Repent And Be Transformed

Hi Friends!

When I went to upload my sermon I was reminded that I have three separate documents with three different versions of Sunday’s sermon.  I couldn’t figure it out!  It just wasn’t working – probably because I was preaching on repentance and – ugh.  That’s hard.

I hope you enjoy my sermon!  I named my struggle right off the bat and I think people really relate when I do that.  But working through this actually gave me a lot to think about as I approach my own Advent season.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 3, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

Repent And Be Transformed

I told Bruce on Friday night that I was struggling with my sermon for this weekend and when he asked me what I was preaching on and I said, “repentance,” he replied, “eeeek.”

So here’s the deal: It’s Advent. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas. Homes are being decorated, Advent calendars have started, holiday cards have been ordered and Christmas music fills the aisles of stores bustling with shoppers crossing things off of their lists.

No one wants to go to church during this magical season and hear the preacher drone on about repentance.

The Gospel of Mark says:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4, NRSV)

Bruce’s suggestion? Change the scripture.

There is something very magical about the Christmas story. Baby Jesus is born and placed lovingly in a manger and all is calm, all is bright and then we light some candles and sing, Joy to the World!

But this morning’s reading from the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark does not put us in the manger with the baby Jesus; it puts us in the wilderness with John the Baptist.

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5, NRSV)

There are four Gospels in the bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Two of these gospels – Matthew and Luke – begin with the birth narrative, with the Christmas story where Jesus is born.

But that is not where the Gospel of Mark starts. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry; it begins with John the Baptist entering the scene in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. There is no baby Jesus; no star for the wise men to follow; no animals milling around; no angels singing, Glory to the Newborn King!

Just a man preaching repentance, calling people to confess their sins.

John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1:6-8)

Now what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?

Mark stands in stark contrast to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where angels appear, babies are born and shepherds rejoice. Mark begins the story of Jesus by calling followers of Christ to repent and to be baptized as they confess their sins.

This is not the Christmas story many of us are used to. And yet, maybe this is exactly what we need this Christmas season.

It is easy to get caught up in the magic of Christmas. I do it all the time (the fact that I have two Christmas trees is proof of this fact). We deck the halls and sing Christmas carols and fill our homes with beautiful lights. Everything is so festive that sometimes we forget that, at the very beginning of it all, Jesus was born into a very broken world, a world that needed Christmas.

I do not know about the rest of you, but right now I feel like the world we are living in is also very much broken; it, too, needs Christmas.

And, as a pastor preaching her way through the season of Advent, I cannot help but think this whole repentance thing was the whole reason for the Christmas story in the first place. Jesus came into this world because the world needed to repent; the world needed to be redeemed. It was through our brokenness as human beings that God’s hope, peace, joy and love appeared in a manger 2,000 years ago and, I have to believe, that the same thing will happen again today.

I think the way Mark’s gospel begins reminds us that living into our call as Christians does not necessarily start with the magic of a manger; but with the hard work that is required to confess our sins and admit our own brokenness. The way this Gospel tells the narrative of Jesus’ life teaches us that part of the magic of Christmas is remembering why Jesus came into this world to begin with.

Which means that every time we celebrate Christmas, perhaps we should start by remembering why we need it in the first place.

And this is where repentance comes in.

Bruce joked with me yesterday that he would be happy to get up and repent for the, what I thought was a, questionable decorating decision he made at our house on Friday night when we were decorating for Christmas.

And I totally would have let him, but then I would have had to repent for the fact that, when I saw what he did, I immediately said, “Oh so this is the tacky side of the room, isn’t it?”

I think we all have moments in our lives that we wish we could take back.

And that is the point of repenting, is it not? That we look in the mirror, see the whole of the person that we are – including our faults and our imperfections and the things that we have said that we did not necessarily mean to – admit where we have fallen short and ask for forgiveness?

This is not easy. I know I am making light of it by talking about marital squabbles over Christmas décor, but true repentance – the kind that comes when we really dig deep and confess the things we have done wrong – is hard. It is not easy to hold ourselves accountable for the things we have done while we seek to also be the people God is calling us to be.

But we do this stepping out on faith, knowing we are forgiven, knowing we are loved and knowing we are made whole by God.

The cool thing about the Advent season is that it reminds us that Jesus’ work is not done yet. As we “prepare the way of the Lord,” we remember that it is always possible to prepare our hearts and our lives for the hope, peace, joy and love of God through Jesus Christ; we bear witness to the truth that redemption is not a one-time thing.

