This Was Not My Vision

It is Star Sunday!  Even though we are having virtual worship, we still decorated the sanctuary for Star Sunday and it was beautiful.

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Since we wouldn’t be able to hand out Star Words in person this year, we put them on the front lawn of the church …

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… and we installed a star above the doors so it can be lit up at night!

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Our Star Stories are included in this morning’s Gathering Music, so I would strongly encourage you to watch that at the beginning of the worship video.  They were amazing!

Here is my sermon from this morning.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 3, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

The Was Not My Vision

“This was not my vision.”

A friend of mine suggested that I go back on all of our worship and prayer services and mash together all the clips of me saying this sentence over the past year.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I received my Star Word back in January, I smiled and got a little giddy.

My word was vision.

And while I loved the suggestion from someone that my Star Word was actually a declaration that everyone around me had to acquiesce to my vision, I actually thought that this word was going to be the culmination of years of discernment that I have done at this church.

You see, I believe in this church; I believe in what we are doing and also what we have the capacity to do in the future.  When I started at the church in 2011, I did not really have a plan.  Some pastors come into new calls much more organized and strategic than I did; but it was never my intention to make changes based on some greater vision that I had.  Maybe I should not admit this, but I did not actually have a vision for this church.  I always said that, when I looked towards the future, I could see the vision God had cast out for RCC, but that it was still blurry and so we just had to keep doing the hard work of listening to God speak to us and wait for that vision to clear.

When I first laid eyes on my 2020 Star Word – vision – I thought that this year would be the culmination of all of this discernment that we have done.  Knowing that the year would end with the kickoff to our 300thanniversary celebration and shortly thereafter I would mark my ten-year anniversary at the church, it seemed too good to be true.  I figured God’s vision for us would clear at the same time we were getting ready to celebrate these milestones and when this all came together we would be stronger than we ever were before.

Cue covid, stage right.  All of a sudden all of the plans we had made for this year – all of the hopes and dreams, yes, even visions, were lost in a sea of public health recommendations and safety precautions.  Like all of us, I had to let go of and adjust my expectations of what the year was going to look like.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos of last year, grace appeared in the most unexpected ways and places.  Virtual worship, nightly prayer services, drive-thru dinners, emails meetings, peace be with you signs and cards and care packages sent in the mail, to name a few.  We did church, even though we had to do it in a way that was different than any of us were accustomed to.  And so what I realized throughout the year was that this was, of course, not at all about my vision – but it was still about the vision that God has cast for us, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

You see, under the most unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, we proved to be the church – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to refuse to let anything but love win.  We did this in the midst of quarantine and social distancing and constantly-changing safety rules and recommendations.

What I realized this year is that it is not about my vision; it is about the vision God casts upon us to be the church in the midst of what is going on around us.

And we did it.

So perhaps this word and this year were not the culmination of years of discernment like I thought a year ago; but I still think – in ways that I never could have imagined – we lived into God’s vision for us this year.  And despite the fact that we have not gathered in person in nearly ten months, I still believe we are stronger than we ever have been before.

I was thinking about the beatings that our Star Words took last year and how our endurance and our perseverance to see them through to the end of the year actually mirrors the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus.  You see, King Herod, knowing that Jesus had been born and that people were calling him the king of the Jews, sensed a disturbance in his own power.  He sent the wise men to find Jesus, not so that he could eventually go and pay Jesus homage, as he said to the wise men in this passage, but so that he could eventually go find the one that was going to threaten his power and deal with that problem himself.  I do not often preach on the passage that follows the visit of the wise men, but after they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod was infuriated and issued an order that all children in and around Bethlehem two years or younger be killed.  Herod, of course, assumed Jesus would be part of that massacre; but at that point Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt, ensuring Jesus’ safety.

My point is this:  We often romanticize the wise men’s journey to visit Jesus.  But the reality is that it was actually a harrowing one; it was one that was filled with great fear and uncertainty – much like the year we just had.

And yet there was that star – that perfect light, as the hymn so beautifully says – that guided the wise men on their journey.  It was strong and bright and steadfast.

