Christmas At My Church

My last Advent sermon of the season!  Our Christmas Cantata is on Sunday so I won’t be preaching.  Enjoy my “rant” – ha!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 13, 2015

Isaiah 12:2-6

Christmas At My Church

A week or two ago I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came across the status of a friend of mine who is a lay person (not clergy) and is actively involved in his church. The status posed a question; wondering what people, who do not attend church or have some sort of Christian faith, celebrate this time of year. He wrote:

I enjoy my faith and am thankful for it and I push it on no one, but I really just wonder what Christmas is all about to those folk?

I should probably mention that I am a bit of a secular-Christmas-Scrooge. Bruce has actually learned to stop making innocent statements, like, “Hey, my mom was wondering what you wanted for Christmas,” in order to avoid a 20 minute rant on how the commercialization of Christmas is ruining the true meaning of the holiday.

So knowing what I know about myself, I probably should have just thought, “Hmm, sometimes I wonder the same thing,” and then moved on. But curiosity got the better of me and I started reading through the comments.

One person commented that, even though Christmas has religious origins, a person does not need to be religious to celebrate peace, joy and family. Another speculated that as more and more people become skeptical of “organized religion,” they might actually be able celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in a way that is authentic to them and their family and not in a way that is dictated by their church. Someone else wondered if Christmas traditions and fellowship need to be “old time religious” in order to be meaningful.

Now, in fairness – all of the responses were extremely respectful of the Christian faith. In no way did anyone try to take anything away from me or my celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

But it kind of got me going anyway.

I thought I would try to be mature and restrain myself from becoming “that person” that hijacks someone else’s Facebook post by hopping onto a soapbox and ranting, so in the moment I closed my computer and walked away. But as it turns out, my maturity only goes so far.

So, hi everybody! Welcome to my sermon. I hope you enjoy my rant.

One of the responses to this post about what people celebrate this time of year mentioned that people are skeptical of organized religion and need to find other ways to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Okay, I get it. Organized religion has a really bad reputation. There are many religious traditions – including Christian ones – that are full of rules that do not make sense, extreme judgment, unfair ridicule and outrageous hypocrisy.

But those are not at all the things that define my church, my faith, my God and my Christmas story.

Listen: From the outside looking in, if I thought that rules, judgment, ridicule and hypocrisy were my only options for celebrating a Christian Christmas, I would probably be first in line on a Sunday morning for a picture with Santa Claus.

But that is not what Christmas at my church is all about.

Christmas at my church is about radical love and acceptance of all people; one that mirrors the love and acceptance of an innkeeper who invited a family with no place to stay into his midst.

Christmas at my church is about literally shining light into a dark world when, week after week (in the darkest time of our calendar year), our Advent wreath shines brighter and brighter with unexplainable, but tangible reminders of hope, peace, joy and love.

Christmas at my church is about giving back to those in need; through the Giving Tree, the Blizzard of Giving and the Christmas parties that we host for children in need. It is not about taking credit for the things we do, but giving thanks to God that we have the opportunity to serve in a way that is radical and selfless.

Christmas at my church is about being relevant in today’s world. It is about not having to choose between the secular and the sacred, but instead finding ways to blend the two. It is about giving our children the opportunity to put on their PJs and watch The Polar Express one night while also inviting them to put on a shepherd costume and tell the Christmas story another night. It is about hosting a Christmas Bazaar filled with goodies to purchase one weekend while also hosting Christmas Eve worship services filled with breathtaking music and the miraculous story of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas at my church is about being living proof of these words of the prophet Isaiah:

For the LORD GOD is my strength and my might. (Isaiah 12:2)

Christmas at my church is not about trying to do it all, but about having a safe space where we can ask for help in the moments when we need it most. It is not about pretending that we have it all together, but having the freedom to completely fall apart (because sometimes that is just what we need to do). It is about having this unexplainably powerful and divine presence in our lives – the strength and might of God that Isaiah talked about; a presence that brings us peace in our moments of strife and hope in our moments of loss.

Christmas at my church is about being united as brothers and sisters in Christ, remembering that the waters that washed over us in baptism are living waters that still flow today. Isaiah prophesied:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

Christmas at my church is about believing in our hearts that God never intended for us to walk through life alone. It is about having the opportunity to see that truth come alive within the community of a Christian church.

