May We Be Joyful

I was SO excited about worship this week.  The amazingly talented Mary Bee was in town and singing in worship.  She sang the Francesca Battistelli song, Heaven Everywhere and also Sweet Little Jesus Boy.  I was able to bring in a drummer and a bass player for Heaven Everywhere, which just rounded out the sound.  It was so much fun!

Next Sunday is Christmas Eve!  That’s so hard to believe.  I know technically it is Advent 4, but we are going to have our Family Worship & Pageant at the 10AM service this year.  The pageant is shaping up to be adorable, as always (and I am not just saying that because my son is going to be a lamb).  One of the parents came to me with a really cute idea and it’s going to be so fun to see it all come together.

I hope you all are are finding God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season!  Thank you for being part of my year.  I am thankful for you!

Many blessings,
Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 17, 2017

Luke 1:46-55

May We Be Joyful

I think I have mentioned this from the pulpit before, but as a way of introducing this sermon, it is worth repeating: I have a Mary medal that I sometimes wear around my neck. In fact, I was wearing it when Bruce and I first met, causing him to – he admitted years later – assume I was Catholic and consider what it would mean for him to convert if we ever got married.

What can I say? I love Mary. On a very human level, she fascinates me. I love her story, I love her obedience and I love the way God used her – an ordinary, humble, not particularly wealthy or powerful girl – as a vessel for God’s ministry in the world.

All of this is to say: I get excited when I have the opportunity to preach on Mary because I think she has a lot to teach us. Our scripture reading for this morning is no different; it is known as the Magnificat, which is the Song of Mary.

So let’s review the story: An angel appeared to Mary and told her she was pregnant with God’s son and that she was to name him Jesus. Mary asked her how this was possible, because she was a virgin and the angel told her that nothing was impossible with God. With faithful obedience, Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.”[1]

Shortly after, Mary traveled to a Judean town to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant (with John the Baptist). When Mary arrived, scripture says Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb and then Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith. ‘Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth said. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary responds to this praise with the scripture we just heard, the Magnificat; Mary responds to Elizabeth by proclaiming God’s greatness and finding delight in the wonder of God.[2]

The Magnificat appears in Advent every year and, I have to admit, last year when it came around, I gained a new respect for Mary. At the time, I was, like Mary, in the first trimester of my pregnancy, feeling like garbage and – you can ask my husband for confirmation – not really proclaiming the greatness of anyone or finding delight in anything at that point.

And yet, here is Mary, pregnant with God’s son and joyfully singing about how wonderful God is.

Now, Mary’s faithful obedience when she said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” has always been striking to me. In fact, I had that passage read at my ordination; in my mind, there was no greater call in scripture than the one to give birth to Jesus. I have always figured if Mary could handle that, I could handle parish ministry.

But I realized as I was reflecting on the Magnificat this year that Mary was more than just obedient when she responded with affirmation to God’s call; she was joyful. She praised God, saying that future generations would call her blessed because of the work God was doing through her; she gave thanks for the good things God was doing for her and spoke of God’s power and charity.[3]

Let’s get this straight: Not only did Mary say, “Okay, God, I trust you; I guess we are doing this whole Jesus thing,” she also said, “And do you know what, God? You are amazing.”

Mary was not just obedient when God called her to do something that was not easy; she was happy about it!

It is not easy to remain faithful and obedient to God when you are faced with challenges and adversities. But to do so with praise and adoration? Now, that is truly the remarkable part of this story.

I have always been intrigued by the way this passage appears in the lectionary cycle. We are actually supposed to readying chapter 1, starting with verse 46b, not at the beginning of the verse.

Verse 46 says this:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”[4]

The verse, itself, is just barely two parts: A – “And Mary said,” and B – “My soul magnifies the Lord”. But the lectionary instructs us to start with the second half, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” not necessarily citing Mary for what is being said.

As I was reflecting on this text this week, particularly the exclusion of Mary in how it shows up in the lectionary, I realized that perhaps this was an intentional way of forcing us to put ourselves in the narrative.

It is easy to read these words and attribute them to Mary. An angel appeared to her and told her God was going to use her for something amazing; that is a pretty compelling argument.

It is much harder, however, for us to read these words and attribute them to ourselves.

Because not only do we have to say yes to God, but we also have to be happy about it.

How are you proclaiming God’s goodness right now? How are you finding delight in God?

As with most things faith-related, this is easier said than done. It is not easy to trust God in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty of life, let alone praise God while we do so.

Mary’s role in the Christmas narrative reminds us that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But the Magnificat takes this one step further, boldly teaching us that as we respond to God’s call, we should do so with both trust and praise.

We have entered the time of year when many of us are reflecting on the year gone by and setting some goals for the upcoming year. As we do so, I think we should take the time to listen to God speaking to us; calling us to do God’s work in this world; in our families and in our communities.

And we need to do so by praising God for all that God is doing within us; for all who God believes we can be.

Mary sang in the Magnificat,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. [5]

As we reflect on 2017 and also think about what we want to do in 2018, may we all remember these words. Just like Mary, God is doing great things with each and every one of us. God is using our stories to tell the story of our faith. Our lives are bearing witness to the Christian story and to a God who believes that we can tell this story.

Think about this: God believes in us! God believes we can be part of this Christian story. God believes that we can share the Gospel and make this world a better place.

Just like God called Mary 2,000 years ago, God is calling us today. And faith is not only believing that we are who God says we are, but it is also giving thanks to and praising God for calling us to serve.

Because it is a wonderful calling.

So may we be joyful as we respond to God’s call this Christmas season and into the new year. And, like Mary, may we magnify God’s light in our lives, may our spirits rejoice in God’s name and may people know that we are blessed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 1:26-38, NRSV
[2] Luke 1:39-45, NRSV
[3] Luke 2:46b-55, NRSV
[4] Luke 2:46, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:49, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

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!

***

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

***

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.