For many of us, our Star Words were that same perfect light – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

And so it is time, now, to turn our attention to our Star Words for 2021.  Many of us have picked them already; I have not opened mine yet, I was waiting until today to do that.  If you have not picked a Star Word yet, I would encourage to come to the church to get one; they are hanging on the front lawn.  Grab one when you come for Drive-Thru Communion this afternoon or anytime this week – they will be there until Friday.  If you are not able to come to the church, head to our website – rehobothcongregational.org/starwords – to fill out a request form and we will mail one to your house.

This year I am going to try something new with my Star Word.  I got the idea when I was listening to Debby Jarocki offer her Star Story; she said she kept a notebook and wrote down a sentence or two every day about where she saw, heard or felt her word at work in her life that day.  I am going to try this myself and encourage you all to, as well.  I think we all really need the fresh start of a new year and the hope and the promise of a new beginning.

Friends, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to use this time of musical reflection following the sermon to open your Star Word.  It is my prayer that the word that chooses you will not only guide you, but inspire you throughout the year.  May it be that perfect light that you need – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder that God is with you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Hi friends!  Happy Reign of Christ Sunday!  It is hard to believe that Advent begins NEXT WEEK!  We are working on a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens service, in addition to our livestream.  Stay tuned for all of that next week!

In the meantime, here is today’s sermon. Peace be with you all – Happy Thanksgiving!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 22, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday; the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent – the first Sunday of a new liturgical year.  If you had told me back in March when we “suspended in person worship for three weeks” and I thought to myself, “how crazy would it be if we are not back in person by Easter” that, eight months later, we would be planning Advent and Christmas in our virtual worship space, I would have thought you were crazy.

But here we are.

And it’s fine.

And not fine in a 2020-sense of the word, “fine” (you know, “it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine” when it’s really not).  It’s fine because we have learned over the past eight months that we can do this; that we can come together and worship God and support one another and grow in our faith without physically coming together.  We have learned that church is not about a building, but about people; in fact, we have learned that, despite the absence of our building, we can still do an awful lot of church.

And so, as we close out this year – a year that unfolded in a way that we never saw coming when Advent began last year – we do so with the realization and the assurance that we are so much stronger than we ever thought possible.  We look ahead to the new beginning of the Advent season with a renewed sense of hope in Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the beginning and then end.

Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us of the infinite sense of Christ; that Christ is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-being.  This year, however, I have been thinking about the fact that we have a role to play in this, as well.  Christ has done his part – and continues to do his part – in our lives.  We are the ones that now have to live into this promise of what it means to follow Jesus and to lean into the wholeness of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our Savior; he is not one thing, he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  He can, if we let him, be a part of all of the pieces of our lives, not just the one piece that comes out in this building on a Sunday morning.

Because we have learned this year that there is so much more to our faith and to our hope in Christ than who we are when we walk into this building one day a week.

We are Christians; we believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end and we believe that Jesus is part of our whole lives.

Our whole lives.

And this is amazing, right?  That we can be fully Christian all the time; that our faith does not start and stop based on where we are and what day of the week it is.

But my goodness, if this is not a challenge, as well.

Because it is not easy to be fully Christian all the time; it is not easy to walk this walk and talk this talk, both when you know people are watching, but also when you think they are not.

It is not easy to carry God’s light when you are in a race with other shoppers for the last package of toilet paper.  It is not easy to share God’s love when you are debating politics on Facebook.  It is not easy to uncover God’s grace when the part of you that is concerned for everyone’s health and safety is telling you to stay home, but the part of you that desperately needs to see and hug your people is telling you that you just cannot do distance anymore.

I think being Christian – and doing church – was a whole lot easier when we could just do it when we walked through the doors of our building and knew people were watching.

But now we are doing it all the time, quite often without the structure and the support of our physical gatherings.

And it is a little bit harder, right?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew and it has always been one of my favorites.  But, if I am being honest, I think I understand it in a completely different way right now.  We are in the 25th chapter of the Gospel; Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and his death is quickly approaching.  Jesus knows what is about to happen; and so there is a sense of urgency to his words.  He is speaking to his disciples and to the crowd that has gathered; he needs them to understand that he is not always going to be there to tell them what to do or how to live or hold them accountable for their actions and their faith.

