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.

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

Hi friends!

Yesterday was Star Sunday at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  We did this for the first time last year and I think it really started to gain traction this year.  My sermon is part sermon and part star story.  After I preached, I invited three members of the congregation to stand up and share their star stories.  It was wonderful!  I hope next year more people are interested in sharing, as well.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 7, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

After hearing my colleagues talk about them for several years, I introduced star words at RCC for the first time last year. Truth be told, more than anything else, I was just excited to get a star word of my very own. I have never been great at resolutions and I thought perhaps this would focus me throughout the year in a way that resolutions always have failed to.

So Star Sunday arrived and I eagerly preached my sermon and then sent around the basket of star words. Having had cut out the stars earlier that week, I knew the different words people were receiving.

Faith
Confidence
Mercy
Determination
Hope
Devotion
Compassion

The list goes on. I could not wait to see what I would pick.

The basket came around to me, I reached in, grabbed my star and …

… responsibility. My star word was, responsibility.

First of all, the irony of the whole scenario was not lost on me. I had literally announced my pregnancy two days earlier, so my initial thought was that perhaps God had a way funnier sense of humor than I ever realized because I certainly would be taking on a huge responsibility in 2017.

Beyond that, though, I kind of thought the word was, no offense to anyone who gets it this year, kind of lame. Being responsible, in and of itself, is not particularly fun most days; why would I want to spend an entire year thinking about it?

But given the fact that I had just preached a sermon saying we could not choose our own star words, I went with it. And what I learned throughout the year is that there are far more layers to this word than I initially thought.

12 months ago, I thought I would stand up on Star Sunday in 2018 and tell you all of the responsible things I did in 2017. I thought I would tell you that I revolutionized the way I organized my house and office (which I tried to do); I thought I would tell you that I finally figured out a good system for dealing with my taxes (which I mostly did); and I thought I would tell you that I finally made a long-overdue dentist appointment (which I did not).

However, I feel like my revelations on responsibility came from a much deeper place than the adulting I was just trying to avoid.

A few weeks into the year, my sister came across a company that makes bracelets and necklaces with custom words on them. She offered to buy me one and asked me what word I wanted engraved on it.

“Responsibility,” I told her.

“That’s weird. Don’t you think it will confuse people?” she asked me.

She had a point.

But in wearing this bracelet almost every day, I was asking God to open my eyes to understand responsibility in a new and deeper way.

First of all, when I put this bracelet back on after a three-month hiatus from wearing it while I was on maternity leave, it kind of took my breath away. Of course, you all knew this was going to happen, but the second Harrison was born, this word overwhelmingly took on a new meaning. Being a mom is, by far, the most responsibility I have ever had. Decisions – even the seemingly small ones – always seem daunting. I cannot count the number of times Bruce and I have looked at one another with the most perplexed looks on our faces until one of us asks the question, “Uhhh, what now?”

To which the other usually replies, “Not a clue.”

But even more than that, I strongly believe God has opened my eyes to my responsibilities as a Christian; as an individual Christian living in this world, as an ordained leader in the church and as the pastor of this church.

As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to proclaim a Gospel that changes lives and is inclusive to all. I believe I need to be unapologetically authentic in my faith and show others that it is possible, through our faith, to create the type of peace that this world so desperately needs. I have realized this year that negative stereotypes about Christians only exist if we allow them to; it is our responsibility to illuminate Christianity through a positive lens.

As a church, I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate an environment where love always wins, light always shines and grace always prevails. We need to open our doors and show hospitality to all people and create opportunities for worship, service and learning that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. We need to focus on our outreach and evangelism efforts and welcome others into our community. We need to be honest, transparent and humble as we tend to the business of our organization, particularly as we implement our new structure this year.

And the reason I mention all of these things is not to pawn my star word off on you; but to point out that I feel like, as a church, we did a lot of these things last year.

Or, at least, we tried to.

And it was only the beginning.

I love the passage we heard from the prophet Isaiah:

Arise! Shine! For your light has come!

The prophet spoke these words as a vision of Jerusalem’s coming exaltation. The nation had just come out of exile; light was dawning and Jerusalem was being drawn into that light. Today, as we read these words, we remember that God’s light is dawning here and we, too, are being drawn into that light.

So let God illuminate your star word this year. If you get a word that you are immediately excited about, shine God’s light onto that word with fervor and enthusiasm. If you get a word that you think is totally and completely lame, shine God’s light onto that word with trust and hope.

Today, we will receive new star words. Like the wise men followed the star to see the Christ child in Bethlehem, we, too, will follow our star words this year. Perhaps we, too, we travel a journey that will change our lives. Perhaps we, too, will see the world in a new light. Perhaps we, too, will find Christ in our midst.

So, arise! Shine! God’s light is here, lighting your star words for the year ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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This Season Is For You

I completely shifted gears this week in terms of my approach to Advent.  I spent the first two weeks talking about the magic and joy of the season and this week I talked about what it means to be in a dark or sad place during this season.  If you are feeling pain or grief this season, please know that this season is just as much for you as it is for those who are experiencing joy.  You do not have to fake happiness or joy to participate in this season of waiting – be who you are, where you are.

If you are in a dark place this year, please leave me a comment or email me and let me know how I can pray for you.

Happy Advent, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 10, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This Season Is For You

The prophet Isaiah says:

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;[1]

Ten years ago, my parents and my sister and I went on a cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean. One of our stops was Pompeii, which, I am sure most of you know, was a Roman town near Naples, Italy, that was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. The city remained frozen in time until it was rediscovered in 1748, largely – and quite miraculously – in tact. Because so much of the city was preserved, these ruins give us a really fascinating window into what everyday life looked like so many years ago.

