Reset

Week two of our sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul and today’s topic is, Reset.  I’m not preaching next Sunday, so there won’t be a post or podcast.  If you want to know what I’m up to, check out the Facebook page for my dad’s musical this week and next. 😉

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 12, 2017

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 3:1-17

Reset (Lenten Sermon Series: Boot Camp for the Soul)

Do you ever wish that you could just start over?

Yesterday morning, I was out running errands when I noticed my gaslight was on. I pulled into the gas station and popped the cover to the gas tank, all the while grumbling about the fact that it was 18° and, who wants to pump gas when it is that cold? It was not until I got out of my car and went to run my debit card that I noticed the cover to my gas tank was frozen shut. It did not matter how many times I pulled the little lever, the cover would not open. So I tried to use my debit card to jimmy it open and promptly cracked the card.

At that point, I just kind of sighed and wished I could have started the day over.

Jesus said that yes, in fact, we can start over. In our Gospel reading for this morning Jesus was talking with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus that, through God, it was possible to start over; that though we are all born of the flesh, we can be born of the spirit. And this spirit gives us a chance to seek redemption, to uncover grace and to start over in those moments in our lives when we need it most.

What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[1]

Though I am not sure Jesus was talking about different better choices when it comes to what one might use to defrost a gas tank cover, I do believe that one of the foundational pieces of who we are a Christian is the beautiful and overwhelmingly remarkable truth that we can always start over.

This exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is overflowing with what clergy nerds would refer to as eschatology. Eschatology is a doctrine that talks about the end of the world, the Second Coming and what happens to humans when their earthly lives come to a close. Jesus talks about what it means to be “born again” and is fairly straightforward in his dialogue with Nicodemus about what this means for people.

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.[2]

Christians often use this scripture to answer questions such as, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” and, “How do you get into heaven?” And yet, I do not think Jesus was just talking about what happens after we die here. I do not think, as Christians, we are called to be changed by the Gospel only in our death; I believe we are called to be changed by the Gospel in our lives, as well.

Our reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Genesis; it is the call of Abram. In this story, God told Abram to leave his home – his house, his people and the life he was accustomed to – and go to a place God would show him; it would be there where Abram would begin a new life.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.[3]

Abram lived out the call to start over quite literally. His story reminds us that, good or bad, no matter how established, comfortable or settled we are into our own lives and routines, it is possible to do something different.

God makes the big changes in our lives possible; this was true for Abram and this is true for all of us. But in order for God to do this great work within us, we have to believe that we are worthy of starting over.

And we also have to believe that it is never too late or too soon for a new beginning in our lives.

It is the second Sunday of Lent and we are in the middle of the Lenten sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul. Last week we talked about the need for change and this week’s topic is, reset. I love this topic because I believe, as Christians, one of the most radical and redeeming truths of our faith is that we have the ability to reset ourselves when we feel like we are starting to drift, when we lose our way and when our faith starts to weaken. And this is not a once and done thing, this is something that can happen over and over and over again.

Someone once shared with me that the reason they love coming to church is because they feel like they get to hit the reset button every week, whether it be in worship, at bible study or through some sort of community activity. Coming to church not only holds us all accountable in our faith, but it also opens our eyes to the possibilities within our faith, as well. Just like God asked Abram to reset the course of his life and journey, God asks this of us, in our lives as well. God not only creates this space for us to hit the reset button, but God also asks us to hit it, as well. God wants us to be changed by our faith; God wants our lives to be transformed by the new beginnings that are always possible.

I do have to caution you, though, not to get caught up in the enormity of what we often read in scripture or the stories that have a tendency to make headlines. While I do believe the Gospel calls for radical change in our lives, this does not mean that we have to make massive changes, week after week. Jesus’ call to be born of the spirit does not mean we need to give ourselves spiritual whiplash, but instead seek spiritual wholeness.

I believe God makes the big changes in our lives possible, but I also believe God makes the small changes possible, as well and the small changes are just as important as the big ones. The important thing to remember is that the Gospel creates a sort of malleability within all of us and God is always at work within our lives and our faith; through the big changes, through the small changes and through all the weekly (and perhaps even daily) resets we need.

Last week, in our conversation about Boot Camp for the Soul, we talked about why people take part in various types of boot camps, one of those reasons being that they see a need for change in their lives and they are ready make that change. I encouraged you all to think about the need for change in your own lives and now this week, together, we hit that reset button, allow God to draw us back in and reorient ourselves with our faith. We think about who we are, who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. We look at the week ahead, full of possibilities and grace yet to be uncovered.

We use this Lenten season as an opportunity to think about what it will mean to experience resurrection on Easter morning and reset ourselves so we can make that happen.

