Living With Hope

Hi friends!

It’s ironic that I talked about my “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” mantra in my sermon this morning because I forgot to put my phone on “do not disturb” for worship and I GOT A PHONE CALL THAT INTERRUPTED THE LIVESTREAM during my sermon.

It’s fine.

I’m fine.

Everything is fine.

So worship does get interrupted for a few seconds during my sermon, but not for long!  Just don’t think it’s your device or connection – all me.

Anyway, I hope you all are well!  It’s funny how, even during covid, things are busy at church right now!  It’s nice to put stuff on the calendar, though.  We’re celebrating the small victories and embracing what we are able to do.

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

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 20, 2020

Philippians 1:21-30

Living With Hope

This week was a big one for our students, parents, teachers and administrators.  For most of them, it marked the official start of school.  After spending the entire summer trying to do the impossible – putting pieces of different puzzles together to create one picture – both physical and virtual doors opened and learning began.

I watched this process unfold largely as an outsider.  I do not have school-aged children and therefore, ultimately, the specific plans of our district did not necessarily affect me.  However, on Friday morning, for posterity sake, I did take “First Day of School” photos.  I put my 5-month-old in a bow, bribed my 3-year-old with Swedish Fish (at 7:30 in the morning) and put them in front of a sign that read:

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
DIGHTON-REHOBOTH
2020-2021

IT’S FINE
I’M FINE
EVERYTHING
IS FINE

Like so many others, this expression – “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” – has become my mantra this year.  It has been my mantra for dealing with the more frivolous things – like when I cut my own hair or put in an online grocery pickup order for pancake syrup and the shopper substituted it for a bottle of syrup made out of rice.  It has been my mantra for dealing with work-related conundrums – like when I yammered on for ten minutes last week before worship without turning on my microphone or wrote a policy for baptisms during covid which states that the parents will pour water over their children instead of me.  It has also been my mantra for dealing with the bigger things – like having a baby during the first wave covid surge in New England.  This mantra has been tested at times – like last week when I heard word that the senior center was burning down and certainly on Friday evening when the news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

It’s fine.  I’m fine.  Everything is fine.  This mantra reminds me that 1. it is okay if every now and then I have to adjust my expectations and 2. big picture, it is going to be okay, even if it is really hard right now.  This mantra has, at times over the past seven months, been a battle cry; a declaration of my refusal to let this pandemic beat me.  It has been a constant affirmation (and there is my star word from last year) that my faith and my faith alone will carry me through the hard times we are experiencing right now; that if I continue to chart the course – to lean into my faith and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – that I will journey safely to the other side of these uncharted waters.

In many ways, this is very similar to what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia.  According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul had traveled to Philippi and founded a church.  The members of this church were predominantly gentile; and Paul loved them very much.  The tone of this letter shows that Paul regarded the Philippians with great affection and deep longing; he had a lot of hope for this church that he had planted.

I know hope is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now, so it is important to point out that hope was not necessarily something that came easy for Paul at the time of writing this letter; in fact, he wrote it from prison.  The Philippians, knowing Paul was in prison, sent a member of their church, a man named Epaphroditus, to bring him gifts.  Epaphroditus became ill when he arrived and, once he recovered, Paul decided Epaphroditus should go back to Philippi.  Paul sent him back with this letter.

One of the main focuses of this letter is that we need to distinguish the things that truly matter from the things that don’t.  I could see where, being in prison, Paul would have the opportunity to reflect on this.  The word “joy” appears five times in this letter and the verbs “rejoice” and “be glad” appear 11 times.  Despite the fact that Paul was living through a hard and arduous season in his own life, he was refusing to let that win; he was determined to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to live in Christ and, as he says in this morning’s scripture, live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Again, I think joy is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now.  And so it is, again, important to think about the fact that Paul’s focus on joy comes from a place of deep pain and sorrow.

And yet he continued to live with hope.

This particular passage has some darker undertones.  He starts off by saying, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  The expression, “living is Christ” is one that does not have a great translation into English, but essentially what Paul is saying is that he does not want to live his life apart from his obligations to Christ.  When he says, “dying is gain” he is insinuating that death might be a better option – that his desire to be with Christ is more than his desire to be in the flesh.

