A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Hi friends! It is my tradition on Confirmation Sunday to write a letter to the Confirmation Class for my sermon. This year’s class was amazing and I was so humbled by the authenticity of the statements of faith they turned in.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Pentecost! It is crazy to me to think that last year I didn’t get to preach Pentecost because it was late (first Sunday in June) and I was in the hospital with a new baby! The year went fast …

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Here’s a picture of our altar from Pentecost!  I loved the way it turned out.

Have a safe holiday weekend!

Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21

A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Dear Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric,

I have to be honest – I was not sure how Confirmation was going to go this year.

First of all, I was a little out of practice. Not only did we not have a Confirmation class last year, but I was also fresh off of maternity leave – slightly sleep deprived and not sure how to balance this whole ministry and motherhood thing.

Second of all, the church was in a bit of a transition. Lauren and Jordan had just moved and we were getting ready to vote on a new governance structure. A lot felt like it was up in the air at the church; it was hard to teach about RCC history when I felt like we were, instead, living it out in very real time.

And lastly, the demographic of your class is unlike any one I had ever experienced here before. All four of you live in different towns and attend different high schools; not one of you attends Dighton-Rehoboth High School.

On a small scale, I think your class actually represents a shift happening in the demographic of our church community right now. More and more, instead of just coming here because people live in town and that is what they are supposed to do, people are coming from different towns to intentionally be part of this church and this community. People want to be here! It is an exciting time to be part of the Rehoboth Congregational Church; and I am so grateful, not only that you decided to be part of the confirmation class this year, but also that you are making the commitment to join and become a member of this church.

But that being said, the four of you did not really know one another when we started our time together. So, rather than just jumping in, we started with a covenant. We sat down and brainstormed what we wanted to get out of the year and what we wanted our classes to look like. Here is what the covenant said:

As members of this year’s confirmation class, we promise to create a safe space where we are all welcome and free to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We promise to be active listeners and contribute honest participation with mutual respect for one another. We will joyfully include music and worship into our classes and hope to have fun, maybe learn something and possibly even teach something. We will create a comfortable space, bringing delicious food and fostering fellowship and fun. Laughter will fill our space and love will always win.

I can say with confidence that we did all of these things. We talked, we sang, we laughed and we turned to Google when we were confused. You told stories and taught us about school, pop culture and what is actually cool (versus what we thought was cool). We respected one another, genuinely cared about what was going on in each other’s lives and followed up on things we had talked about in previous months. We had conversations that were relevant to our topics of conversation and also occasionally got sidetracked. I have to admit, that, in achieving the delicious food portion of this covenant, I have a new appreciation for the loaves and fishes story. I realized this year that perhaps God might not always provide by multiplying the loaves, but in having me conveniently schedule class on days when we had a luncheon after church and plenty of leftovers for our evening meal, otherwise one evening dinner might have consisted of meatloaf, potato chips and jello that hadn’t set yet.

Every month, I started off our classes by asking you the same thing: What are three things you’re loving? And while I am sure you are grateful to no longer have to come up with three new things to love every month, I do hope you appreciated and learned something from the practice, itself. It is good to force yourself to think about the things in life you love; it is good to find and see joy, even when things are hard.

Because the world, as imperfect as it is and as hard as it can be to live in it sometimes, is beautiful. There is so much to be thankful for. There is so much to appreciate. There is so much to love.

But I hope you know that it is also okay to say, “You know, it’s been a really hard week, so I’m going to need to go last so I have more time to think of something.” If you remember, the adult mentors groaned as much as, if not more than, you did, when I asked this question. Sometimes I had a hard time coming up with three things and I was the one that ASKED the question! The truth is, life can be hard; you will face challenges along your journeys and you will not always love life.

I wish in confirming you I could protect you from these challenges.

But here’s the thing: This is why you have a church community. This is why you surround yourself with people who love God and love another. This is why you have safe spaces, like our worship, bible studies, committee communities, community events and missions activities, where you can be the most unapologetically authentic version of yourself, no matter how whole or how broken you happen to feel.