I believe in the power of the Christmas story. And I believe that when we start with repentance, we do so not out of guilt or shame, but out of trust in God and hope that we will be transformed this Christmas season.

So, as we continue journeying our way through the Advent season, I invite you to repent. Do not be scared of it; be freed by it. Allow yourself to be transformed as you look honestly at who you are and open yourself up and see how God’s hope, peace, joy and love can come into your life today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

 

Reaching Out To Families

As the summer winds down, we are almost done with our summer sermon series, Why I Come To Church.  The topic this week was family.  We ended up getting two totally different perspectives, which was nice!  The lay person who offered their testimony talked about our church family and I preached about the call to reach out to families in our church.  After my sermon, Jordan started playing and singing the song, What A Wonderful World, and I jumped in on my saxophone. <3 I posted the video to the church Facebook page if you are interested!

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 28, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Family

Mark 10:13-16

Reaching Out To Families

Growing up, I always equated church with my family.

For a lot of people, church means family time, but, as a preacher’s kid, more often than not, family time also meant church. Christmas Eve dinners were held in the church kitchen in between services and usually consisted of hot dogs that we bought at the gas station and an assorted variety of chips. Easter mornings started long before the sun came up; not with my sister and me grabbing for our Easter baskets, but for whatever instruments we were playing at the sunrise service that year. Last month when my dad’s family gathered in Connecticut for our annual Fourth of July “Camp Keck,” no one ever discussed our plans for Sunday morning; we all just woke up, got ready for church and piled into a couple of cars. It is just what we do (the pre-worship selfie, however, was new this year!)

But, again I say: I am a preacher’s kid. My family has to go to church. It is not unusual for us to figure out a way to fit church into our schedule. We have no other choice but to work around the church calendar and the people around us have learned to accept it.

But what about the families who do not have to come church? What about the families whose friends and bosses and coaches do not expect them to have a standing Sunday morning commitment? What about the families who are trying to balance church along with everything else and who are trying to make church “fit” into the crazy and hectic lives they lead? What about the families who feel guilty that they cannot come to church more or give more or be more involved? What about the families who feel powerless against their own schedules; who want to be here at the church and be part of the community, but also want to provide extracurricular and athletic opportunities for their children, opportunities that often occur on Sunday mornings?

As a church, we can help these families. As a church, we are called to help these families. In fact, I believe this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in the scripture that we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark.

This scripture talks about receiving children. We read it when we baptize children and promise, as a community, to always welcome them, embrace them and support them on their faith journey.

But even though Jesus was talking specifically about the children that were in his midst, I also think that there is a bigger meaning and purpose to what he was saying.

This passage is part of a broader narrative; immediately before it, the Pharisees had questioned Jesus about divorce, asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Rather than answering perhaps the way the Pharisees wanted him to – that it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife and leave her without money, status or power – Jesus favored women in his response, showing he believed women should be considered equal.[1]

And then Jesus started talking about children.

So, let’s think about this: In terms of who had power in the culture and society Jesus was living in, women (particularly divorced women) and children were pretty low on the list. And these were the ones that Jesus took favor on; Jesus cared deeply for the powerless. Jesus wanted to open his arms wide and welcome the powerless into his midst; Jesus wanted to lay hands on them and to bless them and to ensure them that there was a place in the world for them.

The powerless.

Jesus cared for the powerless and went out of his way to reach out to them. I would argue that, as Christians, we are called to do the same.

I know that when we talk about reaching out to the powerless, it opens up the door to also talking about reaching out to other groups of marginalized people; orphans, immigrants, minorities, people with special needs and who are sick, widows and widowers and many more. And I certainly do not want to overshadow these groups or forget about them!

But today in church we are talking about families; specifically family being the reason that we come to church. And so today, in looking at this scripture and how it shows Jesus reaching out to the powerless, I want to talk about families and how sometimes they struggle with feeling powerless.

And I want to talk about how we, as a church, can help them.

I would argue that families today often feel powerless against the craziness of the world that we live in. While the type of powerlessness they feel is different from the systemic powerlessness experienced by the children Jesus was talking about in this scripture, I believe the call to action is the same.

I spend a lot of time working with families at this church, particularly younger families, and I see them struggling in real and sometimes impossible ways. They often feel pulled in too many different directions, lacking the time, energy and money to keep up with everything society is telling them they need to have and do. They have to constantly fight back against the ever-changing world of technological and social media advancement. They have to make difficult choices and often cannot automatically equate family time with church time because their Sundays are taken up by work, sports and other extracurricular activities.

