The Need For Change

Hello and Happy Lent!  I am going a little bit outside of my comfort zone this season and embarking on a sermon series.  A friend and colleague of mine recommended the book, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series, which is AWESOME because they aren’t only sermon series ideas that are church-year-based, but they are lectionary-based as well!  I’ll be honest – there is part of me that kind of feels like I’m cheating a little bit following someone else’s prompts and series ideas, but, really, all of the content is still mine.  I’ll definitely give some more thoughts once I finish the series.

The sermon series is called Boot Camp for the Soul and this morning’s topic is The Need For Change.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 5, 2017

Psalm 32
Matthew 4:1-11

The Need For Change

Nothing screams, “Protestant” quite like the wrestling coach’s wife who schedules the end of year banquet on a Friday night in Lent and then proceeds to put chicken parm and meatballs on the menu.

So that was my bad.

One of the moms asked me if I could offer some sort of blessing over her so she would be okay to dig into the buffet. And while I was not sure I had the authority to do that, seeing as I read earlier in the day that Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin had given special dispensation to his Diocese to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to fall on a Friday this year, I thought maybe she was on to something.

You know, Lent can be a tricky season. I think we all have the best intentions to live out the rules, restrictions or spiritual practices our faith and Christian traditions might call us to follow, but – especially in the busy and fast paced world we are living in today – sometimes this is easier said than done. We start the season every year by reading the story of Jesus in the wilderness and sometimes I wonder if it would be easier for us to observe this season if we had a bit more solitude; if we were not quite so distracted by our everyday lives.

Of course I am not, by any means, implying that Jesus had an easy time in the wilderness. But I am, however, wondering how feasible it is – as we try to juggle work, family, activities, wrestling banquets, etc. – to fulfill all of our Lenten obligations.

Several weeks ago, I was preparing for Lent and thinking about ways I could make this season a meaningful one for all of us and a colleague of mine recommended the book, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermons Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. This book uses the scriptures of the Revised Common Lectionary (which, for the most part, I follow in my preaching) and develops sermon series ideas for the different seasons throughout the church year. This year they have put together the Lenten series, Boot Camp for the Soul.

We approach the Lenten season with an emphasis on interiority, personal investigation, and contrition – the intentional work of seeking a change of heart or actions. Reflection and change take work, hard work. Lent can be like a boot camp for the soul, a restart in a focused area. We walk this season together, demanding the best of ourselves, ready to support one another, and prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding.[1]

So here we go! I invite you to dive with me, headfirst into this complex Lenten pool of confession and contrition. We will use this series to restart our faith and see how it might be strengthened as we try to journey through Lent balancing life, schedules and the occasional Friday night chicken parm and meatball dinners.

We enter into our Lenten season and the suggested sermon title for this week is, The Need for Change. We read the story that gives us the foundation of our 40-day Lenten season; where Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit and was tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights.

For me, one of the most captivating parts of the Christian story is the way God truly understands the depth of our humanness; God understands this because Jesus came to earth in human form. Jesus felt suffering, temptation and brokenness. We spend 40 days during Lent focusing on these things, but the truth is, we experience them 365 days a year. Day in and day out, we suffer, we are tempted and we feel the weight of our own brokenness; as we live in this world, there is always something trying to pull us away from God and weaken our faith.

This week, we acknowledge the need for change because we know that God not only understands the depths of our struggles as human beings, but also the depth of our heart and our desire to be better. We need to be changed by the Lenten season, not because we are bad people, but because we are very much human people.

We begin Lent by hearing the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness because it is in hearing this story that we reflect on the temptations we, as human beings, face every day; temptations of food, alcohol, gossip, media, shopping, technology use and other bad habits we struggle to gain control over. Some of us may be struggling with the simple notion of balance and moderation; some of us may be facing far deeper struggles.

