All About Love

Hi Everyone!  I’m back to work part time and trying to get caught up here and on my podcast.  I never posted my sermon from Memorial Day weekend (I went into labor that week, so I hope I get a pass!).  It might not be super relevant at this point, but I have all my sermons archived here and I wanted to make sure I got it posted.  I’ll be back with yesterday’s sermon in a bit!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church (Ministerial Grounds)
Rehoboth, MA
May 28, 2017

Luke 24:44-53

All About Love

This morning we heard the story of Jesus’ Ascension. This is the story where, after his resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples after he walked with them on the road to Emmaus. Jesus helps them to understand his teachings through the scriptures and then commissions them in ministry to carry out his works throughout the world. As he is blessing them one final time, he ascended into heaven.

In the calendar of the church year, the Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day of Easter, which was this past Thursday. The Easter Season is complete; next week is Pentecost.

As I was reflecting on the Ascension this week, I could not help but think about my children’s sermon on Easter Sunday. The resurrection is not always the easiest concept for kids to understand (heck, it is not the easiest concept for adults to understand!), but when I asked them what happened on Easter morning, Daniel Correa – our almost-four-year-old recipient of this year’s Sunshine Award – raised his hand and said, “Jesus died, but then he came back and he told us all how much he loved us and then he went to heaven to be with God.”

And then I melted.

I love Daniel’s explanation because it simplifies something that we really can overcomplicate when we get lost in the details of the resurrection and different doctrines and theologies. In the end, Jesus was all about love. He loved his disciples, he loved the people who followed him, he loved the people he taught and he loved the people he healed. He even loved his enemies – and the people who would betray him in his most vulnerable hour. He loved those he walked with during his human lifetime and he loves us all today.

At its core, the Gospel is a story about love. Jesus showed this love over and over and over again. He showed this love by healing the sick, feeding the hungry and teaching both the inquisitive and the stubborn. He showed this love by speaking hard truths and showing his disciples how to break bread together in radical and reconciling ways. He showed this love by giving up his own life – and yet boldly proving God’s redeeming truth that death never has the final word.

I often wonder that it must have been like for the disciples in the moments and hours – even days – following the Ascension. Their worlds had been completely changed by a man who preached a different truth and proclaimed a new way of living into God’s word. In three short years, Jesus’ ministry had changed so many lives and then he was crucified, but then the tomb was empty and resurrection had prevailed and now he has ascended and what happens next?

I can only imagine what must have been going through the disciples’ minds as they tried to regroup and find their new normal. What was next for them? How would Jesus’ life, death and resurrection change the narrative of their lives and the course of the journeys they were on?

This is not a question that was simply for the disciples to ask themselves back then; I truly believe it is just as relevant for us today. What is next for us? As we reflect on the Easter season and remember the story of Jesus’ Ascension, how will our own lives be changed? How will the Gospel alter the course of the journeys we are on?

Jesus said, “You are witnesses of these things”[1] and I believe, with all my heart, that those words were as much meant for us as they were for the disciples he was speaking to that day. Because we are. We are witness of the works Jesus did in his life. We are witnesses of his miracles, of his teachings and of his love. We are witnesses of the Church that is built on his foundation and of the countless ways it is transforming people’s lives. We are witnesses of the ways our own church is making an impact, not only in our community, but throughout the world, as well.

And now we are tasked with the sometimes difficult job of discerning how our faith – how this story, how this Church, how this Gospel – will influence our lives moving forward.

According to the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They went to the temple blessing God for all they had been given through this faith.

Their lives had been changed. A new chapter of this story was being written.

And the same is true for us, today.

Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start to summer and I think it is a wonderful time to pause and take a deep breath after what, for many of us, has been a crazy spring. Like the disciples after the Ascension, we can regroup and think about what our lives could look like, should look like, if we nurture our faith in new and transforming ways. We can slow down and fall into the relaxed cadence of summer and really give our faith the attention it needs. We can reflect on the love Jesus demonstrated in his life, death and resurrection and think about how our lives can be a reflection of this love. We can recommit ourselves to living out the Gospel in real and life-giving ways. We can pledge to not only allow our own lives to be changed, but to help change the lives of others, as well.

