Say “Yes!” To God

Hi friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We capped off our Thanksgiving weekend with a wonderful Hanging of the Greens service in worship on Sunday and then a hugely successful Giving Tuesday two days later. (If you are interested in donating to that campaign, our page is still live!)

On Sunday we kicked off a three-week Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices we learn about in the Christmas story.  We started with service – and the stories of Mary and Joseph.  The sermon is shorter, because – between Hanging of the Greens and Communion – we had a lot going on in worship!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 1, 2019

Matthew 1:18-25
Luke 1:26-38

Say “Yes!” To God

I have always loved the story of Mary’s – long before I even thought of having children myself.  In fact, this passage from the Gospel of Luke was read at my ordination in 2011 – in April, two weeks before Easter.

If I remember correctly, there was a collective, “Are you sure about that?” response from the clergy helping me plan the service when I told them that was my choice.

Here’s the thing:  I think, on a very human level, I have always just had deep respect for what Mary did.  She said yes.

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

A few years ago we did an Advent bible study called The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.  There was a DVD companion to the study where the creator of the series, Adam Hamilton, took us through the Holy Land and literally showed us where the Christmas story unfolded.  One of the themes Hamilton kept coming back to was the fact that God did not use the rich and powerful to tell this story, to bring Jesus into this world; but instead he used ordinary people, just like us.  We talked a lot in our group about the ways God used and continued to use people to do God’s work in this world; and so part of our job, as Christians, is to discern what God is calling us to do in this moment in time.

This idea has stuck with me and, I think, resonated even deeper as we went through the Year of Mark last year and really immersed ourselves in Jesus’ story and thought about what it means to be his disciple.  Because the Christian story is still being written.  Yes, a significant portion of it has already happened, but there is a very relevant part that is still happening today, in our lives.  God did not stop using people to do God’s work in this world once Jesus’ time on earth was done; in fact that is when some of the real work began.

And so I think we can read the Christmas story two ways.  The first is the way we do on Christmas Eve, which is to read it, sing about it and celebrate it.  But what I want to do during Advent this year is to read it and then really take the time to think about what it means for our lives today.  Is God going to call all of us to give birth to Jesus?  Well, no; but there is more to the story than that.

This Advent we will look at three faith practices – service, hospitality and evangelism.  We will use the characters and their stories in the Christmas story to talk about how God called them, but then also think about how God is calling us today.

We begin with Mary and Joseph.

No offense to all the men out there, but speaking from my own context, I do not often read Joseph’s call story.  And it’s not intentional or anything, but I think when you are trying to finish Lessons & Carols in under an hour, you tell Mary’s story and then hit the road to Bethlehem.

Both Mary and Joseph’s stories bear a lot of similarities to one another.  Angels appear to both Mary and Joseph; the angels say, “Do not be afraid”; Jesus is named, in some way.

And, in both stories, Mary and Joseph say yes to God.

And to me, that is one of the most magical parts of the Christmas story.

They said YES to God!

God asked them to serve and they said yes.  God asked them to be part of this story of redemption and love and grace and they said yes.  God asked them to shine light into the darkness of the world and they said yes.

What is God asking you to do this year?

The Christmas story is not just about a baby being born, it is about a story that begins when ordinary people say yes to God.  And so we, as active participants in the story in our lives, today, can participate by saying yes.  We, too, can say “yes!” when God comes to us and asks us to serve.  We, too, can say, “yes!” when opportunities arise for us to share the Gospel and spread God’s love.

This Advent season I encourage you all to say yes to God.  Say yes when God asks you to serve.  Say yes, even in the moments where it seems like it might be hard.  Say yes, even in the moments when it is slightly inconvenient.  Say yes, even when you are not quite sure what God is doing.

Remember, God used ordinary people to start telling this story 2,000 years ago and God is still using ordinary people, just like us, to continue telling it today.

And that is where the real magic begins.

It is the first Sunday in Advent, a season of waiting; waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for Emmanuel – God with us – to break forth into this world, waiting for that moment when God comes to us and asks us to serve.

Waiting for that moment when we can say “yes!” to God.

Blessings on your Advent journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Walking The Walk

Hi friends!  We finished up our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount this week with a beautiful Thanksgiving worship service, which included a baptism and a beautiful cornucopia on the altar.  I used my sermon not only as an opportunity to talk about this text, but also to wrap-up what we talked about this fall.

Preacher friends, this was a great series!  There are one or two things I would tweak in terms of the schedule, but I thought 12 weeks was a good amount of time to get through it.  Did we touch on everything?  No – but you never will!  But if we had broken it down into a longer amount of time, I think it would have been too long.  Feel free to reach out by email or comment here if you’d like me to send you our schedule and any more information.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 24, 2019

Matthew 7:21-29

Walking The Walk

It is about more than talking the talk.