I do think we have to be really careful with this passage, because there is this underlying insinuation of suicidal notions with the statement that Paul would rather be dead and with Christ than alive.  But for me the more important part is the shift where Paul talks about it being more necessary for him to remain in the flesh.  And then he talks about why.  And then he talks about how.

The thing is, Paul is experiencing what, seven months ago, I would have called an unimaginable suffering that most of us would never comprehend in our lifetime.  But this year has just kind of beaten us up in a way that no one ever saw coming.  And so Paul’s words – his suffering – are so much more real to me now.

I would imagine they are to a lot of you who are watching this morning, as well.

But this is not where it ends.  Because as real as Paul’s suffering is to me right now – this makes his faith and his desire to stand in the flesh and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ all the more convicting, as well.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, we not only lost a Supreme Court Justice, but we also lost a champion of equality and an inspiration to so many who believe that a better world is possible.  She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”  These words are so poignant at this moment in our history.  Because we do have to fight for the things we care about; in this moment of chaos in our history, they do not necessarily come easily.

And so we fight.  We fight for hope.  We fight for the Gospel; for the truth that love will always win and that, even in the darkest of moments, light will shine.  We fight for justice to prevail – and for the least of these to be cared for.  We fight for our church to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in the midst of it and to do what God is calling us to do in this moment.  We fight to find ways for our community – our village – to give back and to care for one another.  We fight to keep our faith – and to trust that God will lead us safely to the other side of this pandemic.

And we fight in a way that will lead others to join us.  We fight in a way that is compelling and hospitable and inspiring.  We fight in a way that demonstrates a deep longing and affection for others, like Paul so clearly felt about the Philippians.  We fight in a way that will change people’s lives, that will bring about a better world.

Paul says twe have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; in a manner worthy of the sacrifice that Christ made, of the grace and forgiveness and reconciliation bestowed upon us.  Paul says that this matters; that our lives in the flesh matter and that they have meaning and they give people the kind of hope they need to believe in.

Now more than ever, the way we live our lives matters.  We cannot afford to be silent or complacent.  There is too much at stake.  Our world is in chaos and people are starting to lose hope.

And the thing is – we have hope.  At its core, Christianity is about hope.  At its core, Christianity is about the fact that there is always hope, even when, from the outside, it looks like death, itself, has won.

And so right now we have to show people what it means to believe in this kind hope; this death-defying, life-inspiring hope. Right now, we have to not only proclaim our faith in Christ, but also show people what, exactly, it means.  We have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, showing people that hope is real and it is alive and it is worth holding onto.  We cannot give up – or give in.

And is this fun or easy to amidst a global pandemic and a year that has already taken away so much from us?  Heck no.  But Paul never thought it was going to be easy; in fact, for Paul it was really, really hard.

But he believed it was possible.  And that’s the really cool part.  When faced with imprisonment and the possibility of death, himself, Paul still had hope and he still thought the way he lived his life mattered.

So let us go live our lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, holding onto a hope that will transform our minds, our hearts and our lives.

And may we do so in a way that will lead others to join us.

And then may we all proclaim this hope that will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Rejoice In Stewardship

I kicked off stewardship this morning and someone said to me as they were leaving church, “That was the best stewardship sermon I’ve ever heard, I forgot you were talking about money for awhile!”

Jury’s still out as to whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 😉

I followed the lectionary and it just happened to line up really well with our theme for the year, It Takes A Church In The Village.  I really love the theme this year, because it puts to words what I have been learning about this community for the past 6+ years.  We are a church founded in our community and I am so glad we are finally celebrating that!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 15, 2017

Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice In Stewardship

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

The first time Bruce and I ever visited what would eventually become our home church in Atlanta, a really nice man came running up to us about two minutes after we sat down and introduced himself as the president of the congregation. He then frantically explained that this Sunday happened to be Consecration Sunday, where everyone brings in their pledges for the year, the pastor preaches about the importance of giving and, specifically pledging, and then, as a congregation, they celebrate and bless their pledges for the year ahead.

Basically – an entire service about money.