There is no shame in being tempted; in fact, scripture shows us that Jesus, himself, was tempted. But this is the why we must put ourselves through this boot camp for the soul; this is the need for change. This is why we must do the hard work that is required of us throughout this Lenten season to look inward, to make changes in our lives, to strengthen our faith and to allow God to make us whole. Temptation, sin and human imperfection are all very real things; but they are also the very reason we need God to ignite change in our lives.

Psalm 32 talks about the transformative nature of this hard work.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. Then I acknowledged my sin to you … and you forgave the guilt of my sin.[2]

Here the psalmist teaches us that we feel better when we do this work; when we let God see the whole of who we are. Grace can be found when we uncover our sins and temptations and allow God to shine God’s spectacularly divine light upon them and Lent gives us the opportunity to find this grace. Lent creates a safe space where we are allowed to be the most vulnerable, messy versions of ourselves and still know, without a shadow of a doubt, that, despite our imperfections, we are loved, cherished and forgiven by God. Lent reminds us that even when we are in the deep temptations of the wilderness, God is always with us.

The choice is ours at this point; we decide what we want, not only out of this Lenten season, but also out of our faith. When people participate in other kinds of boot camps – military, fitness, academic or career – they do so because they see a need for change in their lives and are seeking something different. Lent gives us this opportunity for us, as well, to see a need for change in our lives and in our faith and seek something different.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil took him to a high mountain and told Jesus that he could have all the kingdoms of the entire world if he worshipped him. It was at this point where Jesus saw a need for change and sought a different path.

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.[3]

The choice, now, is ours. Where will we see our need for change? How will we uncover our imperfections? What will it means for us to do the hard work that is required to face the temptations of our own humanity? And how will we do this as we balance our lives, schedules and the occasional Friday night chicken parm and meatball dinners?

May we all feel loved, cherished and forgiven by God as we uncover the need for change in our lives. And may Lent be for us what we need it to be.

And may we be blessed as, like they did for Jesus in the wilderness, the angels come and wait on us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Butler, Amy. A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C, page. 21
[2] Psalm 32:3, 5, NRSV
[3] Matthew 4:10-11, NRSV

Lighting Our World

Hello and happy Tuesday! Here is my sermon from Sunday morning. I was going to post it on Sunday night and then I figured my New England congregation had their attention elsewhere 😉 – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

Lighting Our World

I have to admit that, lately, I have found preaching to be extremely challenging. There is something about living in such a politically polarizing climate that has me at a loss for words.

The thing is, I believe that worship should be meaningful, relevant and accessible. To ignore what is going on in our country right now seems inauthentic. But at the same time, I also believe strongly in the separation of church and state. Our church should be a safe space where all people can come together and worship, regardless of their political beliefs. My opinions are my own and the last thing I want to do is offend someone who might feel differently than me or make them feel unwelcome.

Part of me was grateful for the reprieve in preaching last weekend and was hoping for an easy or quasi-neutral (whatever that means) text to preach on this morning. It seems that many of us are looking for a political respite, of some sort. And, at first glance at the lectionary for this morning seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

Salt the earth! Light the world! Let’s all do what Jesus says! Okay, now everyone go home.

But then I started doing some background research (whomp, whomp) on the context of this Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. And, as it turns out, it was written at a time where there were some conflicts within the community it was being written. There were tensions – social, theological, political.[1]

Of course there were.

The Gospel of Matthew was written following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. At the time, many Jews were struggling with identity, wondering what it meant for them to be Jewish.[2] They were tired. They were scared. Their world was changing and they did not know what, exactly, the future had in store.

As individuals within our church, we all have very diverse opinions and understandings of the world. And, honestly, that, in and of itself, is such a beautiful representation of the complexity of the Body of Christ. But regardless of where we all stand politically, I would argue that many of us are feeling a similar sense of fatigue right now in our country as we work through this presidential transition and sort through some of the political tensions that are rising.

