To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

Hi friends! It felt great to be back behind the pulpit today. I’ve missed chatting with everyone in the comments and worshiping together in this strange, but grace-filled space.

Here is my sermon and also the video from worship.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2021

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

I want to start off this morning by thanking everyone who tended to worship so carefully and gracefully in my absence the last two weeks.  It was great to step away, even though I did not go anywhere, because I had not really taken time since the pandemic began to do that.  I was joking with the Executive Board that, when the pandemic started, I stopped taking days off and started working a lot at night because things were changing so quickly and it seemed necessary at the time.  But here we are, nearly 11 months later, and I realized that was not necessarily a sustainable pace to maintain.  So it felt really good to stop and recharge, reflect and reset.

One of the best things that I did for myself during my two weeks off was to (and I realize how ironic it is that I am saying this while live on Facebook) take Facebook off my phone.

Here’s the thing:  I love Facebook, I joined when I was a sophomore in college.  It allows me to stay in touch with my family and friends, to share updates about my own life and, of course, to engage in a really special kind of ministry.  My gratitude towards Facebook and what it allowed (and continues to allow) us, as a community, to do throughout the pandemic, knows no bounds.  We were able to swiftly and pretty seamlessly move worship online and we created a beautiful community over in our Facebook group; through Facebook, we have prayed together and we have worshiped together and we have served together and we have problem-solved together and we have really gotten to know one another better together.

And yet, I needed to take a break.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but, for me, despite all of the good things and the potential for good things, Facebook felt like it had become a really negative place.  I know a lot of this had to do with the election and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, but it just felt as though every time I opened the app on my phone or logged in on my computer, I was inundated with intense division and conflict.

And it was one thing to watch strangers argue with one another – or even people I know arguing with people that I do not know.  But it was a completely different thing to see people I know and love arguing with one another.  As a pastor of a very diverse congregation, it weighed heavy on my heart to see and know that we were – are – so divided.  And the fact that we could not physically come together and talk about our differences face to face or even just put them aside to worship together, serve together and break bread together made it worse.  I wondered what it would be like when we were finally able to come back together; would we be able to find unity or had this virtual platform created too much division?

I was thinking about my currently complicated relationship with Facebook when I was reflecting on this week’s scripture reading from First Corinthians, particularly the part where Paul says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law.”[1]  Now, the point of these words is to highlight the fact that Paul is something of a chameleon; he is able to adapt to his surroundings and circumstances in ministry and really be who the people around him need him to be.  This is one of the reasons Paul’s voice changes in his different letters.

That being said, these words actually brought me a lot of comfort and encouragement in specifically reading them now because they reminded me that, from the very beginning, there was so much diversity within our faith.  Paul spoke in different “voices” because he was evangelizing – he was bringing the message of Jesus – to such vastly different people and places.  The Christian Church was built on this foundation of different opinions and values and traditions and lifestyles and beliefs.

This diversity has the powerful potential to be beautiful and to give our faith great depth and opportunities.  But it also has the equally powerful potential to divide us in ways that would not only be devastating to our church, but to the Gospel we are called to proclaim.

Let’s talk about this scripture for a minute.  1 Corinthians is a letter; it is a letter written by Paul in 54 CE to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it housed an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population.  The church that Paul founded was predominantly gentile, although in many ways it did mirror the diversity of the rest of the city.  In other words, just because most of the congregation was gentile did not mean that they all saw eye to eye on everything.

It was likely that people were separated into different parts of the city; that they had small, more intimate home churches (we all know a thing or two about that right now), but then eventually they did come together as an ekklesia, which is a Greek word that means assembly or congregation, to share a meal or to worship together.

As you can imagine, when a community with that kind of diversity comes together, there is a very real potential that disputes can happen and conflicts will arise.  In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to reports that he was hearing about disputes within the congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if hearing about these disputes weighed heavy on Paul’s heart the way it does on mine when I see people that I know, members of our congregation, quarreling about different things.  What’s funny about Corinth – a bustling urban center – is that, in many ways, it reminds me of our little church in the village in our right to farm community.  We have different political, economic, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds.  We do not always see things the same way; we have different priorities for ourselves and for our families.

