A Simple Promise

I preached this sermon during the second Sunday of Advent.  I started off by talking about a rough week, but was vague about details, because they weren’t really my details to share at the time.  Looking back, I can see where God was at work and how the light truly did shine in the midst of the darkness.  My family is almost on the other side of the particularly journey we started back in December and as the days get longer and the sun shines longer, I am reminded once again just how true this promise it.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 9, 2018

Isaiah 9:1-7

A Simple Promise

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

I have to be honest; my family and I had kind of a tough week.  And I don’t mean to be vague, but they are also not my stories to tell, so I am not really going to get into it; however, I offer that as sort of a disclaimer that we kind of walked through that darkness this week.  We needed to be reassured of that promise that light would shine.

My sister said to me at one point, “Oh, it’s Christmas, it’s supposed to be a joyful season,” and I thought, yes, but isn’t this why we needed Christmas in the first place?  It is because of our brokenness that we needed God to come into our midst and make us whole again.  It is because our world was and is imperfect and flawed and heartbreaking at times that we needed and still need a Gospel that is full of light and love and grace.  It is because we are human that we needed God to come into our midst, to experience our world in the most vulnerable and precious way.

That is the amazing part about the Christmas story, thought.  Over the years we have sort trained ourselves to think it is all about lights and cheer and fun traditions and Starbucks holiday cups, but it started with a promise.

A promise that even in the darkest moments of our lives, light would still shine.

If you did not know that this morning’s scripture reading was from the Book of Isaiah, you would probably think that it was part of Jesus’ birth narrative, right?

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

But these words were written long before Jesus entered this world; before Mary and Joseph made the 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, before an innkeeper welcomed these weary travelers into his home, before the angels heralded Christ’s arrival, before the shepherds ran to see for themselves what had happened and before the wise men followed a star to bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Book of Isaiah is dated as far back as the late 8thcentury BCE.  It is thought to have been composed primarily during the Babylonian Exile, which lasted about 70 years, beginning with the destruction of Jerusalem.  The darkness that the prophet refers to in this book is not a metaphorical darkness, but a real and hard and desperate and human darkness. Jerusalem had been destroyed; people were displaced and being held captive in a foreign land.  They were separated from their families and familiar surroundings; their safety and security was gone.

And yet, there was this promise.

A promise that even in the darkest moments of their lives, light would still shine.

A promise that they would rejoice in the same way that they would if they were experiencing the joy of a great harvest.

A promise that their burdens would be lifted from them; that they would be freed from the heavy weight of their oppressors.

A promise that the warriors fighting against them would be destroyed.

A promise that a child of Messianic Hope would be born; that he would bring with him the hope of eternal life.

As people living on this side of the resurrection, we know that this promise has been fulfilled.  We know, not only how the Christmas story ends, but also how the Easter story ends.  We know that the exile did come to an end; that light did shine as the Jews were released from captivity and Jerusalem started to rebuild.  We know that, 600 years later, against all odds, a child was born to a virgin named Mary and delivered safely into this broken and imperfect world under the light of a star that led wise men there so they could pay him homage.  We know that this child grew up and lived in this world and, despite its brokenness and its imperfection, held fast to a law of love and a Gospel of peace.  We know that while he was put to death, on the third day after he died, as the morning light began to shine over the tomb where they had laid his body, they realized that the tomb was empty; that death, in fact, did not – and does not – have the final word, that resurrection is real and that grace is more powerful than we can ever comprehend.

And this all came from a simple promise.

A promise that even in the darkest moments of our lives, light will still shine.

I know it has not been an easy year for a lot of you.  I know that right now, a lot of you are feeling as though you are living in this land of deep darkness.  I know that people are grieving, frustrated, scared, stressed and feeling uncertain.  And I want you to know that somehow – someway – this promise will be fulfilled.  Light will shine.

I was with my sister this week and we were in the car and O Holy Night came on and those words, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,” echoed through me as I thought about this passage from Isaiah and what it means to be a weary world waiting desperately for that thrill of hope.