And so there I was this week, looking at a community that – 2,000 years ago – was made up of individuals with very diverse opinions and understandings of the world, just like us. Great, I thought to myself. How am I supposed to preach around this?

But then I wondered: If the Gospel writer used this story – these words that Jesus spoke about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world – to try to help his diverse community find a unified sense of purpose and mission, then shouldn’t we do the same today?

The truth is, I think this text does speak to how we can response to everything that is happening in our world right now. This text is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon where Jesus offered proverbs, prayers and moral teachings that have sustained our faith – and, really, the very essence of who we are as human beings – for 2,000 years. We come into the story this morning as Jesus makes an analogy about salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “You are the light of the world.”

In Judaism, salt was often used as a symbol; it was a sign and reminder of covenant.[3] There are many references to salt in the Old Testament; how it was used in day-to-day life and also in connection with both Israel’s covenant with God and their covenant with one another as human beings.

This theme of covenant was reinforced when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Here Jesus was referring to the covenant proclaimed the Prophet Isaiah:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations.[4]

The Prophet Isaiah called Israel to be a light to the nations and Jesus called his followers to do the same; to shine light into the world. Jesus called people to let that light shine, to not let the darkness of evil drive out the good, love, kindness and compassion that exists in this world.

And in the same way that the Gospel writer used Jesus’ words to call his community to be light to the first century, we, too, are called today to be light to our world.

Jesus said:

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.[5]

These words boldly call us to shine light into the world. In the same way that one lampstand could bring light to an entire house, Jesus said we all have the capacity within ourselves to shine an equally bold and powerful light into the world.

So how are we letting our light shine?

Last week, when I finally hit my threshold for how much political sparring I could read on Facebook, I decided to shut my computer, put my phone away and do some long overdue visiting. I stopped in with a few people, made a couple of calls and send some cards. I even tried to get myself a little bit more organized moving forward. I decided that, even though the world is out of whack and there is a lot I cannot control, I can make a difference in my own little circle. I can shine light into my world and into the lives of the people I meet along my own journey.

And, just like the one lampstand that can bring light to an entire house, this light has the potential to shine in God-sized ways and places.

I have to say, I felt better afterwards. There was something about the outward expression of love and compassion that connected me to these words of Jesus and to his call to care for one another. Because, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world, this is something that we can always do. We can always care for one another. We can always shine light into someone’s world.

The week after Christmas, the Youth Group had a lock-in at the church. I was supposed to chaperone, but, for many reasons, had hit my “pastor limit” for the day. I talked to our Youth Director, who supportively told me to stay home, that they had enough chaperones to cover the night. I sent him a text that said, “It takes a village sometimes, doesn’t it?” And he responded, “A church in the village.”

Yes it does, doesn’t it?

Ever since that conversation, a theme has emerged in my life and in my ministry: It Takes a (Church in the) Village. For those of you not familiar with old Rehoboth geography, this part of town where our church resides is considered, “The Village.” Back in the day, The Village contained the church, the post office, the police station and the school across the street. Over the years, most of these places have found their way to a new address; but the church has remained.   We are – and have been since this building went up in 1839 – the Church in the Village.

This year, I invite you to embark with me on a journey. Think about what it would mean to embody and practice this theme, “It Take A (Church in the) Village.” What would it mean for us? What would it mean those we serve? What would it mean for the community around us? What would it mean for the country? For the world?

Those who participate in the life of the church through boards and committees have heard this speech already. The Board of Deacons is looking at how we, as a church, can put a renewed effort on pastoral and community care this year. At their last meetings, the Christian Education Committee and the Cabinet both discussed how we can strengthen our community from within by offering more fellowship and adult education opportunities. The Missions Committee continues to expand their efforts to support local organizations serving those in need. Individuals have stepped up in extraordinary ways over the past several weeks, by making meals for families in need and by giving their time and talents back to the church.