Think about it this way:  As important as it was – and continues to be in our lives and our faith – Jesus’ time on earth was still such a small piece of the story.  What really mattered – and continues to matter in our world today – is what happened next and what continues to happen; what really matters now is how we write our own chapters.  What makes the Gospel even more powerful than it already is are the billions of people who have decided to, despite the absence of him physically on earth, follow Jesus and share his message.  The reason Christianity continues to change lives and open minds and transform hearts is because people live out their faith regardless of whether or not they think someone is watching.

As Christians, we need to live our lives in such a way so that when we meet Jesus in heaven he will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

My friends, this scripture is a call – it is a call to us to live our lives in accordance to the grace that has been given to us, regardless of who we are with or who we think may we watching.  It is a call to feed the hungry, to take care of the sick and to reach out to the marginalized.  It is a call not only to serve Christ, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was a call to do so both when Christ was physically present among the disciples and the crowds who had gathered to hear him teach, but also looking ahead to when Christ would reign in heaven.

Today we celebrate that reign of Christ; and we, too, live out this call.

I believe in the world we are living in today, this is a call to do things like wear a mask when we are out in public and stay home as much as possible so we can try to keep our own community and our families and friends safe.  I believe it is a call to find new and distanced ways to take care of one another, even if we are not necessarily going to get recognized by our community in our building for doing so.  I believe it is a call to keep up our giving to the church, despite the fact that we are not in the church to physically to put money in the offering plate.  I believe it is a call to attend and participate in worship, even if we are not able to physically “count” you.  I believe it is a call to continue to participate in the life of our church, even though, in many ways, it is more complicated.

I have been amazed this year at the ways in which this church has risen up and done the work we are being called to do, despite the fact that it is happening in kind of a nontraditional way.  Thank you.  Thank you for your participation, for your support, for your creativity, for your flexibility and for your grace.  Thank you for doing the work when you think no one is watching and for stepping up to serve when you might not necessarily get credit for doing so.  Thank you for not only celebrating the reign of Christ, but also demonstrating the reign of Christ in your own life; removing the boundaries between who you are at church and who you are in your life and just being Christian and following Christ in all aspects of your being.

I know you all are tired; I am, too.  It has been a long eight months and we still have a little ways to go before it gets better – before we can “come back” and do church the way we want to be doing it.

But there is a lot of work to do in the meantime.  And I am grateful and honored to be doing this work “with” you.

I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  I look forward to beginning a new year with you all next week where we can continue to see and know and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

May Christ reign in your life – your whole life – now and forever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

In Service To Others

Hi friends!  We are slowly improving our technology for our livestream – I had people running the camera and hopefully by next week we will have our sound system hooked into the camera.  We’ve come a long way from my phone on selfie mode propped up on commentaries.

Here is this morning’s sermon, as well as the video to today’s service.  Wishing everyone peace this week. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 1, 2020

Matthew 23:1-12

In Service To Others

It is a big week in our country.

There is nothing quite like a super contentious and really ugly presidential election to serve as a catalyst for conversations about the role of politics in churches.

And before anyone starts to get nervous, I am not here to tell you who to vote for or to argue about any of the issues at stake.  But it just feels weird to stand up here today and not, at least, acknowledge what we are going through, as a country.  Because whether we are Republican or Democrat, politically engaged or totally over it or somewhere in the middle of all of those things, this is real life and feels very personal right now it is what is on our minds and our hearts and our news stations and our social media feeds.

I used to be a firm believer that church should be a safe space where could come and just, kind of, escape from the chaos of the world, but I am starting to realize that church should also, in fact, be a place where we can come and be reassured of hope despite the chaos of the world.

And despite everything we have gone through this year and the uphill battle that is likely still to come, I believe there is still hope, I really do.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew.  This passage occurs towards the end of the Gospel; Jesus has already made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and had gone into the temple and turned over tables.  At this point, Jesus knows what is about to happen; he knows he is going to die, he had foretold it.  Jesus knows that, in a very short amount of time, he would not physically be on earth to guide and teach the disciples.

