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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Say “Yes!” To God

Hi friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We capped off our Thanksgiving weekend with a wonderful Hanging of the Greens service in worship on Sunday and then a hugely successful Giving Tuesday two days later. (If you are interested in donating to that campaign, our page is still live!)

On Sunday we kicked off a three-week Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices we learn about in the Christmas story.  We started with service – and the stories of Mary and Joseph.  The sermon is shorter, because – between Hanging of the Greens and Communion – we had a lot going on in worship!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 1, 2019

Matthew 1:18-25
Luke 1:26-38

Say “Yes!” To God

I have always loved the story of Mary’s – long before I even thought of having children myself.  In fact, this passage from the Gospel of Luke was read at my ordination in 2011 – in April, two weeks before Easter.

If I remember correctly, there was a collective, “Are you sure about that?” response from the clergy helping me plan the service when I told them that was my choice.

Here’s the thing:  I think, on a very human level, I have always just had deep respect for what Mary did.  She said yes.

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

A few years ago we did an Advent bible study called The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.  There was a DVD companion to the study where the creator of the series, Adam Hamilton, took us through the Holy Land and literally showed us where the Christmas story unfolded.  One of the themes Hamilton kept coming back to was the fact that God did not use the rich and powerful to tell this story, to bring Jesus into this world; but instead he used ordinary people, just like us.  We talked a lot in our group about the ways God used and continued to use people to do God’s work in this world; and so part of our job, as Christians, is to discern what God is calling us to do in this moment in time.

This idea has stuck with me and, I think, resonated even deeper as we went through the Year of Mark last year and really immersed ourselves in Jesus’ story and thought about what it means to be his disciple.  Because the Christian story is still being written.  Yes, a significant portion of it has already happened, but there is a very relevant part that is still happening today, in our lives.  God did not stop using people to do God’s work in this world once Jesus’ time on earth was done; in fact that is when some of the real work began.

And so I think we can read the Christmas story two ways.  The first is the way we do on Christmas Eve, which is to read it, sing about it and celebrate it.  But what I want to do during Advent this year is to read it and then really take the time to think about what it means for our lives today.  Is God going to call all of us to give birth to Jesus?  Well, no; but there is more to the story than that.

This Advent we will look at three faith practices – service, hospitality and evangelism.  We will use the characters and their stories in the Christmas story to talk about how God called them, but then also think about how God is calling us today.

We begin with Mary and Joseph.

No offense to all the men out there, but speaking from my own context, I do not often read Joseph’s call story.  And it’s not intentional or anything, but I think when you are trying to finish Lessons & Carols in under an hour, you tell Mary’s story and then hit the road to Bethlehem.

Both Mary and Joseph’s stories bear a lot of similarities to one another.  Angels appear to both Mary and Joseph; the angels say, “Do not be afraid”; Jesus is named, in some way.

And, in both stories, Mary and Joseph say yes to God.

And to me, that is one of the most magical parts of the Christmas story.

They said YES to God!

God asked them to serve and they said yes.  God asked them to be part of this story of redemption and love and grace and they said yes.  God asked them to shine light into the darkness of the world and they said yes.

What is God asking you to do this year?

The Christmas story is not just about a baby being born, it is about a story that begins when ordinary people say yes to God.  And so we, as active participants in the story in our lives, today, can participate by saying yes.  We, too, can say “yes!” when God comes to us and asks us to serve.  We, too, can say, “yes!” when opportunities arise for us to share the Gospel and spread God’s love.

This Advent season I encourage you all to say yes to God.  Say yes when God asks you to serve.  Say yes, even in the moments where it seems like it might be hard.  Say yes, even in the moments when it is slightly inconvenient.  Say yes, even when you are not quite sure what God is doing.

Remember, God used ordinary people to start telling this story 2,000 years ago and God is still using ordinary people, just like us, to continue telling it today.

And that is where the real magic begins.

It is the first Sunday in Advent, a season of waiting; waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for Emmanuel – God with us – to break forth into this world, waiting for that moment when God comes to us and asks us to serve.

Waiting for that moment when we can say “yes!” to God.

Blessings on your Advent journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Walking The Walk

Hi friends!  We finished up our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount this week with a beautiful Thanksgiving worship service, which included a baptism and a beautiful cornucopia on the altar.  I used my sermon not only as an opportunity to talk about this text, but also to wrap-up what we talked about this fall.

Preacher friends, this was a great series!  There are one or two things I would tweak in terms of the schedule, but I thought 12 weeks was a good amount of time to get through it.  Did we touch on everything?  No – but you never will!  But if we had broken it down into a longer amount of time, I think it would have been too long.  Feel free to reach out by email or comment here if you’d like me to send you our schedule and any more information.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 24, 2019

Matthew 7:21-29

Walking The Walk

It is about more than talking the talk.

It is about walking the walk.

We have come to the end of our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount.

And if I had to sum it up in four words, I would say this:  Easier said than done.

Let’s face it:  We know we are blessed in the eyes of God, but my gosh sometimes it is hard to remember that fact when we are overwhelmed and feel like we just cannot do anything right.

