One Year Later

Hi friends!

It is crazy to think that we have been worshiping online for an entire year.  In many ways it feels like it has been longer than that, but in other ways it feels like no time has passed since I composed that email to the congregation letting them know we were suspending in-person worship.  I reflected a little on this anniversary this morning.  Here is my sermon, as well as the video to worship.

Peace, be with you friends – there is light at the end of the tunnel!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 15, 2021

John 3:14-21

One Year Later

I went down something of a rabbit hole this week.

The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the shutdown have felt a little bit like when 9/11 rolls around every year; it seems as though we have been in this national state of “what were you doing when” as we approach and reach significant milestones.  News anchors and podcast hosts have been recapping the year.  Our Facebook memories keep popping up reminding us of the last time we did certain things (or at least the way we were used to doing them).  I actually had a picture pop up of Harrison and Samantha and me standing outside of the Sadie Perry Room before worship that popped up this week that kind of took my breath away; because I remember that moment like it was yesterday and yet in some ways it seems so far away.  Bill and Wendy talked about our final in-person worship service and then our first virtual worship service and 9:00 prayer time when they led prayers on Monday night.  And on Wednesday, while I was preparing for evening prayers, I re-read the last sermon that I preached in-person and the first sermon that I preached in virtual worship.

Unexpected, but not surprising, the last sermon I preached in-person was actually on this very text that we are looking at this morning.  The reason I say unexpected, but not surprising is because we are in the season of Lent and so, year-to-year, there is overlap with these Lenten texts in the lectionary; it is not surprising that we would look at the same – or similar – stories right now.  It was unexpected, however, because, in so many ways – good and bad – life feels vastly different than it did a year ago.  It was unexpected to be reflecting on this passage of scripture in order to get ready for today’s worship service and then pull up last year’s sermon – a sermon preached at the very beginning of this time of great chaos and angst and unknown – and realize that these were the same words we were reflecting on.  It feels very full circle.

The Gospel has not changed.  Our world has changed; but the Gospel has not changed.

This morning’s scripture reading, like our scripture reading from about a year ago, comes from the Gospel of John.  It contains, I would argue, one of the best-known passages of scripture, John 3:16 – “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.”

This is one of those passages of scripture that sounds so beautiful in the King James Version of the bible – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  These words are just so poetic and beautiful and powerful.

When I reflected on these words a year ago, I talked about the fact that this was the world that Jesus came into – this messy and chaotic world.  At the time, very little made sense to us, but that was okay, right?  Because this scripture says “everyone who believes in [Jesus] may … have eternal life,” not, “everyone who understands what is going on may have eternal life.”

Looking back, I really do believe that we needed to hear those words in that moment.  Because we were entering a season where our faith in God through Jesus Christ was the one thing that could not be taken away from us; in fact, it was arguably the thing that carried most of us through.

So here we are, one year later.  I think many of us still need to hear these words as we pass this one-year milestone.  Because much is still up in the air about the vaccine rollout and what life is going to look like in a post-covid (or, at least, mostly-post-covid) world; there are still many unanswered questions.  And it has been a really hard year; we are all exhausted.  We need to be reminded that our mess of a world was and is so deeply loved by God that Jesus came to save it; that, even a year into all of this, our world is still worth saving.

But there is more.

Something really cool happens with the lectionary this week that I think relevant and necessary right now.

Last year we looked at this passage in the context of John 3:1-17.  This year, the lectionary has us looking at this passage in the context of John 3:14-21.  Meaning we still see John 3:16, but this iconic passage is at the beginning of what we are looking at instead of the end.

Last year when we looked at this passage, it was almost as if the passage led us into John 3:16 and that was where we landed.

And we needed to, right?  We needed to land on John 3:16 so that we could sit there for awhile and really lean into our faith in Jesus.  We needed that throughout the past year.

But this year – this is where we start.

This is our starting point; this – John 3:16, “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” – is where our passage begins and then Jesus continues on to tell us what that means for us.

And friends, I think now, a year into the pandemic, at a time where vaccines are rolling out and we are trying to get things open again, we are ready to keep going and see what’s next.

This is how the passage continues:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world.

But those who do what is true come to the light.

Light.

Jesus says that what comes next is light.

Jesus gives us this promise – that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world and that all we have to do to receive eternal life is to believe in Jesus.

But it does not end there.  Then Jesus gives us a charge; a charge to believe in the light, a charge to love the light and a charge to do what is true and to bring that to the light.

