Sharing The Good News

I preached this sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. Gregory Gray as the pastor of the Thompson Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.  I was so honored he asked me to preach!  It kind of felt like a full-circle moment, because I preached at his husband Jon’s installation in 2013 – at the time, Greg was still in Georgia!  It’s crazy to look back at how far we – and our churches! – have come since them.

***

Sarah Weaver
Thompson Congregational Church
Thompson, CT
September 16, 2018

Psalm 9
Isaiah 61:1-4
Romans 10:5-15
Luke 4:14-21

Sharing This Good News

I hope the prophet Isaiah will forgive me, but I felt compelled to paraphrase his words, just a bit …

The Holy Spirit has come upon me,
because the Rev. Dr. Greg Gray has asked me to preach at his installation;
he has called me to preach the Gospel to everyone who has gathered here today,
to encourage those in this congregation, wherever they are on their journey through life,
to proclaim an official end to the transition time between settled pastors,
and to tell the church that something really amazing is happening in their midst;
to proclaim a time of new beginnings
a celebration of the conclusion of one chapter;
and the beginning of a new one;
to reassure you that this new chapter is full of great possibilities, grace that is still yet to be uncovered and hope that surpasses all understanding—
to give you courage in the face of adversity,
joy and gratefulness instead of fear and frustration,
a bold voice of praise and thanksgiving instead of a trepid heart.
They will be called Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ,
the church called to show this community what it means to love God will all your hearts, soul, mind and strength; as well to love your neighbors just as much. And also what it means to teach this love to others creating new disciples.
They shall continue their efforts to re-build after the fire,
they shall repair not only the physical space, but the spiritual space, as well;
they shall repair the building that has been damaged,
but hold fast to the truth that their community is and will be strengthened and lifted up by God and God alone; for they are the Church, the Body of Christ, Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ.

Friends, allow me to introduce myself – I am the Rev. Sarah Weaver; I am the pastor of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Rehoboth, MA.  I bring greetings and congratulations from my congregation, who – seven years later – still remembers what it feels like to take a giant exhale when the search process and transition between settled pastors was finally over.

So let’s start off by taking that big exhale, shall we?

It is an honor and a privilege and a joy to be here with you all this afternoon.  Greg, I never shared this with you, but I was truly touched that you asked me to preach today; that you trusted me with this moment, what I know is an important moment for you all, as a church.  So thank you, Greg, thank you, Thompson Congregational Church and thank you to the Windham Association for welcoming me here today.

“Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come. It is the thing that gives us the courage to keep going forward.”

I am quoting two of your own members from a video called “Advent Hope” that was posted on your church Facebook page last December.  Greg opened the video with images from during and immediately following the devastating fire you experienced in 2016, but then, in a bold testament to the strength and perseverance of this church, said these powerful words:

“But we still find hope here.”

You were asked to answer the question, “What does hope mean to you?” and I was so touched by those two responses, “Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come” and, “Hope is the thing that gives us the courage keep going forward,” because they showed me that, even in times of uncertainty, you know that God is still calling you to journey forward. Thompson Congregational Church, you havethat hope that surpasses all understanding; hope that your story is not over yet, hope that you will rebuild, hope that your church will not only survive, but thrive in the days and weeks and months and years to come, generation after generation.

Our Gospel reading comes to us from the Gospel of Luke, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  He began his ministry by reading the same words that we just heard read from the Prophet Isaiah.  What I love about looking at these two passages next to one another is that it reminds us – it reassures us – that these prophesies were not a one-time thing; that they can still be fulfilled today.  These words were just as relevant to those that Jesus spoke to as the ones Isaiah was prophesying to.

And they are just as relevant to us here today.

You, Thompson Congregational Church, are being given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning. Installing Greg as your settled pastor will affirm what God has known to be true all along; that the hope you spoke about in last year’s Advent video is alive and not only inspiring you to rebuild, but also to continue to proclaim the Good News.

Because here is the really cool thing about you guys – you did not let a fire stop you from being the Church.

When Greg first asked me to preach today, I told him that I really wanted to come out and visit at some point so I could get to know you all before today.  But, life happened – and, of course, it is hard for pastors to be with other churches on Sunday mornings – and I never got to come out.  So this past week, I have been trying to get to know you virtually.  I clicked through your website and Facebook page and various articles that came up in a google search.  I looked through pictures and watched videos; and I was inspired by what I saw.

You see, I kind of expected to see more about the fire; about how the church was affected and what is going to happen next. But do you know what I saw instead?

