But We Do See Jesus

What a beautiful day!  The sun came out after days of rain (I almost typed “the son came out” which I suppose would work too!) and we had a wonderful World Communion Sunday celebration.  Honestly, World Communion Sunday kind of snuck up on me – October in general has snuck up on me.  Things have been so crazy around here lately!  But we had an altar full of bread and I got to talk to the kids about World Communion Sunday before we gathered around the table and grace abounded in mysterious ways!

Here is my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 4, 2015

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

But We Do See Jesus

Do you ever wish that life came with an instruction manual?

Think about it: In a world constantly full of questions and the unknown, do you not appreciate those fleeting moments when the lessons you need to learn are black and white; when there are clear-cut answers about what is right and what is wrong, what to do and what not to do?

For example: I learned a valuable lesson in chemistry this week. I had to take off my gel nail polish so I was at home one night soaking my nails (this is completely irrelevant to the scripture, but in order to remove the gel and acrylic nail polishes that last longer, you have to soak your nails in pure acetone for about 30 minutes). I poured the acetone into a glass bowl and when I was done decided that I wanted to try to save it so I could use it again.

So – without really thinking it through – I poured the acetone into a plastic cup so I could funnel back into the container.

This did not end well.

But you see, this was one of those instances in life where – even though I had to learn the hard way – there was a very clear-cut delineation between right and wrong; cause and effect. If you were to stand up right now and ask me what happens when you pour acetone into a plastic cup, I could give you a definitive answer.

(Plastic – MELTED. Acetone – EVERYWHERE. Cooking utensils – RUINED.)

But if you were to ask me why a gunman killed ten people and wounded seven others at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on Thursday afternoon – well, I would not have a clue how to answer that question. If you were to ask me why you or your loved ones were in pain or facing a scary medical diagnosis – I would be at a loss for words. If you were to ask me why bad things happen to good people or why people experience pain and suffering – I would probably say, “I have no idea.” If you were to ask me how we are supposed to live our lives and find balance in this crazy and imperfect world – I might just change the subject.

There are far more unanswered questions in this world than there are answered ones. And the unanswered ones are so often the really personal ones. They are the questions that create pain in our lives. They are the questions that threaten our families; that cause us to experience loss and grief; and that make us wonder what we are supposed to believe in.

We all have these questions in our lives.

In this morning’s scripture reading, the Hebrew people were asking very similar questions. They were Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem during the first century, exploring their bourgeoning faith in the risen Christ. They were facing persecution because of this faith. Their lives were in danger, their families were threatened and their communities were falling apart. They, too, were asking where God was and what God was doing in the midst of all of this chaos.

This was how the author of this letter responded to these questions:

As it is, we do not yet see everything … but we do see Jesus. (Hebrews 2:8-9)

We do not see everything, but we do see Jesus.

Think about this: We may never be able to fully understand this world that we are living in. We may never find the key to unlocking the great mystery of our faith. We may experience suffering and heartache and not understand why. We may not know how to help people in their times of need or be able to take away their pain.

But in the midst of all of this, we can still see Jesus. We can read the stories in the gospel; we can learn about Jesus’ life. We can try to live our lives as a reflection of the light that Jesus brought into this very dark world. We can believe in the resurrection – not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but also in resurrection in our own lives.

We do not know what God looks like or what, exactly, God is doing or what the big plan is for all of us. So often we are stumbling around in the darkness of our lives trying to navigate a very uneven path. We cannot see any clear-cut answers about why things are happening and what we are supposed to do next.

But in those moments, we can still see Jesus.

In the third verse of the first chapter of this book, the author refers to Jesus as the “exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3) and I think that this is a really valuable piece of scripture for us to hold onto. Because there are certainly moments in our lives where we have a hard time seeing God. It is okay to admit that.

We live in an imperfect world; we all have moments of pain, fear, doubt and anguish. We cannot always find God in the midst of the chaos that is ensuing around us. We cry out to God and scream to him, “Why me?” and start to wonder if anyone is listening.

But in those moments, we can still see Jesus. We can still see the exact imprint of God’s very being, born into the flesh of a child, who lived as a human being just like us and who stumbled through life in this imperfect world. We can still see the exact imprint of God’s love for us, which was so strong that God came into being in the form of a life that we could see and understand and mirror in our own actions. We can still see the exact imprint of God’s mercy and redemption, who – in human form – resisted oppression, showed compassion and believed reconciliation was possible. We can still see the exact imprint of God’s grace that is still very much alive and at work in our lives today. We can still see Jesus.

This is what we need to hold onto in our own lives. This is what we need to cling to in those moments when all else seems lost and when we do not know where to turn.

