for emergency shelters.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a parable; it is part of the last of the five major blocks of Matthew’s teaching and addresses what happens when God’s timing does not necessarily match up with our own timing. In this parable, ten bridesmaids went to meet the bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids brought oil for their lamps; they were described as wise. The other five did not bring oil for their lamps; they were described as foolish. The bridegroom was delayed and when he arrived, the foolish bridesmaids were almost out of oil for their lamps and had to leave to buy more. By the time they returned to the wedding banquet with more oil, the door was shut and they were not allowed in.

In this parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and, presumably, we are the bridesmaids. We are called to prepare for the coming of Christ in our lives and in the world.

The fact that this parable uses lamps in the metaphor of how we can prepare ourselves for Christ is fitting for Homeless Awareness Weekend, where we traditionally use flashlights to illuminate our walk from the church to the field after worship on Friday night and keep fires lit on the field throughout the weekend to offer both light and warmth. These symbols of light boldly call us to shine our own lights into the world, reminding us that if sometimes the world seems dark that just means WE have to find, create and share a light that all can see, witness and carry in their own lives.

But even more than that, this parable calls us to be wise as we prepare to live out God’s call for us in the world. We have to be active participants in God’s work here on earth and this is something we must commit to doing every single day. As this parable calls the bridesmaids to always keep oil in our reserves, it calls us today to be ready to shine light into a world that, far too often, is plagued with darkness. We do not always know what life will bring, but we do know that, in the midst of this uncertainty, we can bear witness to God’s light, love and grace. And in doing so, we have the propensity to transform our lives and also the lives of those we meet along our journeys.

So how do we respond to gun violence, especially when it hits so close to home, here at our church? We can prepare our church by reviewing our safety policies and procedures, which we are doing and will continue to do in the days and weeks to come.

But we can also prepare our hearts to proclaim the Gospel. We can create light and let that light shine so no one has to experience darkness. We can refuse to let evil win. We can hold onto the hope of resurrection and proclaim that hope, even when it is hard to do. We can be living and constant testaments to our faith and to a love that always wins.

We can affect change in our communities. We can take part in weekends like Homeless Awareness, so that we see a world outside of our own and use our privilege to help those less fortunate. We can participate in other mission activities, both through the church and outside of it, well. We can get involved here at the church and strengthen our community. We can encourage others and build one another up, so they, too, can resist evil, shine light, spread love and uncover grace.

Friends, it is at times such as these when we are called to show the world what it means to follow Christ. And just like those wise bridesmaids, we are ready.

We are ready.

And I do believe we can and will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Blessed Is Our Church In The Village

GUYS.

It’s been too long.  I actually took two weeks off from preaching because we had testimonies as part of our stewardship campaign and then last week was so nutty at the church that I never was able to upload my sermon.

SO – he we go.  This is my sermon from November 5th.  I used the All Saints Day liturgy, but tied it into our church bazaar weekend (which is a BIG DEAL in Rehoboth).  We received new members that Sunday and shared communion, so it was a busy Sunday with not a lot of time to preach.  That being said – it didn’t need to be a long sermon!  The message was succinct.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 5, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed Is Our Church In The Village

I told Bruce that between new members and communion, I would have approximately four and a half minutes to preach this week.

So I am going to do my best to keep my remarks brief this morning.

The reading we just heard from the Gospel of Matthew is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus taught the golden rule of kindness, the Lord’s Prayer and various other sayings and proverbs that have sustained our faith for 2,000 years.

This particular text is called, the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are expressed as the blessings that surround us; they are reminders of the blessings in our lives and a promise of the blessings God gives to us in life and beyond life. They are presented not only to those that Jesus was speaking to that day, but also to us, today, as a vision that Jesus had for heaven on earth.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a time where we remember and lift up the saints in our lives. These are the people, the cloud of witnesses who have come before us, who have impacted our lives and made this world a better place, who worked tirelessly in their lives to create that heaven on earth. We read the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday as we celebrate the ways in which all of our saints were and are so very blessed; blessed in the eyes of all of us here today and blessed in the arms of our creating, redeeming and sustaining God.

As I thought about the Beatitudes in relation to the work we, as a community, do at our annual Christmas bazaar, I was struck by the ways in which we are forming our own cloud of witnesses right here, right now, in our lifetime. The work we do here at our church in the village matters; we touch people’s lives. We are laying the groundwork that will impact the lives not only of the people in our generation, but also in the generations of people to come.

