It Is That Simple

Sermon #2 of the hat trick of sermons posted today.  This one is a little bit shorter – we had communion and a baptism and I didn’t want to keep people in the pews until noon!  I preached on John 15:9-17 and the command to love one another as Christ loves us.  I talked about how the word “love” is translated from the Greek and how that helps us understand what Jesus was talking about.  Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17

It Is That Simple

After an overwhelmingly successful Baked Potato Bar fundraiser for Homeless Awareness Weekend back in March, Mike Barger enthusiastically texted me and told me that the next fundraiser would be a Taco Bar in May. Always excited at the prospect of a good themed-party, I volunteered to decorate for the occasion and immediately opened Pinterest to get ideas.

One of the first things that popped up was a sign that said, “All you need is love and tacos.”

My first thought was, “We need this sign for our Taco Bar.”

Okay, my first thought was actually, “I need this sign for my house,” but then I thought about the Taco Bar, saved the pin for later and continued to scroll through the search results.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon; I was having a hard time organizing my thoughts for this week’s sermon when I remembered the saying on this sign, “All you need is love and tacos.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was that simple?

It was a hard week for pastoral care; I found myself sitting in the silences of unimaginable grief, fear, pain and sadness with people and so desperately wished that a little bit of love and a plate full of a tacos could have fixed everything.

But that’s the thing about life – you can’t always fix things. When the rubber meets the road and bad things happen, sometimes we cannot make them better, no matter how badly we might want to.

We live in an imperfect world; a world where bad things happen, where people feel pain, where evil threatens our existence and where we often travel through the darkness, wondering where and when we will find light.

And yet, living in this imperfect word – feeling pain, experiencing evil and sitting in the darkness of the unknown – Jesus gave us a simple command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

Is it really that simple? In the midst of everything that happens in this world – the challenges we face, the humanity we cannot always reconcile and the questions that are far too often left unanswered – is it really simply a matter of loving one another?

The word, “love,” itself, is not exactly simple, because it translates several different Greek words. When the word, “love,” appears in the New Testament, it is hard, in a biblical understanding, to offer one mutually exclusive definition of the word.

In this case, the word, love, is translated from the Greek, agapē, which is translated into Latin as, caritas, which means, charity. Here love is not necessarily a feeling we experience, but an action we participate in. It is concerned with the good of others and it has no limits. This type of love is a characteristic of God that we, as humans, partake in. It is a grace that we do not necessarily understand, but that we uncover and stand in awe of as we care for others. This is the kind of love that moves mountains and transforms people’s lives; that reminds someone, that even in their darkest moment, they are not alone.

If we are truly going to live out Christ’s call to love one another as God loves us, we have to remember that this kind of love requires a bold and irrefutable action; a concern for our neighbors far greater than ourselves; and a resilient belief that we can make a difference in someone’s life.

Yes, my friends, I do believe that if we had this kind of a love AND a plate full of tacos, then we would be all set.

Love in action, of course, is not always easy. The nature of this kind of love, the expression of love towards others, whether they be our friends or our enemies, is not something that necessarily comes naturally to us all the time (let’s go back to that whole living in an imperfect world thing, shall we?).

But Jesus reminds us that we do not have to go searching for this love, it is already within us; it is a gift God has given to each and every one of us, a grace bestowed upon us through love, itself. Jesus said:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; [so] love one another as I have loved you.

So we can do it; because the love we are being called to express is a type of love that has been infused within us.

One of my favorite lines in this passage is verse 16, where Jesus says:

You did not choose me but I chose you.

We are chosen; we are called. God put us on this earth and is commanding us to love one another; to be tangible expressions of light, healing and hope to a world that is broken; to be the hands and feet and face of Christ to those who so desperately need to see and hear and experience the Good News.

Very often, when bad things happen to the people around us, we cannot fix them. But in those moments, we can love and we can love hard. We can live out agapē, bestowing love upon others the way God loves us every day. We can show up with meals, drinks and an endless supply of chocolate. We can mail cards and send prayer shawls. We can offer to take care of pets and do household chores. We can shovel driveways in the winter and do yard work in the summer. We can hold one another’s hands and tell them that we love them. We can tell jokes and help people laugh, maybe not taking away their pain, but reminding them that one day they will, again, feel joy.

Remember, this kind of love is not something that we have to learn, this kind of love is something that is already within us. In the same way God gave us the ability to breathe, God gave us the ability to love. As blood flows freely through our body, so, too, does love.

