How Can We Proclaim The Good News

Good morning! Happy Easter!  I have two sermons to post this morning.  This is from our sunrise service at Redway Plain in Rehoboth.

He is risen, indeed!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Redway Plain
Rehoboth, MA
April 4, 2021

Psalm 118
John 20:1-18

How Can We Proclaim The Good News

About two months ago, at a Deacons meeting, someone said to me, “We aren’t doing a sunrise service in-person this year, are we?”  I paused, thought for a moment and then said, “I am not ready to start planning it; and yet I am not ready to not start planning it, either”.

You see, pandemic-aside, so much about the Easter story is about people showing up – in person, in the flesh – to bear witness to the resurrection.  Mary Magdalene is the first to show up in this story; she comes to the tomb early in the morning and realizes that the stone has been rolled away.  But it does not end there; she runs and grabs Simon Peter and another disciple and tells them what she saw and so they then run to the tomb to see for themselves.  They, eventually, return to their homes, but Mary remains at the tomb where, eventually, she has an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Now we have figured out a lot of ways do church in different ways this year – some ways that have involved no direct contact whatsoever – and so many of them have been so meaningful to us and I am so grateful for them.  They have been my lifeline and the pulse of this community that has continued to beat strong throughout this entire pandemic.

By my goodness, nothing beats being with you all here, in person.

Like I said in my words of welcome, to quote Simon Peter – who later will run to the tomb and bear witness to the fact that it is, indeed, empty and that death was not victorious – “it is good for us to be here.”

It is good for us to be here so that we can stand in one another’s presence, not only bearing witness to the resurrection, but to one another’s faith, as well.

It is good for us to be here so that we can look one another in the eyes and see a tangible sign of the hope that we have been holding onto this whole year; that we are not alone.

It is good for us to be here so that we can finally hear, again, the chorus of our voices joined together as we sing and pray and rejoice in the bold and radical truth that Christ has risen and that love has won.

And it is good for us to be here so that we can figure out how to do this again; so that we can learn what it means to eventually transition our community to both online and in-person.  You see, the Easter story is not just a narrative of resurrection, but also about those who bore witness to the resurrection and how they then proclaimed it.

Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples – these were people living in a very specific place and time in this world and so they had to figure out how to tell that story within the context of their world.

And this is what we have always done; but guess what?  Our world has changed.  It is continuing to change.  And part of our call as Christians – as people of the resurrection – is to tell this story the way the world needs to hear it now.

Yes, this story is about resurrection, but it is also about innovation and tenacity and a faith that moves mountains and believes in the impossible.  It is about not giving up; about sticking it out at the tomb until the Risen Christ shows up.  It is about finding others to help you figure out what is happening.  And it is about then proclaiming to the world, “I have seen the Lord.”

And so here we are this morning – together!  It is so good to be here with you all.  While I am grateful for all of the ways that we have made church work this past year – and I will continue to be grateful for the ways we will be able to connect with people online in the future – it feels right to be here.

To show up, in the flesh, the way that Jesus did.

To name resurrection and to believe that it is real.

And then to go and tell others what we have seen.

I have to be honest, when we had that conversation at the Deacons meeting about the sunrise service, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen on Easter morning.  For someone who is a bit of a control freak when it comes to planning, that felt kind of weird.  But I also felt at peace about it, knowing that part of being faithful, especially during this pandemic, is stepping back and letting God take care of some of the details.

I actually kind of think that is what happened on that first Easter.

So, given the fact that we have had the opportunity – with protocols in place to keep us all as safe as possible – to come together and physically be with one another on this beautiful Easter morning, as we leave this space – this space that feels unfamiliar, and yet so familiar at the same time – I invite you all to figure out with me just how to tell this story right now.  How can we, members and friends of our beloved church in the village, in the year of our Lord 2021, proclaim the Good News of resurrection?

For it is Good News.

Christ is risen, friends!  He is risen, indeed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

A Fresh Start

Hi friends!  We welcomed 27 (!) new members into the church this morning.  During a time of physical distancing, we are humbled and grateful for the way God is continuing to work within our church and community.  What a grace that we have uncovered!

Here is this morning’s sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship.

Peace be with you friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 21, 2021

Psalm 51:1-12

A Fresh Start

Two years ago, I did something that I had not done in well over a decade.

I went to the dentist.

I know.  Not good.

I think part of the problem was, at the beginning of my, let’s call it a, “hiatus”, my life was kind of in transition.  I was in college and therefor moving back and forth between school and home – my dentist was in Connecticut, but I was spending most of my time in Pennsylvania at that point.  Then I moved to Atlanta, which was a permanent residence (we had Georgia license plates and everything), but I was still in school and part of their internal healthcare system and so annual physicals and exams were just not on my radar.  Then Bruce and I spent a very short amount of time in Connecticut before finally moving to Rehoboth.