I think in different ways we are all kind of waiting right now.

And it is coming; I promise.  That promise has been fulfilled before – and it will be again.

Christmas is hard for a lot of people because the world is kind of mandating this joy that you cannot really escape from.  We even kind of mandate it at church – I figured out how to light the wreaths on the walls, for goodness’ sake!

But remember the magic of the Christmas season doesn’t come from twinkly lights or peppermint mochas or matching pajamas (even though I love all of those things).  The magic of the Christmas season comes from that promise that even in the darkest moments of our lives, light will always shine.

And that is the kind of magic I think we all need.

So wherever you are on your journey through life right now – wherever you find yourself this Christmas season – believe in this promise.  Believe that light will shine, that you will feel joy and that the weight of your burdens will be lifted.  Believe that God will break forth into this world – into this broken and imperfect, but also beautiful and grace-filled world – and meet us where we are.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Let that light shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Sharing The Good News

I preached this sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. Gregory Gray as the pastor of the Thompson Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.  I was so honored he asked me to preach!  It kind of felt like a full-circle moment, because I preached at his husband Jon’s installation in 2013 – at the time, Greg was still in Georgia!  It’s crazy to look back at how far we – and our churches! – have come since them.

***

Sarah Weaver
Thompson Congregational Church
Thompson, CT
September 16, 2018

Psalm 9
Isaiah 61:1-4
Romans 10:5-15
Luke 4:14-21

Sharing This Good News

I hope the prophet Isaiah will forgive me, but I felt compelled to paraphrase his words, just a bit …

The Holy Spirit has come upon me,
because the Rev. Dr. Greg Gray has asked me to preach at his installation;
he has called me to preach the Gospel to everyone who has gathered here today,
to encourage those in this congregation, wherever they are on their journey through life,
to proclaim an official end to the transition time between settled pastors,
and to tell the church that something really amazing is happening in their midst;
to proclaim a time of new beginnings
a celebration of the conclusion of one chapter;
and the beginning of a new one;
to reassure you that this new chapter is full of great possibilities, grace that is still yet to be uncovered and hope that surpasses all understanding—
to give you courage in the face of adversity,
joy and gratefulness instead of fear and frustration,
a bold voice of praise and thanksgiving instead of a trepid heart.
They will be called Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ,
the church called to show this community what it means to love God will all your hearts, soul, mind and strength; as well to love your neighbors just as much. And also what it means to teach this love to others creating new disciples.
They shall continue their efforts to re-build after the fire,
they shall repair not only the physical space, but the spiritual space, as well;
they shall repair the building that has been damaged,
but hold fast to the truth that their community is and will be strengthened and lifted up by God and God alone; for they are the Church, the Body of Christ, Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ.

Friends, allow me to introduce myself – I am the Rev. Sarah Weaver; I am the pastor of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Rehoboth, MA.  I bring greetings and congratulations from my congregation, who – seven years later – still remembers what it feels like to take a giant exhale when the search process and transition between settled pastors was finally over.

So let’s start off by taking that big exhale, shall we?

It is an honor and a privilege and a joy to be here with you all this afternoon.  Greg, I never shared this with you, but I was truly touched that you asked me to preach today; that you trusted me with this moment, what I know is an important moment for you all, as a church.  So thank you, Greg, thank you, Thompson Congregational Church and thank you to the Windham Association for welcoming me here today.

“Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come. It is the thing that gives us the courage to keep going forward.”

I am quoting two of your own members from a video called “Advent Hope” that was posted on your church Facebook page last December.  Greg opened the video with images from during and immediately following the devastating fire you experienced in 2016, but then, in a bold testament to the strength and perseverance of this church, said these powerful words:

“But we still find hope here.”