Christmas at my church is a continuation of the truth that I am reminded of, week-after-week throughout the year; that I am loved, that I am forgiven and that I am sustained by God. Isaiah boldly proclaimed:

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid. (Isaiah 12:2)

Thousands of years later, these words still ring true. We can trust God; we do not have to be afraid. Christmas at my church is about seeing these words come alive in bold and palpable ways.

I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but I think that right now – especially as our country stands so politically divided and religiously skeptical – we need to tell the story about Christmas at our church. Isaiah called to us:

Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4)

We have to tell the story of Christmas at our church, because if we do not tell it, then no one will. We have to tell the story of Christmas at our church, because if we do not tell it, then no one will know that it is possible to be part of a Christian community grounded in love, acceptance, relevance, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

When I was putting together my sermon, I went back to this Facebook post to re-read some of the comments and came across a new comment I had not seen before. It really gave me something to think about. It said:

I do not go to church, but I love the teachings of Jesus. I am reminded, by looking at my [news] feed, how many [people] celebrate this time of year in different ways. Some celebrate the winter solstice, some the festival of lights, some just get judge-y or grinch-y. Some drink too much eggnog.

What am I teaching my children?

I am teaching the value of family. The power of love. The joy of tradition. Helping others, as much as possible, and to be accepting, and gracious about the personal and spiritual choices of others.

I hate that we live in a world where people do not automatically equate the things that this woman is teaching her children – things that are beautiful and powerful and life-giving and world-changing – with the Christian Church. I hate that the Church is associated with exclusion and hatred and oppression and judgement and fear. I hate that people think that the world is falling apart; and not only do they not have a church community that they can lean on when things are falling apart, but they also think that the Church is part of this problem. I hate that people do not know what God’s love is – God’s radical, inclusive, all-encompassing, light-bursting-forth-into-darkness love.

We need to tell the story of Christmas at our church because I believe that, right now, this is a story that people need to hear.

People are absolutely allowed to celebrate whatever they want to or believe this time of year; this country was built on religious freedom and I would never force my beliefs on anyone. But there is real magic to our Christmas narrative that I think a lot of people need in their lives. I am not talking about people of other faiths and religious traditions, I am talking about the people without faith or who are skeptical of organized religion. People are struggling in real and devastating ways and I believe that we have access to a faith and a story that can change their lives for the better.

So let us, as the scripture says:

Shout aloud and sing for joy! (Isaiah 12:6)

Let us tell others the story of Christmas at our church. Let us talk about the magic of the Christmas pageant, of the breathtaking power of the music played and sung in worship and of the way an age-old story can come to life before our very eyes. Let us talk about the ways that our cries for Emmanuel – God with us – are heard so that we know that we are not alone in this crazy world. Let us talk about love, let us talk about hope and let us talk about magic. Let us talk about our faith active and alive in ways that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.

Let us tell the story of Christmas at our church.

And let’s change some lives.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Mystery Of The Commas Revealed

I cannot believe it is May 31st! Where did the spring go?????

Next Sunday is Children’s Day, so today was Choir Sunday. We started this little tradition last year. I noticed in my previous years at RCC that the choir would sing on Children’s Day, but the focus was always the Church School and they never really got recognized the way they should. So we decided to dedicate a Sunday to celebrating their ministry before breaking for the summer. Our choir has grown SO much this year. They have challenged themselves, grown in size and really brough so much life to our worship services. Today we had wonderful music (there was percussion!) and were able to celebrate the incredible music ministry at the church.

Here is this morning’s sermon!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 31, 2015

Isaiah 6:1-8

The Mystery of the Commas Revealed

What’s with all the commas on the walls? Wait, are they commas or are they apostrophes? Why do we have 9’s all over the church? You thought they were 9’s? I thought they were upside down 6’s! Is this a permanent thing? Wait a minute; did the Trustees approve this?

Let’s back up a little bit, shall we?

A few months ago, I Was teaching the confirmation class about our church – the Rehoboth Congregational Church – and the denomination that we are a part of – the United Church of Christ. In particular, as I was talking about what the UCC believes, I referenced a campaign that they had launched several years ago: God is Still Speaking.

Fueled by a quote from the late comedian, Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma,” the United Church of Christ began to encourage people to look for the ways that God was still speaking (get it?) in their lives. The signature logo for this campaign is – I am sure you can guess at this point – a comma.