A church that blesses backpacks that are going to be donated to the local schools, first responders in the community and animals, both small and large.

A church that is committed to making a stand against bullying, participating in anti-bullying rallies and offering support to children and youth in the community.

A church that reaches out to individuals and families who have been impacted by addiction through the Holbrook Fund.

A church that collaborates with civic organizations and the local recreation department to host events that are fun for people of all ages.  A church that knows that the true depth of their strength does not come from what happens inside their walls, but outside in the community.

A church that believes in the power of singing together and praying together and eating together.

Thompson Congregational Church, even in the face of adversity, you have continued to look outward.  You have continued to respond to Christ’s call to love God and then love others.  You have continued to proclaim the Good News of God’s love, light and grace and, as Paul wrote to the church in Roman, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

And there are beautiful, beautiful feet in this congregation.

Which brings me to my next point.

Paul told the church in Rome that people will not hear the Good News without someone proclaiming it to them.  And this is a charge that we all need to take seriously today.  Christianity is an experiential and a shared religion; 2,000 years ago, the only reason people knew that Christ had risen was because the women who experienced the Risen Christ went and told other people about it.

And that piece of our faith – the piece where we tell others what we have experienced and how our faith (and, specifically, our church) has changed our lives – is more important now than it ever has been.

Paul said that, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved.”  Thompson Congregational Church, there is an amazing story that is being written here; a story of hope, a story of resurrection and a story of new possibilities. You need to confess that story with your lips; you need to tell your family and your friends, your neighbors and your coworkers.  You need to tell the people that you know and the strangers that you have just met.

You have to tell people about the ways that God has worked within this church and the ways that God is still working within this church; the ways that God has kept hope alive in this church, the ways that the God that you put your faith and trust in has never left your side.  Display the glory of God, like Isaiah prophesied. Bring this Good News to your community; invite people into your story; pray that their lives might be changed, too.

Greg, I have two gifts for you this morning. The first is a framed print of that passage from Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Because I think this passage is going to define a lot of what you all do here at Thompson Congregational Church.

And I am not just talking about your shoe collection, either.

Because of devastating circumstances, you all understand that a church is more than its building; you all understand what it means to be church and to do church out in the community.  You know that it takes collaboration, creativity, patience.  You believe that it is the hard work you do, but also the grace God gives that enables you to make a difference.  You all are ready to march, dance, stroll, crawl and skip out into the community and bring the Good News.

And I, for one, cannot wait to see how the community will be changed.

The second gift I have for you this morning comes from a stained glass artist in Chepachet, Rhode Island.  You see, one of the things I have always been drawn to is the sun rising behind the church in your logo.  Because it reminds me that, even in the darkest part of night, the sun will always rise again.

As Christians, we hold fast to the truth that, even in the darkest moments of our lives, the Son – S-O-N – will always rise again.  The Good News that he preached, that he lived out and that he called us into will rise up above all else.

This is the Good News, friends.  This is the Good News.

And it is time to share it with the world.

Congratulations, Thompson Congregational Church.  Continue the work that has already started.  Hold onto that hope you spoke so poignantly of last year.  May your ashes be turn into garland; your mourning into gladness; your faint spirit into a mantle of praise.

And may your feet be beautiful as they are called to bring the Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

Far From Ordinary

Do you ever have one of those moments where you outline one sermon and end up writing a completely different one?  I had one of those moments last week.  The sermon I ended up preaching has nothing to do with what I outline – and, truth be told, I’m not really sure how I ended up where I did.  But I was happy with the way God told the story on Sunday.  It was a message a lot of us – including me! – needed to hear.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 13, 2018

Psalm 47
Luke 24:44-53

Far From Ordinary

Someone asked me this week when Easter was officially over. They said they like when the bulletin says, “Ordinary Time,” at the top, because that is when we hear about the day-to-day – the ordinary, for lack of a better term – parts of our faith.

I, on the other hand, like when the bulletin says, “Easter,” at the top, because that means I can still justify eating candy every day.

To each their own.

But for those of you who are bored with my white stole collection and wondering when we are finally going to be done with the glitter and confetti-filled Easter season and move on to Ordinary Time, the answer is, well, never, because the glitter from Easter is never coming out of the carpet.

In all seriousness, the Easter season will officially be over next weekend, when we all wear red and celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Christian Church.

(So don’t forget to wear red next week!)

The Easter season is 50 days long. It is more than simply an extended celebration of the resurrection; in the early church the Easter season was a time for new converts to continue their faith formation. Today we use this season not only to proclaim resurrection, but to live it out as well.

