One Year Later

Hi friends!

It is crazy to think that we have been worshiping online for an entire year.  In many ways it feels like it has been longer than that, but in other ways it feels like no time has passed since I composed that email to the congregation letting them know we were suspending in-person worship.  I reflected a little on this anniversary this morning.  Here is my sermon, as well as the video to worship.

Peace, be with you friends – there is light at the end of the tunnel!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 15, 2021

John 3:14-21

One Year Later

I went down something of a rabbit hole this week.

The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the shutdown have felt a little bit like when 9/11 rolls around every year; it seems as though we have been in this national state of “what were you doing when” as we approach and reach significant milestones.  News anchors and podcast hosts have been recapping the year.  Our Facebook memories keep popping up reminding us of the last time we did certain things (or at least the way we were used to doing them).  I actually had a picture pop up of Harrison and Samantha and me standing outside of the Sadie Perry Room before worship that popped up this week that kind of took my breath away; because I remember that moment like it was yesterday and yet in some ways it seems so far away.  Bill and Wendy talked about our final in-person worship service and then our first virtual worship service and 9:00 prayer time when they led prayers on Monday night.  And on Wednesday, while I was preparing for evening prayers, I re-read the last sermon that I preached in-person and the first sermon that I preached in virtual worship.

Unexpected, but not surprising, the last sermon I preached in-person was actually on this very text that we are looking at this morning.  The reason I say unexpected, but not surprising is because we are in the season of Lent and so, year-to-year, there is overlap with these Lenten texts in the lectionary; it is not surprising that we would look at the same – or similar – stories right now.  It was unexpected, however, because, in so many ways – good and bad – life feels vastly different than it did a year ago.  It was unexpected to be reflecting on this passage of scripture in order to get ready for today’s worship service and then pull up last year’s sermon – a sermon preached at the very beginning of this time of great chaos and angst and unknown – and realize that these were the same words we were reflecting on.  It feels very full circle.

The Gospel has not changed.  Our world has changed; but the Gospel has not changed.

This morning’s scripture reading, like our scripture reading from about a year ago, comes from the Gospel of John.  It contains, I would argue, one of the best-known passages of scripture, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

This is one of those passages of scripture that sounds so beautiful in the King James Version of the bible – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  These words are just so poetic and beautiful and powerful.

When I reflected on these words a year ago, I talked about the fact that this was the world that Jesus came into – this messy and chaotic world.  At the time, very little made sense to us, but that was okay, right?  Because this scripture says “everyone who believes in [Jesus] may … have eternal life,” not, “everyone who understands what is going on may have eternal life.”

Looking back, I really do believe that we needed to hear those words in that moment.  Because we were entering a season where our faith in God through Jesus Christ was the one thing that could not be taken away from us; in fact, it was arguably the thing that carried most of us through.

So here we are, one year later.  I think many of us still need to hear these words as we pass this one-year milestone.  Because much is still up in the air about the vaccine rollout and what life is going to look like in a post-covid (or, at least, mostly-post-covid) world; there are still many unanswered questions.  And it has been a really hard year; we are all exhausted.  We need to be reminded that our mess of a world was and is so deeply loved by God that Jesus came to save it; that, even a year into all of this, our world is still worth saving.

But there is more.

Something really cool happens with the lectionary this week that I think relevant and necessary right now.

Last year we looked at this passage in the context of John 3:1-17.  This year, the lectionary has us looking at this passage in the context of John 3:14-21.  Meaning we still see John 3:16, but this iconic passage is at the beginning of what we are looking at instead of the end.

Last year when we looked at this passage, it was almost as if the passage led us into John 3:16 and that was where we landed.

And we needed to, right?  We needed to land on John 3:16 so that we could sit there for awhile and really lean into our faith in Jesus.  We needed that throughout the past year.

But this year – this is where we start.

This is our starting point; this – John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” – is where our passage begins and then Jesus continues on to tell us what that means for us.

And friends, I think now, a year into the pandemic, at a time where vaccines are rolling out and we are trying to get things open again, we are ready to keep going and see what’s next.

This is how the passage continues:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world.

But those who do what is true come to the light.

Light.

Jesus says that what comes next is light.

Jesus gives us this promise – that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world and that all we have to do to receive eternal life is to believe in Jesus.

But it does not end there.  Then Jesus gives us a charge; a charge to believe in the light, a charge to love the light and a charge to do what is true and to bring that to the light.

Friends, if you are like me, you are probably wondering, what’s next?  When can I travel again?  When can I host dinner parties again?  Will my children be able to go back to school full-time?  Will I feel anxious when it is time to get back out into the world?  What is the world going to look like?  What has changed?  What will go back to “normal”?