Now I know that this is the point in the story where I should have found a dentist and made an appointment to see them.

(I also know that we have dentists in the congregation, so really there is no excuse.)

But it just kept slipping my mind.

That is, at first it just kept slipping my mind.

But eventually, it was very much on my mind – because I knew I really needed to go.

And the thing is, the longer I went without making that appointment and just going, the worse I felt about it.  Because I knew the longer I went without going, the worse any potential problems I had were going to be.  I knew the longer I went without going, the scarier it was going to be to walk into that office for the first time.  I knew the longer I went without going, the harder it was going to be to admit to the dentist just how long it had been since I sat in one of those chairs.

The longer I waited, the guiltier I felt.

And truth be told, the only reason I ended up finally making an appointment and going to see the dentist was because I had admitted my dental negligence to Jen Healy, who is our Financial Secretary, and she actually held me accountable to make that first appointment.  She said to me one day, “I am going to text you at noon tomorrow to make sure you’ve done it,” and so at 11:55 the next day I was on the phone making the appointment.

Accountability partners are a good thing – and I will get back to that in a minute.

As strange as this sounds, it felt really good to finally go to the dentist.  It was like I was getting a fresh start.  From that point on, I could do exactly what I was supposed to do – go every six months, be a dutiful dental patient.  And the best part is that my dentist was so gracious towards me; she said, in such a kind and gentle tone, “I know it’s been a long time, but now that you are back, you are going to come back every six months, right?”  And I said, “Yes!” and she said, “Great!” and then we moved on.

It was like a weight had been lifted.

I was doing something wrong.

First I admitted my wrongdoing.

Then I was forgiven.

And finally, I took steps to do better.

This is kind of what happens in prayer.

I was thinking about my experience getting back to the dentist this week as I was looking at the lectionary.  This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Psalms; it is a Psalm of David.  David wrote this when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.  It is a prayer for forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is what is known as an “exilic individual lament.”[1]  A lament is an expression of sorrow or regret.  “Exilic” means that it was written in exile and individual means it was not communal, it was written by one person.

One of the reasons I love this psalm is because it demonstrates a crucial, but simple practice that we all should be doing in our lives.  David uses this psalm as an opportunity to confess his personal sins; to admit the moments in his life where he has fallen short, where he has sinned, where he has made the wrong choice.  David rips off the band aid and puts it all out on the table.

And then David asks God for forgiveness, knowing and affirming that God’s love is steadfast, that God’s mercy is abundant.  David is able to boldly admit his brokenness because he knows that God is ready and waiting to make him whole again.

And the same is true for us, today.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David writes, “and put a new and right spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”[2]

It must have felt like a weight had been lifted for David when he wrote these words, as if he was getting a fresh start.

And here is the Good News that brings us new life:  We can get this fresh start every single day of our lives.

We just have to ask for it.

We just have to ask for it.  We have to, like David demonstrates here, admit our shortcomings to God.  We have to shed light on our brokenness, without shame or embarrassment.  We have to seek reconciliation in real time, knowing that God is waiting for us, believing that God’s love is more powerful than our mistakes, more forgiving than our sins and more hopeful than the hopelessness we often feel as we try desperately to bury our imperfections.

If it has been a while since you have had a conversation with God and admitted the things that you have done wrong and asked for forgiveness, I would strongly encourage you to have that conversation and have it soon.  Humble yourself before the cross and admit your shortcomings.  Remember what David says in this Psalm – he says that God’s love is steadfast and that God’s mercy is abundant.  God is ready to hear you confess your sins.  God is ready to shine light upon those sins in order to help you heal from them.  God is ready to give you that fresh start so that you, like David, can hear joy and gladness.

I think we all have things in our lives that weigh us down.  Some things are bigger and more serious than others, but I think it is important to remember that nothing is too big or too small to receive the grace and mercy of God’s love and forgiveness.  Part of our call, as Christians, is to believe the resurrection not only happened in Christ, but that it happens in us; that God is constantly working on us, through us and within us.  We have to believe that reconciliation did not just happen when the blood of Christ was shed, but that it continues to happen in our lives today.

The season of Lent is a season of repentance where, at the end of 40 days, we experience resurrection.  But as people of faith, we do not have to wait for Lent to come around every year in order to repent; we can pray to God – directly to God – and seek forgiveness every single day of our lives.  We can admit the things that are getting worse, harder and scarier the longer we bury them.  We can be restored with a clean heart, ready to do the work that God is calling us to do.