So as you heed Christ’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us, remember that this kind of love requires action. So let us take action; let us love and love hard. Let us change people’s lives and show them that they are not alone.

It is that simple.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Promise Is Fulfilled

Psalm 23 is never an easy one to preach on – everyone knows it so well!  Every time it comes up in the lectionary I try to come up with something new and revolutionary to say about it, but every time I think I realize I just need to let it speak for itself.  So that’s what I did!  I reflect on it briefly, but at the end just center us all back and read the Psalm to close my sermon.

Hope you all are having a great week! xo

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 22, 2018

Psalm 23
John 10:11-18

The Promise Is Fulfilled

Full disclosure: I have had a very long week.

Combine that with the fact that the 23rd Psalm is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself and, I have to admit, I was having a really hard time focusing on my sermon.

Which brought me to Thursday evening; I was scrolling through a preaching group I am in on Facebook and there was a conversation happening about whether or not it would be okay to recycle an old sermon this week. One pastor commented on the post, “It’s Earth Day, so surely it’s wasteful NOT to recycle!”

Which I thought was fair.

But I forged ahead, anyway, and tried to come up with a new revelation on the subject.

My Tuesday morning bible study is currently reading the book of Jeremiah, who is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. Jeremiah is often referred to as, “the weeping prophet,” because of the tears he shed over the sins and the fate of his people and the dark prophesies he spoke. Jeremiah is a depressing, violent and somewhat desolate book. It is also fairly repetitive, so it is repetitively depressing, violent and somewhat desolate.

But, bible study is fun! You should consider joining us.

Anyway, the other day we had just read a particularly dark passage when someone flipped longingly towards the end of the bible, sighed and said, “I miss the New Testament.”

This is probably something we have all thought at some point while reading the Old Testament, right? There is quite often a very clear (albeit oversimplified) delineation between the violence of the Old Testament and the love of the New Testament; the death of the Old Testament and the resurrection of the New Testament; the despair of the Old Testament and the hope of the New Testament.

And yet, this morning’s scripture readings – one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament – are woven so beautifully into the fabric of one another. Psalm 23, the Psalm of David, says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” does not at all stand in contrast to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, where he says, “I am the good shepherd.” In fact, when you read these two passages in conjunction with one another, you cannot help but stand in awe at the ways in which God so carefully and gracefully has put some of the pieces of our faith together.

It is fitting that these passages, particularly the 23rd Psalm, popped up in the lectionary on the Sunday when we were already scheduled to bless a new batch of prayer shawls. These shawls act as a tangible reminder of God’s presence in our lives. Very often we give someone a prayer shawl when they are walking through that valley of the shadow of death and that shawl shows them, in a palpable and comforting way, that the promise, “for thou art with me,” is being fulfilled, despite the challenges they are facing.

I saw a friend of mine two weeks ago who I sent a prayer shawl to after the Newtown shooting. He and his family lived across the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time. He looked at me and said, “We still have that prayer shawl you sent us,” and then his eyes filled up with tears.

The work we do here matters. We can touch someone when they are walking through that dark valley; we can remind them that they are not alone, that God is with them; we can bring them comfort. Through these shawls, we enact these words of scripture and bring them to life

I was wrestling with this psalm this week, trying to uncover some new revelation about something that people already know really well. And I kept coming up short, so I reached out to a friend of mine, who is a funeral director, and, admittedly, hears this psalm a lot, and asked him why he thinks people use Psalm 23 so often at funerals and memorial services. And this is what he said:

Because it tells us never to be afraid of death. It tells us that God is with us ALWAYS. Isn’t it nice to know, even with all of our responsibilities, stress, and busy lives, that we are still only sheep? That there is a shepherd far greater and bigger than anything we, as mortals, can accomplish?

I thought those were powerful words coming from someone who quite literally walks through that valley of the shadow of death with people every single day; someone who understands the powerful, yet sometimes heartbreaking truth of these words. Because there is so much we do not understand about this world that we are living in and our existence beyond it. But at the heart of our faith lies a promise; a promise of love, a promise of light and a promise of a grace far more incredible than we can ever imagine.

I love the pairing of the 23rd Psalm with this passage from the Gospel of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Now, it could just be because I still have some of my Christmas decorations up and was staring at a sign hanging in my entryway that says, “For unto us a child is born” when I was writing my sermon yesterday, but as I was writing, I could not help but think about these two passages alongside that Advent promise that Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us – is coming.