So when Paul says that he becomes a Jew when he is with Jews and under the law when he is with someone under the law, etc. etc. it resonates with me because I do find myself using different voices depending on the context of the conversation I am having.

I think that is why the conflicts and the division hurt so bad; because I see good in all of us in these different conversations, it is just difficult to bring them together.  And that is not to say I am not being genuine, rather I am trying to bring the Gospel into different contexts.

But this is nothing new.  Our diversity and our struggle to rise up above our differences is not something that is unique to our generation.  In fact, it is one of the reasons Jesus came in the first place, one of the reasons that we are in such desperate need of God’s grace.

My favorite part of this particular passage comes at the very end, verse 23, and it is where Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  Because this statement reminds me – it should remind all of us – why we do this in the first place.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are called to put that Gospel into action and transform people’s lives for the better.  We are called to not only be in relationship with God, but also encourage others in their own relationships with God and on their own faith journey.

Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always agree with one another.  Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always see things the same way.  Paul says he does this for the sake of the gospel, so that he may share in its blessings.  And he does this no matter where he is or who he is talking to.

I do think that part of our call as Christians is to find ways to create unity in the midst of diversity.  Part of our call as Christians is to find ways to share the blessings of the Gospel across those lines of division that are working on overdrive to try to pull us apart right now.

And I know that this is not as simple as saying that we all just need to “agree to disagree.”  I know there are fundamental differences at play, many of them involving basic human rights and I am not trying to gloss over them.

I am just trying to bring us together.

We have come out of a really hard election season – remember this is the first time I am preaching since the inauguration – we  are still living through a really divisive moment in our political history and, of course, we are constantly facing the added challenges (which is an understatement) that the pandemic brings.

But I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for unity.  It is a moment where we heed the call of scripture to share in the blessings of the Gospel.  It is a moment where we put that Gospel into action, not because we all agree with one another, but because this is who we are, as the Body of Christ.

Friends, it is great to be back.  In many ways, I do feel as though we are entering a new season in ministry.  Not only are we getting ready to begin Lent (not this week, but next!), but we are also starting to think about, what is the church going to look like the world starts to re-open again?  How are we going to re-gather safely?  How are we going to continue to nurture our virtual spaces?  How will we re-imagine the celebration of our 300th anniversary in the meantime?  How will we leave an imprint of the Gospel on our town and our surrounding communities so that people not only know that we are here, but what we are all about and might be inspired to join us, as well and begin their own journey of faith.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

And we have to do it together.

So let us, like Paul says, work together for the sake of the Gospel so that we might share in its blessings.  Let us do what we are being called to do, both as individual Christians, but also as a church.

And may our voices – though they might be different – come together and share this Good News.

Because it is Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, NRSV

This Is Our Moment

Hi friends!  As soon as I hit publish on this post I am signing off for two weeks, so if you don’t see a post from me, I’m okay!  Just on vacation and taking a little step back from my virtual world.  My sermon from this morning and the video from worship are below.  See you in February!

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-10
John 1:43-51

This Is Our Moment

When I was in seminary, we talked about call stories a lot; stories highlighting the moment or moments in our lives when we knew God was calling us into the ministry.  For some of us, there was one crystal clear moment where we knew for certain what God was asking us to do, for others of us there was a series of moments and some of us just found ourselves in seminary, not really sure what God was up to.

I consider myself to fall within that middle group where there were a series of moments that led up to the realization that I was being called into the ministry.  From that point on, I can even say that there were a series of moments that led me into ministry in a church setting and even moments that specifically led me here and moments that have kept me here and helped me to see that vision (there is last year’s Star Word) that God has for us together in ministry.

I have always loved call stories.  They are, essentially, somebody welcoming you into an intimate moment between themselves and God.  Call stories can be a moment of vulnerability for someone as they try to explain something that might not necessarily be explainable in human words.  They are a peak into someone’s life and purpose.

They can also be a significant moment of purpose and change, not only for the person sharing their story, but also for those who are bearing witness to it.  They are an opportunity for a wider community of people to see where God is at work in this world, something that I think we need desperately, now more than ever.  To see and hear and know that God is at work within the people around us is to believe that God is with us and that God has not abandoned us and that God has a purpose for all of our lives, as well.