It is about walking the walk.

We have come to the end of our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount.

And if I had to sum it up in four words, I would say this:  Easier said than done.

Let’s face it:  We know we are blessed in the eyes of God, but my gosh sometimes it is hard to remember that fact when we are overwhelmed and feel like we just cannot do anything right.

We know we are the salt of the world and the light of the world, but you know what?  Sometimes it is easier to complain that the world is bland and dark than actually do something about it.

We know we should not let ourselves be tempted to sin, but temptation is such a force to be reckoned with in the world we live in that sometimes we cannot seem to help ourselves.

We know we should not retaliate, but instead pray for our enemies, but sometimes we just cannot figure out how to let something go.

We know we should love our enemies as fiercely as God loves us, but isn’t it just easier to hate them?

We know we should do things like pray and give quietly and not boast about our spiritual practices, but pride just has a way of sneaking in sometimes.

We know we should not serve God and wealth, but the problem is – wealth is a tangible reality of the world we live in and sometimes God is harder to see, understand and trust.

We know we should not worry and instead cling tightly to our faith, but there are also moments in our lives where our grip on that faith keeps slipping.

We know we should not judge others, but also – that’s sometimes they make it so easy.

We know the golden rule, that we should treat others the way we want to be treated, but sometimes we are tired, stressed and just over it and not able to muster up the grace to do it.

So here we are at the end of the sermon; Jesus is wrapping up his teaching on how we should live in this world and getting ready to head back out to proclaim the Good News with these disciples he has called.

And his final lesson is that following him is not about empty words, but about faithful action.  Jesus says we have to do more than simply prophesy in his name, but we have to do the will of God.  In other words, it is not enough to talk the talk, but we have to walk the walk.  It is not enough to simply proclaim that we are Christian, but our actions – and our heart behind those actions – need to back up who we proclaim to be.

And here is the part where this is all easier said than done.

Because we are human.  We are not perfect.  We make mistakes.

We get tired and anxious and do not always make the best decisions.  We find it easier to tear others down than to build them up, particularly when we are feeling vulnerable ourselves.  We do not always communicate and then the little annoyances become bigger drama.  And we forget to love people in those moments when we just really do not like them.

Yet here Jesus is saying that we have to try just a little bit harder; that this Good News – this new commandment – is not about traditions and rules, but about people and covenants.  It is about loving God and loving one another and working really hard to be in community with one another.

Sometimes really really hard.

And here’s the thing – as hard as this is to actually live out, ultimately, I think this is what we all really want for our world.

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a really simple, yet powerful image of a man – a wise man – who builds his house on a rock and another man – a foolish man – who builds his house on sand.  When the rains come the house built on the rock does not fall, but the one built on the sand comes tumbling down.  We are reminded through this image that our foundation needs to be strong because there are things that happen in this world – naturally occurring things, things that we cannot always control – that will threaten what rests on that foundation.

The rain, the floods and the wind that beat on the house represent the things in our earthly lives that pull us away from Jesus’ teachings, the things that tempt us to make the wrong choice, even when we know what the right choice is, the things that cause us to stray from the lessons Jesus is teaching in this sermon.

But this is why the work we do here is so important.

We talk about the importance of our work here, at church, a lot in terms of our evangelism, outreach and service to others, but I would argue that it is equally important in terms of our own personal growth and faith formation.  Because it is here that we strengthen the foundation of our faith; it is here that the build our faith on top of something that is strong enough to withstand the challenges we will, no doubt, face in life.

We are entering the most magical season in the calendar year.  It is a season that, in our part of the world, would otherwise be overcome with darkness; but as Christians, we boldly proclaim – both with our decorations and also with our actions – that God’s light will always shine.  It is a season that begins with a holiday that is not about gifts or other material items, but about food and fellowship; a season where families and friends put aside the differences that threaten to divide them throughout the year and gather around a table and break bread together.  It is a season where we focus on the importance of giving rather than simply just receiving.  It is a season where we believe; where we believe in the magic of the season, of the things we cannot see, of the truth that God broke through – and will continue to break through – the brokenness of our world and that God is always with us.

It is a season where we see glimpses of the world that we all so desperately want.

It is fitting that we end our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which, sort of, kicks off the whole holiday season.

Because the magic is about to begin.

Advent begins next Sunday; and in the church calendar, Advent is the start of a new year.  So it is the perfect time to give ourselves and our faith something of a reset, to remind ourselves that we have to live out our faith as well as proclaim it and to position ourselves snuggly on that strong foundation.

Because as soon as Christmas morning arrives, the real work begins.

As soon as we proclaim to the world that Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – is born, then it will be time to show them what, exactly, that means.  It will be time to move beyond the manger and into Jesus’ ministry, to celebrate a man whose birth was magical, but whose life, death and resurrection changed the world.