Friends, if you are like me, you are probably wondering, what’s next?  When can I travel again?  When can I host dinner parties again?  Will my children be able to go back to school full-time?  Will I feel anxious when it is time to get back out into the world?  What is the world going to look like?  What has changed?  What will go back to “normal”?

I do not have answers to most of these questions.  But I do think it starts with this charge, this charge to be the light.  I think the answer to the question, what’s next, starts with this charge from Jesus to believe in the light, to love the light, to do what is true and to bring that truth to the light.  I think the next steps in re-opening the world have very little to do with the phases of reopening and everything to do with all of us boldly shining light into a very dark world.

I think for an entire year we have been desperately holding on this light; we have been holding it close to us, perhaps because we were afraid it might go out if we held it too far away or just because it was comforting to us, it was like a security blanket that we gripped tightly when it felt like everything else was slipping away.

But friends, now it is time to shine that light into the world.  It is time for all of us to extend that light into the darkness.  It is time for us to celebrate that light, to love that light and to honor that light.  And it is time for us to share that light, to bring all of our lights together so that we can conquer the darkness.

It is time for us to do what is true – to love one another, to care for one another and to lift one another us – and then bring that into the light.

Our world is so very broken right now.  But we have something that can heal it.  We have this incredible faith that can and will bring healing and peace and wholeness.  We need to bring this into the light; we need to share with the world that this kind of healing is possible.  We need to demonstrate that the Body of Christ is ready to do the work that is necessary to bring about restoration.

When we first started to realize that covid was not going to be a quick here-and-gone thing and that the world was going to change in real and significant ways as a result of it, I was scared, because I did not know what we would be left with.  And, in many ways, I still don’t.

But I know what I have.

In fact, I know what we all have.

Light.

And I know that, together, our light is going to shine brighter than we could ever have imagined.

And that it will make a difference.

One year ago we needed to be reminded that our faith in God through Jesus Christ would carry us through the darkness of what was coming.  Today, even though it is not over yet, we celebrate that is has, even in those moments when it was really hard.  And today we accept the charge to get up and carry that light forward.

Because the world needs it.

Friends, it is time to break through the darkness and be harbingers of light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

Hi friends!

I preached on the Gospel this morning, Jesus cleansing the table.  I love talking about the placement of this story in John and why this might mean something different than the synoptics.  My sermon is below, as well the video from our service.

ALSO – I might be totally biased, but if you get a chance, check out this week’s Church School video.  My sweet little PK helped lead communion and then the Lord’s Prayer!  I’m so proud of him and everything he is getting out of Church School online this year. <3

Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 7, 2021

John 2:13-22

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, a lot of people (myself included) have been reflecting on what we were doing a year ago.  For many of us, these past couple of weeks have marked the one-year anniversary of the last time we did X, Y or Z.  It is on our radar, of course, but things like TimeHop or Facebook memories help us to remember these events, as well.

A few weeks ago, a video popped up in my Facebook memories from the Chocolate Festival last year.  I cringed when I saw the video, because I think there were close to 200 people crammed inside Fellowship Hall, shuffling around the room as best they could, filling their boxes with various delicious treats and gleefully gathering around the chocolate fountain.

In fairness, everyone that was handling food was wearing gloves, no one was handling money and food at the same time and no one was actually dipping food directly into the chocolate fountain (I believe there was a system where the person stationed at the chocolate fountain, who was wearing gloves, would put a bowl under the stream of chocolate and then the person getting the chocolate would pick out the things they wanted to dip into it and then it would just be handed to them in one bowl).

Regardless, when I saw that video, I thought to myself, my goodness, it looks like we hosted a super spreader event!

Guys.  I am sad to say that it might be a hot minute before we host a chocolate festival exactly like that again.  Moving forward, we might be a little more mindful of how many people we are shoving into a room at one time, regardless of how much money we are making.

But actually – THAT is what I wanted to talk about this morning.  The money.

We made over $4,000 at that event; the money went towards the operating budget and we absolutely blew my goal of $1,200 out of the water.  If you were not there, what we did was sell people tickets, which I think were $1 a piece.  Then we priced the chocolate items by an amount of tickets; items cost anywhere from one ticket to four or five tickets.  People would take their tickets and go over to the tables with the chocolate items, drop the number of tickets they needed for an item in a box and then our volunteers would put that item in their chocolate box.  This actually made it really simple to exchange money; people were crowded around the table where we were selling tickets basically throwing tens and twenties down and we would quickly hand them their tickets and then they would be on their way.