You were asked to answer the question, “What does hope mean to you?” and I was so touched by those two responses, “Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come” and, “Hope is the thing that gives us the courage keep going forward,” because they showed me that, even in times of uncertainty, you know that God is still calling you to journey forward. Thompson Congregational Church, you havethat hope that surpasses all understanding; hope that your story is not over yet, hope that you will rebuild, hope that your church will not only survive, but thrive in the days and weeks and months and years to come, generation after generation.

Our Gospel reading comes to us from the Gospel of Luke, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  He began his ministry by reading the same words that we just heard read from the Prophet Isaiah.  What I love about looking at these two passages next to one another is that it reminds us – it reassures us – that these prophesies were not a one-time thing; that they can still be fulfilled today.  These words were just as relevant to those that Jesus spoke to as the ones Isaiah was prophesying to.

And they are just as relevant to us here today.

You, Thompson Congregational Church, are being given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning. Installing Greg as your settled pastor will affirm what God has known to be true all along; that the hope you spoke about in last year’s Advent video is alive and not only inspiring you to rebuild, but also to continue to proclaim the Good News.

Because here is the really cool thing about you guys – you did not let a fire stop you from being the Church.

When Greg first asked me to preach today, I told him that I really wanted to come out and visit at some point so I could get to know you all before today.  But, life happened – and, of course, it is hard for pastors to be with other churches on Sunday mornings – and I never got to come out.  So this past week, I have been trying to get to know you virtually.  I clicked through your website and Facebook page and various articles that came up in a google search.  I looked through pictures and watched videos; and I was inspired by what I saw.

You see, I kind of expected to see more about the fire; about how the church was affected and what is going to happen next. But do you know what I saw instead?

A church that blesses backpacks that are going to be donated to the local schools, first responders in the community and animals, both small and large.

A church that is committed to making a stand against bullying, participating in anti-bullying rallies and offering support to children and youth in the community.

A church that reaches out to individuals and families who have been impacted by addiction through the Holbrook Fund.

A church that collaborates with civic organizations and the local recreation department to host events that are fun for people of all ages.  A church that knows that the true depth of their strength does not come from what happens inside their walls, but outside in the community.

A church that believes in the power of singing together and praying together and eating together.

Thompson Congregational Church, even in the face of adversity, you have continued to look outward.  You have continued to respond to Christ’s call to love God and then love others.  You have continued to proclaim the Good News of God’s love, light and grace and, as Paul wrote to the church in Roman, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

And there are beautiful, beautiful feet in this congregation.

Which brings me to my next point.

Paul told the church in Rome that people will not hear the Good News without someone proclaiming it to them.  And this is a charge that we all need to take seriously today.  Christianity is an experiential and a shared religion; 2,000 years ago, the only reason people knew that Christ had risen was because the women who experienced the Risen Christ went and told other people about it.

And that piece of our faith – the piece where we tell others what we have experienced and how our faith (and, specifically, our church) has changed our lives – is more important now than it ever has been.

Paul said that, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved.”  Thompson Congregational Church, there is an amazing story that is being written here; a story of hope, a story of resurrection and a story of new possibilities. You need to confess that story with your lips; you need to tell your family and your friends, your neighbors and your coworkers.  You need to tell the people that you know and the strangers that you have just met.

You have to tell people about the ways that God has worked within this church and the ways that God is still working within this church; the ways that God has kept hope alive in this church, the ways that the God that you put your faith and trust in has never left your side.  Display the glory of God, like Isaiah prophesied. Bring this Good News to your community; invite people into your story; pray that their lives might be changed, too.

Greg, I have two gifts for you this morning. The first is a framed print of that passage from Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Because I think this passage is going to define a lot of what you all do here at Thompson Congregational Church.

And I am not just talking about your shoe collection, either.

Because of devastating circumstances, you all understand that a church is more than its building; you all understand what it means to be church and to do church out in the community.  You know that it takes collaboration, creativity, patience.  You believe that it is the hard work you do, but also the grace God gives that enables you to make a difference.  You all are ready to march, dance, stroll, crawl and skip out into the community and bring the Good News.

