This Is The World That Jesus Came Into

Hi friends!

I know we are living through crazy and surreal times right now.  We, like churches all across the country (and world!), are taking extra precautions right now to protect our community against the Corona Virus.  We are following guidelines issued by the United Church of Christ and limiting our human contact, which means engaging in alternative forms of passing of the peace, not having greeting lines and not inviting people to join hands where I would have before (usually the kids hold hands for their prayer at the children’s sermon and we hold hands for the benediction).  We are asking people to be mindful of their own germs and to not come to church if they are sick – I did notice our attendance was down last week, but I wonder if any of that had to do with the time change as well (zzz).

Anyway – one of the ways worship can still be accessible to my community during this outbreak is through this space!  So here is my sermon from Sunday.  We are back on the lectionary for Lent and I was preaching out of John.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 8, 2020

John 3:1-17

This Is The World That Jesus Came Into

So how was everybody’s week?

Do you feel a sense of calm right now?  Or, perhaps, did you read or see anything in the news that may have caused either your blood pressure to go up or you to feel a sense of stress or aggravation?

I, for one, spent a considerable amount of time googling “how do I stop touching my face?” “should I refinance my house when the stock market crashes?” and “how many days until the election is over?”  The chaos of the world, combined with a couple of other really strange things that happened this week, eventually led me to google, “is mercury in retrograde?”

And while I still cannot seem to stop touching my face, I can, at least, conclusively say that yes, mercury is in retrograde, but will be out tomorrow night.

So maybe that will help.

I will get to today’s scripture in a minute, but I want to start off this morning by sharing a little peak into Tuesday Morning Bible Study.  We are currently studying the minor prophets in the Old Testament – we started with Amos and then moved on to Hosea, because both come out of the same historical time frame and we thought it would be kind of fun to look at the similarities and differences between the two prophetic accounts.

Amos is all about social justice; the prophecy centers around God’s frustration with Israel for their lack of attention to the poor and marginalized and for the unequal distribution of wealth in their nation.  As we read through Amos in bible study, it reaffirmed to us why we gather in the first place; that we, as Christians, have to do more than simply talk about our faith, but we have to live it out, as well.  It encouraged us, as members of a local church, to focus on simple and grassroots ways that we can reach out to the most vulnerable in our midst and help them in real and practical ways.

And then we started Hosea.

While it comes out of the same historical time frame as Amos, the context is very different.  Hosea uses the metaphor of an adulterous woman repeatedly being unfaithful to her husband to describe what is happening between Israel and God.  The imagery depicts the divine as a man and the sinful as a woman, which, I am sure you can imagine, becomes problematic, particularly when the divine (i.e. the man) incites violent punishment against the sinful (i.e. the woman).

I had some thoughts.

And Linda Coffin, I want to thank you for your wise words in the middle of my rant, because you said something that I have repeated to myself probably several hundred times this week – “But this is the world that Jesus came into.”

This is the world that Jesus came into.  This is the world that God thought was worth saving.  This is the world that was not considered a lost cause, but considered worthy of grace and redemption and second chances.

This messy world – this is the world that Jesus came into.

And so, as I navigated a week with a lot of messiness – fears over the Corona virus, primary elections in what is already a contentious election season and a lot of other bizarre things that I had going on and the people around me had going on – I could not help but think the same is true today.  This is the world that Jesus came into.  The world that we are living in today – albeit politically tense and in the middle of a global public health crisis – this is the world that Jesus came into.  This is the world that God still thinks is worth saving.  This is the world that is not considered a lost cause, but is, too, considered worth of grace and redemption and second chances.

This messy world – this is the world that Jesus came into.

What a beautiful and hope-filled promise this is.

Our scripture reading for this week reinforced this promise to me.  The last verse of the passage we just heard, John 3:17, says:  “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.”  Again, God believed this world was worth saving.  Jesus came into this world, he walked on this earth in human flesh, because God believed this world was worth saving.  God sent Jesus to this world to save the world in all of its messiness.

This passage is an exchange between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel of John; there is no clear source of information about him anywhere else in the bible.  Nicodemus appears three times in John; here in this passage where Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus what it means to be born of the Spirit, in the seventh chapter of John where Nicodemus defends Jesus to the temple police, the chief priests and the Pharisees when they are talking about arresting Jesus and finally at the end of the Gospel, after Jesus is crucified, when Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

Despite the fact that Nicodemus only appears three times, he is a significant character in this narrative, because he represents a constituency that is supportive of Jesus, but does not fully understand him.  We see his confusion in this mornings’ passage when he hears Jesus’ explanation of what it means to be born from above and asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  How can these things be?”

