Easter Hope

Happy Easter!  I have so much to say about our Easter service, but for the time being, I will leave you with my Easter sermon.  It was short and sweet, but that’s the way I like Easter sermons – after all, the story speaks for itself!

Enjoy …

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 21, 2019

John 20:1-18

Easter Hope

A few weeks ago, my in-laws were here and they gave Harrison a tomato plant.  We watered it a few times and then transplanted it into a bigger pot.  I excitedly explained to my sweet toddler as we cared for this little plant that eventually we were going to put it in our vegetable garden outside and that it was going to get bigger and grow tomatoes that we were going to eat.

About a week later, I was at church getting ready for worship when I got a text from Bruce that simply read, “I hate her.”

A few seconds later a picture came through; a picture of our sweet toddler’s little tomato plant – or, at least, what was left of it after the cat ate it the night before.

So we took a deep breath and decided not to give up on the plant.  We moved it to a different location – one that we thought (foreshadowing!) the cat would not be able to get to and made sure it had plenty of water and sun.  Much to our delight, new growth emerged.

And then a week later, the cat found it again.

But since we are gluttons for gardening punishment, we decided, again, not to give up on this plant; and, again, with some nurturing and some patience and some time, new growth has emerged.

I was all set to use this story as my big illustration for an Easter sermon on resurrection and hope and then on Monday I saw the notification on my phone that the Cathedral at Notre Dame was on fire. And then I watched, probably with millions of people around the world, as that fire engulfed the iconic cathedral.

At the time, my silly story of a tomato plant seemed so insignificant and trivial.  I wasn’t really sure it would really be appropriate to joke about it once I watched the spire of that 800-year-old building collapse in the fire.

I kept thinking that, as a pastor, I am trained to respond with this narrative of the Bodyof Christ and not the Buildingof Christ.  We, as Christians, know that the Church is not defined by a physical structure, but by the people who have enthusiastically responded to the call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But it was hard not to be devastated as I watched that building burn.

I immediately started thinking about a different message to share on Easter morning, a message of hope; a reminder, perhaps, that the story is not over yet, that God does really great work in the midst of devastation and loss and ash.

And then photos started to emerge from the interior of the cathedral.  And those photos boldly spoke that message of hope in a way that words would never be able to.  Photos of ancient relics still in tact – the cross, the altar, the stained glass windows, the bell towers, the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus, himself.

Just like the tiny little leaves that have emerged on Harrison’s chewed-down tomato plant, those photos were real and powerful reminders that resurrection is always possible; that even when it seems as though hope is lost, God is not finished.

God is not finished with the little and seemingly insignificant and trivial things and God is not finished with the big things, either.

The Easter story is a story of hope.  It tells us that there are no lost causes, that God’s power in this world is greater than everything, even death, itself.  The Easter story reminds us that God never abandons us during out times of great need; that in fact, that God does the most incredibly-inspiring and grace-filled work in those moments.  It shows us that it is in our moments of grief and sorrow and confusion that angels are in our midst and that Christ will appear to us – in some way – and call us by name.  It teaches us that the tomb was empty because God saw the brokenness of our humanity and said, this story is not over yet.

We live in world that desperately needs to hear this message of hope proclaimed.  We live in a world where people are hurting, where they are experiencing loss and heartache and stress and pain.  We live in a world where people weep, like Mary Magdalene, because it seems as though their world is crumbling.  We live in a world where people feel the depths of their brokenness.

And it is in this world that people need to know that second chances are always possible, that in the darkest moments of their lives, God’s light will shine.

And so today we tell this story of hope to a world that is broken.  We tell this story of our God whose love is so powerful that it triumphed over death, itself.  We tell this story of a man named Jesus whose Gospel we now live out in our own lives today. We tell this story of how resurrection once turned the world upside down and how it still can, today.  We tell this story of how redemption can be found in the smallest leaves on a tomato plant or in priceless relics discovered in the ash of a fire.  We tell this story of how there are no lost causes and how hope is real, hope is powerful and hope is alive in our lives today.

Happy Easter, friends!  May you feel the hope of God’s resurrecting love as you remember this story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Believe In The Magic Of The Season

I am almost done catching up on posting, so I am going to post my Advent, Christmas and Star Sunday sermons today!  I went off of the Year of Mark so that I could just “Do Christmas” and it was the best decision I could have made.  I loved getting to really be intentional about preaching within the season and touched on some scriptures that we read every year, but rarely in a service where I have time to actually preach on them.

Here is my sermon from the first Sunday of Advent!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 2, 2018

John 1:1-18

Believe In The Magic Of The Season

We are going to take a brief hiatus from the Year of Mark for the Advent and Christmas season.  We will pick it up again in January, after Star Sunday.

(Which, if you were here last year on Star Sunday, I hope you will consider sharing your Star Story with us.  If you were not here last year on Star Sunday and have no clue what I am talking about, I hope you will join us that Sunday, January 6th, because it is a really good service.)

Here’s why we are taking a hiatus from the Year of Mark:  I told my clergy covenant group this week that I am just not in the mood to do anything but Christmas right now – and that includes when I do church, as well.  And while I have some good stuff that I really want to dig into next with the Year of Mark – some stuff that is coming up and some stuff that I want to circle back to – right now, I am just not in the mood to do anything but Christmas.

