My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

Hi friends!

Yesterday was Star Sunday at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  We did this for the first time last year and I think it really started to gain traction this year.  My sermon is part sermon and part star story.  After I preached, I invited three members of the congregation to stand up and share their star stories.  It was wonderful!  I hope next year more people are interested in sharing, as well.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 7, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

My Thoughts On Responsibility & Illuminating Our 2018 Star Words

After hearing my colleagues talk about them for several years, I introduced star words at RCC for the first time last year. Truth be told, more than anything else, I was just excited to get a star word of my very own. I have never been great at resolutions and I thought perhaps this would focus me throughout the year in a way that resolutions always have failed to.

So Star Sunday arrived and I eagerly preached my sermon and then sent around the basket of star words. Having had cut out the stars earlier that week, I knew the different words people were receiving.

Faith
Confidence
Mercy
Determination
Hope
Devotion
Compassion

The list goes on. I could not wait to see what I would pick.

The basket came around to me, I reached in, grabbed my star and …

… responsibility. My star word was, responsibility.

First of all, the irony of the whole scenario was not lost on me. I had literally announced my pregnancy two days earlier, so my initial thought was that perhaps God had a way funnier sense of humor than I ever realized because I certainly would be taking on a huge responsibility in 2017.

Beyond that, though, I kind of thought the word was, no offense to anyone who gets it this year, kind of lame. Being responsible, in and of itself, is not particularly fun most days; why would I want to spend an entire year thinking about it?

But given the fact that I had just preached a sermon saying we could not choose our own star words, I went with it. And what I learned throughout the year is that there are far more layers to this word than I initially thought.

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).

However, I feel like my revelations on responsibility came from a much deeper place than the adulting I was just trying to avoid.

A few weeks into the year, my sister came across a company that makes bracelets and necklaces with custom words on them. She offered to buy me one and asked me what word I wanted engraved on it.

“Responsibility,” I told her.

“That’s weird. Don’t you think it will confuse people?” she asked me.

She had a point.

But in wearing this bracelet almost every day, I was asking God to open my eyes to understand responsibility in a new and deeper way.

First of all, when I put this bracelet back on after a three-month hiatus from wearing it while I was on maternity leave, it kind of took my breath away. Of course, you all knew this was going to happen, but the second Harrison was born, this word overwhelmingly took on a new meaning. Being a mom is, by far, the most responsibility I have ever had. Decisions – even the seemingly small ones – always seem daunting. I cannot count the number of times Bruce and I have looked at one another with the most perplexed looks on our faces until one of us asks the question, “Uhhh, what now?”

To which the other usually replies, “Not a clue.”

But even more than that, I strongly believe God has opened my eyes to my responsibilities as a Christian; as an individual Christian living in this world, as an ordained leader in the church and as the pastor of this church.

As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to proclaim a Gospel that changes lives and is inclusive to all. I believe I need to be unapologetically authentic in my faith and show others that it is possible, through our faith, to create the type of peace that this world so desperately needs. I have realized this year that negative stereotypes about Christians only exist if we allow them to; it is our responsibility to illuminate Christianity through a positive lens.

As a church, I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate an environment where love always wins, light always shines and grace always prevails. We need to open our doors and show hospitality to all people and create opportunities for worship, service and learning that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. We need to focus on our outreach and evangelism efforts and welcome others into our community. We need to be honest, transparent and humble as we tend to the business of our organization, particularly as we implement our new structure this year.

And the reason I mention all of these things is not to pawn my star word off on you; but to point out that I feel like, as a church, we did a lot of these things last year.

Or, at least, we tried to.

And it was only the beginning.

I love the passage we heard from the prophet Isaiah:

Arise! Shine! For your light has come!

The prophet spoke these words as a vision of Jerusalem’s coming exaltation. The nation had just come out of exile; light was dawning and Jerusalem was being drawn into that light. Today, as we read these words, we remember that God’s light is dawning here and we, too, are being drawn into that light.

So let God illuminate your star word this year. If you get a word that you are immediately excited about, shine God’s light onto that word with fervor and enthusiasm. If you get a word that you think is totally and completely lame, shine God’s light onto that word with trust and hope.

Today, we will receive new star words. Like the wise men followed the star to see the Christ child in Bethlehem, we, too, will follow our star words this year. Perhaps we, too, we travel a journey that will change our lives. Perhaps we, too, will see the world in a new light. Perhaps we, too, will find Christ in our midst.