Because this church can and will be your spiritual tribe. This church will love you and love you hard through all of the challenges of life. This church will pray for you and share your burdens. This church will show up with meals, prayer shawls and the occasional sing-a-long. This church will laugh with you, cry with you, celebrate with you and share in your sorrows and frustrations.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on “doing church,” and I talked about the fact that church is verb, not a noun. And so today, I invite you to “do church” with us. As of today, you are no longer children of this church; you are members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

And I want that to mean something in your life. I want this church to change your life. I want this church to open your eyes and your minds and your hearts to the Gospel; to world that is just and fair, to a light that shines even in the darkest of places and to a grace that can be uncovered in the most unexpected ways.

And I want this church to be changed by you, as well.

Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric, I was blown away by the work you did in Confirmation this year. I said that I did not know how Confirmation was going to go this year, but the truth is, God did something so much cooler than I ever could have dreamed up myself. I never could have predicted how strong of a community we would create, how easily our conversations would flow and how much we would learn about one another. I truly loved our meetings this year.

Even more than that, it was so much fun to watch each one of you get involved in different ways in the wider church community.

Lexi, you faithfully sang in the choir, week after week, made delicious baked goods for this year’s dessert auction and took charge during last week’s children’s sermon, getting all of our supplies and offering to water and care for the flowers we planted.

Julia, you played your viola in your worship, made the most creative baked goods for the dessert auction and made the guacamole for our taco bar that was so good it was gone by the time I went through the line.

Cassandra, you valiantly balanced cheerleading and confirmation for most of the year. You often came running in to our meetings, still in your uniform and jumped right into the conversation, without missing a beat. You volunteered at the cookie walk at the bazaar and served at our lunches and suppers.

Eric, you surprised us all with how well spoken and poised you are. You led worship at the Easter sunrise service and last week better than most of the pastors I went to seminary with. And you were always up for a challenge, even if that challenge meant paddling a kayak in the rain at 5:30AM on Easter morning.

I could not be more proud of the young adults that you are – and the church members that you have become.

So thank you. Thank you for the community. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for conversations. Thank you for the grace. Thank you for the food. Thank you for sharing the things you are loving. Thank you for making this a year of confirmation I will never forget.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

10 Reasons I’m Happy The Church Was Born

Hello and Happy Belated Memorial Day!  We had a wonderful weekend at the church.  So much to talk about and such little time.  If you follow me on instagram, you know that in the midst of a crazy church weekend, Bruce and I decided to stain the deck at the parsonage.  Bruce also managed to catch his first keeper striped bass of the year, which set him and his friends off on a fishing frenzy, resulting in him catching one of the biggest fish I have ever seen and getting approximately 5 hours of sleep in three days.  I need a holiday weekend to get over the holiday weekend.

Here is my Pentecost sermon!  We worship outdoors on Memorial Day Weekend, so I wasn’t able to do a big Pentecost altarscape or installation at the church, but I did make wands and we baked a cake.  So … there’s that.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21

10 Reasons I’m Happy The Church Was Born

Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the world. Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day when we celebrate the birth of our Church almost 2,000 years ago. Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day when we look around and lift up the ways that the Holy Spirit continues to work within our lives today.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day when Christians all around the world essentially have a worshipful, red-covered, spirit-filled birthday party honoring this Church and this faith that sustains our lives and our communities and gives us hope for a better world.

I was at a 60th birthday party last year and at the party there was a giant board that had 60 slots on it with blank pieces of paper in it. The top of the board said, “60 Reasons We’re Happy [this person] Was Born.” During the party we all took the blank pieces of paper off the board and wrote down why we were happy the birthday boy was born and then read them during dinner. It was a wonderful celebration of his life and his stories and the impact he has had personally on all of our lives.

So I thought it fitting – being the church’s birthday and all – that I make my own list of the reasons why I am glad this church – the Christian Church – was born 2,000 years ago.

So settle in, 2,000 reasons are going to take a while.

(That was a joke.)

1. The Church is a place where the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives today.

The Pentecost story is a story about ordinary people being filled by the Holy Spirit and being moved to do extraordinary things.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them that ability.[1]

This is still happening in our lives today! We may not be speaking in tongues, but every single day the Holy Spirit works within us – all of us – and enables us to do extraordinary things. Are lives are rich, are meaningful and are made whole because of this spirit.