I do not have answers to most of these questions.  But I do think it starts with this charge, this charge to be the light.  I think the answer to the question, what’s next, starts with this charge from Jesus to believe in the light, to love the light, to do what is true and to bring that truth to the light.  I think the next steps in re-opening the world have very little to do with the phases of reopening and everything to do with all of us boldly shining light into a very dark world.

I think for an entire year we have been desperately holding on this light; we have been holding it close to us, perhaps because we were afraid it might go out if we held it too far away or just because it was comforting to us, it was like a security blanket that we gripped tightly when it felt like everything else was slipping away.

But friends, now it is time to shine that light into the world.  It is time for all of us to extend that light into the darkness.  It is time for us to celebrate that light, to love that light and to honor that light.  And it is time for us to share that light, to bring all of our lights together so that we can conquer the darkness.

It is time for us to do what is true – to love one another, to care for one another and to lift one another us – and then bring that into the light.

Our world is so very broken right now.  But we have something that can heal it.  We have this incredible faith that can and will bring healing and peace and wholeness.  We need to bring this into the light; we need to share with the world that this kind of healing is possible.  We need to demonstrate that the Body of Christ is ready to do the work that is necessary to bring about restoration.

When we first started to realize that covid was not going to be a quick here-and-gone thing and that the world was going to change in real and significant ways as a result of it, I was scared, because I did not know what we would be left with.  And, in many ways, I still don’t.

But I know what I have.

In fact, I know what we all have.

Light.

And I know that, together, our light is going to shine brighter than we could ever have imagined.

And that it will make a difference.

One year ago we needed to be reminded that our faith in God through Jesus Christ would carry us through the darkness of what was coming.  Today, even though it is not over yet, we celebrate that is has, even in those moments when it was really hard.  And today we accept the charge to get up and carry that light forward.

Because the world needs it.

Friends, it is time to break through the darkness and be harbingers of light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

Hi friends!

I preached on the Gospel this morning, Jesus cleansing the table.  I love talking about the placement of this story in John and why this might mean something different than the synoptics.  My sermon is below, as well the video from our service.

ALSO – I might be totally biased, but if you get a chance, check out this week’s Church School video.  My sweet little PK helped lead communion and then the Lord’s Prayer!  I’m so proud of him and everything he is getting out of Church School online this year. <3

Peace be with you, friends!

***

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

John 2:13-22

The Challenge To Turn Over Tables

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, a lot of people (myself included) have been reflecting on what we were doing a year ago.  For many of us, these past couple of weeks have marked the one-year anniversary of the last time we did X, Y or Z.  It is on our radar, of course, but things like TimeHop or Facebook memories help us to remember these events, as well.

A few weeks ago, a video popped up in my Facebook memories from the Chocolate Festival last year.  I cringed when I saw the video, because I think there were close to 200 people crammed inside Fellowship Hall, shuffling around the room as best they could, filling their boxes with various delicious treats and gleefully gathering around the chocolate fountain.

In fairness, everyone that was handling food was wearing gloves, no one was handling money and food at the same time and no one was actually dipping food directly into the chocolate fountain (I believe there was a system where the person stationed at the chocolate fountain, who was wearing gloves, would put a bowl under the stream of chocolate and then the person getting the chocolate would pick out the things they wanted to dip into it and then it would just be handed to them in one bowl).

Regardless, when I saw that video, I thought to myself, my goodness, it looks like we hosted a super spreader event!

Guys.  I am sad to say that it might be a hot minute before we host a chocolate festival exactly like that again.  Moving forward, we might be a little more mindful of how many people we are shoving into a room at one time, regardless of how much money we are making.

But actually – THAT is what I wanted to talk about this morning.  The money.

We made over $4,000 at that event; the money went towards the operating budget and we absolutely blew my goal of $1,200 out of the water.  If you were not there, what we did was sell people tickets, which I think were $1 a piece.  Then we priced the chocolate items by an amount of tickets; items cost anywhere from one ticket to four or five tickets.  People would take their tickets and go over to the tables with the chocolate items, drop the number of tickets they needed for an item in a box and then our volunteers would put that item in their chocolate box.  This actually made it really simple to exchange money; people were crowded around the table where we were selling tickets basically throwing tens and twenties down and we would quickly hand them their tickets and then they would be on their way.

Essentially what we had in Fellowship Hall – what that video that popped up in my memories showed – was a bunch of people, a bunch of goods (items for sale) and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods.

And so while I was reading this passage this week – where Jesus walks into the temple and finds a bunch of people, a bunch of good and a bunch of money being exchanged for those goods – I thought to myself, “Huh. Well that seems familiar doesn’t it.”

I wonder if Jesus would have made a whip out of twizzlers from the chocolate fountain, flipped over tables, sent truffles flying through the air and told us, “Take this chocolate out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a chocolate-market!”

Maybe not; I actually would like to think that Jesus would have grabbed himself a cup of Barb Medeiros’ delicious homemade hot chocolate and chatted with everyone for awhile, but I do think that this story reminds us that what we do matters.  In this story, Jesus makes it clear that he disapproves of the choices being made in the temple.