And so he offers these words to his disciples and to people who had gathered to hear him speak and teach; words of warning about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Do as they say, not as they do, Jesus says.

When I first read this passage in this week’s lectionary options, my initial reaction was to use a different text, because this whole thing about calling out our leadership felt like it hit a little too close to home with an election coming up this week.

But then I read it again.  And I was drawn to the end of the passage where Jesus talks about service and about humility.

And then I thought about the fact that I am not a bystander in my faith; that one of the critical components of Christianity is the fact that we, as individuals, all have a role to play in sharing the Gospel and creating healing and wholeness in the world.  And so it is not necessarily always about the people who lead us, but it is about us and about what we are willing to do and how we are willing to love and serve that matters and can truly make a difference.

Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” and I think these words apply as much to us as they do to the people we elect to lead us.

Because we have a lot of work to do.

We are eight months into a pandemic with no end in sight and numbers, unfortunately, that are on the rise. Tasks that used to be simple and straightforward are complicated and kind of a hassle.  Everyone is tired.  Tensions are running high.  This year has just beaten us in a way that no one saw coming.  People are starting to break down.

And yet – and yet – ultimately, there is hope, right?  The foundation of our faith is the fact that there is hope in the resurrection of Christ; that the story is not over yet, that God is still showing up and working out the details, even if we have no idea how it is all going to work out.

And so I read Jesus’ words as a charge to me; as a charge to rise up and believe that I have a critical role to play in bringing hope and healing to the world.  I read these words as a charge to be that servant; to humble myself and put the needs of others before my own.  I read these words as a charge to focus on my service – on the things that I can do, in my church, within my community, for my family and friends that will make a real difference for people.

Because, in the end, we are the ones that are living out the Gospel in our generation.  If not us, then who?  We are the ones God is calling to this work; we are the ones who God needs to serve, to pick up and continue the work that Jesus started.

And are we going to elect political leaders on Tuesday?  Yes.  But does that mean that we are off the hook?  Absolutely not.  This is just as much about us as it is about anyone; we have so much work that needs to be done.  It does not end on Tuesday; it begins on Tuesday.

God needs us right now.  God needs us to be Christ’s hands and feet and heart and mind in this world.  God needs us to heal the sick and reach out to the marginalized and the oppressed.  God needs us to feed people when they are hungry and care for the vulnerable.  God needs us to pray for one another and to hold one another in the light of the Glory.  God needs us to be God’s servants; to put the Gospel into motion in our lives so that the world will not only know God, but also see God and be changed by God.

And I think this is what Jesus is getting at, because there is a sense of urgency to his words and the timing of them, because he knows he does not have a lot of time left on earth and that work that needs to be done is so important.

That sense of urgency is different today; but it is still there.  God needs us – all of us – to rise up and to live out this call.

Friends, I think we are in for a long and hard week.  But we can do hard things, right?  After all, that is what God is in the business of doing.

And I truly believe there are things that we can do in service to God – real and tangible things, big and small things, noticeable and behind-the-scenes invisible things – that will make this week not so hard, that will make a difference in someone’s life, that might open up someone’s mind and heart to God’s presence in their own life.

We can send cards, make phone calls and drop off meals.  We can participate in the many activities that are going on at church right now – whether we are cooking for one of our drive-thru meals, handing out candy, sharing a Facebook post, donating to the efforts of Homeless Awareness Weekend in two weeks, singing in the virtual choir, collecting items for the silent auction or helping out in another way.  We can serve God right here, within our own lives and that service will make a difference in someone’s life; it will mean something.

Friends, I invite you think about the ways that you can serve others this week.  Remember that the Gospel is made more powerful when it is lived out in service to others and that no matter what happens this week – and I know the stakes are high, I am not pretending that they are not – that our service to others will make a difference in their lives and it will ultimately make the world a better place.

So let us go forth in service to others.  Let us be a tangible witness to the Gospel in a world that needs to hear a message of hope, healing, light and love.  And may the world be changed for the better.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.