About a week after our class, Mike Sullivan-Silva (one of the mentors who has been part of the confirmation program for several years and has heard that particular lecture several times) came into my office. He said he had been thinking about what it means to live out the truth that God is still speaking and wanted to know about the ways that other people heard God speaking in their lives.

So we started a mini experiment.

Mike has been stopping by the church at strange times of the day and night and placing commas at various points throughout the building. The point was never to create something or change anything; simply to start conversations. What comes after that comma? What comes after the comma in our lives, in our faith and in our church?

See here is the thing: For far too long, we, as Christians, have just assumed that the bible was a closed book. More often than not, people believed that God had spoken words of scripture thousands of years before and it was our job to make our lives fit into the interpretations and the structures that were already put in place. Rather than hearing something new spoken, we thought our lives and our churches were supposed to fit into something that had already been spoken.

But what if, in our own lives, we are being called to do something new? What if something new is being spoken in our generation? What if God is still as hard at work in our lives as God was in the lives of Abraham and Moses?

“God is still speaking” implies that something new is always happening, that God never stopped speaking along the way and that God has a special plan for each and every one of us, today, in our lives. “God is still speaking” means that the bible is an open book; that ancient scriptures can still be interpreted in meaningful, relevant and accessible ways. “God is still speaking” empowers all of us to listen to what God is calling us to do in our lives today; to forge ahead on paths that may not already be travelled and to believe that God is carefully guiding us along our journey through life. “God is still speaking” reminds us that we are part of the Christian story that is still being written – God is still writing this story.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the Book of Isaiah. The passage we heard was the commissioning of the Prophet Isaiah. The scene had been clearly set in the five chapters leading up to this passage: Jerusalem was in trouble, people were struggling, nations were at war with one another, communities had turned their focus away from God and exile was on the horizon.

And this is when God called Isaiah.

Angels – or “seraphs” as they were referred to in scripture – were flying above Isaiah. One of them touched Isaiah’s mouth with a piece of coal that had been taken from the altar as a way of cleansing him. Then Isaiah heard God calling out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”[1]

First of all, let’s talk about the really cool part of this story. This story is scriptural proof that it does not matter how big of a mess we humans have gotten ourselves into – we as individuals or we as a community – God will still come into our midst and help us figure it out.

Israel was a hot mess; and God called a prophet to be with them. God called Isaiah to speak to Israel; to comfort them in their time of need, to gently (and sometimes not so gently) remind them to turn back to God and to work with them as they tried to make their nation whole again.

Isn’t that cool? We do not need to be perfect in order for God to come save us. In fact, time and time again, scripture shows that God often shows up to help in the midst of the most dysfunctional chaos. There truly are no lost causes.

And do you know what? We do not even have to take the bible and figure things out on our own, either! God is still speaking in our midst to help us every step of the journey. God spoke to Samuel and God speaks to us. It’s sort of like: Instead of having an instruction manual that tells us what to do that we have to figure out, we have Google or Siri that we can ask questions to and that speaks back to us and specifically to our needs as well.

God never stopped speaking; thousands of years later there is still so much that is still yet to be revealed.

Let’s look at Isaiah.

Isaiah was not born a prophet – he was an ordinary person like any one of us. Scripture quotes him saying:

Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.[2]

In other words, Isaiah was an imperfect man, who lived in a real community and fell to human temptations just like any of us would.

But you know what? It was at this point that God came to him. And God spoke to him. And God called him to do extraordinary things. And I truly believe that the same thing is happening within our lives today.

Our lives have a tendency to get discombobulated at times. We are not perfect. We generally have the best of intentions, but there are times in our lives when – like it happened in Israel – things are out of our control and we just cannot fix them by ourselves.

But these are the moments when God sends us those angels. These are the moments when our lips are made clean, when our sins are blotted out and when our lives are made whole. These are the moments when God speaks to us.

And these are the moments when we are called to say, “Here am I; send me!”

Our lives were not just meant to be lived; our lives where meant to be lived with meaning. We need to remember that our God is a God that is still speaking in our lives and in our faith and in our church. Our still speaking God is calling us to do a new and unique thing. Our still speaking God wants us to live into what we are being called to do, not simply what past generations were called to do. Our still speaking God is breathing life into our faith and creating inspiration in our lives. Our still speaking God is sending angels to surround us, to hold us, to give us wisdom and to make us whole.