This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, which occurs on the 40th day of the Easter season. This is where, in the resurrection narrative, after spending 40 days hanging out with the apostles on earth, breaking bread with them and teaching them a few final lessons, Jesus is carried up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

The Ascension is kind of the icing on the resurrection cake; Jesus not only defeated death on Easter morning, but then 40 days later, the apostles watched as his physical body ascended into heaven where he would sit at the right hand of God.

Now, for those of you Ordinary Time fans out there, I regret to inform you that the Ascension was far from ordinary. There is a dramatization to the whole thing that really is kind of unbelievable. Jesus was standing in front of his apostles, teaching them about the scriptures and then he blessed them and while he was doing this, he was, quite literally, picked up and carried into heaven. My favorite Ascension comparison comes from a tweet Nadia Bolz-Weber posted in 2009 that said, “And then Jesus got all Mary Poppins and just sort of floated away.”

The Ascension has always perplexed me for this very reason. According to scripture, Jesus’ spirit did not ascend into heaven, but his whole body did.

So I have this weird thing with bodies. I believe our physical bodies are just the vessels that we are in for our time on earth; and while we spend a lot of time in them, I do not believe they do not define us or who God created us to be. Human bodies are imperfect and flawed and limited. Human bodies sin and make mistakes. Human bodies get sick and feel pain, sadness and anxiety. Human bodies fail us. And when we go to heaven, I believe, that we are released from the constraints of our human bodies as we are welcomed into our heavenly home.

But Jesus, in human flesh, ascended into heaven. Christ did not shed his humanity as he left the earth to be in the presence of God; he maintained it. According to this narrative, Christ’s humanity now, also, sits in the presence of God.

That’s wild, isn’t it?

But here’s the thing: Six months ago, as we were anxiously preparing for Christmas, we sang, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” As Christians, we believe that – in some way – God came to us in the humanity of Jesus and I have to wonder if, at the Ascension, Jesus brought a piece of our humanity back to God in heaven with him.

Okay, but does that really make sense? Maybe? Let’s be honest – not really. I think the reason this person I was talking to likes Ordinary Time so much is because it actually does make sense. During Ordinary Time, we talk about things like feeding the hungry, reaching out to the marginalized and loving the people around us. We focus on the practical side of Christianity, on how we should live our lives and be a church. We do not confuse ourselves wondering if Jesus is in heaven in body or spirit.

Because, truthfully, the whole thing is kind of hard to wrap your head around.

And, in the end, does it really matter?

So I would argue that, yes, it does, in fact, matter. The Ascension really is an important piece of the resurrection puzzle. The Ascension means that God’s promise of grace has truly been fulfilled; that not only did death not have the final word, but that our humanity can and will be forever found in the presence of God. The Ascension means that God not only understands our humanity because God experienced it in the human body of Jesus Christ, but that our humanity is now with God. The Ascension means that God holds our humanity.

And this means that God holds the whole of who we are. God holds our imperfections, our flaws and our limitations and yet still calls us children of God. God holds our sins and our mistakes and yet forgives us and loves us. God holds our sickness, our pain, our sadness and our anxiety and reminds us that, even in our brokenness, we can still be made whole.

The Ascension is confusing and perplexing and somewhat mystifying, but it reminds us that, as human beings living on this imperfect earth, we are never alone. God is not some far-away God who does not see or know or understand us. God is with us. God understands us. God loves us to our very core. God holds us. God carries us.

Always.

Always.

This morning’s psalm, Psalm 47, is an “enthronement psalm,” which means it is a hymn of praise affirming and celebrating God’s rule over the nations. The first verse says, “Clap your hands, all you peoples!” I had to laugh when I first read this, because it made me think of Harrison’s favorite book, The Barnyard Dance, by Sandra Boynton. The book starts, “Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance!” I wondered if I could get you all as excited to hear about the Ascension as Harrison gets when we read this book.

Somehow I am not quite sure your enthusiasm will quite match his.

But here’s the thing: This psalm reminds us that God is powerful, that God chose us and that God reigns over all the earth.

And yeah, we should get pretty excited about that! We should get excited about the promises God makes to us. We should get excited about the covenants God made thousands of years ago that still hold true for us, today. We should get excited about the entire Jesus narrative; that he came into this world in human flesh, that he lived out the Good News and taught his disciples how to do the same, that he died, but then was resurrected to new life and that he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. We should get excited that God’s love is interwoven into the depths of our own humanity. We should get excited knowing that, no matter what – in life and in death, in joys and in sorrows, God is with us.