Jesus self-identifying at the Good Shepherd reinforces this assurance that God is not some far-away deity that does not understand what we are going through. God is with us; God came into this world in human form; God understands what feel, because God felt those same things. God felt pain, anger, sadness, despair, frustration and rejection in the human body of Jesus Christ and when love conquered the grave on that first Easter morning, a promise was made; a promise that God will never abandon us, that God will shepherd us through our own humanity.

So I said earlier that I was searching, this week, for some new revelation about the 23rd Psalm that I would be able to share with you all this morning. I am sorry to say that I did not find it. This psalm speaks for itself; it is almost like a security blanket that we need to pull out every now and then. When I said this to my friend, who is the funeral director, he replied, “Sometimes all we need is that security blanket to make us feel safe.”

And he is absolutely right.

This morning, I am going to pull out that security blanket and wrap it tightly around us all.

Ironically, when I looked back on one of my past sermons on these same texts, I apparently drew the same conclusion and ended the exact same way.

So perhaps I am recycling an old idea.

Or perhaps this is always simply what we need to hear.

I invite you all to close your eyes and hear these words of the 23rd Psalm:

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Glorifying God Today

Hi friends!  I’m a week behind in posting my sermons, so I am going to post last week’s and this week’s today.  Blessings into your Holy Week!  If you live near Rehoboth, please join us for some of our services. We would love to see you and experience the resurrection together.

<3

Holy Week 2018 Cover Photo

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 18, 2018

John 12:20-33

Glorifying God Today

Have you ever had one of those moment where you look back and think, “Oh okay, God, I see what you were doing there”?

I was listening to James Taylor in my office this week and Mike Sullivan-Silva stopped by and commented on it and I kind of offhandedly replied, “Well, I fell in love with my husband over James Taylor.”

Which I am not entirely sure he was expecting me to say.

The short version of the story is that, I was a senior in college; I was having whatever quarter-life crisis you are supposed to have when you are 21 years old and a little melodramatic and I had decided that Christmas that I was going to write off men completely.

I was a strong, independent woman, after all; I was getting ready to go to seminary and I knew I needed to be confident in who I was in, the relationships I had with my family and friends and the options I had for the following year.

So the morning after Christmas I woke up, I decided the holiday was over (I was not waiting for Epiphany that year, the wise men were just going to have to show up without me), I put all my Christmas stuff away, pulled out a bunch of my dad’s James Taylor CDs and focused my attention on my upcoming weekend in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I was going to be on staff at a weekend retreat for a youth leadership program.

The strange thing is, I never really listened to James Taylor before that. My parents did and I certainly enjoyed his music, but something in that moment pushed me to grab those CDs and start listening.

And about a week later, I was at that retreat, cleaning up with the rest of the staff. We decided to go see a movie and I offered to drive. One of the other leaders, a boy named Bruce, got in the front seat of my car and, when I turned it on and James Taylor, Greatest Hits, Volume 2 started playing, he said, “Oh, I love James Taylor! I always listened to him before my wrestling matches to calm me down.”

This sparked a conversation that, ultimately, changed the course of my life.

11 years later, I can look back on that melodramatic college meltdown and the strange inkling to go on a James Taylor kick and think to myself, “Oh okay, God, I see what you were doing there.”

A few weeks ago in bible study someone posed the question, “Have you ever experienced a moment where God was clearly speaking to you?” Many, if not all, of us nodded affirmatively, although, as we discussed those moments in our lives, we realized that very often, they were also moments where perhaps we might not have understand what was happening at the time, but would eventually look back and say, “Oh, okay, God, I see what you were doing there.”

In a way, as Christians living on this side of the resurrection, we can look back on a lot of the entire Christian narrative and say the same thing. It is much easier for us – 2,000 years later – to understand how God was piecing together this life-changing and grace-giving story. But think, for a moment, about what it must have been like for Jesus and his disciples, living in those moments. They did not have the hindsight we have today, the ability to look back and say, “Oh, okay, God, I see what you were doing there.

Instead, they had to walk forward in faith – not necessarily knowing or understanding what was happening – believing that God was not only present in their lives and active in their stories, but also that their actions and their lives were glorifying God.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of John 12:20-33. We are jumping around a little bit; this story actually immediately follows the Palm Sunday narrative that we will hear next week. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover and this is a critical moment for Jesus; the time is coming when he will be put to death on the cross. The stakes are high and every moment – every thought and action – matters.

Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”[1] In other words, this is it. Jesus knew what was about to happen; he kept telling the disciples exactly how it was going to play out (although they never really got understood what he was talking about).

And here we see a really human moment for Jesus. He says, “Now my soul is troubled.”[2] Can you imagine what must have been going through his head? He knew he was going to die; he knew that his disciples – his friends, the people that he trusted – were going to deny him, betray him and abandon him. Did he want God to stop this from happening?

Jesus asks the question, “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour?’” But then he answers, “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

This is a powerful moment, because it is here that Jesus not only asserts what is to happen to him, but also fully submits to God’s will in this process as it is happening. Jesus did not have the luxury to look back in time and say, “Oh, okay, God, I see what you are doing here,” But Jesus believed in that moment that what he was doing was glorifying God.

This was not about Jesus the man, the disciples, the crowds who followed Jesus throughout his ministry, the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus in this story or the chief priests and the Pharisees that put Jesus on the cross. This was and always has been about the heart of the Gospel message; that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story, that love conquered that grave and that the darkness of that day and night did not win.

Jesus says, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” This story – the Easter story, the journey to the cross and then gloriously to the empty tomb – is the culmination of Jesus’ purpose and existence. It is the reason that we gather in the first place.

Our bible study just finished the Gospel of Matthew and, as we were reading through the story of the crucifixion, we talked about the roles that Jesus’ disciples played in his final days. What if Judas had not betrayed him, we wondered? What if Peter had not denied him?

But then, we wondered, would we all be here today? Would we be telling this story? Would we believe in God’s promises?

As heartbreaking as the story of Jesus’ death is and as painfully human as some of the moments leading up to it were, we needed them. We need them today. We need Jesus’ death on the cross to teach us about new life in Christ. We need to experience the darkness of the tomb in order to fully appreciate the light pouring into it on Easter morning when that stone is rolled away. We need to wrestle with the humanness of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial as we wrestle with our own humanness.

Today, we look back on this story and say, “Oh okay, God, I see what you were doing there.”

But Jesus did not need to look back to understand what was happening. “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus knew in that moment that he was glorifying God.

So how do we do the same in our lives?

One of things we talked about in bible study as we read through the entire Gospel was the way in which God used ordinary people to create this narrative of Jesus’ life. In the same way God used a humble girl from meek beginnings to give birth to Jesus, God also used the men who betrayed Jesus in the end to tell a different, but equally important, equally powerful and equally grace-filled part of this story.

And I believe, with all my heart, that God is using us today to continue to write this Christian story.

How do our lives glorify God? Jesus said, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour,” and I have to believe that there is a reason we have come to this hour. Friends, we were created for this moment; God needs the lives we are leading, the choices we are making, the relationships we are fostering and the compassion we are extending today.

And who knows? Maybe one day, we will look back and understand what the heck God was doing in all of this. We might say, “Oh, okay God, I see what you were doing there.” But for the moment, we have to believe that God has this under control and we have to live our lives as a bold testament to this truth. Even if we do not know, exactly, what God is doing, we have glorify God in everything we do in our lives.

Jesus said, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour,” but then he said something else. “Father, glorify your name.” And a voice from heaven said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

What if we lived our lives believing that every single moment has the potential to glorify God? What if we, like Jesus did, walk forward in faith, believing that God is not only present in our lives and active in our stories, but also that our actions and our lives are glorifying God?

As we take this last leg of our journey to the cross this Lenten season, I invite you to appreciate the humanness of this story – the way God used and uses ordinary people to enact the Gospel and glorify God in this world. But then ask yourself this question, how is my life enacting the Gospel; how is my life glorifying God?

We need to live each moment as if it matters. We need to live each moment as if this is the piece God will use to tie everything together. We need to glorify God in the extraordinary moments of our lives, but also in the ordinary ones. We need to glorify God inside the walls of this church, but especially outside the walls of this church, as well.

Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Friends, the hour is now; the hour is always; the hour is here, in our lives.

God is doing some really spectacular work in our lives. We may not understand it all right now – years down the road we might look back on our lives and say, “Oh okay, God, I see what you were doing there” – but in the meantime we can walk forward in faith, glorifying God in our lives today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] John 12:23, NRSV
[2] John 12:27, NRSV

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