This Is Our Moment

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

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

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

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

This Is Our Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only if we let it.

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

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

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

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

This moment where the Gospel can transform our lives.

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

This is our moment.  God is calling us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, speak; for your servants are listening.

Come on; let’s go.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

Hi friends.

It was hard to preach this morning.

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

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

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

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

Creating Order Out Of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.

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

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

We have to believe that the same is true today.

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

The potential for good.

The potential for love.

The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.

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

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

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

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

The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

Hi friends!  We have finally come to the end of 2020 – we made it!  We did our annual tradition of floating our hopes and sinking our fears.  We left worship packets outside for people to pick up and they could participate at home.

Here is the video of the service and the text of my sermon. Happy New Year!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 27, 2020

Psalm 51

Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

Four years ago, the calendar was such that Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on Sundays.  In the weeks leading up to the end of the year, we spent a lot of time brainstorming about what those Sundays would look like.  We decided that Christmas would be a simple Christmas carol sing in the sanctuary with cinnamon rolls to follow and that New Year’s would be a worship brunch in Fellowship Hall where we would have an interactive worship service while we were eating.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that there was a food element to both of our solutions.

Christmas Day worship was pretty straightforward, but New Year’s provided a bit more of a conundrum.  I wanted to encourage conversation and fellowship, but I also wanted it to be meaningful; it was, after, still our weekly worship service.

And so, on a whim, I decided to integrate a ritual that I had taken part in with my clergy community of practice that year.  We had gathered around a table with a big bowl of water and individual bowls of cranberries and rocks.  We took the rocks and, naming fears that we wanted to let go of, dropped them in the bowl and let them sink to the bottom.  Then we took the cranberries and, naming the hopes that we wanted to hold onto, dropped them in the bowl and let them float to the top.

For worship brunch I put bowls of water on each table with smaller bowls of cranberries and rocks.  We sunk the things we wanted to let go of from the previous year and floated the hopes that we had for the year ahead.  I dropped a candle in each bowl, as a reminder that God’s light shines and guides the journey ahead.

At the end of the service that year, more than one person came up to me and said, “We have to do this again next year!”  For a while I assumed everyone had been talking about the brunch, itself (after all, we do love to eat around here), but as we got closer to New Year’s Worship Brunch the following year, people specifically began to ask about whether or not we were going to float our hopes and sink our fears.

And so, as it goes in a church, a tradition was born.

And nothing – not even a global pandemic – was going to stop us this year from floating our hopes and sinking our fears.

Because, I don’t know about you all, but I’ve got some stuff to sink this year.

But I also have a lot of hope to float.

A few weeks ago, Bruce was running errands and he sent me a picture of a huge display of cranberries and asked if I wanted him to get me some for the altar.  Jodi Durette was putting together our worship packets for everyone, but I wanted to have a nice big display for our livestream.  I texted back, “Nah; I’ll grab them when it gets closer to New Years,” and he joked about not waiting too long because I wouldn’t want hope to sell out” and wouldn’t you know that last week I found myself in a panic because I had gone to a few different stores and there was nary a package in cranberries in sight.

And I mean, it would happen in 2020, right?  That all of the cranberries in Massachusetts would be sold out and I would have no hope to float?

My plan B was to raid the worship packets (which I really did not want to do, because who wants to be the pastor who takes away everyone else’s hope?) but thankfully I finally found a vsmall display of them and I grabbed three bags; which might have been overkill, but, like I said, I have a lot of hope to float this year.

We are going to give you all at home plenty of time to float your hopes and sink your fears in just a moment.  But before we get to that, I do want to, as a community who has gathered for worship today, do this together for a moment.

Together I want to sink the sadness of everything we missed out on this year – the suppers, the community events, the worship services, the fellowship, the Christmas pageant and more.  I want to sink the sadness I feel about not being able to gather, as a church, for the funeral services of David, Sally and Ecky.  I want to sink the emptiness I feel when I walk into our building, knowing that it is supposed to be filled with people.  I want to sink the fear we have all felt this year – fear for our health and safety, but also fear for what they world looks like and what it might look like in the years to come.  I want to sink the frustration I have sometimes felt as I have tried to re-imagine our beloved traditions and it is not as much fun or meaningful or special.  I want to sink the times when we fell short and we were unable to reach everyone.  I want to sink all of the technological snafus and internet outages.  I want to sink the tumultuous political season and the many ways we, as a country, have fallen short this year.  I want to sink everyone’s anxiety, depression, sadness, anger and despondence.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Psalms, Psalm 51.  It is a Psalm of David, a prayer for forgiveness.  The psalmist talks about the guilt-prone nature of humanity and then asks God to cleanse them.  “Purge me with hyssop … wash me … blot out all my iniquities … create in me a clean heart … restore me to the joy of your salvation.”

It is through this cleansing that the psalmist then looks forward with hope: “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

And so now, together as we have let go of the negative things that have been holding us back this year, we too, look forward with hope.

Together, I want to float the hope of gathering in person again this year.  I want to float the hope of being able to baptize and officially welcome into our church family the beautiful babies that were born this year.  I want to float the hope of singing together again, of hearing the choir produce beautiful harmonies that echo throughout the sanctuary.  I want to float the hope of suppers hosted inside Fellowship Hall, with everyone gathered around tables laughing and fellowshipping together.  I want to float the hope that I will, this year, be able to hug each and every one of you.  I want to float the hope that some of the financial tightness that we felt at the end of this year will loosen up a bit as we are able to welcome people into the sanctuary for worship again.  I want to float the hope I have for all of the technological advances we were kind of forced to make this year, but will, ultimately make us stronger and more accessible as a church community.  I want to float the hope that I will, once again, be able to call the children of our congregation to the chancel steps for a children’s sermon.  I want to float the hope that some of the isolation and the anxiety and the fear that we all are feeling right now will slowly start to fade away.  I want to float the hope that, as a congregation, we will have hard, but necessary conversations about racial reconciliation and also what it means to be an inclusive church.  I want to float the hope that we will humble ourselves before the cross and allow God to take the pieces of us that are broken and make us whole again.

Friends, our faith gives us a promise – a promise of resurrection, of reconciliation and of redemption.  Our faith gives us second chances and the reassurance that, even in our darkest moments, God is not finished.  Our faith allows us to cleanse ourselves of what was and look forward to what can be.  Our faith creates space to sink our fears and float our hopes and know that God’s light is shining through it all.

So now I invite you all at home to take a few moments to float your hopes and sink your fears.  Name them outload or meditate on them quietly.  Take a deep breath as the rocks hit the bottom of the bowl and as the cranberries bounce back up to the top.

And then I invite you to light your candle and let God’s light shine within your hopes and your fears.  This is a light that is more powerful than darkness itself, more powerful than a year that knocked us over, but will not keep us down.  As you light this candle, know that God is faithful – and that it is through our faith in God through Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrates two days ago that we are made whole.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.