Friends, today, as we hear the story of the Ascension of Jesus, I want you all to remember that God is good, that God seeks to be in relationship with us and that God is inextricably connected to our humanity. The psalmist calls us to, “shout to God with loud songs of joy,” and we do this, in confident hope that God’s grace will carry us, even in our most human of moments.

So clap your hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy! For Christ is risen, Christ has ascended into heaven and God dwells within us. Now, forever and always.

It is far from ordinary; but it is the Good News that brings us new life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Jesus’ Lessons Today

Hi friends and happy Marathon Monday!  I cannot believe this weather – every single runner earned their race medal ten times over today.

Here is my sermon from yesterday.  I preached on the Gospel passage from Luke where Jesus appears to the disciples, shows them the wounds on his hands and feet and then shared a meal with them.  I pulled six lessons out of this passage that are still very much relevant to the world we are living in today.  I think every now and then it’s nice to hear something super practical and easy to understand.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus’ Lessons Today

I want to start off this morning by thanking you all for your prayers for our friend, Diane. In a heartbreaking victory over the grave, Diane was welcomed into the arms of God on Friday afternoon.

When my mom got the call that death was imminent, I immediately thought of that passage from 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And while I think it initially popped into my head because of the first part, “I have fought the good fight,” (because she did fight and she fought heroically) the part that has rung over and over again in my head since then has been the second, “I have finished the race.”

Perhaps I am caught up in the spirit of the long weekend and Marathon Monday, but I started to wonder: What does my race look like? What does my journey look like? How am I impacting the lives of the people around me?

When I told Bruce that Diane had died, he said to me: “Lord knows, haven just got friendlier.” Diane was a friend to everyone; she was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. She was very often the glue that held us all together. And when you lose someone like that, you cannot help but think about how, moving forward, your life can be a reflection of theirs. Her death has made me reflect on the person she was, the person I am and the person I have the potential to be.

Here’s the thing: In life, sometimes there is very little that is actually in our control. Our race course, so to speak, it not always one of our choosing. You guys know this, sometimes all to well. But I do believe, that despite this occasionally chaotic world that we live in, there are some things we can control, things that will never be taken away from us.

In my sermon last week, I talked about doing church and asked the question: Where do we go from here? My sentiment is similar here this morning. What are we doing? How are we living our lives? How are we controlling the things we can control and navigating the things we cannot control? How are we interacting with the people around us? How are we touching their lives? How are we living out our faith? How are we shining God’s light in the world? Sharing God’s love? Uncovering God’s grace?

I am just as guilty of this as anyone, but I think sometimes we get caught up in the busyness and the minutiae of life and we do not really stop to look at the big picture, see who God is calling us to be and enjoy each moment that we have been given.

But doesn’t Easter give us this opportunity? Doesn’t it kind of give us something of an annual reminder, not just of resurrection, but also of the grace bestowed upon us and the Gospel that we are called to emulate? Doesn’t it allow us to pause and re-set, to recommit ourselves to living out our faith?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Luke. We are backtracking a little bit; last week, we talked about the formation of the early church in Acts of the Apostles and this morning we are back in the Gospel as Jesus appears to his disciples.

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

This story takes place sometime in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. The ascension is when Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud to be seated at the right hand of God. And, to be quite honest, part of me has always wondered why this 40 days took place; why Jesus did not ascend immediately into heaven.

Simply put, I think Jesus had one more lesson to teach. I think God knew people would take more seriously Jesus’ life and ministry in light of his death and resurrection; that people were more likely to proclaim the bold and powerful truth that love wins if they had seen it for themselves, in the flesh.

And though they were startled and terrified, disbelieving and wondering, Jesus appeared to the disciples and showed them, in no uncertain terms, that he lived, that grace was real and that the real work began now.

And then – in both words and actions – Jesus began to teach.

I believe the lessons Jesus taught in this moment are just as relevant to the world we are living in today as they were 2,000 years ago. I think they help us to answer this question of how we are going to run our race, what our journeys are going to look like and how we are going to impact the lives of others. I think this scripture gives us tangible ways that we can live our lives for the Glory of God so that we can not only be who God is calling us to be, but we can also transform the lives of others, as well.

Here are six lessons that I pulled out of this passage.

Lesson #1: Share Christ’s Peace With One Another

Verse 36 says:

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

In a simple and succinct way, this reminds us that we should always share Christ’s peace with one another. Whether we are with our friends or our enemies, at church or in the grocery store, talking about theology, politics, food or sports – we should share the peace of Christ as we do these things.

