Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

Hi Friends!

We finished up our Advent sermon series on spiritual practices this week by looking at evangelism through the story of the shepherds and the angels.  This is my last Advent sermon – our Christmas pageant is this Sunday.  I will be back a few days after Christmas to post my Christmas sermon.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 15, 2019

Luke 2:8-20

Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

I have to admit, I had a different plan for my sermon earlier this week than where I finally landed by the time I started writing.

Okay, so perhaps not so much different, as a whole, but as I was putting some of the pieces together, I came across a commentary that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion in the end.

But I will get to that in a little bit.

This is the third and final week of our mini Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices highlighted in the Christmas story.  We have already looked at service and hospitality; the topic for this morning is evangelism.

First of all, I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by admitting that I have a complicated relationship with the word evangelism.

To some extent, I used to be kind of scared of it.  When I was in high school and college and thought about the term “evangelical” I thought about a very specific stereotype of Christian; the type of Christian that was more on the extreme side of things and, for lack of a better way to describe it, shoved religion down people’s throats.

I hate to even say this, because I really don’t like feeding stereotypes like this, but I do think that for a long time, there was this line drawn in Protestantism where you were either evangelical or you weren’t.  Unfortunately, the way I understood evangelism was in a negative context; the thought never crossed my mind that I would even have something in common with evangelical Christians, let alone consider myself one.

And yet here I am, years later, and that is exactly what I would consider myself.

In fact, that is what we should all consider ourselves.

The word “evangelize” means to preach the Christian gospel.  And, as Christians, this is something that we are all called to do, regardless if we realize it is what we are doing.  We are all called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – in both word and action.  We are all called to preach of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, a love that triumphs over evil, hatred and death.  We are all called to preach a message where redemption is real and possible and holy.  We are all called to preach the hope that comes from not being defined by our brokenness, but our wholeness in God.

This call to evangelize is something very different from what I used to understand it to be.  But this, in fact, is the scriptural call to evangelize; this is the call from Jesus, himself, to go and make disciples, to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it, to shine light into the darkness of the world.

Our 9th and 10th graders are currently going through Confirmation.  Last month during our meeting, we were talking about the history of Christianity.  One of the things I said in our conversation is that I think it is more important to understand Christianity as an experiential religion and not just memorize dates and other facts about it.  Because, at its foundation, Christianity is about an experience; it is about individuals experiencing God’s love and then sharing that experience with others.

The ironic thing is that I usually use the resurrection as an example when I talk about this.  The women who discovered the empty tomb told others what they had seen; they experienced God’s love through the resurrection of Jesus and then shared that love with others.  But if you think about it, this is also exactly what happens in the part of the Christmas story we just heard with the angels and the shepherds.  An angel appears to the shepherds and tells them that God’s love has come into this world through the birth of Jesus.  They then run to see for themselves and when they return they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”

They experienced God’s love through the birth of Jesus and then they shared that love with others.

One of the miraculous parts of this story is that people were sharing the Gospel long before Jesus even them to.  They knew they had seen and experienced something that was going to change the world and so they shared that something – that Good News – with the world.

This is evangelism.

And that, my friends, is not scary.  It does not feed into negative stereotypes.  It does not shove religion down people’s throats.  Instead it promotes the hope, peace, joy and love of this season.  It points people not only to Jesus, but to the Gospel he lived and calls us to live.  It shines light into the darkness of the world and assures people that redemption is always possible; that, even when the moments of our lives seem bleak, God is not finished writing our stories.

This is what the Christmas story calls us to do – to tell people about this kind of love, to share our stories and to invite them to be part of this narrative.

And this is where I discovered something this week that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion.  The thing is, what I have come to learn about evangelism is that it is something that we all are called to do – even those of us who might not always be comfortable talking about our faith.  We are all called to share our faith, to talk about our faith in a way that brings comfort and hope to our world.

But how do we do this?  How do we do this in a way that feels comfortable to us?  How do we do this in a way that others will listen to and understand?  How do we do this when there are so many competing voices around us, especially at Christmastime when the commercialized narrative of presents and parties and other holiday chaos is so loud?

Listen to what I came across in one of my commentaries:

As elsewhere in these narratives, the word of God come through an angel, a divine messenger.  Luke speaks of angels as easily as he speaks of human beings.  In fact, when a sign is offered as proof of the good news, it is not what moderns might regard as a sign; i.e., something as extraordinary as a heavenly host.  Rather, the sign is as common as a baby to be found in poor circumstances, lying in a feeding trough. (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Jame L. Mays, General Editor with the Society of Biblical Literature, page 931-932)

For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, 2,000 years after this story unfolded, we know that this was just not an ordinary baby lying in a feeding trough, but a savior who will not only one day proclaim the Gospel, but also live, die and be resurrected to new life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would all have a place in God’s eternal home.