2. The Church is a place that is rich in diverse ideas and opinions. This not only opens my eyes to new things, but also teaches me about the things that I believe in.

From the very beginning, God created us to be unique and diverse people and this is what happened in the Pentecost story. According to scripture, people were filled with the spirit and then all spoke different languages.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.[2]

We celebrate the diversity in the Church then and we should celebrate that same diversity in our Church today. This diversity encourages us to be individuals, but it also teaches us how to be a community without hatred and judgment.

3. The Church is a place with the most incredible community.

Sometimes I wish you all could spend a day in my shoes and see just how caring and compassionate this church community is. The way people care for one another is truly an act of God’s grace.

Think about it: What would our lives be like if we did not have a community that prayed with one another, rejoiced with one another and cried with one another? What would our lives be like if we did not have a community that brought us cards, meals and flowers when we were going through a rough time? What would our lives be like if we did not have a community that is constantly asking, “How can we help you?” What would our lives be like if we did not have a safe and nurturing environment for our children to grow up in? What would our lives be like if we did not have a community full of people who call their pastor at all hours of the day and night because they saw the ambulance at someone’s house?

What would our lives be like if we did not have an amazing Church community that we could share those lives with?

I am grateful that the Church was born because, what would I do without my Church family?

4. The Church is a place where I can be vulnerable.

Having a bad day? Come to church and the Church will not care if you are a hot mess and do not feel like smiling. Need to have a good cry? Come to church and the Church will cry with you. Going through a challenging time in your life? Come to church and the Church will support you. Questioning something in your life? Come to church and the Church will listen to and affirm your questions.

The Church is a place where you can be broken, scared and hopeless and still welcomed, loved and cared for.

5. The Church is a place where I can learn the difference between right and wrong.

We have this incredible book full of ancient scriptures and traditions that teach us the difference between right and wrong. The Church gives us a strong foundation in our lives and – most importantly – the Church gives our children and youth a strong foundation in their lives. The Church is a place where we can learn from past mistakes, where we can learn from our own mistakes. This may not always be easy, but the Church gives us a moral compass that is always pointing towards God.

6. The Church is a place where healing can happen.

I do not know how and I do not know why, but I know that healing happens in this place – physical healing, mental healing, emotional healing and spiritual healing.

The Pentecost story records that Peter said:

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.[3]

We are saved. In this Church, we are blessed children of God and we are saved. Something happens within us when we trust in God’s purpose and when we live our lives surrendering to our faith.

We are saved. We are healed. We are free.

7. The Church is a place where grace and reconciliation is real.

We are part of a Church that came to be because God’s love was so strong that not even death could overcome it. God’s love is still just as strong today and it is working within us and among us to bring light in the midst of darkness and peace where war seems inevitable.

The Church is a place where forgiveness is always possible. The church is a place where even something broken into a million pieces can be made whole again. The church is a place where relationships can be mended, where grace can be assured and where hope is always present.

8. The Church is a place where I can worship freely.

Can we worship God without an organized Church? Absolutely. But the Church gives us a safe place where we can worship and learn, week after week. The Church gives us a little bit of structure that helps us learn and grow and stretches us to worship in new ways. The Church gives us an outlet where we can share our story and where we can hear others share theirs. The Church creates a space where we can sing off key, pray without words, simultaneously laugh and cry and wrestle with challenging and real issues in the company of a supportive and loving community.

9. The church is a place where I can live out a higher purpose.

One of my biggest fears used to be that I would leave this earth without accomplishing what I was put on this earth to do. But the further I get into vocational ministry, the more I realize that as long as I am part of the Church that will never happen.

This morning’s scripture quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

The Church is a place where we can constantly discern what God is calling us to do. The Church is a place that has resources and support that can help us serve our community – and the world – in a new way. The Church is a place where we can all serve together. The church is a place where our lives can have meaning.

10. The church is a place where – no matter where I am on my journey through life – I am home and I am safe and I am loved.

When Bruce and I lived in Atlanta, our church – Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, Georgia – became our home. We were 1,000 miles away from our family and this church became family.

