Remembering That We Are All Worthy

Last year I had some major FOMO when all my friends were preaching Baptism of Christ and doing amazing remembrance of baptism liturgies and I was on the Year of Mark and didn’t get to join in on the fun.  It didn’t work out this year that I was able to do a big baptism remembrance (which honestly, I’m not sure how you do logistically that with 160 people in church anyway!) but we did do a liturgy in between concerns and celebrations where I offered a blessing from the font and then that led into the pastoral prayer.  It was lovely!  And, after receiving a lot of positive feedback, it reminded me that sometimes less is more and simple things really can make a difference in people’s lives.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 12, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

In the church year, the second Sunday of January is typically the Sunday where we remember Jesus’ baptism.  The year begins with the Advent season, then moves to Christmas and Epiphany, which we celebrated last week on Star Sunday.  Jesus’ baptism kicks off the season after Epiphany – or, “Ordinary Time” – before Lent eventually starts and begins our journey to Easter.

The thing about this particular Sunday, however, is that it is not so much officially part of the church calendar as it is a staple in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Now, for those of you who do not know, the Revised Common Lectionary is a preaching calendar that a lot of preachers and churches follow, myself included for many years.  I wandered away from it in 2018 and started taking a sermon series approach to worship planning and preaching and to be quite honest, have not really looked back.

With the exception of the second Sunday in January last year.

It was on this Sunday when it seemed like all of my friends were not only preaching Jesus’ baptism, but also doing really cool remembrance of baptism liturgies with their congregations and I was just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday.  To make worse, it was, of course, the Sunday after Star Sunday, so I was not only just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday, but I was doing so in an empty sanctuary without the 150 three-dimensional paper stars that had suspended from the ceiling the week before.

That night I logged into Facebook and a friend of mine had posted photos of the children in his church running around the sanctuary during worship with tiny spray bottles spritzing everyone so they could remember their own baptisms and it was at that point that I decided I did not care what were in the middle of the next year, we would pause and reflect on Jesus’ baptism.

Now thankfully for you all, the fact that we had an actual baptism this morning put a moratorium on the whole spray bottle thing.

However, God’s timing is a funny thing, because little did I know last year when I promised myself I would take a Sunday and reflect on baptism this year that, in that same week I was planning on doing so, we would also have a baptism is worship.  And, more than that, in the week leading up to that Sunday, I would not only schedule three more baptisms for the upcoming weeks, but I would also begin to have a conversation at a Deacons meeting about creating an official baptism policy at RCC that talks about what the sacrament means to us at church, as well as outlines our process and answers frequently asked questions.

Suffice is to say, I have thought about baptism a lot this week.

The story of Jesus’ baptism appears, in some way, in all four of the Gospels.  The stories are similar in all four accounts:  Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  The heavens open when Jesus is baptized and the spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The intriguing thing to me about the account we just heard, from the Gospel of Matthew, is that John the Baptist actually tries to prevent Jesus from having John baptize him.  John essentially says, no wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you.  But Jesus says, no, it’s okay; this is how it is supposed to happen – and then John baptizes Jesus.

I have been thinking about this exchange between John and Jesus this week, because it is one of those moments where the Body of Christ is called into being and we are reminded that we are all worthy of God’s grace.  John says to Jesus, I can’t baptize you, you need to baptize me and Jesus says, no I need this, too and you are worthy of baptizing me.

In doing this, I think Jesus sets the stage for what baptism now looks like in the 21st century.  Like so many other parts of our faith, everyone does it a little bit differently and it means a little something different to everyone, as well.

And that’s okay.

Some parents bring their children to be baptized as infants and small children and some choose to wait until their children are older and can decide for themselves that they would like to be baptized.  Some churches have infant dedications and then practice believers’ baptism.  Some churches invite godparents to stand with the candidate for baptism and others invite sponsors.  Some churches require godparents to be members of their church and others do not.  Some churches allow parents to choose if they even want godparents or not.  Some baptisms take place around a font or basin where water is splashed or poured on the candidate and some take place in a larger body of water where candidates are submerged.

My point is this – I do not think there is a right or wrong way to baptize.  Do we have our way of doing it here, at RCC?  Of course we do.  But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all worthy, both to be baptized and to baptize.  And, as the Body of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone to the font so that they can feel the redemptive powers of those living waters, so that they, too can be claimed as God’s children and called beloved.