We know we are the salt of the world and the light of the world, but you know what?  Sometimes it is easier to complain that the world is bland and dark than actually do something about it.

We know we should not let ourselves be tempted to sin, but temptation is such a force to be reckoned with in the world we live in that sometimes we cannot seem to help ourselves.

We know we should not retaliate, but instead pray for our enemies, but sometimes we just cannot figure out how to let something go.

We know we should love our enemies as fiercely as God loves us, but isn’t it just easier to hate them?

We know we should do things like pray and give quietly and not boast about our spiritual practices, but pride just has a way of sneaking in sometimes.

We know we should not serve God and wealth, but the problem is – wealth is a tangible reality of the world we live in and sometimes God is harder to see, understand and trust.

We know we should not worry and instead cling tightly to our faith, but there are also moments in our lives where our grip on that faith keeps slipping.

We know we should not judge others, but also – that’s sometimes they make it so easy.

We know the golden rule, that we should treat others the way we want to be treated, but sometimes we are tired, stressed and just over it and not able to muster up the grace to do it.

So here we are at the end of the sermon; Jesus is wrapping up his teaching on how we should live in this world and getting ready to head back out to proclaim the Good News with these disciples he has called.

And his final lesson is that following him is not about empty words, but about faithful action.  Jesus says we have to do more than simply prophesy in his name, but we have to do the will of God.  In other words, it is not enough to talk the talk, but we have to walk the walk.  It is not enough to simply proclaim that we are Christian, but our actions – and our heart behind those actions – need to back up who we proclaim to be.

And here is the part where this is all easier said than done.

Because we are human.  We are not perfect.  We make mistakes.

We get tired and anxious and do not always make the best decisions.  We find it easier to tear others down than to build them up, particularly when we are feeling vulnerable ourselves.  We do not always communicate and then the little annoyances become bigger drama.  And we forget to love people in those moments when we just really do not like them.

Yet here Jesus is saying that we have to try just a little bit harder; that this Good News – this new commandment – is not about traditions and rules, but about people and covenants.  It is about loving God and loving one another and working really hard to be in community with one another.

Sometimes really really hard.

And here’s the thing – as hard as this is to actually live out, ultimately, I think this is what we all really want for our world.

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a really simple, yet powerful image of a man – a wise man – who builds his house on a rock and another man – a foolish man – who builds his house on sand.  When the rains come the house built on the rock does not fall, but the one built on the sand comes tumbling down.  We are reminded through this image that our foundation needs to be strong because there are things that happen in this world – naturally occurring things, things that we cannot always control – that will threaten what rests on that foundation.

The rain, the floods and the wind that beat on the house represent the things in our earthly lives that pull us away from Jesus’ teachings, the things that tempt us to make the wrong choice, even when we know what the right choice is, the things that cause us to stray from the lessons Jesus is teaching in this sermon.

But this is why the work we do here is so important.

We talk about the importance of our work here, at church, a lot in terms of our evangelism, outreach and service to others, but I would argue that it is equally important in terms of our own personal growth and faith formation.  Because it is here that we strengthen the foundation of our faith; it is here that the build our faith on top of something that is strong enough to withstand the challenges we will, no doubt, face in life.

We are entering the most magical season in the calendar year.  It is a season that, in our part of the world, would otherwise be overcome with darkness; but as Christians, we boldly proclaim – both with our decorations and also with our actions – that God’s light will always shine.  It is a season that begins with a holiday that is not about gifts or other material items, but about food and fellowship; a season where families and friends put aside the differences that threaten to divide them throughout the year and gather around a table and break bread together.  It is a season where we focus on the importance of giving rather than simply just receiving.  It is a season where we believe; where we believe in the magic of the season, of the things we cannot see, of the truth that God broke through – and will continue to break through – the brokenness of our world and that God is always with us.

It is a season where we see glimpses of the world that we all so desperately want.

It is fitting that we end our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which, sort of, kicks off the whole holiday season.

Because the magic is about to begin.

Advent begins next Sunday; and in the church calendar, Advent is the start of a new year.  So it is the perfect time to give ourselves and our faith something of a reset, to remind ourselves that we have to live out our faith as well as proclaim it and to position ourselves snuggly on that strong foundation.

Because as soon as Christmas morning arrives, the real work begins.

As soon as we proclaim to the world that Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – is born, then it will be time to show them what, exactly, that means.  It will be time to move beyond the manger and into Jesus’ ministry, to celebrate a man whose birth was magical, but whose life, death and resurrection changed the world.

As you enter into the magic of the holiday season this week, I invite you to also use this time to strengthen your foundation so you are ready to go out proclaim the Good News that our savior is born on Christmas morning.  Intentionally step away from the hustle and bustle and remind yourself of the true reason for the season.  Take time for outreach and charitable giving.  Spend time in prayer.  Read and re-read the Christmas story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and marvel at how they unfold.  Believe not only in the magic of the season, but in the promise of the season, as well.  And know that God is always with you – and that you are blessed.

Your foundation will be strong – and you will be ready to proclaim the Good News to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  You will be ready to walk the walk.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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