They celebrated our engagement and our marriage. They encouraged me as a student intern, supported me when I was completing a difficult chaplaincy rotation and surprised me with a handmade stole from all of them the day I was ordained. They welcomed Bruce into the choir. We ran together, played softball together, spent Christmas together and we all cried together when it was time for us to move north.

Our journeys through life will take us through many different places and experiences but the one constant in all of it is God’s presence in our lives. The Church is a tangible reminder of that truth.

I, for one, am grateful that the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church so many years ago. It may not be perfect, but it is full of God’s grace in some of the most unexpected ways and places. I am grateful for those who worked so hard to ensure that the Church would still be around for me to be part of and today I challenge all of us to work hard so that it will still around for the generations that will follow us.

As you celebrate Pentecost today I invite you to reflect on the reasons that you are glad the Church was born. Why is the church important to you? How has the church changed your life?

Pentecost blessings, my friends! May you be filled with the Holy Spirit and feel a power greater than anything we could ever understand on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1] Acts 2:2, 4, NRSV
[2] Acts 2:3, NRSV
[3] Acts 2:21, NRSV

God Speaks So That We Understand

Happy Memorial Day Weekend / Pentecost! We worship outside on the Sunday before Memorial Day every year – it was gorgeous out today! A great service.

We have an outdoor worship space down the street from the church that was (correct me if I’m wrong someone!) an Eagle Scout project.

The music was INCREDIBLE this morning!  Aaron had the pump organ, a barbershop quintet sang and one of our college students played taps at the end of the pastoral prayer.  I really didn’t need to preach – we could have just led the spirit move through the music. :)

I can’t seem to get the audio to upload – I think divshare is having issues.  I’ll keep trying – in the meantime, here is the sermon!

Acts 2:1-21

God Speaks So That We Understand

When I was in high school, my church in Connecticut sponsored a refugee family from Bosnia. We met them at the airport, had an apartment furnished and ready for their arrival and provided resources and support to them as they transitioned into life in the United States.

One of the biggest challenges throughout this entire process was the language barrier between the family and the people in our church that were helping them get settled. We did not speak Bosnian and they did not speak English. We brought a translator to the airport with us and when there were important decisions to be made or paperwork to be done, but for the most part we were on our own with English-Bosnian dictionaries, hand gestures and pointing. One afternoon I was at their apartment and I was trying to ask the mother a question. I looked up the word I needed in the dictionary and clumsily talked my way through the pronunciation. As soon as the word was out of my mouth, the mother’s face turned bright red, she nearly spit out her coffee and had to turn away from me laughing.

To this day, I still do not know what I said. But I know that I did not say what I was trying to say – and that whatever I did say was actually highly inappropriate.

Sometimes language complicates situations.

When I worked at the hospital in Atlanta, we faced language barriers every single day. There were translators available to us – both in person, through computer programs and on the phone – but in a pinch we also had to rely on dictionaries, hand gestures and pointing.

This morning we celebrate Pentecost, the “Birthday of the Church” or the celebration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In the ancient Jewish tradition, Pentecost is a festival that celebrates the giving of the law on the Mount of Sinai – its name was derived from the fifty days that separate it from Passover. During the festival after the resurrection, a crowd of about 120 people from various nations throughout the land had gathered and the Holy Spirit descended upon them, filling them with different tongues and causing them to speak in different languages. The languages people spoke were different, but what they said was the same – God is powerful and great and through Jesus Christ we are all redeemed.

While there were a few skeptics who thought everyone was just drunk and babbling, for the most part the people gathered were amazed by what had taken place. How could they all understand what was being said, they wondered. They all spoke different languages and yet in that moment they were united by the message of God’s love and grace.

I have had two Pentecost-like experiences in my life. The first happened the second time I went to Honduras. The last night we were there we worshipped at the mission with hundreds of people and families from Teupasenti and the surrounding villages.

Let me set the scene a little bit: When the “gringos” are in town, worship is always a little bit hectic at the mission. Mission leaders want to make sure everyone is having a meaningful worship experience, so it is common practice to bring translators in during the prayers and sermons so everything is being said back-to-back in both English and Spanish. When some of the most extemporaneous and fast-speaking preachers are behind the pulpit, the pace of the translation happens quickly and exhaustively.