Like I said, I have been thinking a lot about baptism this week, particularly as I began to work with the Deacons to prepare a policy for RCC that outlines not only our own process for baptizing, but also what we believe baptism means.  And I want to close out my sermon this morning by sharing something I wrote as an introductory.

Baptism is one of the two sacraments we recognize at the Rehoboth Congregational Church (the other is Holy Communion).  We believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God.  It both God’s gift and our response to that gift.  It is a tangible act where we use water to symbolize the cleansing of our sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ.  It is a sacred moment where we not only welcome an individual into our church and community of faith, but we also where bear witness to the life-changing truth that, just like when Jesus was baptized and the spirit of God descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” we are all claimed as God’s own children when the waters of baptism touch us and that God loves each and every one of us.

In baptism we make a promise to the one being baptized – and, in the case of infants and young children, their parents – that we will create a space for them here, at this church to learn and grow in their faith and love and support them on their journeys.

When we remember Jesus’ baptism, we are also invited to remember our own.  And so this morning, before our time of prayer, I will bring us through a brief remembrance of baptism liturgy.  Have no fear, there will not be any spray bottles involved!  But instead I will offer a blessing from the baptismal font and invite you to use this time as you need it today …

… to remember your own baptism.

… to remember another baptism in your life that was special to you.

… to think about what it means to be baptized in the same way Christ was.

… to know that you are claimed as God’s own child and that you are beloved.

… to feel connected with the people you are sitting with in worship today.

… to feel welcomed to gather around the font, even if you have not yet been baptized yourself.

May you remember that you are worthy, that you are claimed as God’s child and that you are beloved – and that you are loved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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My Affirmation Journey

Hi friends and Happy New Year!

Like so many other churches, we have adopted the “star word” tradition at RCC to coincide with Epiphany.  This is the 4th year we have done it, so my sermon is brief, as we invite people from the congregation to stand up and share their “star stories” from the year before.  Last year my word was affirmation, so I talked a little bit about that and also about star words in general.  If you didn’t get a star word and would like one, please let me know!  I’m happy to draw and send you one.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 5, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

My Affirmation Journey

I have an important update.

Two years ago, I stood up here on Star Sunday and began my star story about my star word, responsibility, by saying the following:

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).

Well.

Three years later, I am happy to report that – mostly because of the encouragement of Jen Healy (thank you, Jen!) I finally made that dentist appointment this year.

And I even went six months after that!

Which is my way of saying that you do not have to give up your star word just because the year is over.  The lessons that you have learned this year or the goals you have set or the inspiration that you have, perhaps, found – all of this you can carry with you into the new year as you receive your new star word.

Three years ago, we introduced star words for the first time at RCC.  For those of you who are new to Star Sunday, we celebrate it the Sunday closest to Epiphany, which is the Christian feast commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger.  Epiphany is January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas.  We receive paper stars with words written on them.  Then, like the wise men who followed a star to bring gifts to Jesus, we let the words on our stars guide us throughout the year.

Sometimes the words turn into our intentions and goals for the year.  Sometimes the words teach us lessons.  Sometimes the words give us a different perspective on things.  Sometimes the words frustrate us.  Sometimes the words confuse us all year and bring us back to Star Sunday saying, “I think maybe I did something wrong.”

But the cool part is that there is no right or wrong way to “do” star words.  And we see this, year after year, as people from our congregation share their own star stories from the year before.  Not only are everyone’s words different – but their perspectives about them are different, as well.

This year my word was affirmation.  I have to be honest, this word perplexed me from the very beginning.  I am not even sure I really knew what it meant, although as soon as I drew it, it was sort of like when you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere – I started hearing the word all the time.

The first time I heard the word affirmation was a few days after Star Sunday on a podcast; the host and her guest were talking about setting goals and intentions and how it is important to say them out loud, to put them out into the universe as a way, not only of holding yourself accountable, but also of believing in yourself and what you are capable of.

They referred to this process of vocalizing goals and intentions as daily affirmations.  Instantly I was intrigued, because this is something I have never been good at.  I have always been hesitant to set goals (or, at least, say them out loud) because I have been afraid of what happens if I do not actually reach those goals.  But I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and affirm, over and over and over again, what I thought what we, as a church, were capable of.  I raised my expectations and set goals where I used to just say, “well let’s see what happens.”

I have talked about this, off and on, throughout the year; I think my most exciting moment of affirmation came as we approached the Hillside Takeover and, despite having to overcome multiple obstacles to get to the Tiki Bar, I bravely set a fundraising goal of $5,000 and was overwhelmed when we far exceeded that goal.

