Star Sunday And My Star Story {Cheerfulness}

And with this sermon, I am officially caught up on posting my sermons I missed last year when my computer crashed!  If you missed it, our Star Sunday installation was INCREDIBLE and already has people talking about next year.

If you are not familiar with Star Sunday, here is my sermon from the first year we did it and then my star story from last year.

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 6, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Star Sunday and My Star Story {Cheerfulness}

In the church year, the Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi to the Christ Child and the physical manifestation (or incarnation) of God through Jesus. On this day, churches celebrate the giving of gifts, a God that calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things and guidance that can come from a single star.

Two years ago, we tried something new on Epiphany. Borrowing the idea from a colleague’s church, we introduced Star Sunday, where we celebrated Epiphany by receiving paper stars that had words written on them.  The idea was that this word – this star word – would guide our year.

Now here’s the thing about star words – unlike resolutions or words of the year, we do not get to choose them ourselves. Sometimes they are ironic (like the first year when I drew the word “responsibility” two days after I announced I was pregnant with Harrison), sometimes they seem impossible (like this past year when, in the middle of a home renovation with a toddler, I asked Bruce how his star word, “serenity” was going).  Sometimes these words are exactly what we think we need.  And sometimes these words are exactly what God knows we need.

This year, my star word was, “cheerfulness.” And I have to be honest, I was not really sure what to do with that word at first.  In 2017, when my word was, “responsibility,” it felt like something I could live into; I could make choices and decisions that reflected my responsibilities and also my desire to be a more responsible person and pastor and wife and soon-to-be mother.

But cheerfulness?  How do you live into that?

It will come as a surprise to no one when I say that 2018 was kind of a challenging year, particularly for pastoral care at the church.  We lost a lot of wonderful people, people that I miss very much.  Beyond those losses, all around, people just kind of had a lot of stuff going on; an on a personal level, my family has had some of their own stuff going on, as well.

And yet, I do not look back at 2018 and think it was a bad year.  And I have in the past; I have looked back at certain years and, on New Year’s Eve, all but slammed the door in its face on my way out.

But not this year.  Every time I thought about this year, I thought that, while things might have been hard at times, there was still so much joy.  Yes, there were tears and stressful moments and exhausting days and nights, but there was also love and laughter and moments of grace that just made me forget everything else that was going on.

For most of the year, I attributed my more positive and upbeat attitude to Harrison and having a different perspective on things now that I am a mom.  But I was sitting in my office a few weeks ago talking to a friend of mine about 2018 and I glanced over at my bulletin board, where my star word was hanging.

“Cheerfulness.”

And it was in that moment that I realized that “cheerfulness” is not something that I lived into this year; it is something that lived into me.  In the midst of sadness, uncertainty and stress, God infused this cheerful spirit within me, allowing me to find happiness, experience the joy of laughter and uncover grace, over and over and over again.

This morning we will hear star stories from several people in the congregation; testimonies about how their star words – words that they did not choose for themselves – impacted them this year. And then we will all receive star words for the upcoming year.

The stars we receive today will remind us of the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus for the very first time.  They, too, followed a star, not of their own choosing, but of God’s choosing.  They, too, were left with unanswered questions about how that star might guide them – and yet they were still obedient to God’s call.  They, too, wrote their own chapter in the narrative of this Christian story that is still being revealed to us, today.  They, too, lived into God’s promise of love, light and grace.

And this year, we will seek to do the same.

O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

Hi friends!

Yesterday was Star Sunday at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  We did this for the first time last year and I think it really started to gain traction this year.  My sermon is part sermon and part star story.  After I preached, I invited three members of the congregation to stand up and share their star stories.  It was wonderful!  I hope next year more people are interested in sharing, as well.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 7, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

After hearing my colleagues talk about them for several years, I introduced star words at RCC for the first time last year. Truth be told, more than anything else, I was just excited to get a star word of my very own. I have never been great at resolutions and I thought perhaps this would focus me throughout the year in a way that resolutions always have failed to.

So Star Sunday arrived and I eagerly preached my sermon and then sent around the basket of star words. Having had cut out the stars earlier that week, I knew the different words people were receiving.

Faith
Confidence
Mercy
Determination
Hope
Devotion
Compassion

The list goes on. I could not wait to see what I would pick.

The basket came around to me, I reached in, grabbed my star and …

… responsibility. My star word was, responsibility.

First of all, the irony of the whole scenario was not lost on me. I had literally announced my pregnancy two days earlier, so my initial thought was that perhaps God had a way funnier sense of humor than I ever realized because I certainly would be taking on a huge responsibility in 2017.