But they did not know that at the time.  At the times they just saw a baby.

And yet this was their sign.  This was their sign that a miracle had just happened.  This was their sign that God’s love had broken into our world.  This was their sign that was hope was real and that redemption was possible.  This was their sign that there was Good News happening in this world that was worth sharing.

It did not come through pomp and circumstances and other extravagant things.  It came through the simple image of a newborn baby lying in a manger.

Here’s the thing – sharing God’s love does not have to be complicated and over the top.  It can be as simple as a conversation with a family member or friend about what this season means to you.  It can be a moment where you share a tangible sign of peace with someone else.  It can be sending someone a card, bringing them a meal or surprising them with decorations if their house seems dark.  It can be inviting them to church on Christmas Eve and grabbing their hand if the songs make them cry.  It can be welcoming them into your home if they don’t have family close by to celebrate with.

I think sometimes we are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism because we overcomplicate it.  We think we have to do something grandiose and over the top.  We think that our voices have to be louder than everyone else’s.  What we do not realize is that evangelism can and will happen in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of our lives.

People do not need huge and overwhelming signs to believe in God’s love, they need signs that are accessible and real and easily connect them to this story.

So if there is one thing that you remember from this particular part of this story, may it be this – you, too, can proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth.  You, too, can join the angeltude of voices singing about the birth of Christ.  You, too, can tell the world that God’s love is real and here.  You, too, can help others bear witness to the signs around them – however ordinary they might seem – that will open their eyes to God’s love.

So go, therefore and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to a world that needs to see grace in the ordinary and hope in the mundane.  Share God’s love with others this holiday season.  Sing with the angels.  And may your voices be heard and your signs be recognized.

And may the world be forever changed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Say “Yes!” To God

Hi friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We capped off our Thanksgiving weekend with a wonderful Hanging of the Greens service in worship on Sunday and then a hugely successful Giving Tuesday two days later. (If you are interested in donating to that campaign, our page is still live!)

On Sunday we kicked off a three-week Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices we learn about in the Christmas story.  We started with service – and the stories of Mary and Joseph.  The sermon is shorter, because – between Hanging of the Greens and Communion – we had a lot going on in worship!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 1, 2019

Matthew 1:18-25
Luke 1:26-38

Say “Yes!” To God

I have always loved the story of Mary’s – long before I even thought of having children myself.  In fact, this passage from the Gospel of Luke was read at my ordination in 2011 – in April, two weeks before Easter.

If I remember correctly, there was a collective, “Are you sure about that?” response from the clergy helping me plan the service when I told them that was my choice.

Here’s the thing:  I think, on a very human level, I have always just had deep respect for what Mary did.  She said yes.

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

A few years ago we did an Advent bible study called The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.  There was a DVD companion to the study where the creator of the series, Adam Hamilton, took us through the Holy Land and literally showed us where the Christmas story unfolded.  One of the themes Hamilton kept coming back to was the fact that God did not use the rich and powerful to tell this story, to bring Jesus into this world; but instead he used ordinary people, just like us.  We talked a lot in our group about the ways God used and continued to use people to do God’s work in this world; and so part of our job, as Christians, is to discern what God is calling us to do in this moment in time.

This idea has stuck with me and, I think, resonated even deeper as we went through the Year of Mark last year and really immersed ourselves in Jesus’ story and thought about what it means to be his disciple.  Because the Christian story is still being written.  Yes, a significant portion of it has already happened, but there is a very relevant part that is still happening today, in our lives.  God did not stop using people to do God’s work in this world once Jesus’ time on earth was done; in fact that is when some of the real work began.

And so I think we can read the Christmas story two ways.  The first is the way we do on Christmas Eve, which is to read it, sing about it and celebrate it.  But what I want to do during Advent this year is to read it and then really take the time to think about what it means for our lives today.  Is God going to call all of us to give birth to Jesus?  Well, no; but there is more to the story than that.

This Advent we will look at three faith practices – service, hospitality and evangelism.  We will use the characters and their stories in the Christmas story to talk about how God called them, but then also think about how God is calling us today.

We begin with Mary and Joseph.

No offense to all the men out there, but speaking from my own context, I do not often read Joseph’s call story.  And it’s not intentional or anything, but I think when you are trying to finish Lessons & Carols in under an hour, you tell Mary’s story and then hit the road to Bethlehem.