I want to decorate my church and my office. I want to listen to Christmas music. I want to indulge in delicious Christmas treats.  I want to preach about this amazing story that, year after year, brings us hope, peace, joy and love.

I just want to step out of reality and believe in the magic of the season.

It has, at times, been a challenging year. Natural disasters have devastated communities, here in our country and around the world.  Senseless violence has threatened people’s safety and refuge. Our country continues to face political upheaval.  And our own church community has experienced a lot of really hard losses.

And here’s the thing – I do not want to put on rose-colored glasses, ignore the problems that need to be talked about and pretend that everything is fine.

But I also want to believe in the magic of Christmas, the magic of the Advent season of waiting, the magic of the incarnation and the magic of these beautiful words from the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and lived among us.  I want to believe in the magic of the glory of the Word, a Word full of grace and truth.

And even though I know there is evil and imperfection and sorrow and grief and uncertainty in this world, I want to believe in that grace and truth.

So we will pick Mark back up again in January. This morning I wanted to kick off our Advent season with this passage from the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John is the most mystical of the four Gospels; so it is fitting, right?  I want to believe in the magic of the season so I am bringing us into the most magical collection of the stories told about Jesus.

The reading that we just heard is from the very beginning of the Gospel; it is the prologue, which serves the purpose of first describing the cosmic and philosophical nature of our universe (that we cannot really comprehend), but then boldly declares this being – this person, this man, Jesus – as a physical manifestation of this cosmic and philosophical aura.

This passage from John is one of the most beautiful and poetic pieces of scripture.  I have always found it hard to wrap my head around what the Gospel writer is saying here, but I also do not think we need to necessarily understand it in order for us to believe it to be true.

That being said, I do think these words are supposed to remind us, like I talked about last Sunday, of the incarnational nature of our faith; that faith is meant to be lived out, in the flesh.

And this year, I just want to believe.  I want to believe in the magic of the incarnation; not only in the magic of the incarnation of God in Jesus 2,000 years ago, but also in the incarnation of God in our world today as good and kind-hearted and faithful individuals seek to do God’s work in their lives.  I want to believe in the magic of the kind of incarnation that propels people to be kind and love one another.  I want to believe in magic of the kind of incarnation that calls people to shine light into the darkness an unequivocally believe that love can and will always win.  I want to believe in the magic of this kind of incarnation.

A few years ago, in lieu of a traditional Advent-candle-lighting liturgy, I invited people to share a testimony about where they were finding hope, peace, joy and love in their lives.  These testimonies were beautiful representations of the incarnational nature of our faith.  Through people’s stories we bore witness to the ways the Advent promises of hope, peace, joy and love were happening in our midst; through these stories the Word that was full of grace and truth became flash and lived and dwelled among us.

This morning I thought I would officially kick off our Advent season by talking about how God is incarnate in our world still today; how I see these promises of hope, peace, joy and love being fulfilled, even in the midst of a sometimes-challenging season of life.

Today we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of hope.  I found hope this week in an unexpected way – in increments of $17.21 as people supported our church through our Giving Tuesday campaign.

In my line of work, I hear a lot about how the church is dying; how mainline protestant churches around the country are struggling with dwindling numbers and struggling finances.  As a church that falls in that demographic, we are not immune from those struggles.

And yet, this week, I had hope.  I had hope as, all day, I received notifications from PayPal that people were donating to our Giving Tuesday campaign.  I had hope as people stopped by the church office with checks and cash throughout the day.  I had hope as people took pride in what we were doing and celebrated each goal that we met.  I had hope as I read the nicest notes and comments that people wrote with their donations.  I had hope when, at the end of the day, we had raised over $2,400.

I have hope for the future of this church.

Next week we will light the second candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of peace.  I found peace last Sunday at our monthly Taizé worship service.  If you have never been to our Taizé services, they are approximately 40 minutes long – and we spend 15 minutes in complete silence at the end of every service.

I love that silence.  It is a time where I can talk to God, talk to myself, (think about my home renovations) and just be. We always say that style of worship is not for everyone, but for me it is just so peaceful.

The third candle we will light on our Advent wreath is the candle of joy.  And I found joy last Sunday in the 28 children that attended worship and our Advent workshop.

28!

GUYS.  Do you know why we started the all-ages Advent workshop a couple of years ago?  Because we had such low Church School attendance the Sunday after Thanksgiving and we could never get enough teachers so it made sense to combine everyone and do something simple.

And this year we had 28 kids.

The growth this church has seen this year, particularly with our young families, brings me so much joy.

The last candle on our Advent wreath is the candle of love.  And I saw a bold and powerful witness to love this week when I put out a quick request on Facebook on Wednesday evening to see if anyone could make a meal for the Eckilsons while Audrey recovers from her heart attack and less than 24 hours later had 12 people signed up to make meals over the next three weeks.

I see love in action here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

This year I want to encourage you all the believe in the magic of this season.  Believe in the Word made flesh, in the miraculously holy arrival of Emmanuel, God with us.  Believe in the incarnation – as it was, as it as and as it still has the potential to be. Believe in hope, believe in peace, believe joy, believe in love.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.

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.