I have always said that I love the bazaar so much because it is the one time of year where everyone in the community comes together for one common goal. This does not work – we do not raise over $10,000 in two days – without the help of every single person in this community. It takes a church in the village to pull off the bazaar and this year was no different.

As I thought about the Beatitudes in relation to everything that was going on at the church for the bazaar this weekend, I could not help but think that there might be a new translation relevant to our special community.

Blessed are the turkey makers, for they spend hours in the kitchen ensuring we kick off our bazaar with a delicious thanksgiving dinner.

Blessed are the luncheon ladies, for they fill our stomachs with food, our hearts with love and our ears with good music.

Blessed are the servers, for they bring food, clear plates and ensure everyone is greeted with a smile.

Blessed are the people who work behind the scenes, setting up and cleaning up, for the work they do sometimes goes unnoticed, but is always valued and cherished.

Blessed are the crafters, for they work year round and create the most beautiful pieces to sell.

Blessed are the woodworkers, for they transform fallen trees into incredible works of art.

Blessed are the silent auctioneers, for they ask and call and solicit and put together a room with something for everyone.

Blessed are the gatherers, for they take something someone is throwing away and turn it into someone else’s fall and Christmas décor.

Blessed are the car parkers, for they wave and extend a hand of hospitality as they welcome all people onto our property.

Blessed are the bakers and the food makers, for they fill Goff Hall with the incredible smells of tasty treats.

Blessed are the advertisers, for they spread the word and invite people to come to our fun tradition.

Blessed are the money counters, for they take care of our finances.

Blessed are the Christmas tree decorators and the raffle ticket sellers, for they get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Blessed are the buyers, the bidders, the diners and the dieters who put their diets on hold for a few days, for without them we would still have a church full of stuff.

Blessed are all members of our church in the village, for they care for one another, reach out to the community, find grace and celebrate God’s never ending presence in their lives.

Friends, this morning I am grateful for the blessings that abound; for a wonderful bazaar weekend, for the 16 people who officially joined our church in the village and for the Holy Spirit that moves and grooves among us, inspiring us to live out the Gospel and change people’s lives. I am grateful for the blessings that were then, the blessings that are now and the blessings that are still to come.

Blessed are we, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, the Church in the Village.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

When People Need More

Hi all!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend.  It kind of feels like summer came back around for one final hurrah – we were debating robing this morning!  Not that I’m wanting it to snow or anything, but I’m definitely ready for fall.

Here is my sermon from this morning.  This was not an easy text to preach on!  I am always grateful for the opportunity to use preaching as a way of deepening my own faith and listening to the bold and radical call of God in my life.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

When People Need More

When my sister and I were little, my mom did the very best she could to make sure everything was equal for us.  She was obsessive about it; to the point where on Christmas morning she would tally up the amount of money she spent on gifts for each of us and whomever she spent less on, she would cut a check for the difference.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a parable that raises up questions of what equal looks like:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.[1]

In the parable, a man who owns a vineyard goes out first thing in the morning and agrees on a daily wage with a group of laborers before sending them out into his vineyard to work.  A few hours later – it is now 9AM – the landowner sees a group of people in the marketplace not doing anything and tells them to go the vineyard and work for the rest of the day.  At noon, he does the same thing; then again at 3PM and 5PM.

That evening, the owner of the vineyard tells his manager to bring the laborers in for the day and pay them.  But he asks the manager to start with the laborers who began working the latest in the day.  The 5PM laborers come in for the day and get paid the daily wage the vineyard owner had agreed on with the laborers that started first thing in the morning.

Then the 3PM laborers come in.  They get paid the same daily wage.

Then the noon laborers.  Same wage.

Then the 9AM laborers.  Do you see where this is going?

And finally, the early morning laborers. Same wage.

Now wait a minute – how is this fair?

The early morning laborers ask the vineyard owner the exact same question.

When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’[2]

This kind of reminds me of doing group projects in high school.  There was always that one person that never did any work and yet they still got the same grade as everyone else.  Did that ever happen to you? It just never seemed fair!

But, like many of my teachers in high school who told me to suck it up, take my grade and get over it, the owner of the vineyard has some tough love to share with his laborers.

He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?[3]

Technically, the owner of the vineyard has a point.  He agreed on a daily wage with the workers who went out first thing in the morning and he paid them that wage.  He did not change the terms of their original agreement.