Nicodemus is not negating Jesus or telling Jesus he is wrong.  In fact, Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Nicodemus believes in Jesus, he just does not fully understand.

I read a commentary this week reflecting on Nicodemus and the fact that he represents the kind of timid disciple that the Gospel writer really wished had come out more openly for Jesus, but never did.  This reflection resonated a lot with me, because I think many of us could often be described in the same way.  We believe in Jesus, but we still have a lot of questions; and sometimes those questions cause us to step back and be a little bit timid.  We are often passive in proclaiming our faith – or even leaning into – when we still have so many unanswered questions.  Because I think, in many ways, we live in a world where we think in order to believe in something, we have to understand it completely.

But that is not what Jesus says to Nicodemus.  Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life.”

Not understands.

Not has all the answers.

Not leads the perfect life.

Not never finds themselves surrounded by chaos.

Everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life.

There are four Gospels in the New Testament; they tell the story of Jesus.  The first three – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are called the synoptic gospelsSynoptic comes from the Latin word, synopticus, which means seeing the whole together.  These three Gospels are seen as the synoptic gospels because they share a lot of the same content and stories.

The Gospel of John, however, where this passage of scripture comes from and the only Gospel where Nicodemus appears, is very different.  From the beginning, it is much more of a mystical narrative.  It forces you, as the reader, to suspend the notion that you have to understand everything and instead, allows you to get swept up into this narrative of light, grace and truth where you lean into your beliefs and not necessarily what you can explain on a physical level.

In the passage we just heard, Jesus talks about what it means to be born from above, to be born of both water and Spirit and to believe in both earthly and heavenly things.  And despite what Jesus seems to think are fairly straight-forward answers, Nicodemus does not completely understand.  If I am being honest, when I read this I do not completely understand, either.  But again, Jesus tells Nicodemus – a man who believes in Jesus, yet is still timid with questions – God gave his Son so we can believe in him, not necessarily make sense of it all.

And so this has been my hope this week.

That I do not have to understand the world around me or explain what is happening in order to believe in the hope and the promise of resurrection.

That our world is very much still worth saving.

That we can live in this very human world and navigate our very human lives, while still leaning deeply into our spiritual foundation that comes from God.

That, in a way that we may never see or understand, God will take the chaos of the world today – including the Corona virus and the 2020 presidential election – and create something holy.

Because this is the world that Jesus came into.  This is the world that God thinks is worth saving.  This is the world that is not considered a lost cause, but considered worthy of grace and redemption and second chances.

Don’t ever stop believing that.

So may we all have the wonderment of Nicodemus; not only the courage to ask hard questions, but also the strength to believe when we do not fully understand.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Our Time In The Wilderness

We kicked off our Lenten season on Sunday in the wilderness with Jesus.  I’m back on the lectionary for the time being and we are going to preach through the Gospel thread during Lent.  I decided not to talk about temptations this year in looking at this narrative, but about being in the wilderness in general – because I think we all find ourselves there at some point in our lives!

I did preach at our Ash Wednesday service – I referenced it in this sermon.  I will post at least the text at some point this week if anyone is interested.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2020

Matthew 4:1-11

Our Time In The Wilderness

I used to think that, at some point, I would figure out the whole “life” thing; that I would magically arrive at a time and space in my life where suddenly everything would make sense and I would be able to wrap up my beliefs in a nice little bow and then just, kind of, coast.  From there on out, I assumed, life would be a little bit easier because I would have this framework and formula for how it was all supposed to work.

It was a really frustrating day in adulthood when I realized that was not actually going to happen.

Life would be so much easier if it happened in a linear and consistently upright motion.  You could learn lessons from the past, but build on them in a slow and steady way, knowing that the best days are always ahead of you.

But that is not how life works.

As it turns out, I probably should have paid closer attention to my bedtime stories when I was little.  Because I was reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss to Harrison this week and I was really struck by the profound life lessons disguised in anapestic tetrameter.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.[1]

Doesn’t this describe life perfectly, though?  We can be going along and be in a good rhythm – we can think we are doing pretty well and that we might even have answers to some of our questions.  Then all of a sudden something knocks us over or stops us in our tracks or brings us into a dark and lonely place and we are left wondering what in the world just happened.  We can find ourselves in a lurch – in a slump – in the wilderness, not really sure how to get out.

This morning we are in the wilderness with Jesus.

I think, for people that observe Lent, even on a passive or marginal level, this passage of scripture is actually pretty well-known because of the correlation between Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness with the 40 days of Lent.  The narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the dessert is recorded in three out of the four Gospel (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and is very often the scripture that is used to kick off the Lenten season every year – to kick off the 40 days of Lent.

