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.

Writing The Story Of The Magi In Our Lives

This morning’s sermon!  We celebrated Epiphany!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 4, 2014

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

Writing The Story Of The Magi In Our Lives

Show of hands: How many of you have taken down all of your Christmas decorations?

How many of you have taken down some of your Christmas decorations?

How many of you had the best of intentions last week, but still have all of your Christmas decorations up?

Well, for those of you – well, us – who are still decking the halls, fear not! The church is still in the Christmas season, waiting expectantly for the Epiphany of the Lord, the day when Western Christianity celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. This happens every year on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. While the official celebration will happen on Tuesday, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at this story today, as we gather together for worship for the first time in 2015.

When we read the story of the Magi on Christmas Eve, it packages the entire Christmas story up with a beautiful bow. Jesus was born safely in Bethlehem and after the angels and the shepherds and the animals appeared at the manger, three scholarly men from the east journeyed to him to pay him homage and give him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The reality of the story was not wrapped up quite so perfectly.

First of all, we actually know very little about the visit of the Wise Men. Scripture tells us that they travelled from the east to Jerusalem, where King Herod then sent them to Bethlehem. We know that when they arrived they were overwhelmed with joy and paid homage to the Christ child, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know that after they arrived in Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod.

But here is what we do not know.

We do not know how many Wise Men there actually were. We assume there were three, because that is how many gifts were named in the scripture (and because that is what the song says), but we do not know this for sure.

We do not know how long it took for them to arrive. Most scholars agree that it actually took them close to two years to arrive, so our picturesque image of a cooing baby sleeping in a manger should probably be replaced by one of an energetic toddler running around the barn.

We do not know if they were traveling alone. There is no mention of these men traveling with their families, but there is also no mention to the contrary, so that is up in the air as well.

We do not know where they arrived to. The scripture says, “on entering the house” so we can only assume that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had moved out of the barn and into a house somewhere.

We do not know how they got there or what their journey looked like. Traveling a great distance was obviously more challenging 2,000 years ago than it is today and we also know that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so I can only imagine that they felt some anxiety and fear.

We do not know how long they stayed. Scripture only says that they returned to their own country by another road.

There are many holes in this story, a story that is supposed to complete our Christmas story so perfectly, a story that is supposed to complete our understanding of how Jesus came into the world.

And yet I have often thought that perhaps because there are so many holes, this allows us to see the ways that this story is still being written in our lives.

We should not have a complete understanding of how Jesus came into the world, because if we did, that would mean that it was not still happening in our lives. And I assure you that even though we are not mounting camels and following a star to Bethlehem, we are still very much searching for Jesus in our lives.

These men – however many there were, whoever they were traveling with, however long the trip took and however they got there – did not know what their journey would bring when they started. They did not know what they future would hold.

But they moved forward with faith.

They saw a star and they followed it to the Christ child.

A new year is upon us. And while we can set goals and make New Year’s resolutions until our husbands roll their eyes and tell us to shut up and go to sleep (or at least I can), none of us actually know what the new year will bring. We do not know what the future holds.

We can only move forward with faith.

This story is not just “the end of the Christmas story” or an anecdote that we retell and remember 12 days after Christmas. This story is one of courage, perseverance and hope. It is a story where God guided the journey of a group of people who were following a sign that was leading them to Christ. It is a story where God protected them and illuminated a path of safety when King Herod threatened them. It is a story of hope; proof that people can stand up oppressive political power and cultural norms and choose, instead, to seek the peace that Christ brings to the world. It is a story that reminds us that sometimes we have to let go of the possessions and the societies and the distractions and the routines that keep us anchored to our earthly lives and look up to see a sign from God leading us to a new place.

The world can be a very scary place. We often look deep into the darkness of the unknown of our own lives and fear what we cannot see, what we do not know and what we cannot control. But God is with us, even when we cannot see what lies ahead. Not only is the story of the Magi proof of this fact, but we are reminded over and over again throughout scripture that God’s light always shines in the midst of that darkness.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,” Isaiah prophesied. “For darkness shall cover the earth … but the Lord with arise upon you.”

For generations upon generations, we have been promised light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair, courage in the midst of fear, love in the midst of hate and peace in the midst of war.

And God has not walked away from that promise.

That is what the story of the Magi reminds us. It reminds us that when we take those first few steps to follow God’s call, we are not alone on that journey. It reminds us to pay attention to the ways that God is still speaking to us, it forces us to open our eyes to see the signs that God is putting in our paths for us to follow and it gives us the courage to seek out Christ, even when we must defy all other odds to do so.

“Lift us your eyes and look around,” Isaiah proclaimed. Shouldn’t we do the same today?

My friends, a new year is upon us. My prayer for this year is that you will all have the same courage of the Magi. Their story is still being written. And so is yours.

You are part of the story of the Magi. Today we are not simply celebrating a moment in time when Wise Men showed up to pay homage to Jesus; we are celebrating and giving thanks for the journeys that we are all called to take. Journeys that challenge us to seek out Christ in our lives, journeys that remind us to look to God for guidance and protection and journeys that will absolutely change our lives.

So do not worry about those Christmas decorations that are still up – the celebration continues. Christ is alive! Let this new part of our journey begin.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.