This is one of my favorite stories, because we see a different side of Jesus.  We are used to seeing a Jesus who teaches, preaches, prays, heals and feeds.  This is a Jesus who is angry; who sees corruption and oppression and is pushing back against it.  This is a Jesus who is not passively standing by, but actively making his displeasure known, knocking tables down and telling people to stop what they are doing.

How, exactly, did we get here?  Let’s back up for a minute.

It is almost time for Passover and people from all over are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival.  When Jesus arrives, he realizes that people have set up a marketplace in the temple; they are selling cattle, sheep and doves and there are moneychangers exchanging currencies.

Why are they doing this?  Well, for starters, people who are traveling to Jerusalem for the festival need a place where they can purchase an animal to sacrifice; it is not always possible for them to travel to Jerusalem with these animals.  And, if you think about it, the temple is a pretty central – and known! – location to do this.  The moneychangers are there to convert foreign currency, so that everyone – no matter where they were traveling from or what kind of currency they were carrying – can purchase make their purchases for the sacrifice.

It is hard to pinpoint, exactly, why Jesus is upset, but it is probably a combination of things.  First of all, these people are likely charging exorbitant rates, both to change the currency and for the animals.  There is a high demand and the temple is the only place to take care of it, so it is kind of like electricity in Texas a few weeks ago – prices go up.  Second of all, Jesus is also not a fan of the fact that this is happening inside the temple, where people were supposed to be worshipping.

This story is an important one; it appears in all four Gospels.  Important to note this morning, however, is that this story appears much earlier in the Gospel of John than it does in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Here is why this is important; in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this story appears towards the end of the Gospels, acting, in many ways, as part of the catalyst for the crucifixion.  These Gospels tell the story as if Jesus calmly entered the scene, peacefully performed all these miracles and taught all these lessons, entered Jerusalem and then lost his temper in the temple.

And that very well may have happened.  However – this story appears in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, long before Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Which leads scholars to believe that these are different stories; that perhaps, this – Jesus storming into the temple and driving everyone out – happened more than once.  Scholars speculate, based on the timing of this story versus the temple story in the Synoptic Gospels, that Jesus’ actions in the temple were not simply a catalyst that led to his arrest, but that they were part of his ministry from the very beginning; that he challenged the institution long before his life was threatened for it.

This story, particularly the placement of it in John’s Gospel, is instrumental in our faith because it reminds us that Jesus refused to stand idly by when he witnessed oppression and injustice.  He pushed back; he made his voice heard and his presence known.  He literally flipped tables over to stop corruption from happening.  He risked everything for the sake of justice and he did not just do this at the end of his life and ministry, he did this from the very beginning.

This is actually a really hard one for me; because sometimes I think it is easier for me to live into the part of the Gospel where Jesus calls me to feed the hungry or heal the sick.  It feels a lot harder and scarier for me to live into this part; to turn over tables when I bear witness to oppression, to speak out against injustice and to hold others accountable to the promises we all make in baptism.  This feels like a much more complicated level to my faith.

And yet, this is as much a part of the Gospel as anything else.  Jesus’ resistance to injustice in order to care for the most vulnerable is part of who we are, who God is calling us to be, who Jesus needs us to be in order to keep the Gospel alive in our world today.

And friends, the world so desperately needs the Gospel, now more than ever.

So like I said, I actually think Jesus would have approved of our chocolate festival.  But I also think Jesus would have sipped his hot chocolate and asked us what our mission is.  I think Jesus would have snacked on a brownie and asked us what we, as a church community are actively doing to try to make this world a more just place.  I think Jesus would have grabbed some treats to fill his chocolate box and reminded us that the Gospel is not simply about words, but about actions – and that our actions should elicit change not only on surface levels, but on systemic levels, as well.

And this is going to look different for each one of us.  Like so many other pieces of our faith, we are all coming from different places.  But I do think this text challenges us to dig deeper into this more complicated level of our faith; to speak out against the injustices and the corruption we witness in the world.  I do think this text dares us to explore a level of activism and push for change, even if it means turning over some tables in the process.

Today is the third Sunday of Lent, a time of repentance as we journey towards the cross, but also a time of reflection.  It is a time to reflect on who we are and who God is calling us to be.  It is time to reflect on who we have the capacity to be and who God needs us to be.  It is a time to push ourselves to say and do things that might move us outside of our comfort zones, but that bring the Gospel to light in our world.  It is a time to experience the heartbreak and the brokenness of crucifixion so that, on Easter morning, resurrection is all the more powerful.

So may we all continue our journey to the cross this Lenten season by looking inwardly at who we are and who God is calling us to be.  May we challenge ourselves and the world around us.  May the Gospel prevail so that love can win.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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