But my poignant moment came the morning after Giving Tuesday.  We had set a fundraising goal of $2,019, one that, as the day went on, I was not sure we were going to reach.  I went to sleep that night and we were still well under the $2,000 mark; I actually had a moment of regret where I was mad at myself for setting an unreachable goal.  For the first time that year, my star word frustrated me more than anything.

The next morning, I logged into our PayPal account and saw that a few new donations came in; those donations, combined with the checks we had received in the office, totaled $2,019.65.

Now, in full disclosure, we had a few more donations come in over the next few day and, in the end, we ended up exceeding (I think) $2,200; however, in that moment, I was equally 1) relieved that we reached our goal and 2) needing to figure out what happens when you set an affirmation that you do not meet.

Right before the new year, I was listening to a personal finance blogger talk about the fact that she had not met her 2019 goal of maxing out her IRA contributions.  She used it as an example of how sometimes we just do not meet the expectations of our own affirmations and why not reaching our goals should not deter us from setting them again (or, in the spirit of Star Sunday, from reaching for the stars!).  Because we learn just as much from stating those affirmations and the journey to try to reach them as we do once we get there.

And, I would add, God is faithful as we take that journey.

And so I think I have taken two things out of my star word this year.  First of all, I am excited now to continue to integrate affirmations into my life, both here at the church and also at home. But second of all, I think I need to be okay with giving myself the grace I need to potentially fall short.  Because it is not about a destination, it is about the journey; and along the journey, God is faithful.

May you all see God’s faithfulness in the star words you choose this year; and may the light from that star illuminate your journey ahead.

May you find hope, wisdom and strength.

May you be inspired.

May you be frustrated at times.

And may your star word illuminate your year.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Relational Hospitality

Hi friends!

I cannot believe that Christmas Eve is TWO weeks away.  This season is flying by and I am trying to soak it up and enjoy time with my family, while also enjoying all of the wonderful things we do at church, as well!

Sunday was our second week into our three-week Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices the Christmas story teaches us.  Ironic that I was preaching my sermon on hospitality the same week as our annual meeting where I gave my report and also talked about hospitality!  We had a double baptism on Sunday, so I tried to keep things on the brief side (“tried” – ha!).

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 8, 2019

Luke 2:1-7
Matthew 2:1-12

Relational Hospitality

I was writing my annual report this week and spent a lot of time staring at the dreaded blinding cursor on my computer screen.

And the thing is, I was not experiencing my usual case of writer’s block; I knew what I wanted to say.  The only problem was I was afraid people would start throwing finger sandwiches at me if I started talking about hospitality again.

Hospitality has defined a lot of our conversation this year at the church.  I am not entirely sure where it came from, either; it started on my family’s trip to Disney at the end of 2018 and before I knew it, I was obsessing over wearing name tags and how the soap smells in our bathrooms and planning a summer sermon series on hospitality.

And so, a little over a year later, I am not sure if people have bought into my theology of hospitality or just sort of resigned themselves to listening to me talk about it.

And so here I am talking about it again.  But hear me out.

First of all, over the course of the year, we have made some really poignant changes that are noticeable, not only to us, as a community, but also to others who have noticed and commented to us – and even thanked us for!

And so I do not keep talking about it because I think we are terribly inhospitable and have so much to learn, but because we are learning and growing and it is exciting to me to keep talking about.

Second of all, I just cannot talk about the Christmas story without talking about hospitality, especially in these two stories.

Our first scripture reading is the story of the birth of Jesus.  We all know it well; a census is being taken and everyone needs to travel to their hometowns to be counted.  Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem and when they arrive, it is time for Mary to deliver Jesus.  But there is no place for them to stay; until an innkeeper takes heart and offers them space in the barn, where Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Our second scripture reading is the story of the three kings.  Again, we all know it well; King Herod, frightened upon hearing that a child has been born king of the Jews, sends three wise men to go find Jesus and then tell Herod where he is.  They travel to Bethlehem on camels, following a star that leads them to the manger. When they arrive, they offer Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Before I start talking about hospitality, I do want to confess that I am buying into the romanticized versions of these stories a little bit when I draw together Jesus’ birth and my theology of hospitality.