So, arise! Shine! God’s light is here, lighting your star words for the year ahead.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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This Season Is For You

I completely shifted gears this week in terms of my approach to Advent.  I spent the first two weeks talking about the magic and joy of the season and this week I talked about what it means to be in a dark or sad place during this season.  If you are feeling pain or grief this season, please know that this season is just as much for you as it is for those who are experiencing joy.  You do not have to fake happiness or joy to participate in this season of waiting – be who you are, where you are.

If you are in a dark place this year, please leave me a comment or email me and let me know how I can pray for you.

Happy Advent, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 10, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This Season Is For You

The prophet Isaiah says:

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;[1]

Ten years ago, my parents and my sister and I went on a cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean. One of our stops was Pompeii, which, I am sure most of you know, was a Roman town near Naples, Italy, that was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. The city remained frozen in time until it was rediscovered in 1748, largely – and quite miraculously – in tact. Because so much of the city was preserved, these ruins give us a really fascinating window into what everyday life looked like so many years ago.

Now I say, “I am sure most of you know” what Pompeii is, because – confession time – being the stellar history student that I was, I actually had no clue what Pompeii was until I walked onto the site of the ruins and started listening to the tour guide in my ear.

When I made this same confession to Bruce after I returned home from my trip, he looked at me, kind of dumbfounded and said, “Did you not pay attention at all in high school?”

I prefer not to answer that question.

That being said, not knowing what I was going to see before I got there kind of gave me a more pure and authentic impression of the ruins than I think I might have gotten if I had a preconceived notion of what I was looking at ahead of time.

Because I got there and did not automatically assume I was going to see something that was ruined; in fact, when I arrived, all I saw was something beautiful.

And what that experience has taught me over time is that very often beauty can be found in the ruins; there is beauty in something that is broken, something that is falling apart, something that has been covered up and something that is in desperate need of restoration and redemption.

This is the promise of Christmas, though, is it not? Beauty found in a world that is broken; grace found in humanity in need of redemption; light found in the darkness of a humble stable.

The Pompeii ruins tell a story; the story of a civilization from thousands of years ago, but also the story of a hope that is brought to light with the realization that sometimes not all is lost. I learned while wandering through the ruins that resurrection is more than just what happened on that first Easter morning; it is what happens every time God takes something that seems to be completely ruined and gives it new life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-often quoted prophetic book in the New Testament. It is sometimes called “the Gospel of the Old Testament,” because, when read through the lens of Christian theology, the promises found in these prophecies find nearly perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah is one of the most complex books of the bible, however, because it reflects a period of time that spans hundreds of years of Judean history and was likely constructed by more than one author. It is traditionally broken down into three sections: First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55 and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.

The breakdown of these sections is actually really important from a historical perspective. I know, I know, look at me, giving the history lesson. But if we understand the history, we understand the context of what is being said and why.

First Isaiah is dated prior to the Babylonian exile, Second Isaiah takes place while Israel is in exile and Third Isaiah is post-exile. This means that where we comes into the narrative this morning, in the 61st chapter of Isaiah, Isaiah is speaking to Israel immediately following their release from captivity. Here the prophet is speaking, bringing good news to the people of Israel – who have just come out of exile – of their deliverance and glorification.

They had nothing; the people of Israel had been in exile and when they were released, everything was in ruin.

But Isaiah says in this passage that he has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed and to comfort those who mourn. The devastation and ruin of many generations will be restored – the nation will be built up, raised up, repaired.

All is not lost, Isaiah promises. You will be made whole again. There is beauty in the ruins.

Sometimes I think we need to hear these same promises today.

When I was in seminary, I used to think it was so unfair that finals fell during December and the season of Advent. I was supposed to be waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, not writing papers and cramming for exams! How was I supposed to experience the beauty of this magical season when I was stressing over school? I could not wait until I graduated and took my first call and was able to fully live into the joy of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Well, I did graduate; and I did enter my first call; and I had every intention of experiencing the joy, magic and beauty of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

And then my grandmother passed away – on December 19th. Her services were held on December 23rd. After they were over, Bruce and I drove through the night to get back to Rehoboth in time for me to preside over our Christmas Eve services.

My point is this: Yes, Christmas is beautiful, magical and joyful. But life still happens in the midst of it. The hard stuff does not stop being hard just because stores are playing Christmas music.