And I, for one, cannot wait to see how the community will be changed.

The second gift I have for you this morning comes from a stained glass artist in Chepachet, Rhode Island.  You see, one of the things I have always been drawn to is the sun rising behind the church in your logo.  Because it reminds me that, even in the darkest part of night, the sun will always rise again.

As Christians, we hold fast to the truth that, even in the darkest moments of our lives, the Son – S-O-N – will always rise again.  The Good News that he preached, that he lived out and that he called us into will rise up above all else.

This is the Good News, friends.  This is the Good News.

And it is time to share it with the world.

Congratulations, Thompson Congregational Church.  Continue the work that has already started.  Hold onto that hope you spoke so poignantly of last year.  May your ashes be turn into garland; your mourning into gladness; your faint spirit into a mantle of praise.

And may your feet be beautiful as they are called to bring the Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

So That The World Might Be Saved

I’m behind in posting my sermons!  I know, I know.  Here is my sermon from Memorial Day Weekend.  I was totally bummed – we were supposed to worship outdoors (RCC tradition) and they were calling for rain to start at 10AM so we moved it inside. But then IT DIDN’T RAIN. Oh well. Next year.

Here’s my sermon – I preached on John 3:16 – well, I suppose I preached on John 3:17 – ha!  You’ll se what I mean.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 27, 2018

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8
John 3:1-17

So That The World Might Be Saved

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

On January 8, 2009, Tim Tebow painted John 3:16 under his eyes in the college football national championship game. That day, John 3:16 was googled 94 million times. Three years later, donning the same scripture under his eyes, he threw a game-winning touchdown pass in an NFL playoff game and led the Broncos to an upset victory over the Steelers. That night, John 3:16 was googled 90 million times.

Suffice is to say, most people know what John 3:16 is. And even if someone does not know exactly what John 3:16 says or means, they know it is kind of an important scripture for Christians.

When I was in college, I was taking an introduction to Christianity class. At the beginning of the semester, my professor had us read the Gospel of Mark. In class the following week, he asked us what the overall theme of the book of was. Someone raised their hand and said that people have to profess their faith and salvation in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. My professor asked where it said that in our reading. The student replied, “John 3:16.” Without skipping a beat, my professor looked at him and said, “But we’re not talking about John, we’re talking about Mark.”

The room went silent.

It is worth mentioning that my professor was a Jewish man who wrote his dissertation on the Protestant Reformation. I do not think he shared the same views on salvation as this particular student.

But it was at that moment that I realized just how complicated this scripture – and people’s understanding of and relationship with it – is. It seems simple enough, right? Believe in Christ – be saved.

Truthfully, this scripture has always perplexed me. It is beautiful; it reads like poetry. It sums up the heart of the heart of the Gospel message – that we obtain salvation through Christ – in a simple and concise way and I am grateful that 184 million people had the opportunity to read it because of a football game because I want people to know that their faith journey can begin by making a decision to follow Christ.

But I still think there is more.

Here is my one hang up with this passage. It leaves out a huge part of the story. If you read this passage by itself, it seems like it is only about personal salvation; that the Christian faith is just about us and our relationship with God and it has nothing to do with helping the people around us. If we go by this passage, this one verse, John 3:16, all we have to do is proclaim a belief in Jesus Christ; we do not have to feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the poor and reach out to the marginalized.

You know, the things Jesus talked about and did.

Here’s the thing about John 3:16 – everybody knows it and loves it, so very rarely do we keep reading after we get to it, because we do not really have a reason to. But we should! Because what I think is the most important part of this whole passage comes immediately after it.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

But in order that the world might be saved through him.

I think the Christian faith is about more than just individual and personal salvation. The Christian faith is about looking at the life, death and resurrection of Christ and mirroring the pieces of this narrative in our own lives as we work to make the world a better place. The Christian faith is not just about believing in the Good News; it is about proclaiming it to a world that needs to be transformed by it. The Christian faith is not just about individuals being saved by Christ; it is about Christ coming to save the entire world.