Which brings me to this morning’s scripture readings.  I decided to look at both the Old Testament passage from the lectionary and also the Gospel this week.  They both include call stories – one of the Old Testament prophets, Samuel and the other of Philip and Nathaneal, two of Jesus’ disciples.

Our reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of 1 Samuel, which is part of the narrative history of Israel in the Old Testament called the Deuteronimistic history.  God called Samuel when he was a young boy; he was ministering under a high priest named Eli when he hears God calling out to him.  Assuming it is Eli calling his name, Samuel runs to Eli, who tells him he had not called Samuel and that Samuel should go back to sleep.  This happens three times before Eli realizes what is happening, that it is actually God calling out to Samuel.  At this point, Eli instructs Samuel to go lie down and when he hears God calling him again to respond by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Our Gospel reading comes from the Gospel according to John, where Jesus calls Philip and Nathaneal.  Nathaneal is only mentioned in the Gospel of John, though some scholars (not all, but some) also identify him as the disciple, Bartholomew, who is mentioned as one of the 12 disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Philip’s call story is pretty straight forward – Jesus finds Philip, says, “Follow me” and Philip follows him.  But in this record of Nathaneal’s call story, it is a little more complicated.  Nathaneal wants to know where and how Jesus came to know Nathaneal.  And when Nathaneal recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus tells Nathaneal that he is about to see and believe more than he can conceive right now.

What I love about both of these call stories is that they are complex.  The person being called does not necessarily know right away that it is God calling them or how they are supposed to respond.  Samuel assumes the voice he hears is an earthy voice and Nathaneal has some questions about why, specifically, he is being called.  What we learn from both of these stories is that when God calls us, whether we are being called into vocational ministry or, more likely, when we are being called, personally, to the work of God in our lives, it might not necessarily be straightforward or easy to decipher at first.

Samuel thinks Eli is calling him at first.  Nathaneal wants to know how Jesus knows him.  Both of these call stories remind us that it is okay if we do not figure it out right away, if we do not know or understand the precise moment God calls what, exactly, we are supposed to be doing.

But the thing is, God is persistent.  God does not give up on us.  If God has something for us to do, God is going to keep calling us until we, like Samuel, say, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” or we, like Philip and Nathaneal, respond to those words, “Come and see … follow me.”

We are living through a very complicated moment in our history.  And, in many ways, I am over it; I think we all are.  At some point I think we would all like to go back to a world that will not fill volumes of history books one day.  That being said, we have the opportunity right now to define what this narrative is going to say and how future generations will see God at work in our lives and in the world.

We were talking about the insurrection in bible study on Wednesday morning, particularly the flags bearing Jesus’ name on them that were carried into the Capitol.  The concern, of course, is what happens when a non-Christian or, perhaps, a discerning Christian, sees Jesus’ name cast in such a violent light.  Does that define the narrative?  Does that tell the story of the Gospel and of the work God has done and is continuing to do in this world?

Only if we let it.

Friends, I believe, with every ounce of my being, that God is calling us right now to do something really important.  We are being called to share a message of light, of love and of grace.  We are being called to offer faith and reconciliation to a world that is broken.  We are being called to proclaim the bold and radical truth that resurrection means something, and that redemption is always possible.  We are being called to show the world that God is not finished and that hope real – and that it is always worth holding onto.

And to be clear, I do not believe that this takes away from the individual calls that we all have.  We have all been called on personal levels, professional levels, community levels, to our families and even here, at the church.  But in addition to those calls – in addition to the things that we are already doing and the ways that God has already called us into some sort of ministry and service – I believe that we have been called into this moment.

This moment where the world is broken and in need of healing.

This moment where Christ’s message of love needs to overpower the rhetoric of hatred and violence.

This moment where the Gospel can transform our lives.

This moment where we are tired and weary, but we believe in the capacity that we have to hold it together and keep going forward.

This is our moment.  God is calling us.