As you enter into the magic of the holiday season this week, I invite you to also use this time to strengthen your foundation so you are ready to go out proclaim the Good News that our savior is born on Christmas morning.  Intentionally step away from the hustle and bustle and remind yourself of the true reason for the season.  Take time for outreach and charitable giving.  Spend time in prayer.  Read and re-read the Christmas story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and marvel at how they unfold.  Believe not only in the magic of the season, but in the promise of the season, as well.  And know that God is always with you – and that you are blessed.

Your foundation will be strong – and you will be ready to proclaim the Good News to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  You will be ready to walk the walk.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Living Faithfully Now

Hi friends!

I took a week off from preaching, but not from our sermon series.  Last week the passage in the Sermon on the Mount was the “ask, seek, knock” and “the golden rule” – which was not at all planned, but timed perfectly with our annual Homeless Awareness Weekend.  It was always our tradition to have one or two kids stand up and share their experiences, but last year I actually made every single one of our participants stand up and share something that they had prepared either the night before or that morning.  They did SO well that we did it again this year and I opted not to preach at all.  There definitely is a part of me that doesn’t like to “give up” my sermon time, but honestly – it was necessary this year.  The reflections were SO GOOD and said a thousand things that I never could have.  The adults were reflecting on what the kids said all week – I told the confirmands on Sunday this week that they should be proud.

So here we are – one wee away from finishing this sermon series!  I have always loved the end of the sermon on the mount, because you can tell Jesus is getting excited to finish talking so they can hit the ground running.  The funny thing is that even though I didn’t preach last week, I kind of got my reflections on Homeless Awareness in this weekend!  I guess it’s hard for me to actually let it go completely – ha!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 17, 2019

Matthew 7:13-20

Live Faithfully Now

I have been on something of a pastor’s high these past two weeks.

It started with the bazaar; not only did we raise over $17,000, but everyone was able to jump in and do their part.  Someone told me this week that the bazaar just felt magical this year and I think many of us share that same sentiment; we were not only able to raise money for the church, but we also came together as a community, strengthening our own relationships with one another and then were able to really extend a hand of hospitality to the community.

And then we did a quick 180° and turned our attention towards Homeless Awareness Weekend, which was so incredible and inspiring and eye-opening and filled with God’s love that I am having a hard time putting to words just how much it meant to me this year.

Oh – and our kids raised $6,500; which, to quote Steve Brasier – “Wow.”

Just wow.

And then on Sunday night, we got home from dinner and Bruce asked if I could get Harrison some milk.  I opened up the fridge and had to stare at it for a good 20 seconds before I realized what had happened.

An unopened half gallon of milk had gotten pushed too close to the part of the fridge where the cold air comes out and a few packages of tortilla wraps had gotten thrown on top, causing – we think – the cold air to blow more than usual, which then caused the milk to freeze, which then caused the glass bottle that it was in to break.

And there was milk everywhere.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I had to take every single thing out of the refrigerator and then take all of the drawers and the shelves apart to clean it up.  At one point during the process one of the drawers got knocked off the counter and so then all the milk that was in it was on the floor (along with all of the produce).  It took about an hour and half, at which point I realized we had no milk to give Harrison in the morning; which is how I found myself running into Walmart at 10:45, 15 minutes before they close, saying to the greeter as I blitzed by, “I just need milk!”

The surprising part about this whole thing is that I did not cry once; which was quite the feat, given the fact that it had been a long weekend, it was late, I was exhausted and I’m pregnant, so I cry more often than I usually do.

But, given what had happened during Homeless Awareness Weekend, and still thinking about the poignant reflections the youth offered in worship that morning, I just kept thinking, “But I have the money to buy more milk.  I have a car that I can use to drive to go buy more milk at 10:45 at night.”

I can confidently say – and I am fairly certain Bruce would agree with this – that if this had happened at the conclusion of any other weekend, I would have completely lost my mind.  But there was something about coming off of Homeless Awareness Weekend that gave me a perspective I did not necessarily have, even a week ago.

I think others felt this sense of perspective as well, based on conversations I had in the office this week, with our bible study group on Tuesday morning and even in our church community Facebook group.  And while I am thrilled that Homeless Awareness had such a powerful impact on everyone this year, there is a part of me that is a little bit fearful that, over time, we are going to lose that perspective and that passion to really put the Gospel into action and make a difference in our community.

My prayer this week has been that I don’t – that we don’t – lose the spark that was ignited within us last weekend.  My prayer has been that this awareness of hunger and homelessness – of the ways that we can serve our brothers and sisters, of the ways that we can educate others and of our own privilege in the middle of all of it – remains at the forefront of our faith and our ministry.  My prayer has been that this sense of urgency does not dissipate.