Our world may be confusing and unpredictable at times, but I believe we can find grace when we draw myself back to our roots, to the very essence of who Jesus calls me to be as human beings. And I cannot speak for everyone, but I can say that, for myself, in doing this, I have found a new meaning to the term, “Good News.”

And so this morning, as we look at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, I invite you to be the salt of the earth, be the light of the world, be who Jesus is calling us to be. Find a tangible way to make a difference – in your life, in the world and, most importantly, in this church. We are the Church in the Village and I believe, now more than ever, that means something.

Anyone who has ever parented a child, cared for someone who was sick or experienced some kind of tragedy or loss knows that, more often than not, it takes a village. And it does. It takes a (church in the) village; to shine light into the world and to let that shine for all the world to see.

Think about what this means for you.

And then, together, let us take that light and let it shine – let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

[1] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[2] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[3] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[4] Isaiah 42:6, NRSV
[5] Matthew 5:15-16, NRSV

Subtract, Then Add

Here is this morning’s sermon!  I have to admit – this was kind of a scary one to preach.  I’ve been processing some thoughts on faith and church lately and even though I haven’t fully fleshed through them, the lectionary Gospel really gave me the opportunity to talk through it.  I had a few people reach out to me today and let me know that it spoke to them – which only means that God was the one doing the speaking from the RCC pulpit this morning. :)

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 22, 2017

Matthew 4:12-23

Subtract, Then Add

Every year around the New Year, I notice a trend in food and healthy living blogs. A lot of the bloggers I read are registered dieticians, personal trainers or health coaches, so many of them take the opportunity to tap into the culture of resolutions and talk about how their readers can get healthier in the upcoming year.

More often than not, bloggers share the method of add, not subtract. Essentially, instead of removing something from your life that might leave you feeling deprived in some way, you add something instead. This way, you get to enjoy the things you love while still adding new healthy habits into your life.

A lot of people like this method because it seems more attainable long-term – instead of denying yourself something you love, you just have to add something healthy on top of it. For example, if you love to drink soda or juice, instead of telling yourself to completely give it up, you would resolve to drink more water, while still allowing yourself to drink other things. Or if you love junk food or dessert, instead of telling yourself to give up either one of those things, you could resolve to add more vegetables to your diet, while still allowing yourself treats.

This works well in the land of healthy living, because when someone is trying to make healthy and positive changes in their life, feeling deprived often does not set them up for success. But I have been thinking about this method a lot lately in regards to time in general, especially as Bruce and I think realistically about how much time we have and what our lives are going to look like after the baby comes. Which leads me to a question I have that I want us to think about today: Should we add, not subtract, in other parts of our lives?

Now, usually when I use my own human vulnerability in a sermon, I wait until I have processed or resolved it in one way or another before I preach about it. But, for the sake of this morning’s sermon, I want to share with you all one of my resolutions for the year and why – less than a month into the new year – I am already struggling to achieve it.

Here is my struggle: I am trying to add a quiet/devotion time to my day. One of the bloggers that I read talks about her quiet time in the morning with such passion and enthusiasm. She reads some sort of devotional and spends time in prayer – she does this for about 30 minutes. I have often thought that – as someone who spends a lot of time thinking critically about scripture – I would benefit from a devotion time like this, one where I not looking at how I am going to teach or preach the scripture, simply just look at how the scripture is speaking to me in that moment.

At the end of 2016, I bought myself, The One Year Bible, which – similarly to the Our Daily Bread devotions that are always available in the narthex – breaks the bible down into manageable daily readings portions. There is a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Psalms and Book of Proverbs. I figured this would be a way to add, not subtract in my day – I would add a devotion time and not have to get rid of anything else.

But here is the stumbling block I have run into: I really do not have a lot of extra time in my day. So as I am trying to add, not subtract something into my day, I am having a really hard time finding time the time to add into my day for this devotion.

And when I say, “having a really hard time finding time,” I mean that I have fallen behind four times already and January is not even over yet.