Beyond that, though, I kind of thought the word was, no offense to anyone who gets it this year, kind of lame. Being responsible, in and of itself, is not particularly fun most days; why would I want to spend an entire year thinking about it?

But given the fact that I had just preached a sermon saying we could not choose our own star words, I went with it. And what I learned throughout the year is that there are far more layers to this word than I initially thought.

12 months ago, I thought I would stand up on Star Sunday in 2018 and tell you all of the responsible things I did in 2017. I thought I would tell you that I revolutionized the way I organized my house and office (which I tried to do); I thought I would tell you that I finally figured out a good system for dealing with my taxes (which I mostly did); and I thought I would tell you that I finally made a long-overdue dentist appointment (which I did not).

However, I feel like my revelations on responsibility came from a much deeper place than the adulting I was just trying to avoid.

A few weeks into the year, my sister came across a company that makes bracelets and necklaces with custom words on them. She offered to buy me one and asked me what word I wanted engraved on it.

“Responsibility,” I told her.

“That’s weird. Don’t you think it will confuse people?” she asked me.

She had a point.

But in wearing this bracelet almost every day, I was asking God to open my eyes to understand responsibility in a new and deeper way.

First of all, when I put this bracelet back on after a three-month hiatus from wearing it while I was on maternity leave, it kind of took my breath away. Of course, you all knew this was going to happen, but the second Harrison was born, this word overwhelmingly took on a new meaning. Being a mom is, by far, the most responsibility I have ever had. Decisions – even the seemingly small ones – always seem daunting. I cannot count the number of times Bruce and I have looked at one another with the most perplexed looks on our faces until one of us asks the question, “Uhhh, what now?”

To which the other usually replies, “Not a clue.”

But even more than that, I strongly believe God has opened my eyes to my responsibilities as a Christian; as an individual Christian living in this world, as an ordained leader in the church and as the pastor of this church.

As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to proclaim a Gospel that changes lives and is inclusive to all. I believe I need to be unapologetically authentic in my faith and show others that it is possible, through our faith, to create the type of peace that this world so desperately needs. I have realized this year that negative stereotypes about Christians only exist if we allow them to; it is our responsibility to illuminate Christianity through a positive lens.

As a church, I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate an environment where love always wins, light always shines and grace always prevails. We need to open our doors and show hospitality to all people and create opportunities for worship, service and learning that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. We need to focus on our outreach and evangelism efforts and welcome others into our community. We need to be honest, transparent and humble as we tend to the business of our organization, particularly as we implement our new structure this year.

And the reason I mention all of these things is not to pawn my star word off on you; but to point out that I feel like, as a church, we did a lot of these things last year.

Or, at least, we tried to.

And it was only the beginning.

I love the passage we heard from the prophet Isaiah:

Arise! Shine! For your light has come!

The prophet spoke these words as a vision of Jerusalem’s coming exaltation. The nation had just come out of exile; light was dawning and Jerusalem was being drawn into that light. Today, as we read these words, we remember that God’s light is dawning here and we, too, are being drawn into that light.

So let God illuminate your star word this year. If you get a word that you are immediately excited about, shine God’s light onto that word with fervor and enthusiasm. If you get a word that you think is totally and completely lame, shine God’s light onto that word with trust and hope.

Today, we will receive new star words. Like the wise men followed the star to see the Christ child in Bethlehem, we, too, will follow our star words this year. Perhaps we, too, we travel a journey that will change our lives. Perhaps we, too, will see the world in a new light. Perhaps we, too, will find Christ in our midst.

So, arise! Shine! God’s light is here, lighting your star words for the year ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Prepare To Change The World

I don’t normally preach on Homeless Awareness Weekend, but it light of what happened in Sutherland Springs, TX the week before, I really needed to respond from the pulpit.  We ended up having a really nice service – following my remarks and the choir anthem, I interviewed the kids that took part in Homeless Awareness Weekend and they were able to each talk a little bit about their experiences over the weekend.

Here’s my sermon!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

Prepare To Change The World

(I could not help but laugh at the irony of the scripture that says, “Keep awake” being read the Sunday after Homeless Awareness Weekend, where students and chaperones traditionally yawn their way through worship.)

(Sometimes I think God has a funny sense of humor when it comes to what pops up in the lectionary.)

Last weekend, I was on a ministry high. We had an amazing bazaar on Friday and Saturday, we officially welcomed 16 new members into our church family Sunday morning, this year’s confirmation class was scheduled to meet on Sunday night and we were all looking ahead to our 11th annual Homeless Awareness Weekend. Church life was busy, but church life was also very good. There was vitality, a “sweet, sweet spirit in this place,” as we sung on Sunday morning.