And they feel powerless, unable to find balance in it all.

But this is where the church comes in. We can give power to the powerless.

In this instance, giving power to the powerless means that we can help the families in our community who are struggling and feeling lost. We can empower our families by making sure they know that they are welcome here, at this church, no matter what their lives look like. When we hear the call of Jesus to, “Let the children come to me,” we need to respond by opening our arms wide and making sure our church is a safe space for all of our families to experience God’s love, learn and grow in their faith and worship in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible.

When my mom and I were in Hungary, we worshipped at a Catholic Church in Hévíz, which is in the Lake Balaton region, about two hours from Budapest. And while we each got a lot of different things out of the experience, we both commented later how wonderful it was to see so many young families in the church. It felt a lot like being in our own churches. There was movement; there were small voices asking questions, babies crying, parents shushing and little feet pitter-pattering around the balcony. Even though I was sitting in a Hungarian Catholic mass, it all felt so familiar to me.

And I loved it. I loved a watching a young family settle in next to an older woman who had her head covered was clutching and kissing her visibly worn rosary beads. I loved watching the children kneel and stand and try to sing along with the familiar hymns and prayers. I loved watching a young father frantically try to get his screaming baby out of the church during the homily. I loved seeing this church bear witness to Jesus’ scriptural call, to open their doors wide so that everyone, regardless of their age, gender or life circumstances, could be on the receiving end of God’s grace.

This is what I want for our church.

As a church, we are called to be a safe place for families to come and learn and worship and pray and grow in their faith. We are called to set good examples for them, to help them discern how to find balance and support them when their journeys are difficult. We are called to love them and be patient with the chaos that they sometimes bring. We are called to adjust our calendar if something works better for their schedules. We are called to ask for their opinions and be willing to change if there is a way we can better accommodate their needs. We are called to remember that we are at this church today, as adults, partly because someone embraced us in the church when we were children and we want that legacy to continue.

It is not always easy to embrace a multitude of families in the church and create a space where they can all come and are free to be themselves. But our families need our support; many of them are fragile; some feel powerless.

And Jesus calls us to reach out to the powerless.

As I thought about families in the church this week, I was reminded of a line from Hamilton (sorry, my obsession has continued throughout the summer). It is from the scene where Alexander Hamilton dies; time freezes right before the bullet strikes Hamilton and he launches into a monologue.

Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.[2]

As a church that is committed to our families, we are touching lives in ways that we may never see or know. But we are also touching lives in ways that are real and powerful and grace-filled and life changing.

So let us plant seeds; let us celebrate families and support families and love families. Let us open our arms wide and welcome families into our midst, blessing them by placing our hands on them and ensuring them that there is a place in this church for them.

And may our children one day tell the stories that we are helping to write in this church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] In Matthew 10:1-12, Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife, it should be considered adultery, but if a woman divorces her husband, it should also be considered adultery. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jesus is condoning divorce, but I do think he doesn’t think there should be a double standard.

[2] Hamilton, Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. From the song, The World Was Wide Enough.

Called To Serve – Called To Give

Hello and Happy Harvest!  I had a busy weekend with church activities (and my final wedding of the season!) so I’m only now getting caught up.  Here is this week’s sermon.  I don’t have the audio because I forgot to shut off the recording and all of the prayer requests were recorded – whoops!  Sorry about that.  Still working out the kinks of my own system. :)

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 18, 2015

Mark 10:35-45

Called To Serve – Called To Give

Lock the doors; I am about to talk about money.

When I was in seminary, I got into a disagreement with one of my professors about how pastors should talk to their churches about money.

Here is what happened: My professor kept saying that we, as pastors, needed to preach about money; and not only did we need to preach about money, but we needed to preach often about money (often – as in, more than once a year!). He said that we needed to be transparent about our own giving and ask others to be transparent about their giving. He talked about the biblical notion of “tithing” – literally giving 10% of your income to the church – and said that we needed to set that expectation – that expectation that every single member of the church ought to tithe – when talking about stewardship and giving money to the church.

Now, remember – I went to seminary in Atlanta. My professor was a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia conference and had spent his entire life down south.

At one point I turned to him with kind of a perplexed look on my face and rested my chin on my hand and said, “You’ve never been to New England before, have you?”

So let me put this right out there on the table: We are New Englanders. We do not like to talk about money.

Amen?