Essentially what we had in Fellowship Hall – what that video that popped up in my memories showed – was a bunch of people, a bunch of goods (items for sale) and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods.

And so while I was reading this passage this week – where Jesus walks into the temple and finds a bunch of people, a bunch of good and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods – I thought to myself, “Huh. Well that seems familiar doesn’t it.”

I wonder if Jesus would have made a whip out of twizzlers from the chocolate fountain, flipped over tables, sent truffles flying through the air and told us, “Take this chocolate out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a chocolate-market!”

Maybe not; I actually would like to think that Jesus would have grabbed himself a cup of Barb Medeiros’ delicious homemade hot chocolate and chatted with everyone for awhile, but I do think that this story reminds us that what we do matters.  In this story, Jesus makes it clear that he disapproves of the choices being made in the temple.

This is one of my favorite stories, because we see a different side of Jesus.  We are used to seeing a Jesus who teaches, preaches, prays, heals and feeds.  This is a Jesus who is angry; who sees corruption and oppression and is pushing back against it.  This is a Jesus who is not passively standing by, but actively making his displeasure known, knocking tables down and telling people to stop what they are doing.

How, exactly, did we get here?  Let’s back up for a minute.

It is almost time for Passover and people from all over are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival.  When Jesus arrives, he realizes that people have set up a marketplace in the temple; they are selling cattle, sheep and doves and there are moneychangers exchanging currencies.

Why are they doing this?  Well, for starters, people who are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival need a place where they can purchase an animal to sacrifice; it is not always possible for them to travel to Jerusalem with these animals.  And, if you think about it, the temple is a pretty central – and known! – location to do this.  The moneychangers are there to convert foreign currency, so that everyone – no matter where they were traveling from or what kind of currency they were carrying – can purchase make their purchases for the sacrifice.

It is hard to pinpoint, exactly, why Jesus is upset, but it is probably a combination of things.  First of all, these people are likely charging exorbitant rates, both to change the currency and for the animals.  There is a high demand and the temple is the only place to take care of it, so it is kind of like electricity in Texas a few weeks ago – prices go up.  Second of all, Jesus is also not a fan of the fact that this is happening inside the temple, where people were supposed to be worshipping.

This story is an important one; it appears in all four Gospels.  Important to note this morning, however, is that this story appears much earlier in the Gospel of John than it does in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Here is why this is important; in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this story appears towards the end of the Gospels, acting, in many ways, as part of the catalyst for the crucifixion.  These Gospels tell the story as if Jesus calmly entered the scene, peacefully performed all these miracles and taught all these lessons, entered Jerusalem and then lost his temper in the temple.

And that very well may have happened.  However – this story appears in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, long before Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Which leads scholars to believe that these are different stories; that perhaps, this – Jesus storming into the temple and driving everyone out – happened more than once.  Scholars speculate, based on the timing of this story versus the temple story in the Synoptic Gospels, that Jesus’ actions in the temple were not simply a catalyst that led to his arrest, but that they were part of his ministry from the very beginning; that he challenged the institution long before his life was threatened for it.

This story, particularly the placement of it in John’s Gospel, is instrumental in our faith because it reminds us that Jesus refused to stand idly by when he witnessed oppression and injustice.  He pushed back; he made his voice heard and his presence known.  He literally flipped tables over to stop corruption from happening.  He risked everything for the sake of justice and he did not just do this at the end of his life and ministry, he did this from the very beginning.

This is actually a really hard one for me; because sometimes I think it is easier for me to live into the part of the Gospel where Jesus calls me to feed the hungry or heal the sick.  It feels a lot harder and scarier for me to live into this part; to turn over tables when I bear witness to oppression, to speak out against injustice and to hold others accountable to the promises we all make in baptism.  This feels like a much more complicated level to my faith.

And yet, this is as much a part of the Gospel as anything else.  Jesus’ resistance to injustice in order to care for the most vulnerable is part of who we are, who God is calling us to be, who Jesus needs us to be in order to keep the Gospel alive in our world today.

And friends, the world so desperately needs the Gospel, now more than ever.

So like I said, I actually think Jesus would have approved of our chocolate festival.  But I also think Jesus would have sipped his hot chocolate and asked us what our mission is.  I think Jesus would have snacked on a brownie and asked us what we, as a church community are actively doing to try to make this world a more just place.  I think Jesus would have grabbed some treats to fill his chocolate box and reminded us that the Gospel is not simply about words, but about actions – and that our actions should elicit change not only on surface levels, but on systemic levels, as well.