So hit that reset button in your life; let yourself be born of the spirit – over and over and over again. As we journey towards the cross this Lenten season, let us remember that God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to this earth to live in our midst, to share in our suffering and to prove that resurrection is not only possible, but that it is all around us. We are all worthy, not just of God’s love and grace, but also of God’s second chances, as well.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] John 3:6, NRSV
[2] John 3:16, NRSV
[3] Genesis 12:2, NRSV

The Need For Change

Hello and Happy Lent!  I am going a little bit outside of my comfort zone this season and embarking on a sermon series.  A friend and colleague of mine recommended the book, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series, which is AWESOME because they aren’t only sermon series ideas that are church-year-based, but they are lectionary-based as well!  I’ll be honest – there is part of me that kind of feels like I’m cheating a little bit following someone else’s prompts and series ideas, but, really, all of the content is still mine.  I’ll definitely give some more thoughts once I finish the series.

The sermon series is called Boot Camp for the Soul and this morning’s topic is The Need For Change.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 5, 2017

Psalm 32
Matthew 4:1-11

The Need For Change

Nothing screams, “Protestant” quite like the wrestling coach’s wife who schedules the end of year banquet on a Friday night in Lent and then proceeds to put chicken parm and meatballs on the menu.

So that was my bad.

One of the moms asked me if I could offer some sort of blessing over her so she would be okay to dig into the buffet. And while I was not sure I had the authority to do that, seeing as I read earlier in the day that Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin had given special dispensation to his Diocese to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to fall on a Friday this year, I thought maybe she was on to something.

You know, Lent can be a tricky season. I think we all have the best intentions to live out the rules, restrictions or spiritual practices our faith and Christian traditions might call us to follow, but – especially in the busy and fast paced world we are living in today – sometimes this is easier said than done. We start the season every year by reading the story of Jesus in the wilderness and sometimes I wonder if it would be easier for us to observe this season if we had a bit more solitude; if we were not quite so distracted by our everyday lives.

Of course I am not, by any means, implying that Jesus had an easy time in the wilderness. But I am, however, wondering how feasible it is – as we try to juggle work, family, activities, wrestling banquets, etc. – to fulfill all of our Lenten obligations.

Several weeks ago, I was preparing for Lent and thinking about ways I could make this season a meaningful one for all of us and a colleague of mine recommended the book, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermons Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. This book uses the scriptures of the Revised Common Lectionary (which, for the most part, I follow in my preaching) and develops sermon series ideas for the different seasons throughout the church year. This year they have put together the Lenten series, Boot Camp for the Soul.

We approach the Lenten season with an emphasis on interiority, personal investigation, and contrition – the intentional work of seeking a change of heart or actions. Reflection and change take work, hard work. Lent can be like a boot camp for the soul, a restart in a focused area. We walk this season together, demanding the best of ourselves, ready to support one another, and prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding.[1]

So here we go! I invite you to dive with me, headfirst into this complex Lenten pool of confession and contrition. We will use this series to restart our faith and see how it might be strengthened as we try to journey through Lent balancing life, schedules and the occasional Friday night chicken parm and meatball dinners.

We enter into our Lenten season and the suggested sermon title for this week is, The Need for Change. We read the story that gives us the foundation of our 40-day Lenten season; where Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit and was tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights.

For me, one of the most captivating parts of the Christian story is the way God truly understands the depth of our humanness; God understands this because Jesus came to earth in human form. Jesus felt suffering, temptation and brokenness. We spend 40 days during Lent focusing on these things, but the truth is, we experience them 365 days a year. Day in and day out, we suffer, we are tempted and we feel the weight of our own brokenness; as we live in this world, there is always something trying to pull us away from God and weaken our faith.

This week, we acknowledge the need for change because we know that God not only understands the depths of our struggles as human beings, but also the depth of our heart and our desire to be better. We need to be changed by the Lenten season, not because we are bad people, but because we are very much human people.

We begin Lent by hearing the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness because it is in hearing this story that we reflect on the temptations we, as human beings, face every day; temptations of food, alcohol, gossip, media, shopping, technology use and other bad habits we struggle to gain control over. Some of us may be struggling with the simple notion of balance and moderation; some of us may be facing far deeper struggles.

There is no shame in being tempted; in fact, scripture shows us that Jesus, himself, was tempted. But this is the why we must put ourselves through this boot camp for the soul; this is the need for change. This is why we must do the hard work that is required of us throughout this Lenten season to look inward, to make changes in our lives, to strengthen our faith and to allow God to make us whole. Temptation, sin and human imperfection are all very real things; but they are also the very reason we need God to ignite change in our lives.

Psalm 32 talks about the transformative nature of this hard work.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. Then I acknowledged my sin to you … and you forgave the guilt of my sin.[2]

Here the psalmist teaches us that we feel better when we do this work; when we let God see the whole of who we are. Grace can be found when we uncover our sins and temptations and allow God to shine God’s spectacularly divine light upon them and Lent gives us the opportunity to find this grace. Lent creates a safe space where we are allowed to be the most vulnerable, messy versions of ourselves and still know, without a shadow of a doubt, that, despite our imperfections, we are loved, cherished and forgiven by God. Lent reminds us that even when we are in the deep temptations of the wilderness, God is always with us.