The Christian faith is not a story that has happened; the Christian faith is a story that is still happening – and we are apart of it. God is with us and is speaking to us in our lives – and in this church – as this story continues to be written.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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[1] Isaiah 6:6-8
[2] Isaiah 6:5, NRSV

The Hope We’ve All Been Waiting For

I hope you all had a blessed Easter celebration! Our service was so wonderful … I’ll share more photos and stories in the coming week. For now, here is my Easter sermon!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 5, 2015

Isaiah 25:6-9
John 20:1-18

The Hope We’ve All Been Waiting For

I told the confirmation class last Sunday night that this winter is turning me into a crazy cat lady who only talks about the weather.

I wish I could say that I was exaggerating, but that is the absolute truth. This winter just about pushed me over the edge. The snow, the ice, the month-long sub-freezing temperatures – at one point I was absolutely convinced that winter was just never going to end, that we had somehow entered this literal weather vortex that was stuck on the winter cycle.

So there I was this winter, with nothing else to do but stay inside with my cat and complain about the weather. And then there I was where I started to complain to my cat about the weather …

I needed spring to come this year. I waited and waited and waited for spring to come this year.

I always say that it does not matter what a person’s favorite season is, but that most people need spring more than any other season by the time it comes around. And boy, oh boy – did we need spring this year.

I do not normally preach from the Old Testament on Easter Sunday, but I could not help myself this year when I saw this passage from Isaiah come up in the lectionary. Because at a time when so many of us are desperately waiting for spring to come, we are reminded by this ancient prophecy that God’s grace can always be found in the midst of our waiting.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Now clearly the people that this prophecy was aimed at were dealing with much greater struggles than my frustration with the snow. Destruction of land and exile are much more serious problems than the fact that I have not been able to wear my cute spring and summer shoes in three months. But I think the prophet’s words do remind us of something very poignant about who we are human beings. It points to the nature of us – all of us – needing something to help us along this crazy journey through life.
Life is not easy; I think we can all agree to that. We all feel hurt and pain and anguish at some point throughout our lives and this prophecy shines a light on those times where we are waiting – sometimes desperately waiting – for something to save us from the darkness that is surrounding us.

We wait. We wait for a cure. We wait for a relationship to be mended. We wait for a spouse or a child to come into our life. We wait for a job. We wait for pain to disappear. We wait for conflicts to go away. We wait for our lives to have some sense of normalcy.

We wait.

Well guess what? We are people of the resurrection and we do not have to wait any longer! Christ rose and we are saved! Christ rose and we are free! Christ rose and we no longer have to be alone! Christ rose and we have proof that God is always with us and that God’s love always wins! Christ rose so that we can always carry with us that beacon of hope that new life is always possible, even if we have to wait for it to come.

Winter aside weather, we all face real struggles in our lives. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that one of their favorite parts of worship every week is the part where we lift to God in silence the “prayers that are still too raw to be spoken out loud.”
Because we all have them.

We all have things in our lives – pain, struggles, anxieties, sadness and hardships – that we hold onto. Or – perhaps more accurate – that hold on to us.

But you know what? The resurrection not only proved to us that God always knows these silent prayers, but also that we can surrender these prayers to God in a way that completely frees us from the burdens they place on us.

Because the resurrection proved that God’s power is so much greater than the burdens of the world.

Life does not have to weight us down. This world that we are living in is far from perfect, but the resurrection proved that God can do amazing things, even in the midst of chaos. The resurrection proved that even with all of the imperfections of our earthly and human lives, God can shine light in the midst of darkness, bring hope to the hopeless and give life to something that seems lost.

Resurrection was not a one-time thing; resurrection happens every single day of our lives. And today, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also celebrate the ways that we are living out this story in our lives as well. We celebrate the ways that – even when we are struggling and even when we are waiting – we see proof of God’s work all around us.

We practice a faith that is grounded in the foundation of resurrection to new life. We have to believe that this is possible in our lives as well.

As Christians experiencing Lent, Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, the resurrection is what we have been waiting for. But we have to remember – we have to believe – that resurrection happens every day. And if we believe this – if we truly believe this – then we are assured that the hope that we are constantly waiting for is happening all around us.

God is with you, my friends. God’s love was victorious on the cross and God’s love is victorious in our lives today. This is what we have been waiting for! This is the Good News that calms the chaos of our lives, that resurrects the things around us to new life.

Christ is Risen, my friends! He rose then and he is risen now!

So let us go and live our lives as people of the resurrection, proclaiming to the world that even in the midst of chaos, the hope that we have been waiting for is already here.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.