This often means pausing before we speak; hearing others and affirming what they are saying, even if we do not necessarily agree with them. It means starting difficult conversations with, “I love you,” to remind yourself of Christ’s call to love God and then love people. It often means practicing hospitality so that people’s needs are met at the see Christ in you as you meet those needs.

Lesson #2: Use The Healing Power Of Touch

Verse 39 says:

Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.

We live in a time where it is important to be careful, thoughtful and respectful when it comes to touching someone else, so I am going to preface this particular lesson by saying this: When appropriate, use the healing power of touch.

I strongly believe touch has the unexplainably miraculous power to change lives. Sometimes something cannot be fixed or get better and words are painfully inadequate; but in those moments, we still have touch. We can embrace the people we love, hold their hands and let their tears fall onto our shoulders.

Over and over again throughout the Gospel, Jesus used touch to heal people. Here we are reminded that we hold that same power. 

Lesson #3: Show People The Most Unapologetically Authentic Version Of Yourself

In verse 40:

[Jesus] showed them his hands and his feet.

Jesus did this because he was showing them the wounds from the crucifixion to prove that he was real, and that what they thought happened had actually happened. But don’t you think, in a way, he was also appearing to them and not trying to pretend to be someone he was not; that he was showing them that it was okay to be who they are, wounds and all?

In both our lives and in our faith, it is imperative that we are the most unapologetically authentic version of ourselves. We should not only seek to be who we are, but who God says we are, as well. Will we be perfect? Of course not. Will we have flaws? Absolutely. But God is using every wound, every imperfection, every challenge we face so that we can show the world just how powerful the Gospel is.

Lesson #4: Eat Together

Jesus asked the disciples if they had anything to eat and in verses 42 and 43:

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

So much happens when we sit down with one another a share a meal. Sometimes it is visible, but very often it is invisible, a healing presence working beneath the surface of our very selves and our relationships with one another. It is around a table where we all become equal, all hungry and in need of nourishment. It is around a table where conversations build bridges that unite us, rather than walls that divide us. It is around a table where we share what we have with others, ensuring no one leaves hungry. It is around a table where we know the presence of Christ.

Lesson #5: Study Scripture

Verse 45 says:

Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

You do not need to have a degree in biblical studies to open a bible and read it. Will it always make sense? No; but, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me and I studied it for seven years. Consider buying a study bible with notes and commentaries to help you understand more. If you have never read the bible before, I would recommend not starting in one of the obscure prophets in the Old Testament, because that really will not make any sense! Start with Jesus’ life in one of the Gospels.

But give it a shot. Immerse yourself in the words of Holy Scripture. Feel connected to the cloud of witnesses who used the bible to influence the past, knowing that these words are still very much alive and working here today.

Lesson #6: Trust You Are Witnessing Something Unbelievably Believable

I love the last line of this passage, verse 48:

You are witnesses of these things.

Can you imagine how incredible it must have been for the disciples to sit in Christ’s presence and hear him say those words? To know that they were bearing witness to God’s work in the world?

Here’s the thing, though – so are we! We, too, bear witness to God’s work in the world; we might not experience the bodily resurrection of Christ, but we see the presence of Christ all around us and experience resurrection in our lives.

But we have to believe it is really happening. We have to suspend our disbelief, whatever it might be, and trust that God is really here.

Friends, I believe that we have the capacity within ourselves to really make a difference in the world. I am grateful for the people in my life who have touched me in the most meaningful and loving ways. And moments, like this, in my life, remind me of the person I want to be – of the Christian I want to be and of the Church I want to be apart of.

Because I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I want this church – this community – to transform lives.

But we have to take action. We have to do church. We have to commit ourselves and re-commit ourselves to living out Christ’s call to love and serve.

So let us go forth into the world, back into the ordinary of our lives, and remember these lessons from Jesus.

Share Christ’s Peace With One Another
Use The Healing Power Of Touch
Show People The Most Unapologetically Authentic Version Of Yourself
Eat Together
Study Scripture
Trust You Are Witnessing Something Unbelievably Believable

We are still in the season of Easter. So let us celebrate resurrection. Let us believe in the Church and also our role within the church. Let us believe that the lessons Jesus taught 2,000 years ago are still relevant in our lives today. And let us change people’s lives, open people’s hearts and proclaim the Gospel to all the world.

For we are witness of these things.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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