So may you all remember the Gospel according to Daniel Correa – that Jesus loved us so much that he died for us, came back to earth, told us he loved us one more time and then went to heaven to be with God. May your life be a reflection of this love. May you remember that you are a witness to Jesus’ love – and may you bear witness to that love in this church, within your family, in the community and throughout the world. May you, like the disciples, worship God and bless that which God has given to you. May you continue to write this story of love so that the next generation can bear witness to it, as well.

And may you get to know Jesus through the stories of the Gospel; and may this help you to understand his teachings through the scriptures as you are commissioned in ministry to carry out his works throughout the world

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 24:48, NRSV

Being That Incarnational Presence (A Tribute To The Rev. Charles Rice)

Hi friends – here is this week’s sermon.  Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen that my college chaplain, the Rev. Charles Rice, passed away very unexpectedly this week.  It did not feel right to preach, business as usual, without acknowledging not only this loss, but also the impact he had on my life.  In a moment of grace unexpected, the lectionary had us on the Road to Emmaus this week.  I could not have picked a more perfect scripture to preach on as I talked about the ways Rev. Rice embodied the incarnational love of God throughout his life and ministry.

Please keep the friends and family of Rev. Rice in your prayers, as well as the entire Ursinus College community.  As I post this sermon, they are preparing for his funeral in Collegeville, PA.  I so wish I could be there, but at this point in my pregnancy I just can’t travel that far by myself.

<3

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

Being That Incarnational Presence

My college chaplain, the Rev. Charles William Rice, died very unexpectedly this week. To say that I am shocked and devastated is an understatement. Today, as I think about the impact he had not only on me, but also on the tens of thousands of students he counseled throughout his 20-year tenure at Ursinus College, I am humbled by the inadequacy of words and am not entirely sure where to begin.

When Rev. Rice’s youngest son, Martin, was born, he asked me to do the welcome during worship on the Sunday he was dedicated. And, while I don’t remember why, for some reason, I was running late the morning of the dedication. So I ran into chapel about ten minutes after we were supposed to begin, clearly flustered, apologetic and upset. I stood behind the pulpit and looked down, because I was so mad at myself and embarrassed that I was that late. And I heard his voice, in this unmistakably commanding, yet calm tone that he always spoke in, say: “Breathe. Take your time. We’re not going anywhere.”

And so this morning I am remembering that moment and heeding those same words as I try to share with you all what this man meant to me, how he helped shape me into both the pastor and the person I am today and how we all can learn from his life and legacy.

Rev. Rice was born in Brooklyn in 1957. He went to New York City public schools and graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1979. He received his master of divinity in historical theology from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and continued on to do his doctoral studies at Syracuse University. He was ordained by the National/American Baptist Churches and later held standing with the United Church of Christ when he arrived at Ursinus in 1997.

I met Rev. Rice in 2004. I had gone through a process of discernment during my freshmen year of college and entered my sophomore year with a declared major of Philosophy & Religion, with the intent to go to seminary. Before I left for school that year, my mom asked me, “Have you met the chaplain yet?” When I told her no, but I had heard he was nice, she said, “You know, when you apply to seminary, they might think it’s weird if you went through four years of college and never actually met the chaplain.”

She had a point.

So I sent Rev. Rice an email and set up a meeting with him when I got on campus, which he ended up being over an hour late to because he got caught up in a conversation with a student on his way to the office.

Which, if you knew him, would not surprise you one bit.

Rev. Rice captivated my ministry-hungry heart from that very first conversation. He had an enormous passion for bringing students together, normalizing faith and creating conversation on campus. He enthusiastically encouraged our weekly student-run chapel service, which often times was something of a comedy of errors, but was always grace-filled and life-giving. When I arrived in Rehoboth six year ago, my Saturday night sermon writing made people nervous and kind of became a running joke. But the thing I never explained to you all was that when I was president of the chapel my senior year, Saturday night sermon writing was not a bad habit, it was a necessary survival skill, as Rev. Rice would commonly call me on Saturday, mid-late afternoon and say, “So I’m not going to make it to chapel tomorrow – any chance you can preach?”

