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.

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.

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