The choice is ours at this point; we decide what we want, not only out of this Lenten season, but also out of our faith. When people participate in other kinds of boot camps – military, fitness, academic or career – they do so because they see a need for change in their lives and are seeking something different. Lent gives us this opportunity for us, as well, to see a need for change in our lives and in our faith and seek something different.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil took him to a high mountain and told Jesus that he could have all the kingdoms of the entire world if he worshipped him. It was at this point where Jesus saw a need for change and sought a different path.

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.[3]

The choice, now, is ours. Where will we see our need for change? How will we uncover our imperfections? What will it means for us to do the hard work that is required to face the temptations of our own humanity? And how will we do this as we balance our lives, schedules and the occasional Friday night chicken parm and meatball dinners?

May we all feel loved, cherished and forgiven by God as we uncover the need for change in our lives. And may Lent be for us what we need it to be.

And may we be blessed as, like they did for Jesus in the wilderness, the angels come and wait on us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Butler, Amy. A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C, page. 21
[2] Psalm 32:3, 5, NRSV
[3] Matthew 4:10-11, NRSV

God Meets Us Where We Are

Hello and Happy Ash Wednesday!  I hope you all had a blessed day and are ready for Lent with an open mind and heart.  Here is my reflection from tonight’s service …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

God Meets Us Where We Are

This morning I had the opportunity to join my colleague, Greta, at the Middleboro/Lakeville train station, where her church was offering “Ashes to Go” to early morning commuters. She has done this for the past four years, setting up a table with free coffee, donuts and ashes and offering any combination of the three to anyone walking by.

I have noticed over the past several years that more and more of my colleagues are doing this. Some are doing it in lieu of traditional Ash Wednesday services and some are doing it in addition to. The idea is that people are so busy – with work, family and life in general – that rather than forcing them to carve out one specific time of their day to receive ashes, the church can go to them; meet them where they are and give them a blessing and a sign of grace.

At one point in between trains, Greta and one of her parishioners and I were commenting on the different reactions we got from people. They ranged everywhere from, “Don’t make eye contact,” to, “Oh, that’s a really nice thing that they are doing,” to, “Can I get a donut without the ashes?” to, “I’m so glad you guys are here again – ashes, please!”

One of the things we all noticed was that no one was rude to us or seemed upset that we were there. I said to Greta, “Well, maybe they would be upset if we were chasing them onto the train with ashes.” We all chuckled at the image and then the next train showed up and we got back to work.

I was pouring someone a cup of coffee when I saw two girls, probably in their mid-twenties, heading towards the train. Greta offered them ashes and one of them said, “No thanks, I’m not practicing. I would feel like an imposter accepting ashes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greta pick up the ashes and say, “Wait a minute, get back here!” and run over to her, explaining that she is, in no way, shape or form, an imposter; that ashes are blessing from God, available to every single one of us, no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life.

My first thought was, “Well, I guess we are chasing people onto the train with ashes.”

But then I thought to myself, what a powerful moment I had just witnessed. Someone felt like an imposter; unworthy of the grace that is receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and we were there – at her train station, part of her morning routine, ready to show her just how powerful and profound God’s love is.

God really has a way of working out the details sometimes, Amen?

A few hours later, I was reading through the scriptures for this evening and almost fell over as I read this passage, 2 Corinthians 6:8:

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true.

Imposters.

Do you know what I love about Ash Wednesday? Ashes are the great equalizer. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, practicing or wandering, affirming or questioning, we all bear the same sign of the cross. We all humbly claim our sins before God and then boldly wear the ash of the burned palms that we once waved while shouting, “Hosanna!” Together, despite our differences, we admit our own brokenness, but also hold fast to the unchanging truth that we are true; that we are not imposters.

My prayer for you all on this Ash Wednesday, is that you not only feel proud to receive these ashes, but that you feel worthy as well.

In participating in this ancient practice of imposition, we remind ourselves of our humanity – from dust you came and to dust you shall return. But in using the palms that we once laid down for Jesus impose these ashes, we also remember that God came to us in human form; that God meets us in our humanity. This is why Jesus walked on this earth; this is what Lent is preparing us for. God came into this world in human flesh so that we can all bear witness to the life-changing reminder that where there is hatred, God’s love is more powerful, where there is darkness, God’s light shines brightly and where there is death, there is always resurrection.

In the same way that God made sure a couple of church folk were on at a train station this morning with coffee, donuts and ashes to meet somewhere where they were at on their journey, God always meets us right where we are on our journeys, as well.

And God is meeting us here tonight, as we prepare to enter this Lenten season.

So let us begin our Lenten season, receive the grace and blessing that is the sign of the cross and know that God is with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.