After a long, tumultuous and exhausting election season, a new president will take the oath of office on Wednesday.  Following the attack on the Capitol, there are growing threats of violence around our beloved country; in fact, our conference sent an email this week encouraging churches to close their buildings on Wednesday because of threats specifically made to churches.  No matter who you voted for, I think we all feel a little bit uneasy right now.

But I just keep thinking that we can shine light into this very dark moment.  We – as children of God, as devoted followers of Christ – can do something to make this better.  We can share the Gospel in real and practical ways, ways that actually make a difference in people’s lives, ways that restore people’s faith and define the narrative of Jesus as one of love and hope and reconciliation and peace and justice and compassion and mercy and kindness.  This is what defines our beloved church in the village and I believe this can define our greater Christian Church, as well.

Friends, I believe that God is calling us.  And like Samuel and like Nathaneal, it might not necessarily be clear or easy to understand or easy to respond to.  But this is our moment and God needs us.  God needs us to say yes.  God needs us to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  God needs us to follow God.  God needs us to show up; show up in our churches and show up in our communities.  God needs us to take the Gospel and share it with the world.

Friends this is our moment and the moment is now.  Let us say yes to God’s call.  Let us take the Gospel and share it with the world.  Let us write this chapter of the Christian narrative and tell future generations about the love that was shared and the hope that was real.

And let us believe that God has prepared us and strengthened us for this moment.

Friends, as church, I believe this is our call story.  May this be a significant moment of purpose and change – not only for us, but for those we will meet along our journey.

God, speak; for your servants are listening.

Come on; let’s go.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

Hi friends.

It was hard to preach this morning.

I know there are people that think I said too much.  I know there are people that wish I would have said more.  It is something of an exhausting period in history to preach through, but I tried to say what was on my heart and what would be most helpful for my congregation. The text from my sermon is below, as well as the video from this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

I stared at a blinking cursor on an empty word document for a long time on Friday trying to figure out what to say this morning.

You see, this pulpit is a privilege.  It is a privilege that has been given to me because of my call, but it is also one that comes with great responsibility.  I feel a responsibility not only to you all, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, but also to those who stood behind this pulpit before me who, just like I did this week, struggled for 300 years to find adequate and appropriate words to speak in the midst of wars, tragedies, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorist attacks.

What happened on Wednesday was not okay.  Like most of you, I am sure, I spent a lot of time this week trying to process it and understand it and also trying to reconcile the issues of injustice that were powerfully put on display.

I read and heard a lot of comments on Wednesday into Thursday that said this is not who we are, but it is; as a nation, we are so very broken right now.  The chaos that ensued this week was shocking but, sadly, not surprising.  This is, unfortunately, exactly who we are.

To be clear, I do not think it is my job to stand behind this pulpit today and offer political commentary on what happened this week.  You all know that, knowing we are such a diverse community, for better or for worse I try to stay as politically “neutral” as possible and focus on the Gospel, though many argue that the Gospel is inherently political, which is a sentiment I would certainly agree with.  And so it is tricky; it is especially tricky, because one of my goals is to be a relevant preacher.  To stand up here today and not acknowledge what happened this week would not be true to who I am – and who I believe God is calling us to be, as a congregation.

I guess this is my way of saying that this might not actually be a good sermon.  Like everyone else, I am having a really hard time finding words that are both adequate and appropriate and also speak to you all, my church family, no matter where you are today.

Despite the events that happened this week and despite the fact that this is, unfortunately, who we are right now, I do not believe that this is who we are called to be.  This is not who we are called to be, as a country and certainly not who we are called to be, as a church community.  We are called to proclaim to Gospel; to live into the vows we made at our baptisms, resisting evil, seeking justice and loving others the way Christ loved us.

Speaking of baptisms, today is the Baptism of Christ Sunday.  It is, sort of, the kickoff to Jesus’ public ministry in the liturgical year.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is, of course, near the end of the calendar year; then we journey to Christmas, where Jesus is born and then to Epiphany, where the Wise Men follow the star to visit Jesus and offer him gifts.  Then there is a time lapse of about 30 years in less than a week and Jesus’ travels from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

You know I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a calendar of scripture that follows the liturgical year.  It is a three-year cycle and every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the Gospels and one of the Epistles.  More often than not these passages relate to one another and so when I am planning worship I will not just choose one passage, but two (some churches will even read all four passages every week) as a way of looking at recurring themes throughout multiple scriptures.