In fact, sometimes this time of year the hard stuff is even harder.

I think our world sometimes gives off this false impression that we have to be happy throughout the entire Christmas season, but I think it is equally important to remember that Christmas exists not because we are whole, but because we are broken. Jesus was not born into a world that was perfect; Jesus came into a world that desperately needed to be redeemed. 2,000 years ago, grace was shown to a world in need of a savior and I have to believe that the same thing will happen again today.

Advent is a time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child, but also waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that God is with us. It is a time where we can live in the ruins of our lives, believing God will build it back up again. It is a time where we can fully experience any pain or grief we might be feeling, knowing that God’s love is stronger, God’s light is brighter and God’s grace is more powerful.

And guys – living into this season in the midst of the hard stuff is just as beautiful as living into it in the midst of the magic. Just like the ruins in Pompeii, there is real beauty in the mess.

Because that is when the promises Isaiah talks about become real.

We sang Christmas carols at my grandmother’s funeral; because she was a piano player, an accomplished musician and would have loved nothing more. And in those moments, just like Isaiah prophesied, we were given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We joined our voices with the hosts of the heavenly angels, not necessarily because we felt joy, but because we needed to know that God was with us and that we were not forgotten.

Friends, I spent the first two weeks of Advent preaching about the joy and magic of this season, but there is another side to it – grief, pain, sadness – that are just as real and just as worthy of Christmas morning as the joy and magic are. If you are feeling that grief or pain or sadness right now – please know that you are not forgotten. I know this is a really difficult time of year and that sometimes you feel like you have to fake joy in order to be part of this season. But you do not; this season is for you, even in the midst of your grief, pain and sadness, the promise of Emmanuel will still be fulfilled.

This sermon was going to serve as a segue for an invitation to you all to join the Board of Deacons and me next week to release paper wishing lanterns into the dark night sky and let go of some of the burdens you feel from this year.

But then we found out that those lanterns are illegal in Massachusetts.

So we are not going to do that.

Instead, I am going to invite you to let me pray for you this season. If there is something that is on your heart, if you are grieving or if you are in pain, please let me know how I can pray for you. This season is for you. This season – this season of waiting, of hoping, of believing in these promises Isaiah prophesied so many years ago – is for you.

So find beauty in the midst of the ruin. Believe that you will be built up. Trust that Emmanuel is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 61:4

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Finding Hope

Well, if you were wondering how I’m finding the whole balance between motherhood and ministry, the fact that I am here with LAST week’s sermon might give you an indication (insert face palm emoji here).

I preached on the Ten Commandments the week after the Las Vegas shooting.  I think every now and then we need to remind ourselves that we need to hold one another (and ourselves!) accountable for our actions and our faith.  We don’t really like rules in the protestant church (particularly this old congregational ones), but we do need to take responsibility and live our lives worthy of God’s grace.

Here is last week’s sermon.  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Finding Hope

Friends, I am growing weary of the struggle to find adequate words to speak from the pulpit following senseless acts of violence.

I will admit that this weariness has been compounded as of late by devastating earthquakes and frustrating political debates. But 59 people were killed in Las Vegas on Sunday night when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd story of hotel overlooking an outdoor concert.

And that is not okay.

You know, I spent about 15 minutes yesterday googling the official death count. Some places were reporting 58 and some were reporting 59. For some reason I felt the need to make sure my facts were 100% accurate before I got up here to preach today.

And then the thought crossed my mind: Does it really make a difference? 58 or 59, we are still living in a very broken world.

On Monday night, a small group of us gathered in the sanctuary for prayer. We sang together, read the Prayer of Saint Francis out loud, listened to powerful words of scripture and lit candles in the confident hope that even in the darkness of those moments, God’s light would still shine. We had a time of reflection, where we named our fears and our frustrations. We talked about where we go from here, how we can have an impact on this world, how the lives we lead can help to heal our brokenness. Again, I reminded everyone that the work we do here, at the church, matters. We – both as individuals and as a church – can and will make a difference, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those we meet along our journey.

I believe this now more than ever.

I was following a lot of threads on Facebook this week that my clergy colleagues were participating in. They were discussing how to approach this morning’s sermon in light of last weekend’s tragic violence in Las Vegas. Several of them said they were going to preach hope.