Rev. Rice pushed his students, drawing out all of our potential, both as individuals and as groups. He not only talked about the importance of building bridges that would unite us, he showed us how and helped us out when things got hard.

Rev. Rice taught me the importance of gathering around a table and breaking bread with one another. At least once a month, we would all pile into his minivan after Sunday chapel for brunch. Other weeks, we would commandeer a group of tables in the dining hall and eat there. I always wondered what the tables full of hung-over students thought of us when we all walked in, dressed in our church clothes with a various assortment of bibles and music in tow.

I don’t think Rev. ever wondered that. He would just walk up to them, playfully slap them on their arms and backs and say good morning.

It did not have to be brunch, either. Rev. and I discussed theology over sushi while he taught me how to use chopsticks and told the waitress she was not allowed to bring me the fork I had asked for. On my 21st birthday, a blizzard shut down the east coast and prevented my parents from driving to Pennsylvania to take me out to dinner, so when the roads were finally cleared that night, Rev. called me and said he and his wife were taking me out instead.

Rev. Rice introduced me to Black Theology. He taught me that the Civil Rights Movement was about more than Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. He filled my library with the brilliant and prophetic writings of James Baldwin, James Cone and Howard Thurman. He humbly, yet never apologetically, told me his story of what it was like to be a black man in America. He never his lost patience with my white-girl-from-Connecticut naivety as I stumbled to learn about and understand my own privilege. He is the reason that I believe today that black lives matter, even though, in an attempt to stay neutral, I have never once said those words from the pulpit or on social media.

Rev. Rice flew me all over the country so I could attend conferences that would expand my education and help me discern my call to ministry. And while I know those conferences were supposed to be about education and enrichment, he never expected anything in return; he just wanted me to have a positive experience. In fact when I called him once from a layover in Charlotte to let him know that my roommate, who attended the conference with me, and I had been “bumped” from our flight – and I used quotes around the word “bumped”, because what actually happened was that the gate attendant offered a free flight to anyone willing to give up their seats and since we 1) did not want to go to class that night and 2) loved the prospect of a spring break getaway, jumped quickly at the opportunity – he simply said, “Did you at least get a free flight out of the deal?”

And when I sheepishly admitted that yes, in fact, we did get a free flight out a flight that was originally paid for by the school, he said, “Huh. Well, good for you.”

I have never met a man with so much discipline, but also compassion. He was not afraid to tell me one day that the paper I turned in was one of the worst things he had ever read, but then call me the next day to tell me how wonderful my sermon had been in chapel that morning. He pushed me to the limits of my own boundaries and then helped me find new ones. He encouraged me when I needed encouragement, scolded me when I needed scolding and loved me – and all of us – unconditionally, all the time.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Luke; it is known as the Road to Emmaus and it describes an encounter between two disciples – one by the name of Cleopas – and Jesus. The two disciples were traveling to the village of Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them, but they did not recognize him. They told him what had happened over the past several days, that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but then three days later the tomb was found empty. They told Jesus that the women had astounded them when they told everyone they saw the angels at the tomb, but that they still had not seen for themselves what had happened.

When they arrived in Emmaus, the two disciples invited Jesus to stay with them. While he was there, Jesus sat down to eat with them; he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them and “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him”

That is one of my favorite lines of scripture – “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” – because I think more often than not, we – all of us, in our lifetime – also need to open our eyes and recognize the presence of the resurrected Christ in our midst.

I was listening to a podcast last year and one of the hosts was commenting on internet bullying and how easy it is to type something offensive, insensitive or snarky to someone and hit submit without thinking twice. She said something that has stuck with me to this day: “I think we all need to sit down and have actual conversations, where we can look into each other’s eyes and see one another’s humanity.”

Christianity is about this exact incarnational presence that she as describing. Jesus came into this world so that God could live in human flesh, understand human suffering, temptation and imperfections and yet find a way to redeem us anyway. The God in the Gospel narrative is not a far away and distant God, but a God that walks with us on our journey, that stands in our presence and that never gives us on us.

This is incarnational love. This is what the disciples saw when they opened their eyes and recognized Jesus in Emmaus. This is what they experienced when Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it.