There is a sense of urgency in the passage of scripture we just heard that is similar to the one I am feeling following Homeless Awareness Weekend this year.  Jesus is nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount; he and the disciples are about to hit the ground running and proclaim this message of love and redemption to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  And so in these words about the narrow gate and a tree and its fruit, Jesus is trying to convey to the disciples just how important the work is that they are about to do.

I would argue that the same is true today; that, now more than ever, it is crucial that we live faithfully in this moment, not only staying truthful to Jesus’ teachings, but also being intentional and directed about how we live our lives.

There are three points I think Jesus makes in this passage that are so relevant to the world we are living in and the ministry God is boldly calling us into.  I want to talk about them today, first in relation to how I am still processing last weekend, but also as I am preparing for the Advent and Christmas seasons and then the new year that is on the horizon.

The first point has to do with the fact that discipleship is a journey.  Jesus says that we are supposed to enter the narrow gate, the gate that leads to a harder road.  Jesus does not say that when you enter the narrow gate, you will arrive at your destination, because that is not how faith works.  It is a journey that we take throughout our entire lives, as we weave in and out of the different circumstances that may come our way.  We will never reach a point where we will have all the answers; growth is always possible.

This is important for the disciples to hear, because this new mission Jesus is deploying them on is not one of black and white rules that clearly define how we should live our lives.  Grace does not work like that.  And so as Jesus begins to wrap up this sermon so they can hit the road, he needs the disciples to understand that it truly is going to be a journey.

As we read these words today, it is equally important for us all to remember that it does not matter what brought us to this point or when in life that happened, but that, from here on out, we are all on a journey together, called to live out and proclaim the Gospel.

That was kind of the cool part about Homeless Awareness Weekend – everyone was able to get involved.  Young, old and in between; longtime members and those who are new to the community; people with a pretty good set of answers and those who have a whole lot of questions.  Together we entered the narrow gate and traveled a hard road.

The second point Jesus makes here is that following him is going to be demanding.

Now, our youth and field chaperones can tell you that sometimes demanding looks like sleeping in a cardboard box when it is 17° degrees outside.  But I think demanding goes beyond even physical demands – sometimes the demands are mental, emotional, spiritual even.  There are moments in our discipleship journeys where we will feel like we are being pushed to our breaking point, where the road seems too hard to travel.

But, Jesus says, we have to journey forward; because the road that is hard is the road that leads to life.

And so it’s a commitment, right?  It’s not just about coming to church and getting involved, but about committing to something that is hard; something that is very often counter to the expectations of the society we are living in.  There is a vulnerability in walking through that narrow gate, one that Jesus, himself, acknowledges, and yet still calls us to do, anyway.

The final point Jesus makes is that we have to be vigilant on this journey.

The second part of this passage is about a tree and its fruits, calling out false prophets who will try to sway us in a different direction.

Of course, false prophets look different today than, perhaps, they did 2,000 years ago.  But I still think there is a courageous truth to what Jesus is saying here.  I noticed it twice last weekend, the first time when our panhandlers were approached by a gentleman at the transfer station who told them that homelessness was not a problem in Rehoboth and the second time when our panhandlers on the corner of 44 and 118 had a few drivers gesture inappropriately at them.  The reason I bring this is because, in those moments, it is easy to retreat to a safe place and just wait for it to be over.  But in both of those moments, our members were vigilant on this journey, leaning into the discomfort of the demands of our faith, offering a contrary explanation about homeless to this man and then prophetically calling us in worship to pray for those who were rude to our panhandlers.

This is exactly what Jesus is talking about here.  He is asking us to call out bad behavior, revealing individual’s true colors, spirits and intentions.  He is asking us to say no to the systems and the individuals that threaten the power of God’s love and the message of the Gospel.

This is not easy; very often it requires us to step outside of our comfort zones and not follow the status quo.

But again, the narrow gate is not the one that leads to the easy road; but it is the one that leads to the road that will bring us to new life.

I think Jesus’ message here is that we have to be intentional about our faith; that it is not a destination that we passively arrive to, but a journey that we have to work hard to travel.  And I would argue that the sense of urgency that was present as Jesus spoke these words is just as strong today as it was then.  The world is broken and it needs to hear the Good News.  The world is broken and it needs to feel the Good News.  The world is broken and it needs to see the Good News lived out in real and tangible and life-changing ways.

As we enter these Advent and Christmas seasons, set goals for the new year and prepare to receive new star words in January, I charge you all to live faithfully now.

The journey may not always be an easy one; we may feel vulnerable and pushed to our breaking point at times.  But Jesus promises us new life on this journey.  And this new life will bring hope and healing to our world.

May the spark that was ignited within us continue to burn as we enter the narrow gate and follow the road that is hard; but along this road may we proclaim the Gospel to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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