You can imagine how horrifying it must have been for them to see a young, energetic looking couple walk into the sanctuary for the first time on the one Sunday out of 52 in the entire year where all they do is talk about money.

Luckily for them, Bruce and I had been around the stewardship block a few times in our home churches so we were not scared off by all the money talk. It is an interesting, though, how apologetic pastors get when they start preaching about money. In theory we all know that the church has bills, just like any other business or household, but when you actually start talking about the reality of paying those bills and needing money to pay those bills, people start to get a little squirmy.

Thankfully, that Sunday we visited Pilgrimage for the first time, the pastor got tongue tied and accidentally said something about a man’s teeny weanie in her sermon, which was not at all what she meant to say, but kind of distracted everyone from the fact that she was talking about money.

Hopefully that will not happen here this morning.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, which I explained a few weeks ago was a church Paul knew really well. He founded the church; it was the first church he founded on European soil, and he cared deeply for them.

I thought it was fitting that this passage popped up in the lectionary this week, on a Sunday when I really needed to be talking about stewardship. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”[1] For what it is worth, I do try to talk about money and pledging in a positive light; we give not out of obligation, but with great joy as an expression of our gratitude and thanks for all that God has given us. Paul’s words are actually an enthusiastically chipper way for me to kick off a few weeks about talking about stewardship.

Of course, Paul was not exactly talking about money when he wrote these words. He was addressing a conflict (big surprise). Though it was not clear what, exactly, was going on, there was some sort of conflict between two women, Euodia and Syntyche.

Paul said:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.[2]

Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church. Scholars are unclear about what their dispute was all about, but clearly it was causing problems in the church, because Paul addressed it here in his letter.

This has absolutely nothing to do with money.

And yet, Paul’s sentiment when he talks about how hard it is to actually do the work God calls us to do and how we should rejoice in that work, let go of our worry and give everything to God through prayer has everything to do with the conversation surrounding stewardship at the church.

In his letter, Paul urged the two women in conflict with one another to “be of the same mind,”[3] but he also commissions the people in the church, itself, to encourage and help these women. And he does so, because – and this, to me, is one of the most compelling part of this passage – they “struggled beside [him] in the work of the gospel.”[4]

You know, I always say that the work we do here matters, but rarely do I acknowledge the fact that the work we do here, at the church, is also very hard. It is time consuming, it is spirit consuming and it is financially consuming. When you make a commitment to this church, very often the church (whether it be what God is calling you to do in the church or what the people in the community are calling you to do in the church) requires a lot of you.

And I am not saying we should be martyrs and walk around and tell everyone how hard it is to be a member of the Rehoboth Congregational Church (that would be the worst marketing campaign ever, actually), but I am saying that we need to recognize the fact that sometimes this – being church and doing everything that comes along with that, which includes talking about money and tending to the fiscal responsibilities of our institution – is hard.

It is hard.

But there is also a lot of grace that can be found in it.

The way I see it, we have two options when we talk about money here. We can either get really anxious and uncomfortable. We can stop coming to church until after the bazaar when you know pledge cards are due and I will move on to preaching about something else. We can get frustrated with one another when our projected income is not as high as we want or need it to be. We can hate the process and wonder why the Trustees cannot just figure out the money stuff without bothering the rest of us.

Or we can rejoice in the Lord always.

Again, I will say, rejoice.

We can live out these words of scripture. We can be gentle with one another as we talk about money and pledges and budget. We can speak to one another with the kind of respect and civility that is worthy of the grace given to us by God. We can choose to not worry about the things we cannot control. We can center this process around prayer and give to God our fears and our uncertainties, but also our hopes and our visions. We can keep on doing the work God is calling us to do with confidence that God is walking with us on our journey. We can live into Paul’s call to do what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

That actually sounds like a lot of fun.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice! Stewardship is actually fun! Right?

The theme for our stewardship campaign this year is, “It Takes A Church In The Village,” which is a motif that has been woven throughout our year here at the church. It boldly reminds us that, together, we are stronger than simply the sum of our parts. The work we do here matters, but the work we do here together brings grace to life.