I believe, as people of faith, we are called to not only open our eyes and see this incarnational love all around us, but to also be that presence to one another, as well. We are called to show up and to be present, just like Jesus did throughout his life and especially here on the road to Emmaus.

The day Rev. Rice died, a friend of mine from college texted me. She mentioned that she wished she had emailed him more recently and thanked him for everything he had done for her. I had a similar sentiment, but pointed out that, knowing him, he was never really great with the whole email thing anyway. She agreed and said, “He was always focused on the here and now. Late to everything, but gave you his all when you were with him.”

And that, my friends, is incarnational love. That is what it means to show up and be present with someone in the moments when they need it most, to give them a space where they can recognize the see and recognize God’s resurrecting power. That was what Rev. Rice did for us. That is what he demonstrated to us and tried fervently to teach us how to do in our own lives, as well.

I believe that, as Christians, this is what we are called to do. We are called to show up, to be the incarnational presence of the resurrected Christ to our friends and even to our enemies. We are called to be present, to give one another our all in the moment, because that might be exactly what they need. We are called to stand in the imperfectly human presence of one another, because that is what Jesus demonstrated through his life, death and resurrection.

People need to know that resurrection is possible. They need to believe that God is in their midst. They need to feel like they are not alone. When Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus, the disciples saw this for themselves.

And today, we are called to ensure others see this for themselves as well.

So friends, as I remember and grieve the loss of a man that had a profound impact on me, as both pastor and person, I encourage you all to think about what this incarnational presence means, both for you and also for the people you meet along your journey.

And then meet one another on the road to Emmaus. Be the presence of the resurrected Christ so that others will open their eyes and recognize it in their midst. Know that you can and will make a difference in the lives of the people you meet along your journey.

Believe in that incarnational love. Recognize that incarnational power. Be that incarnational presence of the resurrected Christ.

And have confidence that someone will open their eyes and recognize God’s work in you. And together we will continue to write this Christian story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

To Magnify God In Our Lives

Question: Does anyone who is tech-savy know how to take my libsyn feed and put it into iTunes? I want to make it so people can subscribe to my podcasts/sermons but I have no clue how that works.

In the meantime – Sunday’s sermon on the Magnificat!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 11, 2016

Luke 1:46-55
Matthew 11:2-11

To Magnify God In Our Lives

I have a Mary medal that I wear on a chain around my neck from time to time. I suppose it is, for all intents and purposes, a Catholic thing. It has the image of Mary with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee,” etched around it. But for me, a born and raised Protestant, the importance of this medal is not necessarily tied to the Catholic understanding of honoring saints; rather, it is about me connecting to Mary’s call story.

You see, I have always been intrigued by Mary’s call story; so much so, that I actually had it read at my ordination. I have always stood in awe of Mary’s humble servant hood and devotion to God when God called her to do something so unbelievably astonishing and she responded with those beautiful words of scripture, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”[1]

So rewind to about eight years ago; I was a first year seminary student working at my field education site when a friend of mine said to me, “You know, when I first met you, you were wearing that Mary medal and I thought you were Catholic. I was kind of confused as to why you were in seminary.” When I went home that night, I told Bruce the story and he kind of laughed awkwardly before admitting that the same thought had actually crossed his mind when he and I first met. In fact, at the time, he had even started thinking about what it would take for him to enter catechesis and convert to Catholicism if we were to get married.

Which, at that point, totally explained the email I received from him early on in our dating that said, “Sooooo, what religion are you?”

Bruce said to me that day, “You have no idea how relieved I was when you replied and said United Church of Christ!”

So again, here is my thing with Mary: I do not honor her in the Catholic sense of saint veneration (though, to be clear, I am not passing judgment on or criticizing that in any way), I am just super intrigued by her story.

Mary was a young girl, poor and with no power. And God called this ordinary girl to do something so extraordinary; and she answered that call with such great affirmation and strength of faith. As a pastor, I feel I have so much to learn from her in terms of call and vocation; but I also feel, as a Christian, living in a very chaotic world full of the unknown, we all have a lot to learn from her as well.