Now you know how much I love to preach the resurrecting hope of the Gospel, but y’all I am getting tired. The violence does not seem to stop. To be quite honest, I had a really hard time this week figuring out what I wanted to say this morning.

And then I was singing to Harrison last night, because the kid loves to be sung to. I was singing the song, Beautiful City, from Godspell. It starts:

Out of the ruins and rubble, out of the smoke.
Out of our night of struggle can we see a ray of hope.
One pale thin ray reaching for the day
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

There is something about looking into the eyes of innocent child smiling back at you that makes you want to believe in the kind of hope God gives to us; that makes you want to fight like hell to create that kind of hope around you.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Exodus, which is the second book in the Old Testament that begins the narrative of Moses. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt and were trekking through the wilderness with Moses. When they arrived at Mount Sinai, God summoned Moses to the top of the mountain; when he arrived, God told him to tell the people they were not permitted to go up the mountain themselves, that they should set a perimeter around it and keep it holy.

Moses went down off the mountain and then God spoke to people of Israel, defining the Ten Commandments. These commandments were (and continue to be) a core of ten rules outlining things individuals should and should not do in their lives.

Sometimes, as adults, we are not great with rules. We set and enforce them with our children in order to give them structure and boundaries as they grow up and learn how to live in this world, but when we get older many of us feel as though we do need these same structure and boundaries. We are adults, after all; we know how to live in this world without someone telling us how. We like the flexibility of making our own decisions, setting our own priorities.

One of the statements I hear most often in regards to our church is how much people like the lack of rules. We do not have many – if any – requirements for membership. Members do not have to attend worship a certain number of times, participate in a certain number of events, give a certain amount of money and so on and so forth. We all come to this space, free to make our own choices and decisions about how we want to live out our faith and participate in this community.

And yet there is part of me that always wonders if rules and requirements hold us accountable, if they unite us in a common purpose, if they give us that moral compass so many people feel is gone from our world today, if they create a structure that gives us a space to find that ray of hope and build that beautiful city.

As I was reflecting on this scripture in light of what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, I realized just how important the timing of it is. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the Israelites during the Exodus. They had fled Egypt under Pharaoh’s reign and were wandering in the wilderness, unsure of what their future was going to look like. There were many points along this journey when they were hungry and thirsty, tired and weak. They had moments where they doubted God, were frustrated with one another and grew weary.

And this was the moment when God appeared to the and said, “Here; follow these rules. This is how you should live your life.”

Scripture reminds us that time and time again throughout history, God appears when people are broken and vulnerable and in need of some sort of guidance presence.

And I absolutely believe that in this moment in time, God is appearing to us in our brokenness and our vulnerability and guiding us forward.

But we have to do the work.

Beautiful City continues on with these lyrics:

We may not reach the ending, but we can start
Slowly but truly mending, brick by brick, heart by heart
Now maybe now we start learning how
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can

I believe that when we are faced with adversity in our lives and in the history we are writing, we can either remain in the cycle we are in or we can make a conscious effort to journey forward and find hope.

And I do not know about you, but I want to find hope.

The Ten Commandments remind us that God calls us to live and act a certain way and more and more, I am starting to believe that call starts here, at the church. We might not be able to change what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, but we can change lives in our own community. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can; Yes we can.

This morning, I want to encourage everyone to think seriously about how you can create hope in your own life and in this church. I know we are not big on rules around here, but we need to have accountability. It is not enough to simply profess a belief in God; there has to be more than that. We have to live out our faith. We have to show tangible signs of our commitment to God and to this church.

This means coming to church and getting involved in the community in some way, whether it be through committee work, attending bible study, helping out at missions events, teaching church school, singing in the choir, etc. This means makes a financial commitment to the church so we can sustain our organization. This means familiarizing ourselves with scripture and making prayer a priority in our day-to-day lives. This means encouraging other people in their ministries so, together, we can strengthen and nurture the Body of Christ. This means being the hands and feet and face of Christ to the people we meet along our journey; shining light on the hope we find so that they, too, will believe that they can build a beautiful city.

The work we do here matters.

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but it is true and if last weekend’s carnage in Las Vegas teaches us anything it is that there is still so much work that needs to be done.

I, for one, am grateful for this community of faith, that together we can listen to God’s voice speaking to us; calling us, commanding us to live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us, to find hope even in the darkest of moments and to build a beautiful city.

Yes we can.

Yes we can.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.