Stewardship packets were mailed out on Thursday afternoon, so you should have either received one yesterday or will tomorrow. If, for some reason, you do not get one, we do have plenty of extra here at the church. Pledge cards need to be filled out and returned to the church, preferably by Sunday, November 5th. This morning I ask you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2018 year, remembering the words of Saint Francis of Assisi said that, “It is in giving that we receive.” I will humbly and (hopefully with some grace) remind you about the fact that we have bills to pay at the church, just as you do at home, and pledges help us estimate how much money we are going to have in the upcoming year to pay those bills and budget accordingly.

And finally, I invite you to join with me as I rejoice; as I rejoice in the resurrecting truth of the Gospel, of a God who walks with me through every step of my journey and of a church that is a village, not only for its people, but also for the people who need it, as well.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

Harrison’s baptism is next week and I hope to, at a some point throughout the service, share my testimony on how this church has been my village as I make this transition into motherhood and ministry. Please come and celebrate with us; Bruce and I want nothing more than our entire village to bear witness to the living waters of baptism as they wash over our son.

And then the following week, October 29th, I will be inviting members of the congregation to share their testimony about how this church has been their village. We will celebrate this church; we will commend to God with great thanksgiving this church in the village.

After church, we will come together as a community. Our annual Trunk or Treat is that Sunday, so Allison and I invite the kids to come to church dressed in their costumes and everyone else – regardless of whether or not you have kids in Church School – to decorate your cars and hand out candy down in the field.

If you do not want to participate in Trunk or Treat, but want to get involved in the church on that Sunday, Rob Johnson is working on organizing a makeover of the island out in front of the church and will need volunteers to help plant some bulbs that will come up in the spring and bring some beautiful colors to the village. Come to church dressed to work that Sunday.

And then the following weekend is the bazaar – which is where our community shines. We will be receiving new members in worship that Sunday. If you are interested in joining the church, please let me know. If you are interested in getting involved in the bazaar in some way, talk to me and I will point you in the right direction.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you. You are the reason that together we are the church in the village.

So let us rejoice in the Lord always!

Again, I will say, Rejoice!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:2-3, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:2, NRSV
[4] Philippians 4:3, NRSV

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

Oh friends – I am not even sure where to begin following Sunday night’s senseless acts of violence in Las Vegas.  We held a prayer service at the church on Monday night and I continue to discern what God is calling me to say this weekend.

Monday morning I posted the following to Facebook:

I am at a loss for words. I went to sleep last night so grateful for the unity we celebrated yesterday on World Communion Sunday, for the opportunity to remind my congregation that around the communion table light shines, love wins and grace comes alive.

And just like that … 50 people are dead in Vegas.

I still believe in the promises I preached yesterday. Maybe even more so now. But our brokenness is real, raw and undeniable right now. There is still so much work that needs to be done.

Vegas, my prayers are worth you.

Here is my sermon from this past weekend.  I think it speaks even more powerfully now.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 1, 2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

On Tuesday evening, Chip and Joanna Gaines announced that this upcoming season of their hit television design show, Fixer Upper, would be the last.

Cue all the tears in the Weaver household.

Those of you who have been around for a while have heard me wax on poetically about Chip and Joanna Gaines from the pulpit before. Back in February, I preached a sermon titled, “Building Something With Purpose,” where I talked about building the church and compared the work we do here to their process of taking houses in dire need of repair and transforming them into beautiful homes. I listed off five things I love about their show, one of them being the way they ground their family in faith.

It is really quite remarkable. In a society where being Christian is not exactly mainstream, Chip and Joanna Gaines have never shied away from speaking publicly about their faith. One of the things that has always impressed me about them is the way they center their lives and their business around God. Their decision to complete this chapter of their journey did not come following any sort of drama, scandal or decline in ratings; rather, they feel they need time to step back, recharge, spend time with their children and see what God is calling them to do next.

I posed my grievances on Facebook following the announcement and one of my clergy colleagues so poignantly commented, “I have even more respect for them for making this decision, though.”

And as much as I enjoy their show, I have to agree.

Despite their success, their loyal fan base and the potential they have for more fame and money through this show, their decision to walk away demonstrates their commitment to remain humble in God’s service to their family and their community. It is admirable (even if it is sad for the rest of us!).