The music, however, is only sung in Spanish – it is just easier that way. This particular worship service closed with a song that – despite its Spanish lyrics – sounded familiar to me. As I listened to the opening cords, I began to separate the language that I did not understand and just hear the music. And then it hit me – the song being sung was a song that we used almost weekly in our Wednesday night praise worship service. I knew the song – we all did. We just knew it in a different language.

I tapped everyone around me on the shoulder and told them that this was a song we knew. And so we all began to sing in English. The eyes of the worship leaders and those in the congregation positively lit up as they realized that we knew the song and the energy in the gazebo exploded as we sang together – some of us in English and some of us in Spanish. Despite the language barriers that had challenged us throughout the entire week, in a moment driven by the Holy Spirit, we were united with one another.

The second time I had a Pentecost-like experience, I was at the closing worship service for my seminary orientation. There were several international students matriculating with my class, so when we got to the point in the service where we were going to say the Lord’s Prayer, the worship leader invited everyone to say it in their native language. He began with “Our Father …” and then the sound of different languages filled the sanctuary as everyone began praying in their familiar language. Dozens of languages – one prayer.
This particular experience is why I tend to laugh every time the “debts vs. trespasses vs. sinners” debate surfaces here and at other churches. In the end I think we should pray both in words and in a language that is most comfortable to us. The goal of unison or group prayer, after all, is never to sound the same – it is to be united in prayer.

We are all different; we all communicate differently. But God speaks to each and every one of us so that we can understand. God speaks to us each and every one of us so that we can understand love, redemption and grace. God speaks to each and every one of us so that we can overcome diversity and find unity.

G. Lee Ramsey, Jr., who is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and a professor of Pastoral Theology and Homiletics at the Memphis Theological Seminary, had the following to say about this text and about what Pentecost means for us today:

The language event at Pentecost causes no divisiveness among the speakers or hearers, though it does stir some initial skepticism. The text states clearly that Jews from all parts of the Middle East are each able to hear in their own native languages. Like a gathered conference of the United Nations, each delegate hears the proceedings in his or her own tongue. What could be a more timely message for twenty-first-century Christians? The Word of God not only transcends cultural barriers, but it arrives in the particular language of each listener. Pentecost verifies Christmas. All wrapped up in human form, God comes to us in our very own bodies; God speaks to us our very own language(s). In an age of increasing pluralism, and the perpetual rubbing of shoulders across lines of nation, race, and class, God offers authentic human communion. Through ordinary human speech, the Holy Spirit establishes unity amid diversity, a fulfilled promise that even the most divided congregations and communities can take to heart. {Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Page 5}

I think that sometimes we assume language can be a barrier put up, preventing people from communicating with one another effectively – but it is not. If we allow language – or even miscommunication – to be a barrier we may be missing out on a different and powerful way to connect with one another and with God. We are missing out on the opportunity to connect through touch, through song, through prayer. We are missing out on the chance to let the Holy Spirit fill our bodies and unite us with the people around us We are missing out on a moment where we can just listen and be present – even if we do not necessarily understand the words being spoken around us.

The celebration of Pentecost is not just a time to remember the birthday of the church and the coming of the Holy Spirit 2,000 years ago. It is a time to celebrate where the church is today and how the Holy Spirit is working through us and around right here, right now. It is a time to celebrate the diversity of who we are as a church and who we are as children of God. It is time not to turn our focus away from the differences that may divide us – but rather a time to turn on our focus on the ways that those differences may, too, unite us.

Pentecost is also a time to remember that God speaks to all of us so that we can understand him. No one is denied the message of God’s love, redemption and grace. God speaks so each and every one of us can understand him – and God speaks in different ways so that as unique and distinctive individuals, we can fully understand it.

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” How is God speaking to you today? What do you hear? What do you see? How do you understand?
May your ears be opened, may your eyes be widened, may your hearts be filled, may your minds be released and may your lives be forever changed as you hear God speak to you.

Amen.