The work that God needs us to do.

So I would encourage you today to have a conversation with God – an open, honest and humble conversation.  Tell God about the moments where you have fallen short and where you have made mistakes.  Be truthful about how you are feeling in sharing this and how you are hoping to move forward.  Talk about your stumbling blocks and ask God to help you move them.  Know that this is your fresh start – and that it can be, every single day.

And this does not have to be a really formal thing, either, it just needs to be a conversation; a conversation with God where you just talk about what is on your heart, the things you have been afraid to admit, but know you should.

A weight will be lifted.  This will be our fresh start.  We will be able to do better.

And really quickly – back to the thing about accountability partners.  As people of faith, we are called to hold one another accountable.  And the thing is, we do not have to know the specifics of one another’s sins and shortcomings in order to hold each other accountable to confess them to God and seek reconciliation.

So use one another; hold one another accountable.  You do not have to share your deepest and darkest secrets with our entire church family, but we can all make sure that we are sharing them with God.

Today we are welcoming new members into our church family.  Part of being in community – being a member of a local church – is pledging to support one another along our journeys of faith.  Today we make this pledge to our new members and they make this pledge to us – this pledge to not only serve God and our church, but one another, in love, friendship and faith.  As members of this church, we know that faith does not happen in a vacuum and we are ready to stand together and help one another along our journeys.

Friends, in so many ways, a fresh start is happening right now.  Resurrection is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha © 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Page 819
[2] Psalm 51:10, 12, NRSV

Named, Claimed and Changed

Hi friends!

I am a few weeks behind in posting sermons here, I had an issue getting into my blog last week.  I will get caught up sometime this week!

In the meantime, here is this morning’s sermon and the video from worship.

Peace be with you. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 28, 2021

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Named, Claimed and Changed

Last Sunday, after worship, I logged onto a New Members Zoom Coffee Chat.  It was amazing; we have over 20 people interested in joining our church right now.  Dan Cogar said it best afterwards in our Deacons group text: “Still can’t get over the fact that during a time where churches, businesses, organizations etc. are justifiably struggling, we have the biggest group of potential new members that I can remember since we joined.”

God is good, friends.  Even though it is hard right now, God is still good.

It is weird, though, how we are currently living in this in-between time.  The crisis is not over, and yet we do see a light at the end of the tunnel.  We are still very much nurturing and putting our energy towards worship and programs that are either online or in some sort of drive-thru, socially-distanced format and yet we are starting to think about – and plan for – what it is going to look like when we re-gather in person again.  Yes, we have settled into what we are doing right now, but I do have a feeling that, similarly to the way things shut down last march, we are going to quickly find ourselves in a position where we can (with proper planning and protocols in place) gather in person again.

And so it is fun to celebrate what we are doing now and what we have done throughout this time of covid, but also to think about the things that we so desperately miss and look forward to getting back to them.

During our conversation at the New Members Zoom Coffee Chat, Jodi Durette talked about one of the things that she is most looking forward to when we get back to in-person and that is the children’s sermon.  And the thing is, I do not know what they are going to look like at first, obviously covid has changed a lot about how we gather children together to learn (we know this from watching the challenges schools have faced this year), but there was something about reading this scripture and reflecting on it throughout the week that made me long to be in worship in person with you all and call the children to gather around me up front and talk about this story in the bible.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Genesis; we were here last week when we were talking about Noah’s Ark and we have moved ahead a little bit in the narrative to the story of Abraham and Sarah.

I do not know about the rest of you, but I think that there are few stories in the bible that have catchier or livelier songs from our childhood Vacation Bible School days to go with them.

Who remembers the song?  Father Abraham, had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham.  I am one of them, and so are you; so let’s all praise the Lord!  And then, of course, there is a dance; right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around, sit down.

I have always loved preaching on the Abraham and Sarah narrative because it just lends itself to a really fun and boisterous children’s sermon where we sing and dance and then the kids run down to Church School while the adults spend the rest of the day with that song stuck in their head.

The story of Abraham and Sarah is another story about a covenant; a covenant that God made with Abraham, but also one that was intended to be passed throughout the generations.  In other words, similar to the covenant God made with Noah, this covenant God is making, here in this morning’s scripture, with Abraham, is one God also makes with us, today.

God says to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NRSV)

And while this covenant does not have nearly the beautiful imagery that the Noahic Covenant has (that rainbow was really something last week!), there is something really special about this covenant that I think actually makes it stand apart.