Both Mary and Joseph’s stories bear a lot of similarities to one another.  Angels appear to both Mary and Joseph; the angels say, “Do not be afraid”; Jesus is named, in some way.

And, in both stories, Mary and Joseph say yes to God.

And to me, that is one of the most magical parts of the Christmas story.

They said YES to God!

God asked them to serve and they said yes.  God asked them to be part of this story of redemption and love and grace and they said yes.  God asked them to shine light into the darkness of the world and they said yes.

What is God asking you to do this year?

The Christmas story is not just about a baby being born, it is about a story that begins when ordinary people say yes to God.  And so we, as active participants in the story in our lives, today, can participate by saying yes.  We, too, can say “yes!” when God comes to us and asks us to serve.  We, too, can say, “yes!” when opportunities arise for us to share the Gospel and spread God’s love.

This Advent season I encourage you all to say yes to God.  Say yes when God asks you to serve.  Say yes, even in the moments where it seems like it might be hard.  Say yes, even in the moments when it is slightly inconvenient.  Say yes, even when you are not quite sure what God is doing.

Remember, God used ordinary people to start telling this story 2,000 years ago and God is still using ordinary people, just like us, to continue telling it today.

And that is where the real magic begins.

It is the first Sunday in Advent, a season of waiting; waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for Emmanuel – God with us – to break forth into this world, waiting for that moment when God comes to us and asks us to serve.

Waiting for that moment when we can say “yes!” to God.

Blessings on your Advent journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How Can We Serve Others?

Hi friends!  It has been almost a month since my last sermon.  I didn’t realize I would be away from the pulpit from that long, but since I was away for two weeks and then came back to Beatles Sunday, it ended up being almost a month without a sermon.

We are still in our six-week sermon series on hospitality.  The topic of discussion this week was:  How do we serve others?

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 25, 2019

1 Peter 4:7-11
Luke 10:38-42
Matthew 25:31-40

How Can We Serve Others?

Back in the spring, I tried to get the church to march in the Memorial Day Parade in Rehoboth.

It did not go very well.

I think five people signed up.

Refusing to admit defeat, I changed my plans and decided that, as a community, we were just going to hang out on the front lawn of the church.  We were going to ring the bells when we saw the lead police car come over the hill, open our doors so people could use the restroom or just seek shelter for the sun and we were going to cheer on the parade from the sidelines.  After all, what is a parade without spectators?

Missi Wells reached out when she heard about my plan and organized a lemonade and cookies stand.  The response was incredible.  We filled tables on the side of the road with two different kinds of lemonade and countless plates of cookies.  And as the smell of sugar started to waft out into the crowd, people’s interest was piqued and they started to wander over.

We did not charge for anything that morning; in fact, we did not even put out a donation jar.  And it’s not that I don’t like to raise money or anything (y’all know that’s not true), it’s just that this was something Missi and I wanted to for the community, simply as an act of service.

And I have to say – it was the coolest thing ever.

Because it was like communion.

There was this moment towards the end of the parade when the Fire Department was coming through.  Engine 3 had stopped in front of the church; Jeff Rutko was driving, Zack was sitting shotgun and there was a group of guys in the back seat. Missy Enos ran over to the truck with and entire tray of lemonade and handed it to Jeff through the window.  He grabbed a cup and passed the tray around and everyone took a cup when it came to them.

And I swear to you, it looked exactly like it does on the first Sunday of the month when the Deacons are passing around those trays of juice.

It was in that moment that I knew it was the right decision not to charge a penny for that lemonade; because this was an act of service that felt like worship.  It was a moment where we were able to walk outside the walls of our church building and show the community what it means for us to live out the Gospel. It was hospitality on a level that I could not have planned.

Okay – so.

Hospitality.

We have looked at the why:  Why is it important to talk about hospitality?  Why are names so important?

Then we looked at the what:  What does it mean when we say that all are welcome? What does it look like to welcome children?

Now we are going to look at the how: Today we will ask ourselves, how can we serve others?  And, to close out this series, next week we will ask the question, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

How can we serve others?

I chose three texts to look at in order to address this question.  The first comes from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.  Peter, of course, we know from the Gospels.  He was also referred to as Simon; Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen and they were the first two disciples that Jesus called. Peter was one of the members of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; that Jesus brought with him to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.

Peter was the disciple that denied Jesus three times, but later in his apostolic ministry was one of the key leaders in the early church.  Although the details of his death are not recorded in scripture, most scholars agree that Peter was crucified.