And we, as individuals, are part of this. We are the Body of Christ; we enact the Gospel in this world today.

I believe this story – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – has the power to change the world. Yes, I do believe that the world might, in fact, be saved by the power of this narrative. And not simply through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, himself; but through the lives of Christians who now seek to live in his light today and proclaim his Good News. I believe the world might be saved through Christ, because the Christian story is still being written. I believe the world might be saved through Christians like you and me.

Think about Jesus’ birth. Now, when Prince Louis arrived in London a few weeks ago, there were photographers, proclamations, helicopters and a gun salute. He was presented to the world on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital as reporters eagerly snapped photographs while millions of people watched from home (and their church offices). But Jesus? Jesus came into the world in a stable. His mother and father were ordinary people, they had no power or wealth. The folks that they met along their journey to Bethlehem, the important characters in the narrative of Jesus’ birth – were ordinary people. They were shepherds and innkeepers, not Kings and Pharisees.

But this is how the world might be saved. The world might be saved when ordinary people believe that they can make a difference in this world. The world might be saved when ordinary people rise up and make that difference. This world might be saved if we all remembered that we do not need money or power or the extraordinary to happen, but a humble obedience to God’s call.

Jesus’ life is a blueprint for how we should live ours. He taught his disciples through words and actions. He taught them how to pray and about the Golden Rule of kindness. He spoke in parables that made them think about the world they were living in. He fought for justice, he reached out to marginalized people and he showed hospitality to everyone he met. He fed people when they were hungry and healed them when they were sick. He performed miracles that made people believe that the impossible was, in fact, possible.

If we all lived out even a fraction of what is written in this Gospel, yes, the world might be saved! The world might be saved if we looked outwardly instead of inwardly. The world might be saved it we made charity more of a priority. The world might be saved it we judged less and loved more. The world might be saved if we did unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we loved God and loved the people around us. The world might be saved if we shared meals with one another, prayed together and worshiped together. The world might be saved if we touched people in their times of need, showed compassion and fought for justice. The world might be saved if we believed in the possibility of miracles around us.

When Jesus died, death did not win; darkness did not win; hate did not win. Love conquered the grave on that first Easter morning and the world knew that salvation was possible. The world knew that they would be saved through the resurrection of Jesus.

Today, the world might be saved if we believed that resurrection was still possible. The world might be saved if we refused to let hate and evil rule the world. The world might be saved if we created love and kindness. The world might be saved if we spread joy. The world might be saved if we shined God’s light into the darkest crevices of the earth.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

In this story, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, one has to be born from above. And as much as he was talking about getting into heaven, part of me thinks that he was also talking about seeing the kingdom of God here on earth. I think Jesus believed it was possible to see that kingdom in mortal flesh; he believed this world could be saved.

And so do I.

When people talk about being born again, they often talk about proclaiming Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior so that they might have eternal life in heaven. But I think it starts before then. I think we can create heaven on earth, I think it is possible for us to see God in our midst. I think every single day we are born from above; created by a God that wants to see the world flourish, redeemed by a God that believes the world can be saved and sustained by a God that believes we can do God’s work here on earth. I believe we are the ones that can create heaven on earth, we are created, redeemed and sustained to do this work on earth.

When I was planning worship this morning, I originally paired the Gospel with the psalm from today’s lectionary, Psalm 29, because it talks about how strong and powerful God is, calling God to give us strength for the journey ahead:

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)

But last night I was reading the passage from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, verses 1-8. I thought, in light of this message about God using us to spread the Gospel so that the world might be saved, I would read it, as well.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ (Isaiah 6:1-8)

So let us take the Gospel and save the world. Let us share the Good News in both words and actions. Let us live our lives the way Jesus did. Let us believe that the world could be saved then, the world can be saved now and the world will be saved in the future.

Let us give thanks to God for sending Jesus into this world to proclaim the Gospel so that we might create the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.