And this is going to look different for each one of us.  Like so many other pieces of our faith, we are all coming from different places.  But I do think this text challenges us to dig deeper into this more complicated level of our faith; to speak out against the injustices and the corruption we witness in the world.  I do think this text dares us to explore a level of activism and push for change, even if it means turning over some tables in the process.

Today is the third Sunday of Lent, a time of repentance as we journey towards the cross, but also a time of reflection.  It is a time to reflect on who we are and who God is calling us to be.  It is time to reflect on who we have the capacity to be and who God needs us to be.  It is a time to push ourselves to say and do things that might move us outside of our comfort zones, but that bring the Gospel to light in our world.  It is a time to experience the heartbreak and the brokenness of crucifixion so that, on Easter morning, resurrection is all the more powerful.

So may we all continue our journey to the cross this Lenten season by looking inwardly at who we are and who God is calling us to be.  May we challenge ourselves and the world around us.  May the Gospel prevail so that love can win.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Jesus Wept. So Can We.

Hi Friends,

It is hard to believe, but this is week three of our virtual worship.  I actually moved my livestream home this week.  I am still preaching through the lectionary Lenten texts.  This morning was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  I think it is fitting right now that we are reading stories of miraculous healing and resurrection – we all need the reminder and reassurance that we will be redeemed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 29, 2020

John 11:1-45

Jesus Wept.  So Can We.

This story has always perplexed me.  In fact, I think every time I have preached it up until this point, I have given a disclosure that, as both a Christian and as a pastor, I really wrestle with the whole bodily resurrection thing.  There are elements to this story that – now more than ever – do not necessarily make sense on a scientific or physical level.

I mean, the truth is, I think we are all praying for a Lazarus type of miracle right now.  And yet, the news just seems to be getting worse and scarier as the days go on and it is becoming harder and harder to hold fast to Jesus’ reassurance to Martha in this story that she needs to believe.

And yet, for some reason, this story is bringing me an odd sense of comfort right now – and I think there are two reasons for this.

Jesus’ words to Martha are ones I have spoken at every funeral, memorial or burial service I have ever presided over.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

As strange as it sounds, these words bring me comfort right now.  First of all, because I have said them so many times, they are familiar to me.  And currently, we are living in a world that is anything but familiar.  We are all trying to navigate this time and space of the unfamiliar and I think little pieces of normalcy are a good thing.  In fact, I would encourage you all to seek out little pieces of normal every single day, even if you find it in the smallest things.  These are the things that will help ground us and steady us as we seek to find our new normal.

Truth be told, I think a lot of these pieces can be found in our faith – through scripture, prayer and music.

The second reason Jesus’ words are bringing me comfort right now is because when I say them after someone has died, I do so as a reminder to their loved ones that their story is not over yet; that our faith is not grounded in death, but in resurrection.  And so, reading them in the midst of the chaos we are living in today reminds me of this same promise – that our story is not over yet.

That resurrection is coming.

Our faith is not defined death, but by new life; not by darkness, but by light; not by our brokenness, but by God’s ability to make us whole again.

So – let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.  It comes from the Gospel of John, which, to some extent, is a little bit of a continuation of last week’s reading, the healing of the blind man.  The healing of the blind man can be found in the ninth chapter John and this morning’s reading, the rising of Lazarus is just two chapters later, in John 11.  In between these two stories, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd and then is rejected by the Jews.

To some extent, not much time passes between Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man and his even more miraculous (and almost incomprehensible) raising of Lazarus.  And to me, this sort of reinforces the point that Jesus is all in right now.  He is not holding anything back – he is fully revealing the Glory of God and the light that shines in this world, even if the world is pushing back.

Jesus knows how this story is going to end – he foretells his death and resurrection over and over and over again.  And so there is a sense of urgency to what he is trying to do and what – and who – he is trying to reveal.

Our story begins in the village of Bethany where three siblings – Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus – live.  Lazarus is ill, so Mary and Martha – who had encountered Jesus previously in the Gospel, send Jesus a message to let Jesus know that Lazarus, a man Jesus knows and loves, is sick.  Jesus does not travel to see Lazarus right away; and by the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days.

Mary and Martha are visibly – and justifiably – upset by the passing of their brother.  They are weeping and, when Jesus sees them weeping, he begins to weep, as well.  Then Jesus goes to the tomb; he asks to have the stone removed and then calls for Lazarus to come out.

And Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

Let’s back up for a moment.