There are two letters of Peter in the New Testament, likely pseudonymous and written in the 80’s after his death.  These letters were addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith and so Peter (or someone writing under Peter’s name) was talking not only what it means to be strong in your faith, but to build a strong community of faith.

Because, like we have talked about, as a community, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts.  We need one another – in good times and in bad times. Peter says in this letter that love and hospitality towards one another lays a strong foundation to build a community that can glorify God and spread the Gospel.

Our second reading comes from the Gospel according to Luke, the story of Mary and Martha.  Mary and Martha appear several times in the different Gospels.  In the Gospel of John, Mary and Martha are identified as Lazarus’ sisters; Lazarus is the man who was presumed dead for several days, but who came to life.  And Mary is also the woman who anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume.  When we read that story in the Gospel of Mark, the woman was not named, but when it is told in the Gospel of John, she is identified as Mary.  Coincidentally (and in keeping with the dynamic of this story), while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, Martha served everybody else.

This story always brings up a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Are we meant to sit and learn or are we meant to stand up and serve others?  Jesus does not necessarily give us a clear answer.

Our final reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; Jesus was teaching his disciples.  They were already in Jerusalem and Jesus had foretold the destruction of the temple.  The end was near; as soon as Jesus finished speaking these words, the plot to kill him begins.  And so what this means is that his final lesson to his disciples before the Passion Narrative begins is about serving others; feeding them when they are hungry, giving them something to drink when they are thirsty, welcoming them when they are a stranger, clothing them when they are naked, taking care of them when they are sick and visiting them when they are in prison.

Jesus’ words in this discourse help us step back and, again, answer the question of, why?  Why is it important that we serve others?  Jesus says because when we serve others, it is as if we are serving Jesus, himself. Jesus says that when we serve others we are doing so in Jesus’ name, because this is what the Gospel teaches us, because this is what it looks like to put our faith in action.  Jesus says that when we serve others, like the Apostle Peter later writes, we are doing so to glorify God and to show an outward expression of the love that we maintain for one another.

In other words, the way we live our lives matters. It is not enough to come to church and proclaim our beliefs, but we have to live out these beliefs as well. The Body of Christ only works if we are all on the same team, helping one another, championing one another, picking one another up when we fall.  As human beings living in this human world, serving other human beings is the conduit in which we serve God.

So that begs the questions of, how?

This might be one of those “easier said than done” scenarios, but I also think that the story of Mary and Martha teaches us that there is no one way to serve others.  Here in this story you have two sisters that take vastly different approaches to welcoming Jesus into their house:  Martha is concerned with “many tasks” – likely cooking and cleaning – and Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to learn.  When Martha shows frustration that Mary is not helping her, Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and distracted by many things and that there is need of only one thing, which Mary is doing.

But I don’t think Jesus is necessarily downplaying the role that Martha is playing; I think he is simply saying that there are many ways to serve others and that we cannot do it all.  This story needs both Mary and Martha.  This world, the Body of Christ, needs both Marys and Marthas to come together and glorify God in their service to others.

Sometimes this means handing out lemonade at parades and refusing to take a dime.  Sometimes this means bringing someone a meal.  Sometimes this means giving someone a ride or just stopping by for a visit.  Sometimes this means letting someone know that you are praying for them.  Sometimes this means lending a hand at a funeral.  Sometimes this means volunteering your time with our youth group, church school or nursery programs.  Sometimes this means celebrating a joyous time in someone’s life and also supporting them through a hard time.  Sometimes this means saying hello to someone who walked through the doors of our church for the first time or sitting down next to someone who is sitting alone.  Sometimes this means hopping on a committee at church or signing up to help out with something.  Sometimes this means volunteering at one of the TACT breakfasts that Missions hosts or donating to one of their collections throughout the years.  Sometimes this means, like Peter points out, serving others with the gifts that we have been given – perhaps offering legal counsel to someone if you are a lawyer, fixing a leak in someone’s house if you are a plumber or tutoring someone if you are a teacher.  As a church, sometimes this means running a fundraiser to support a specific cause or making our building available to someone who is struggling financially at a low or no cost.

This question of how we serve others ongoing and ever-changing.  It is one that I do not ever think we will come up with the “right” answer for, because what it “right” in one moment might change in the next.

But I know one thing for sure:  Our community cares about loving one another.  Our community wants to serve one another and serve others.  And so I invite us all to prayerfully discern how call is calling us to serve in this moment. And may we all be open to the ways God is present in our lives as we seek to glorify God through service to others.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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