Because the truth is, the bible does not actually mention an innkeeper.  Scripture says that Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no room at the inn, but some scholars actually believe that the Greek word “inn” has been translated from – “katalymati” – actually is better translated to the word, “guest room”.  This means that Mary and Joseph would have been staying with relatives who did not have a designated room for them to sleep in and therefore slept in a common living space.  And while Jesus was laid in a manger, some research indicates that Palestinian peasant homes had feeding troughs built into the floors of common living spaces because animals were often brought in at night to help heat the homes and keep the animals safe.

And furthermore, the bible never mentions anything about the wise men riding in on camels.  And for that matter, it never says that there are three, either; we just presume there are three because of the three gifts that are mentioned.  AND the wise men actually showed up about two years after Jesus was born, so, as the mother of a two-year-old, I can only imagine that when they offered Jesus these gifts, he did not so much squeal with precious newborn delight, but throw the gifts on the ground, run circles around the manger and then try to climb on the camels.

And yet, there is a magic to these stories – at least the ways in which we have dramatized them over the last 2,000 years – that teaches me, year after year, that sometimes it is better to serve than to be served.  These stories remind me that it is imperative for us, as Christians – who believe in this powerful story where God’s love breaks through our brokenness and comes into the world – to serve others.

We, too, are called to find places for people to stay.  We, too, are called to give gifts that honor those we give them to.  We, too, are called to see the needs of others and listen to the ways in which God is calling you to meet those needs.

The day before Thanksgiving I was on Instagram scrolling through stories and came across a woman named Raechel Myers, the Co-Founder and CEO of She Reads Truth, an organization committed to creating a community – and resources for that community – who reads scripture together every day.  Raechel was talking about how she was getting ready to host Thanksgiving; and, as a girl after my own heart, she had detailed plans for food and beautiful place settings and spectacular décor.

But, she said, you do not have to do this to host Thanksgiving; this is just what brings me joy.  Hospitality is not about place settings and decorations; it is about people.  The next slide on her story had a picture of Thanksgiving prep with the caption:

More than anything, just remember that hospitality is about relationship, not performance.  It’s about them, not you.

There are two things that I think are really important to take away from what she said.  The first is that the way you “do” hospitality does not have to be the way someone else does it.  The Body of Christ works the way that it does because we all perform different functions.  The cool part about looking at these two (albeit dramatized and romanticized) stories is that it is two different kinds of hospitality.  It is welcoming and it is giving, which reminds us that there are no boundaries when it comes to hospitality; there are just people trying to figure out how God is calling them to serve.

The second thing I think we need to take away from what she said is about hospitality being about relationship, not about performance.  And that is where I see the intersection between hospitality and the Christmas story.  Because, at its core, the Christmas story is about a relational God; it is about a God that loves people so much and wants to be in relationship with them that God then comes into this world and lives in human flesh.

O come, o come Emmanuel.

Emmanuel means – God with us.

Our God is not a distant God that we need a mediator in which to communicate with, but a God who is here, who is with us, who is in relationship with us.

And so this is where hospitality kind of begins – in our relationships both with God and with one another.

And in these stories – both in what we know from the bible and the stories we have learned in Sunday School throughout the years – we see hospitality through relationships.  We see the hospitality of people who welcome Mary and Joseph into their home – whether those people were an innkeeper or Joseph’s family – so she can safely deliver her child.  We see the hospitality of wise men – whether there were three or more than three – traveling a great distance to bring gifts to Jesus and then not returning to Herod to tell him where Jesus was.  We see hospitality expressed through the relationships of people showing up and sharing God’s love with one another.

As you continue to journey through this Advent season and prepare for Christmas – and whatever that means for you or looks like in your house – I would encourage you to, first of all, let yourself get lost in the romanticized and dramatized versions of these stories, because I think they do have a lot to teach us.  But then I would encourage you to think about the people in your lives – and the relationships you have with them – and the ways that you can serve them, the ways that you can express hospitality through your relationships by sharing God’s love.

After all, it is not just about wearing name tags and good-smelling soap; it is about the people wearing the name tags and using the soap and about our relationships with them.

Our relationships with one another.

The thing we have to remember is that when we serve others – we serve God.  When we love others, we love God.  When we are in relationship with others, we are in relationship with God.

This Advent season I invite you to be in relationship with one another; to not only serve others, but to get to know them well enough to know how to serve them.  Find out who they are and what they need.  Affirm where they are on their journey through life.  Let them know that they matter.

Remember that Jesus came into this world so that our faith would be incarnational and relational.

And so that is how we are called to live out our lives.

Blessings, friends, as you find ways in which to reach out to others this Advent season to love and serve them.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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