Before we go on, let, us really quickly, review the story of Abraham and Sarah.  We are first introduced to Abraham in the 11th chapter of Genesis; his father’s name was Terah and he was a descendent in the line of Noah.  Abram was married to a woman named Sarai; before we even get to this point in the story, there is actually a pretty long narrative detailing Abram and Sarai’s time in Egypt, where they fled when there was a famine in their own land.  We learn in this narrative that Sarai was barren and that she told Abram to conceive a child with their slave, Hagar; he did this, the slave bore a child, whose name was Ishmael.

While it would take much longer than the amount of time y’all want to sit in front of your devices and listen to me talk to go over the entire story of Abram and Sarai in detail, I do think it is important to point out that there is a lot of history with them leading up to this moment where God makes a covenant with them; they walked through some valleys before arriving at this point (and, of course – spoiler alert! – there are still challenging times ahead).

And yet, this is when God shows up and names them and claims them as God’s children.

No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful. (Genesis 17:5-6)

‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her. (Genesis 17:15-16)

There are two parts os this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful.

First of all, God calls them by name:

Your name shall be Abraham. (Genesis 17:5, NRSV)

Sarah shall be her name. (Genesis 17:15, NRSV)

Remember that, like the Noahic Covenant, this covenant is not just one that was made with Abraham, it is a covenant made with us, as well.  When God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations,” this means that these words are as much for as, as they were for Abraham.

Which means when God calls Abraham and Sarah by name and claims them as God’s own children, God is doing the same for us.  God is calling us by name.  God is claiming us as God’s own children.  I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: Even though we are walking through some dark moments right now, God has not abandoned us.  God is calling us by name, claiming us as children.  God is calling us by name, upholding a covenant made thousands of years ago with us, today.  God is calling us by name, calling us to proclaim God’s message of light, love and grace to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Beloved, know that God is calling you by name; God is claiming you as a child.  You are loved, you are cherished and you are worthy of this call.

This is what is promised to us in this covenant.

The second part of this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful is the fact that Abraham and Sarah were changed as a result of this covenant.  God said, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham … as for Sarai your wife … Sarah shall be her name.”  This covenant was so powerful and transformative and life-changing that they took on new names to live into it.

This is what it means to believe in God and follow God – to let your lives be changed, truly and powerfully changed, by God.  To make a commitment that is so strong and so resilient that you are willing to be changed, to give up part of your life that might be comfortable and easy and take on something that you might not yet know or understand.

How many of us are willing to make that commitment?

As I was reflecting on our gathering of new members on Zoom last week, one of things that really stood out to me was (and is) the way we were kind of forced to strip away a lot of the stuff that we thought was the fun and meaningful part of church – we cannot physically be together, watch the carnage unfold during the children’s sermon, eat together, sing together, enjoy activities together and so on, and so forth.  And yet, I think, in some ways (certainly not all), we have been changed for the better throughout this time.  Our faith is stronger.  Our relationship with God is more personal.

But the thing is, when we took away “the fun stuff,” we were left with the most basic, but foundational elements of our faith – we were left with scripture and prayer.

What a gift it has been for us to quiet the noise of the rest of it and to see and hear and know that God is naming us and claiming us.

And changing us.

Like I said last week, the season of Lent is a time of repentance; it is a time when we journey to the cross and remember the part of the story that grounds our faith in hope and resurrection.  It is a time where many of us give things up or take things on with the intended purpose of trying to draw closer to God.

One of the things I have been doing during Lent (although, full disclosure, I did start a few weeks ago) is to go through each room in my house and pay attention to the different spaces throughout the rooms.  I have been slowly clearing out clutter and putting together systems of organization that are simple and easy for young families to maintain.  The reason I started is because I felt like there was a lot of noise in my life (and not just the audible kind that a 3.5 year old and a 10 month old bring).  I am trying to try to quiet some of that noise and create a calmer space where there is room for God.

Where I can see and hear and know that God is naming me and claiming me.

And changing me.

It is my hope and my prayer that you are finding something this Lenten season – that is not too overwhelming nearly a year into a pandemic (remember to be gentle on yourself!) – that will help you create a space where there is room for God, where you can see and hear and know that God is naming you and claiming you and changing you.

So – this covenant does not come with a beautiful rainbow; but I think we have something just as special, just as powerful and just as promising.

Remember that Abram and Sarai walked through some valleys before arriving at a point where God showed up and named them and claimed them as God’s children.

May God do the same for us in this moment as we continue to walk through the valley of this season of life.

Friends, hear this Good News: You are a child of God.  God wants to be in relationship with you.  God want to name you and claim you and change you.  God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years ago and this promise has remained steadfast.  Nothing can, nothing will, break its bounds.  This is who we are, pandemic or not.

We are children of God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.