Now I say, “I am sure most of you know” what Pompeii is, because – confession time – being the stellar history student that I was, I actually had no clue what Pompeii was until I walked onto the site of the ruins and started listening to the tour guide in my ear.

When I made this same confession to Bruce after I returned home from my trip, he looked at me, kind of dumbfounded and said, “Did you not pay attention at all in high school?”

I prefer not to answer that question.

That being said, not knowing what I was going to see before I got there kind of gave me a more pure and authentic impression of the ruins than I think I might have gotten if I had a preconceived notion of what I was looking at ahead of time.

Because I got there and did not automatically assume I was going to see something that was ruined; in fact, when I arrived, all I saw was something beautiful.

And what that experience has taught me over time is that very often beauty can be found in the ruins; there is beauty in something that is broken, something that is falling apart, something that has been covered up and something that is in desperate need of restoration and redemption.

This is the promise of Christmas, though, is it not? Beauty found in a world that is broken; grace found in humanity in need of redemption; light found in the darkness of a humble stable.

The Pompeii ruins tell a story; the story of a civilization from thousands of years ago, but also the story of a hope that is brought to light with the realization that sometimes not all is lost. I learned while wandering through the ruins that resurrection is more than just what happened on that first Easter morning; it is what happens every time God takes something that seems to be completely ruined and gives it new life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-often quoted prophetic book in the New Testament. It is sometimes called “the Gospel of the Old Testament,” because, when read through the lens of Christian theology, the promises found in these prophecies find nearly perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah is one of the most complex books of the bible, however, because it reflects a period of time that spans hundreds of years of Judean history and was likely constructed by more than one author. It is traditionally broken down into three sections: First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55 and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.

The breakdown of these sections is actually really important from a historical perspective. I know, I know, look at me, giving the history lesson. But if we understand the history, we understand the context of what is being said and why.

First Isaiah is dated prior to the Babylonian exile, Second Isaiah takes place while Israel is in exile and Third Isaiah is post-exile. This means that where we comes into the narrative this morning, in the 61st chapter of Isaiah, Isaiah is speaking to Israel immediately following their release from captivity. Here the prophet is speaking, bringing good news to the people of Israel – who have just come out of exile – of their deliverance and glorification.

They had nothing; the people of Israel had been in exile and when they were released, everything was in ruin.

But Isaiah says in this passage that he has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed and to comfort those who mourn. The devastation and ruin of many generations will be restored – the nation will be built up, raised up, repaired.

All is not lost, Isaiah promises. You will be made whole again. There is beauty in the ruins.

Sometimes I think we need to hear these same promises today.

When I was in seminary, I used to think it was so unfair that finals fell during December and the season of Advent. I was supposed to be waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, not writing papers and cramming for exams! How was I supposed to experience the beauty of this magical season when I was stressing over school? I could not wait until I graduated and took my first call and was able to fully live into the joy of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Well, I did graduate; and I did enter my first call; and I had every intention of experiencing the joy, magic and beauty of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

And then my grandmother passed away – on December 19th. Her services were held on December 23rd. After they were over, Bruce and I drove through the night to get back to Rehoboth in time for me to preside over our Christmas Eve services.

My point is this: Yes, Christmas is beautiful, magical and joyful. But life still happens in the midst of it. The hard stuff does not stop being hard just because stores are playing Christmas music.

In fact, sometimes this time of year the hard stuff is even harder.

I think our world sometimes gives off this false impression that we have to be happy throughout the entire Christmas season, but I think it is equally important to remember that Christmas exists not because we are whole, but because we are broken. Jesus was not born into a world that was perfect; Jesus came into a world that desperately needed to be redeemed. 2,000 years ago, grace was shown to a world in need of a savior and I have to believe that the same thing will happen again today.

Advent is a time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child, but also waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that God is with us. It is a time where we can live in the ruins of our lives, believing God will build it back up again. It is a time where we can fully experience any pain or grief we might be feeling, knowing that God’s love is stronger, God’s light is brighter and God’s grace is more powerful.

And guys – living into this season in the midst of the hard stuff is just as beautiful as living into it in the midst of the magic. Just like the ruins in Pompeii, there is real beauty in the mess.

Because that is when the promises Isaiah talks about become real.

We sang Christmas carols at my grandmother’s funeral; because she was a piano player, an accomplished musician and would have loved nothing more. And in those moments, just like Isaiah prophesied, we were given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We joined our voices with the hosts of the heavenly angels, not necessarily because we felt joy, but because we needed to know that God was with us and that we were not forgotten.

Friends, I spent the first two weeks of Advent preaching about the joy and magic of this season, but there is another side to it – grief, pain, sadness – that are just as real and just as worthy of Christmas morning as the joy and magic are. If you are feeling that grief or pain or sadness right now – please know that you are not forgotten. I know this is a really difficult time of year and that sometimes you feel like you have to fake joy in order to be part of this season. But you do not; this season is for you, even in the midst of your grief, pain and sadness, the promise of Emmanuel will still be fulfilled.

This sermon was going to serve as a segue for an invitation to you all to join the Board of Deacons and me next week to release paper wishing lanterns into the dark night sky and let go of some of the burdens you feel from this year.

But then we found out that those lanterns are illegal in Massachusetts.

So we are not going to do that.

Instead, I am going to invite you to let me pray for you this season. If there is something that is on your heart, if you are grieving or if you are in pain, please let me know how I can pray for you. This season is for you. This season – this season of waiting, of hoping, of believing in these promises Isaiah prophesied so many years ago – is for you.

So find beauty in the midst of the ruin. Believe that you will be built up. Trust that Emmanuel is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 61:4

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