There are so many questions in this world (and in our lives!) that we do not have answers to. But in those moments of utter confusion, we need to peer into the gospel stories and realize that the truth of this pandemonium lies somewhere within this paradox of our faith: That sometimes resurrection must come from death and that through Jesus, we have tangible proof that God’s love always wins.

So – in a world full of chaos and confusion, where the unknown often far outweighs the known, I think that we are called to look deep into our faith and remember that – despite all of our questions – we can still always see Jesus. We can remember what he did, the lessons that he taught and they way that he called others to stop what they were doing to follow him. We can remember that he used the imperfections of this earthly world to foster hope and healing. We can read the words that Jesus spoke as recorded in scripture and then say them in our own lives; using them as battle cry in the fight against all the things that are not fair in this world. We can emulate Christ because we live in a world that is so often filled with darkness and we can shine Christ’s light into that darkness; a light that can never be extinguished. We can never give up, because Jesus never gave up.

So, hard to believe, but I think that the chemical reaction of acetone and plastic might actually have been the easiest lesson of my week.

Look, we may spend our lives searching for answers to those really difficult and heartbreaking questions; but I want you all to know that God’s grace is always found in the midst of that search.

And I am certain of this – I am absolutely certain of this – because of who Jesus was; who Jesus was in life, in death and in resurrection.

There are things in this world and in our lives that may always remain a mystery, but in the midst of all of them, we can still see Jesus.

So believe in who Jesus was. Share the stories of Jesus’ life with the people around you and emulate him in your own life. Seek comfort in the Gospel when things are falling apart around you. Shine a light into this world that can never be extinguished. Let love win. And live your life so that when others look at you they can see Jesus reflecting right back at them.

Always believe that, through it all, we can still see Jesus.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Letting Go Of The “Stuff”

Good morning! Hard to believe, but this is the last Sunday of our summer worship schedule!

Enjoy the sermon …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 1, 2013

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Letting Go Of The “Stuff”

Our congregation said goodbye to a good friend this week, Bob Wray. In my homily at the memorial service I spoke of Bob’s faithful, yet humble generosity to this church and of the lives he touched – and will continue to touch.

Later in the service there was an opportunity for those who had gathered to share their own reflections on Bob’s life. And much to my surprise, most of those reflections came from moments in people’s lives when they – as well – experienced Bob’s generosity. Throughout his life, most people never spoke of the gifts that Bob had given to them because he never wanted any public recognition.

And yet people always wanted to say “thank you” – so in his death, they were able to honor a humble man with a word of thanks.

As we processed to the cemetery later on that day and paused at Bob’s house to pay one final tribute, I thought about my reaction to those reflections. It wasn’t necessarily the generosity that surprised and touched me so much – it was the humility. It was the sincerity in which he did not want acknowledgment for what he gave. That was what was truly remarkable. Yes, I do think that generosity is something to be celebrated, but the humility in which some people choose to be generous is something to be exalted.

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” we read in the Gospel this morning.

What does it mean to be Christian?

Oftentimes when I reflect on the Gospel I focus on its call for us to reach out to the poor and the marginalized and to give of our time and our resources. I wonder if I should be giving up more, living with less or finding new ways to truly be in solidarity with those less fortunate. I am no millionaire, but I do enjoy luxuries that so many do not have. I even take for granted my access to clean drinking water, food, shelter, transportation and healthcare. Should I give it all up? Is that what it means to truly live out the Gospel? Is that what we are called to do in our own lives?

That is a tall order.

This morning’s Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus calls us to do more than simply give things up and give to those around us. Jesus showed us that being a follower of the Good News has more to do with how we give things up and how we give to those around us.

Do not assume a position at the place of honor at a wedding, Jesus told the Pharisees in a parable. Do not host a meal at your home and only invite your friends, relatives or wealthy neighbors, but welcome those off the street. Jesus denied the old adage, “don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want to have,” and reminded us that it is not always about moving up, having more or getting better. It is about service – selfless and humble service.

Be humble in your actions and in your outreach to others, Jesus wanted us to remember. Do not always look to be repaid.

This parable is a beautiful reminder to us that living out the Gospel does not really have to do with “stuff.” It is has to with people.

The fall months are quickly approaching. After a (hopefully) Sabbath-filled summer, we are busily preparing for a new program year here at the church. We are about to be inundated by words and phrases like “church school,” “youth fellowship,” “stewardship,” “nominating,” “the bazaar,” “homeless awareness weekend,” “missions committee events” and “cabinet meetings.” It is easy to get caught up in these things and start to worry solely about the “stuff” – about whether everything is set up properly, if there are enough people to help out, how much money we have, if it was more successful than last year or whether other people can see what we are doing.