But as I was preparing for confirmation, my phone started lighting up with news alerts from CNN; a gunman had opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Over 20 people had been killed.

A church.

A place that is supposed to be a safe space for people to gather, seek wisdom, worship God, find community and offer their prayers.

The question of how we, as a church, respond to gun violence has been the forefront of my mind all week.

The beginning of the week was a little surreal. I offered prayers for the victims of this shooting every time I gathered with even a small group of people. I participated in conversations that used the phrase, “active shooter protocol.” I reviewed our own policies and procedures and then discussed with my clergy group ways we could make our churches safer. My heart was heavy as, over and over again, I was reminded of our brokenness.

But since there was nothing I could do to fix what happened in Texas on Sunday, I turned my attention to Homeless Awareness Weekend preparations. Because not only did our youth and chaperones deserve my attention, I really do believe that the work we do makes a difference, not only in the lives of the people here, but also in our greater community and throughout the world. This weekend has, and will continue to, change people’s lives.

I also believe that, as Christians, when we are faced with adversity, it is our not only our privilege, but also our responsibility to respond with hope and to preach the Good News of resurrection and the unequivocal truth that God’s love always wins.

And so that is what we did this weekend.

As the forecast grew colder, we did adjust our plans accordingly, but this weekend RCC youth and advisors created an outward expression of God’s love in our midst. We took back the sacred space of our church sanctuary as we gathered for worship and communion on Friday night. We gathered around a table of extravagant welcome and remembered what it means to be nourished by simple elements of bread and juice, broken and poured out for every single one of us. We stepped boldly into the darkness, but did so carrying a light that illuminated the path in front of us.

On Saturday, we took to the streets, raising money for organizations who are working directly with people in need of assistance. We prepared food for the hungry, remembering when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We prayerfully discerned what it meant for us to have the ability to move parts of our weekend indoors and reflected humbly on what these harsh winter temperatures mean for people living in homelessness. We talk about the desperate need in our country for emergency shelters.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a parable; it is part of the last of the five major blocks of Matthew’s teaching and addresses what happens when God’s timing does not necessarily match up with our own timing. In this parable, ten bridesmaids went to meet the bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids brought oil for their lamps; they were described as wise. The other five did not bring oil for their lamps; they were described as foolish. The bridegroom was delayed and when he arrived, the foolish bridesmaids were almost out of oil for their lamps and had to leave to buy more. By the time they returned to the wedding banquet with more oil, the door was shut and they were not allowed in.

In this parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and, presumably, we are the bridesmaids. We are called to prepare for the coming of Christ in our lives and in the world.

The fact that this parable uses lamps in the metaphor of how we can prepare ourselves for Christ is fitting for Homeless Awareness Weekend, where we traditionally use flashlights to illuminate our walk from the church to the field after worship on Friday night and keep fires lit on the field throughout the weekend to offer both light and warmth. These symbols of light boldly call us to shine our own lights into the world, reminding us that if sometimes the world seems dark that just means WE have to find, create and share a light that all can see, witness and carry in their own lives.

But even more than that, this parable calls us to be wise as we prepare to live out God’s call for us in the world. We have to be active participants in God’s work here on earth and this is something we must commit to doing every single day. As this parable calls the bridesmaids to always keep oil in our reserves, it calls us today to be ready to shine light into a world that, far too often, is plagued with darkness. We do not always know what life will bring, but we do know that, in the midst of this uncertainty, we can bear witness to God’s light, love and grace. And in doing so, we have the propensity to transform our lives and also the lives of those we meet along our journeys.

So how do we respond to gun violence, especially when it hits so close to home, here at our church? We can prepare our church by reviewing our safety policies and procedures, which we are doing and will continue to do in the days and weeks to come.

But we can also prepare our hearts to proclaim the Gospel. We can create light and let that light shine so no one has to experience darkness. We can refuse to let evil win. We can hold onto the hope of resurrection and proclaim that hope, even when it is hard to do. We can be living and constant testaments to our faith and to a love that always wins.

We can affect change in our communities. We can take part in weekends like Homeless Awareness, so that we see a world outside of our own and use our privilege to help those less fortunate. We can participate in other mission activities, both through the church and outside of it, well. We can get involved here at the church and strengthen our community. We can encourage others and build one another up, so they, too, can resist evil, shine light, spread love and uncover grace.

Friends, it is at times such as these when we are called to show the world what it means to follow Christ. And just like those wise bridesmaids, we are ready.

We are ready.

And I do believe we can and will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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