But let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. As a nonprofit organization, we have salaries to pay, buildings to maintain and programs to run. All of these things cost money. Part of being the church means rising up to the fiduciary duty of the organization and ensuring that the church has sufficient resources to pay its bills.

And let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. A church that God has called us into; a church that Jesus laid the foundation for 2,000 years ago; a church that we are still building today. Part of being the church means remembering – even when it is uncomfortable to do so (and I know that it is uncomfortable to do so!) – that Jesus called us to give back and sometimes that means pledging and giving our own money.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples and the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection for the third time (he did this immediately prior to this reading in chapter 10, verses 32-34). After hearing Jesus say that he would be violently killed and then rise again after three day, James and John wanted to make sure they had their bases covered.

Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left. (Mark 10:35-36)

Talk about trying to get on the fast track to a place of honor.

Jesus was not easily giving into the brothers’ request. Jesus told them that they would be baptized and that they would drink from the cup of salvation; but that sitting in a place of honor was not for Jesus to grant on earth.

The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. (Mark 10:39-40)

This could easily turn into a horrendous sermon about giving money to the church so that you can get into heaven, but I swear on everything that is important to me that is NOT where I am going with this.

Here is where I am going with this: The disciples were focusing on the wrong thing.

The disciples were fixated on how to get that “good” spot in heaven and not paying attention to what was happening in their midst. They were focused on the future and not at all on the present. They wanted to figure out how to get in cahoots with God, but were actually ignoring the people that were in their midst and needed tangible signs of God’s love and grace; tangible signs that they, in fact, could give them.

Jesus said:

Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:43-45)

For Jesus, it was not just about ‘talking the talk’ it was also very much so about ‘walking the walk’. Jesus said that there was a level of servant hood to our faith that could not be ignored.

I was really intrigued by Jesus’ use of the word “slave” in this passage:

Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:44)

What is a slave, after all? A slave is a person who has absolutely no choice but to humble themselves and serve others; a person who must put the needs of others before the needs of themselves. The term “slave” carries a lot of heavy connotations and I do not think that we should ignore the significance of its use here. Having faith is necessarily glamorous; in fact sometimes it is downright grueling. Living out our faith is not easy, sometimes it is messy and oftentimes it takes a lot of work.

But Jesus called us to live out our faith; Jesus called us to serve.

It is not enough for us to just say that we are Christian; we have to act as though we are Christian as well.

And here is where things start to get a little bit uncomfortable: Because it is not enough for us to just say that we are members of this church; we have to act as though we are members of this church as well.

We have to be invested in the wellbeing of this church. Jesus said that we have to serve and – in many ways – we have to serve this church. We have to serve this church with our time, with our energy and with our ideas. We have to serve this church with our prayers and with our money.

I was talking to a couple a few weeks ago that is thinking of joining the church and they asked me how the whole “money thing” worked. How does the money get spent? Where does the money come from? How do people decide how much money to give? And here is a the question that got me thinking: Why do people give their money to the church in the first place?

So why do we give our money to the church? I know that money can sometimes be an uncomfortable subject for us, but this question is actually a really fun and amazing thing to think about.

We give our money to the church because we are called by Jesus not to first come and receive, but to first come and serve. We give our money to the church because giving money makes us vulnerable and the more we open ourselves by giving, the more space God has to come into our midst. We give our money to the church because we know that God’s grace has the power to do unexplainable and unexpected things – and we want a front row seat when that happens.

And more importantly – we give our money to this church. We give our money to this church because we believe in it. We give our money to this church because of the way that this church enables us to worship, serve and learn in ways that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to us. We give our money to this church because this church is changing lives. We give our money to this church because we believe that we are “RCC Strong.”

Stewardship Packets have been mailed out; most of you should have received them by now and (if you have not, I would be happy to hand deliver one!). I – along with members of the Stewardship Committee and the Board of Trustees – are inviting you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2015 year and return your pledge card – either in worship or to the office.

Do not give because you think we are broke; do not give because you are afraid that programs or services might be cut; do not give because you are tired of hearing me yammer on about money.

Give because Jesus is calling you to serve. Give because God has opened your eyes and your ears and your mind and your heart to this church; and you want to be part of the ministry that is unfolding here. Give because giving is where grace begins.

Give because of the abundant blessings that you receive as the living waters of baptism are washed over you. Give because you are always welcomed at the table and invited to drink from the cup overflowing with salvation.

Give because you are and will always be RCC Strong.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.