When Jesus approaches the village of Bethany, Mary stays at home and Martha goes to greet him.  Martha says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus responds to Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

There is not a doubt in Jesus’ mind how this story is going to end.  In the same way that he keeps foretelling his own death and resurrection, he knows that this is not the end of Lazarus’ story.  He knows that Lazarus is going to be resurrected to new life; he is confident that when he calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb that he will, in fact, walk out on his own.

And yet, here is the part that is really resonating with me right now.

When Mary arrives and, like her sister, says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She is weeping while she says this to him – and so are the Jews who had been consoling her in her house and then followed her to meet Jesus.

And rightfully so, right?  Their friend – Mary and Martha’s brother – a person they all love very much – has died.  If ever there is a time to weep, this is it.

But here is the part that speaks to us today – when Jesus sees their pain and sadness and mourning and sorry, he, too, begins to weep.

Hear these words from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35:

Jesus began to weep.

Jesus – a man who knows and has seen miraculously healing take place, who, not long before this moment healed a blind man with the simple substance of dirt and saliva – began to weep.

Jesus – the Good Shepherd – began to weep.

Jesus – the Word, the beginning, life – the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness – began to weep.

Jesus – the light of the world – began to weep.

Jesus – who knew how this story was going to end, who knew that Lazarus was going to walk out of the tomb resurrected to new life – began to weep.

Jesus – who believes in the hope of resurrection – began to weep.

He weeps over the sadness of this moment – over the brokenness of the world.

I love this passage because we see Jesus’ humanity walking parallel with his faith.  His weeping is not a failure of his own belief or a sign of his weakness, but a testament to his humanness.

It is important for us to remember, now more than ever, that our own weeping is not a failure of our belief or a sign of our weakness, but a testament to our humanness.

We are getting ready to enter week three of our social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining.  It is strange to think that, when this started three weeks ago, I not only heeded the recommendation of the Southern New England Conference to suspend our in-person worship, programs and activities for two weeks, but I cautiously extended the time frame an extra week to include this Sunday.  At the time several of my colleagues were taking things one week at a time, some of them even chose to meet in person that first Sunday, while taking CDC-recommended precautions for social distancing.

My how things have changed.

As strange as this sounds, I think we are all starting to settle into a really bizarre new normal.  And I think there is some good that comes with this.  For example, we used grocery pickup for the first time this week and it made me feel better about the whole food supply chain and our access to food and other essentials during this time.

(It also made me wish I had not stocked up on so many snacks ahead of time because now there is just a lot of junk food in my house that I am trying to resist, but that is another point for another day.)

But I also think that there is a new wave a secondary grief that has come – and is still coming – with this new normal.  We are not only mourning the loss of the world as we knew it, but also the things we were looking forward to and our expectations for what our lives might look like in the coming weeks and months.

And I am talking about the little things as much as I am talking about the big things.  Of course there are big and serious concerns about everyone’s health, safety, job security and finances right now, but I also think people are just really bummed that they have had to change their plans.  Vacations have been canceled, events have been postponed and people are just missing hanging out with one another.  And while we are all doing the best we can to connect in other ways and make the most out of it, it is hard not to grieves the layers of loss that comes with this.

It is okay to weep.

After all, knowing how the story was going to end, Jesus wept.

It is okay for us to weep now, too.  To grieve.  To give ourselves a moment where we fall apart and have a little pity party.  To feel sad about things we are missing out on or expectations that we have had to change, even though we know there are a lot of other bigger problems we should probably be worrying about.

Jesus wept – it is okay if we weep now, too.

We are human, after all.  And even though we believe in resurrection – we believe that light will shine, that light is shining – we believe that we will get through this and that we have not been abandoned – we, like Jesus, are facing our human brokenness in a real and vulnerable and devastating way right now.

It is okay for us to weep.

It does not make us less faithful, it does not mean that we have given up.

It just means that we are human.  And that we are going through something that is hard right now.

But remember Jesus’ promise throughout all of this.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection will come.  Light will shine.  One day we will walk out of our home likes Lazarus came out of the tomb and shed the bands of this social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining and we will all rejoice together when that happens.

And we can be confident that this will happen and that God has not abandoned us and still be sad right now.  Jesus wept – it is okay for us to weep now, too.

Friends, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself during this season of life that we are in.  It is okay to be human – to acknowledge your vulnerability and your emotions and your brokenness.  To give yourself a moment to fall apart.  To know that your grief – whether it be over something big or small – is real and validated.

And then let God meet you in that moment.

And remind you of the hope of resurrection.  And of the light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And through our grief and our sadness, be like Martha, say through our grief and our sadness, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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