And yet, there is part of this whole thing that just does not seem fair.

This passage is an allegory; it is meant to make us think about salvation, reminding us that God’s grace is available to all people.

But I think it has a lot to teach us about life on earth, as well.  Very much like my high school teachers who told me to stuck it up, take my grade and get over it, this passage reminds us that in life and in faith, we should not necessarily be keeping score.

This idea of what is equal comes up a lot in our country today, especially when we talk about things like healthcare and social services.  It comes up in our church a lot when we talk about pledging and where our money then goes into the operating budget.  It came up in my family as my sister and I got older and our circumstances grew different from one another and my mom struggled to still try to make things equal for us.

And while I do not necessarily have any answers about how to make things equal in the world, here is the conclusion I think I am starting to come to:  I do not think equal and fair are necessarily the same things. I also do not think equal and just are necessarily the same things. I think so much of what we give depends on what people are going through; what they need; what we can give back.

I think there are moments when some people need more than others. And I think in those moments God is far more concerned with things being fair and things being just than with things being exactly equal.

We do not know what was going on in the lives of all the laborers who started later in the day. But for some reason, the owner of the vineyard felt compelled to pay them all the same wage.

I cannot help but wonder if perhaps he knew that, for whatever reason, they needed it.

Was the compensation the laborers received at the vineyard that day equal for the amount of time they all worked?  No.

Was it fair? Was it just? That is not for us to decide.

This is a challenging parable to read because it goes against the American dream that the harder we work, the more we will gain. But I think it forces us to realize that sometimes life is not about the bottom line; it is not about compassion, mercy and justice.

I was listening to a podcast on Thursday and the host was interviewing a woman who lives in Houston.  She was talking about Hurricane Harvey and the ongoing relief efforts that were happening through her church.  As I listened to her talk, I thought about the devastation that Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria have caused in less than one month’s time, the horrifying destruction in Mexico following the earthquakes this week and of the people in our own community that are hurting in real and heartbreaking ways.

And all I could think was:  They need more right now.

I think at some point, I think we have to ask ourselves the hard, but necessary question:  Are we trying to make the world a better place or are we trying to make our world a better place? This text challenges us to look at the needs of others and prioritize those needs over our own desires. This text boldly calls us to prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be – as individuals and as a church.

In the parable, the owner of the vineyard says to his earliest laborer:

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’[4]

Generous. We serve a generous God:

A God whose grace is abundant.

A God who is just and fair.

A God who sees the needs of everyone, even if they are not necessarily visible on the outside to the rest of us.

A God who never walks away.

A God who calls the human race to rise up and help one another in their times of need.

And that time is now.

As I said earlier, the older my sister and I got, the more my mom struggled to make sure things were exactly equal for us. I think she finally gave up; and not because it was a lost cause or anything, but because she realized that at different points throughout our lives, we were simply going to need different things – sometimes less, sometimes more. And so now she just tries to meet those needs as best she can, knowing that in the end, it will all even out.

Friends, there are great needs among people in our own community, throughout the country and around the world. The depths of these needs we may never understand; but what we do understand is that God boldly challenges us to meet these needs in ways both big and small and to demonstrate generosity in our lives.

So I would encourage you to think today about how God is calling you to give back and serve those who need more right now.

For starters, come to the Soup Supper next weekend – not only is it a delicious night, but all of the proceeds are going to Hurricane relief. As with most natural disasters, the relief efforts will continue long after the storm is over. I believe this is only the beginning of our church’s outreach to the communities hit hardest. Remember that we can rise up to God’s spirit of generosity in our service.

I would also encourage you to connect here at the church and tie into the life of the community. The fall is a very busy time; there is a lot going on and there are so many different ways and places to serve. Come to our congregational meeting next Sunday after church, hear the proposal of the task force and be part of the conversation envisioning what our church structure could look like.

And here’s the thing: This text also reminds us that – in the end – God will still give us what we need. The early morning laborers received the wage they agreed on; the fact that the owner of the vineyard showed generosity with the other laborers did not mean he took anything away from the ones that started in the morning.

It is in reading this text that we remember we have nothing to lose when we show what God’s generosity can look like here on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 20:1, NRSV
[2] Matthew 20:12, NRSV
[3] Matthew 20:13-15, NRSV
[4] Matthew 20:15, NRSV