This idea of remaining humble in God’s service comes up in this morning’s scripture reading from Philippians. Paul writes this letter to the church in Philippi from prison. He encourages members of the church to be humble not only in their service, but also in their relationships with one another.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.[1]

Paul says humility does not come from the law, it comes from the Gospel; Jesus demonstrated this kind of humility in his own life.

[Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.[2]

Paul urges the church to be more like Jesus, to imitate this humility in day-to-day life.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[3]

Put the needs of others before your own needs, Paul says. Be the voice of Christ to a world that needs to hear the Good News. Be a servant to the Gospel and believe that God is working through you.

Paul had a history with this church he was writing to in Philippi; it was the first church Paul founded on European soil, he cared deeply for them and the affection was mutual. The Philippians knew Paul had been imprisoned and had been praying for him. They sent a member of their community named Epaphroditus to him with a care package and while Epaphroditus was there, he got sick, so Paul sent him back to Philippi with this letter for the church.[4]

This letter was meant to encourage the Philippians to rejoice and live their lives worthy of the teachings of the Gospel. As in many of Paul’s letters, he encourages the community to let go of the dissension surrounding Jewish laws and really just embrace what it means to live into the grace of the resurrection.

What is so compelling to me about Paul’s letters from prison is that, in the context of where he is in life, he really gets it. He understands the depths of the sacrifices he is asking others to make. Paul recognizes that the faithful road is not always the easy road. Writing from a prison cell, Paul knows what it truly means to lay down your life for the Gospel and, still, he calls his churches to rise up and make this commitment to serve God.

When Paul talks about obedience from prison, he is living out that obedience; he, too, is struggling in his imperfect human condition to maintain his own commitment to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And yet, Paul still thinks it is possible. Paul believes deeply in the transforming power of the Gospel and he invites the church in Philippi to join him on his journey.

Today, this scripture calls us to do them same. It encourages us to rise up to this level of obedience, service and humility. It inspires us to rejoice in the Good News of God’s love and to live our lives worthy of that love; worthy of the sacrifices Jesus made on the cross, worthy of the grace God bestows upon us, even in the moments when we fall short.

This will not always be easy. But in enacting Jesus’ humility and love, we are doing the hard work that is required to make this world a better place.

I have said this before and I will say it again: The way we live our lives matters. I believe the reason so many people are captivated by Chip and Joanna Gaines has less to do with their home décor and more to do with how they live their lives. They unapologetically live out the faith they profess and their rise to fame has not changed where their priorities lie.

Here is the honest truth: In today’s world it is not always easy to do this; to unapologetically live out the faith we profess, remain humble in service to the Gospel and keep our priorities in check. We often engage in arguments that divide, rather than conversations that unite. We pass judgments against others when we should showing compassion and welcoming all people. We sometimes put our own needs before the needs of others. We are not always able to make our faith and our church community our top priority.

And yet reading this text gives us the opportunity to look at the lives we are leading; who we are, but perhaps, more importantly who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. It reminds us to share the Gospel, let go of our own desires and motivations and emulate Jesus in our lives. It boldly calls us to live the kind of life that Jesus led, even in those moments when it is not easy to do so; to be faithful, even when it is hard to hold onto that faith; to share God’s love, even when rhetoric of hate surrounds us. It evokes a spirit of humility within us and challenges us to be humble and practice the words that we preach every single day.

And here’s the thing. We do not need a hit television show in order to make this commitment. We do not need to be imprisoned to make this commitment. This is something we can do in our own lives. We can make a difference in our community. We can change people’s lives.

The last verse in this passage, verse 13 says this:

For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I believe that God is at work in each and every one of us. This is a gift given to us by grace, but it also comes with great responsibility. A responsibility to share the Gospel, to be strong in our faith, to show others what it means to live the way Jesus did and to create the kind of world we want to live in.

So let us, as Christians and as members of this community of faith, live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:3, NRSV
[2] Philippians 2:8, NRSV
[3] Philippians 2:5, NRSV
[4] The Harper Collins Study Bible, pg. 1991-1992