The truth is, we really only have a small glimpse into Mary’s life. A lot of the commentary on her is conjecture based on different people’s interpretations of the pieces of her story that we know. But those pieces are extremely important to our Advent season and the Christmas story.

Today, we heard a reading from the Gospel of Luke. An angel had appeared to Mary and told her she was going to give birth to a son named Jesus. Mary traveled with haste to the Judea region of Ein Karem to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth who, though well past childbearing age, was also pregnant. Our scripture picks up here, where Mary sings a song, which we refer to as the Magnificat, which comes from the Greek word meaning, “to magnify.”

Mary starts the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoice in God my Saviour,”[2] and then sings of all the wondrous work God is doing in her life.

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.[3]

Year after year, it always strikes me as remarkable that, in the midst of her own chaotic world full of the unknown, Mary responds to God’s call by praising God. We all should give pause to this as we think about what God is calling us to do this Advent season.

We looked at The Magnificat in bible study this week, as part of the session on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The narrator of our study pointed out that the Magnificat is more than a piece of Mary’s story; it also serves as a reminder to us of what we are being called to do in our own lives. God does great things in the world, Mary sings in the Magnificat.

[God] has shown strength with his arm;
lifted up the lowly;
[and] has filled the hungry with good things.[4]

When God called Mary to conceive and give birth to this boy named Jesus, God was not simply asking her to participate in an isolated ministry; God was inviting Mary into the larger narrative of what Jesus would do in the world – in his lifetime and in the generations that would follow.

And this is what God invites us to do in our own lives as well.

God calls us to rise up to greatness in our lives. Like Mary, we are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. We are invited into this Gospel narrative, to magnify God in all that we say and all that we do. We are called to open our eyes to the things that Mary is praising God for in the Magnificat – lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things – and seek to do this in our own lives as well. The Magnificat boldly calls us to magnify God in our words and in our actions as we seek to bring hope, peace, joy and love to all people.

In our second reading from the Gospel, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ life and ministry. See, this is the thing about living on this side of the resurrection. We cannot simply anticipate the birth of Christ as if we do not know the depth and power of his life. We are invited into the narrative of the Gospel knowing Jesus’ whole story. We cannot think about what it meant for Jesus to be born into a broken world without also thinking about his life, death and resurrection and what that continues to mean to a still-broken world today.

This reading from Matthew tells the story of John in prison hearing about the works Jesus was doing. John sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if he is the Messiah the prophets had foretold was coming. Jesus replies and says:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.[5]

Sometimes Jesus was anything but subtle. In fact, this exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples reminds us that the call to follow Jesus – the call to live out the Gospel, to continue to write this Christian story – is a bold and challenging one. This Advent season we are not just waiting for the birth of a baby, but the coming of a Messiah. This is not just a birthday celebration, but also a radical affirmation of hope, peace, joy and love in this world.

The Advent season reminds us that we, too, are called to, “lift up the lowly” and “fill the hungry with good things,” as Mary proclaims in the Magnificat. We, too, are called, as Jesus proclaims to the disciples, to offer healing to the blind, the deaf and the lame, cleanse the lepers and bring good news to the poor. We are called, as children of God and as people of faith, to fight for justice, to give voice to the marginalized, to reach out to those in need and to shine light into the darkness of the chaos and the unknown.

This is the glory of God Mary sings of in the Magnificat, this is what Jesus preaches, time and time again, throughout the Gospel and this is what we are called to remember this Christmas as we celebrate God’s triumphal entry into the world.

So today, on this third Sunday of Advent, two weeks before Christmas (13 shopping days left, if you are keeping track!), I pose this question: What is the Magnificat calling you to do? How will your life magnify God this year? How will you live out the call of the Gospel and continue to write a story that began in a manger 2,000 years ago? How will you be a reflection of the Advent spirit of hope, peace, joy and love?

On a very human level, I invite you try to connect to Mary’s story. And as you do this may you hear what God is saying, see what God is doing and, like Mary, sing praises to God in the midst of the chaos and the unknown.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 1:38, NRSV
[2] Luke 1:46-47, NRSV
[3] Luke 1:48, NRSV
[4] Luke 1:51-53, NRSV
[5] Matthew 11:4-6, NRSV