I was talking to my bible study about this last week and someone suggested that I just give it some time and let myself fall into a routine. But the more I thought about it (and as I started to think about this morning’s sermon throughout the week), the more I wondered if we are simply being called to let ourselves fall into a routine when it comes to our faith. Or is the call deeper? Is the call greater? Does the call ask more of us?

I am starting to think that scriptural call to follow Jesus – to drop your fishing nets and leave a piece of your world behind – requires a lot more of us than we often want to admit.

This morning’s scripture comes from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It tells the story of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John had been arrested and Jesus had left Nazareth and was settling into a new home near the Sea of Galilee. When he arrived at his new home, he walked by the sea and saw Peter and Andrew, two brothers who were fishermen. Jesus called out to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Further down the sea, Jesus also called out to James and John, who also dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

It is clear in the gospel writer’s telling of this story that an enormous shift was happening. John the Baptist had been arrested and, at the same time, Jesus’ ministry was beginning.

While it was never spelled out as to why John was arrested, the presumption by most scholars is that it had something to do with his proclamations and baptisms. I do not know if Peter, Andrew, James and John quite knew it at the time, but it is quite clear to us now, looking back, that their lives were about to be forever changed. They no longer would have the safety of the lives they had known; there was a risk associated with making the choice to follow Jesus, but this was a risk they were willing to take.

Let’s go back to my whole add, not subtract dilemma: The disciples subtracted first – and then they added. They dropped their nets – and then they followed Jesus. They gave up a part of who they were – they left their livelihood, their profession, the safe world that they knew – and followed Jesus.

My doctor always gets this tone in her voice when she is about to give me news that she knows I will not want to hear and I feel like I wrote this sermon with that same tone in mind. I hate to say this – especially because I know how busy and tapped out everyone is right now – but the call to follow Jesus is not an easy one to follow. It requires something of us; it requires a lot of us, actually. It often requires us to give something up so we can create space in our lives for faith formation and ministry.

No one likes to talk about this kind of stuff in churches, especially now, when so many churches are struggling to find vitality and people just do not have any extra time to give. But this is where the work of Jesus started 2,000 years ago at the Sea of Galilee and this is where it starts in our lives, today. We have to drop our nets; we have to be willing to let go of something if we truly want to learn and grow in our faith. We have to subtract something in our lives so that we have the room, the time and the capacity to add that faith piece back in.

Do you know what most people love about mainline protestant churches? There are no rules, no requirements, no guilt; people can get involved at church in their own way and at their own pace and no one has to profess a certain belief.

Which is precisely why I fought with this message all week. Because every piece of my protestant upbringing right now is telling me that what I am saying will scare people.

But I have to say it.

Because I truly believe that it will change your life.

It changed the disciples’ lives.

So today, I am not going to soften the blow of this message. Because the time to let our lives be changed is now. If we – and I am including myself in this we – really want to dig into our faith and bring our church to its fullest potential, then we have to create space for that to happen. We might have to let go of something. We might have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and try something new or different. We might have to adjust our priorities or our other commitments. We might have to subtract something in order that we might be able to add the fullest gift of grace God has to offer.

It starts behind the pulpit; so today I am pledging to do this in my own life within my struggle to set aside some quiet/devotion time every day. I know I have to subtract something in order to create the time to add this to my day. And truth be told? Some of the subtracting might be as stupid as not playing candy crush on my phone or turning off the TV in my room at night. But I feel like God is trying to teach me something as I reflect on what it means to drop my own net and follow Jesus and I truly believe that if I allow God to work within me, I will uncover new and unexpected grace as I take this journey.

Our lives are all already so full; the last thing I want to do is ask any of you to add something that will push them from full to unmanageable.

So, instead, today I invite you to start with subtracting. I invite us all to let go of something and join the cloud of witnesses who have done this before us and see how God might change our lives. Let us see what happens when we subtract first – and then add.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.