It is not necessarily a perfect method for planning worship, though and so I have, over the past few years, gone off-lectionary – we did the Year of Mark and then a couple of different sermon series.  I found myself back on the lectionary at the beginning of 2020, mostly in preparation for what I thought was going to be a completely offline maternity leave; but what I have found is that being on the lectionary has created stability for me, as a preacher, in an otherwise unstable time.

Which brings me to this morning.

On Monday morning when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service, it was not a question as to whether or not we would look at the Gospel this morning and remember Jesus’ baptism.  Out of curiosity, however, I decided to look at what the lectionary paired with the Gospel this year.  And I found it fascinating that in the other two years of the lectionary (remember, this is a three-year cycle), Jesus’ baptism is paired a passage from the Book of Isaiah.  This year, however, the Old Testament passage is Genesis 1:1-5, the very first verses of the entire bible.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

Without even knowing about the chaos that was about to unfold at the Capitol this week, I thought it was fascinating to look at these two passages side by side, one where Jesus is baptized and claimed by God as God’s son and the other where God creates order out of chaos.

Now it seems almost necessary to look at these two passages side by side.

I think we need to be reminded of both of these messages this week.  First of all, I think we do need to remember Jesus’ baptism.  We need to remember that Jesus came into this world, not because it was perfect, but because it was very much broken; that Jesus was baptized, not as an empty symbol, but as a powerful declaration that all must repent and confess their sins in order to be redeemed by the living waters of baptism.

If you, like me, are feeling disheartened or even helpless about who we are right now, remember this: God saw a world in need of redemption and sent a redeemer.  There was hope then and I do believe that there is hope now.

That being said, second of all, I think we also need to take a moment and remember our own baptisms, as well.  We need to remember the promises that we made or that were made on our behalf and that we later affirmed, either through our confirmation or by joining the church.  We need to remember that Christianity is about action; it is about the absolute refusal to be complacent to the evil and injustice that exists in the world.  Yes, it is about declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior and getting to know Jesus on a personal level, but it is also about following Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed, the Gospel he taught, the Gospel he demonstrated.  It is about living out the work that Jesus began here on earth.  As Christians, we have work to do.

At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.

But here is where I find this pairing of Jesus’ baptism with the beginning of the creation story so fascinating.  Because it is in this account of creation that God made order out of chaos.  It is in this account that God took a dark and formless void and created this earth that we are living on today.  It is in this account that God saw great and hopeful potential in something that was, essentially, nothing.

In fact, for thousands and thousands of years, God has seen nothing but great and hopeful potential in our world.

We have to believe that the same is true today.

The creation story reminds us that God can make order out of chaos; God can make order out of the chaos of the formless void that became the earth and God can make order out of the chaos of the world that we are living in today.  I do not know how, but I believe that God can make order out of the political chaos that our country is experiencing right now and that God still sees potential in our world.

The potential for good.

The potential for love.

The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.

But that does not mean that we are to stand by and wait for God to come in and fix it for us.  Friends, we have a lot of work to do.  We have to live into our baptismal promises.  We have to see a world that is broken and vow to do everything that we can to do draw forth that hope, healing and wholeness we are promised in baptism.

For some of us, that may mean political activism on local, state or national levels.  For some of us, that may mean some sort of volunteerism.  For some of us, that may mean putting our money where our mouth is.  For some of us, that may mean reaching out to a family member or a friend in need and helping them on an individual level.

We all have different, but equally important roles to play.  In many ways, I am viewing the events of last week as a call to action; a call to action to create the kind of world that I want my children to grow up in.

The kind of world that I believe God is calling us to create.

The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.

The kind of world that can be transformed by the Gospel.

The kind of world that where we are united by the living waters of baptism that have redeemed us and are continuing to redeem us.

Friends, I know we are all exhausted.  Dealing with political upheaval on top of a pandemic is no small feat.  But we can do hard things, I really do believe that.  And God has not abandoned us, God is still with us.  Together, we can be better than we are right now.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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