That being said, the piece, I think, we forget sometimes is where this story is actually located within the narrative of the Gospel.  Despite its connection to the Lenten season, it is not close to the Easter story; it is, in fact, much closer to the beginning.  It immediately follows Jesus’ baptism.

And so think of it this way:  Jesus goes from this pivotally high moment where he is baptized by John in the Jordan River and emerges from the water to hear God’s voice through the clouds, claiming him as God’s own.  God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” and then almost immediately Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.

Talk about life not happening in a linear and consistently upright motion.

But at the end of his time in the wilderness those promises of baptism are immediately fulfilled for Jesus.

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.[2]

Angels came and waited on him.

Jesus was not alone in the wilderness.

Baptism does not promise us an easy life, but it does welcome us into the Body of Christ and invites us into this sacred and holy narrative where resurrection is real and God is with us and we are not alone.

Do you ever feel like you are out there in the wilderness, kind of wandering around, not really sure how long you are going to be stuck there or even how you are going to get yourself out?

Last week we were on the mountaintop with Jesus as we heard the story of the transfiguration.  And while it would be wonderful if, as Christians, we could always stay on that mountaintop and experience the wonderful highs of life, the truth is, sometimes we find ourselves in the wilderness.

We are tempted by things in this world that want to pull us away from God.

We have a hard time seeing and believing that God’s love is stronger than the struggles we are facing.

We do not know how to get out, how to “un-slump” ourselves.

And yet, this passage of scripture promises us two things:  1) that it is okay if we are in the wilderness, because Jesus, himself, was there and 2) there are angels with us when we are there.

If you ever find yourself in the wilderness, first and foremost, do not beat yourself up for being there.  Jesus could not escape it – what makes us think that we can?  Life is hard and it does not always make sense.  And in dealing with it, we are imperfect and sometimes fall apart and fall short, but that does not make us less faithful, that just makes us human.

And so we do the best we can.  We stay in the wilderness, knowing that it is okay for us to be there, knowing that we are not alone in our struggles and, perhaps most importantly, knowing that God is with us.

And then, slowly but surely, we take a step forward and begin the journey out.

Lent began on Wednesday; about 40 of us gathered here, in the sanctuary, for our Ash Wednesday service.

Even though we mark the 40 days of Lent by Jesus’ time in the wilderness, Lent is not really about putting ourselves into the wilderness, but about acknowledging its existence.  It is about being honest about the fact that as humans, sometimes we end up in the wilderness.

Lent is about looking at ourselves in the mirror and recognizing, not only that we are not perfect, but also that it is okay if we are not perfect.  It is about seeing the wilderness as a part of our journey through life and faith and not a place where we go when we have done something wrong.  Lent is about understanding the coming resurrection as a promise of redemption and second chances in our lives.  Lent is about existing in a world that is broken, but also believing that there is hope in that brokenness.

I actually think this one of the reasons a lot of us actually come to church.

I talked about this in my sermon on Ash Wednesday.  I said that we do not come to church to escape life, but as a way to help us deal with it; to acknowledge our brokenness, but also to be assured of our wholeness in God.

And this is what the Lenten journey is all about.  It is about taking an intentional amount of time – 40 days, to honor this scriptural record of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness – to reflect on life, faith and what it means to believe in the promise of resurrection.

It is about believing that every experience in the wilderness will have angels waiting on us.

It is about trusting that we are not alone.

Life is not always easy.  And I want you to know that, if you are in the wilderness right now, that it is okay that you are there, that it does not make you any less faithful and that you are not alone.  This is a journey – life, faith, being part of the Body of Christ – it does not happen in a linear and consistently upright motion, it happens in a very real and messy and human motion.

But that is why we are here – to believe that we are not alone in the wilderness and also to see tangible signs of that witness through our church community.

Because the other thing is that if you are not in the wilderness right now, the work that you are doing matters to the people that are.  The love that you are giving them is changing their lives.  You are their light shining in the darkness.  You are God’s voice reminding them that they are not alone.  You are their earth angels waiting for them, cheering them on, championing the, walking alongside them on their journey.

As we begin to journey through this Lenten season together, I would encourage us all to think about what the wilderness means to us.  Because whether we are there now, we finally are out of it or we have jumped back in to help pull someone out, the hope of the cross that we are walking towards is that the wilderness is not the end of our story.

Resurrection is.

Light is.

Love is.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Oh! That Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss
[2] Matthew 4:11, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

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