Even in our own lives, we are often pressured to get caught up in the “stuff.” Is our house big enough? Do we drive the right car? Was that party that we threw big enough? Did we get enough ‘likes’ on our latest Facebook post?

But the Gospel tell us that – before any of the rest of that “stuff” matters – we need to focus on the people that surround us.

“Let mutual love continue,” the Letter to the Hebrew people says. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”

Do you think that we can do that this year? Do you think that we can heed this call, let go of the “stuff” and focus on how we act towards others? Do you think that we can be humble in what we do and gracious in our relationships?

This will not be an easy feat. The notoriously difficult part about being a member of the Body of Christ is resisting the humanness that exists within us all that seeks acknowledgment, perfection and success. It is who we are as humans and – unfortunately – it is the world that we all live in.

But I think that God not only calls us to rise above this humanness, God also gives us the strength to rise above this humanness as well.

“Let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God,” Hebrews says, “that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

This year, I challenge us all – in our personal lives and here at the church – to offer a sacrifice of praise to God. I challenge us to emulate and embody the humility that Jesus showed within his own life. Let us not seek to live a life that matters by cultural and societal standards, but rather let us seek to live a life that matters by God’s standards.

Let us be humble in our actions, in our service and in our generosity.

Let us be in service with others, not for others.

Let us love unconditionally, even when that is difficult and makes us uncomfortable.

Let us remember that it is God who calls us to live our lives a certain way – not the people around us.

Let us let go of the “stuff” that makes us human and embrace the God that makes us whole.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Cloud Of Witness In Our Midst

Please enjoy my reflection for this morning.  I spent the week in Washington D.C. with the youth group on a mission trip.  My words are brief – I wanted everyone to hear from the kids, not from me.

I will post some pictures soon – we had an AMAZING trip!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 17, 2013

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The Cloud Of Witnesses In Our Midst {Mission Trip Reflection}

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said these words in 1963. A piece of this quote is carved into a large stone at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC, a city that 15 of our bright, talented and compassionate youth travelled to this past week for a mission trip. These youth embodied the words of Dr. King; they stepped outside of their comfort zones and rose to the occasion of outreach and service.

The stories from the week and the lessons that were learned are not mine to share. I have invited several members of the youth group to speak this morning, so what I have to say is going to be brief.

When I first read the scripture for this morning, I knew that it would eloquently prepare us to hear about this year’s mission trip:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

So often when we hear the phrase, “cloud of witnesses,” we think of the people who have come and gone before us. But we forget that Jesus called all people – those who are living on earth and those who have been resurrected to a new life – into his ministry.

The 15 members of the Rehoboth Congregational Church Youth Group that traveled to our nation’s capital this week, that worked diligently at outreach sites around the city, that shared a meal with the homeless community, that respectfully explored the city and that thoughtfully and openly reflected in our discussions, are indeed so great a cloud of witnesses. All of us – regardless of who we are, how old we are and how long we have been members of this church community – have something to learn from this cloud of witnesses.

The youth and adults that took part in our summer mission trip this week were reminded of why we, as Christians, engage in service. By leaving the comforts and the familiarity of their Rehoboth-area homes, they saw – first-hand – visible poverty, homelessness and inequality. They realized just how blessed they really are and felt called to action, to serve within the Body of Christ. But they also realized that – like those who came before them, those who the author of the Letter to Hebrews reminded us of – they needed their faith to give them the strength to journey forward.

As I was doing my own reflections on this week, I was reminded of a scripture that I often read at funerals. Hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “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.”

The act of service is an act of faith. And when we serve others, we are serving Christ.

And that is what we did this week.

Those on the trip were also reminded why we come together as a community to engage in service; why we are a cloud of witnesses, rather than one single star witness.

  • Our trip would not have had the depth and diversity that it had without the help of the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), a non-profit organization that creates service opportunities and exposure to young people.
  • Our trip could not have been logistically feasible without the financial donations from people within this church and community.
  • The people on our trip may not have not have had the strength and determination needed to continue to serve without the people that surrounded them every day and the people that showed their support from afar.

Abbie, Mike, Carolyn, Jodi, Deb, Jeffrey, Matt, Hannah, Morgan, Loren, Elizabeth, Julia, Jonathan, Emmie, Harry, Keighley, Caleb, Billy, Tommy and Jacob – you are a great cloud of witnesses. And members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, we are blessed to be surrounded by them.

So let us now hear their stories.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.