What Will People See?

Hi Friends!

I ventured into the Old Testament for this morning’s sermon when I saw Psalm 67 in the lectionary.  What beautiful words from the Aaronic blessing in this psalm! Here is my sermon, as well as the video of our worship service in its entirety. Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 16, 2020

Psalm 67

What Will People See?

I thought we would take a break from the New Testament this week and spend a little bit of time flexing our Old Testament muscles.  We have spent the past couple of weeks in the lectionary, toggling back and forth between the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s Letter to the Romans, neither of which felt particularly inspiring to me when I looked at this week’s passages, so I decided to look and see what the Old Testament offerings were.

Which is how I found myself in the Book of Psalms.  I do not usually preach out of Psalms – sometimes I will use them as a secondary text, but they always seem to kind of preach themselves, I never feel like I have much more to add.  But for some reason I was compelled to look at the Psalm this week, Psalm 67 – most likely a little divine nudge.  And I did not even make it past the first verse when I just stopped and exhaled.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

If ever there was a time to pray that God would be gracious to us and bless us and shine his face upon us, that time is now.

There is a lot happening in our lives right now.  COVID-19 has effectively turned our world upside down.  Trying to reopen schools is proving to be complicated and stressful.  We are gearing up for a presidential election that we know is going to be contentious and ugly.  The harsh reality of systemic racism in our country, while understood more now than it once was, still has not been resolved.

And this is just the stuff we are all collectively dealing with.  I know on personal levels people are dealing with their own stress and conflict and trauma and grief.  People are awaiting test results, facing difficult diagnoses and experiencing loss.  People have lost jobs and businesses.  People are making decisions where there are no good choices.  Tensions are high.  And while we know we are supposed to love one another, the truth is we are snapping at people – or firing back comments on social media – a little quicker than we used to.

Life is not easy right now – in a way that it never has been before.

And while I do believe that we will get through this – and that, like I said last week, Jesus is guiding us through this storm – reading this psalm was also a really good reminder for me that God is being gracious to us and blessing us and making his face shine upon us in the midst of these hard times.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs that were composed throughout Israel’s history.  Many of them are attributed to King David.  They vary in length and style and purpose.  There are psalms of laments and thanksgiving; some psalms make petitions and others offer reassurance.

This psalm, Psalm 67, is a psalm of thanksgiving – a call to praise God, even in the midst of hard times.  And the powerful thing about these words is that they were written 3,000 years ago; they have stood the test of time.  Our world – our chaos, the mess that we are in right now – is not going to bring them down.  They are still just as true – and as real and as attainable – as they were the psalmist first spoke them.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

This particular psalm – Psalm 67 – includes this Aaronic Blessing, referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses.  Back in the Book of Numbers, which is the fourth book in the Old Testament, following the narrative of Moses, God speaks to Moses and tells him to tell Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites.  The blessing God tells them to bestow upon the Israelites is the following from Numbers 6:24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

This passage, of course, is referenced in today’s psalm in verse one, which says:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

The literal translation of this means, “May God look at us,” or, “May God smile at us,” or, “May God show favor on us.”  When the psalmist continues to talk about judgement on people and guiding the nations in verse four, they are saying that, despite the tension in the world, God will show favor on people and protect them.

On the one hand, these words actually bring me a lot of comfort right now.  And I do believe they are meant to reassure us; that, in the midst of the chaos of the world, God’s face is shining a light upon us.

On the other hand, I also believe these words are meant to challenge us.  Because when that light is shining upon us, we have to wonder what it will illuminate.

Now, more than ever, we must ask ourselves this question:  When God’s light is shining upon us, what will people see?

When God’s light is shining upon us, will people see love, acceptance, compassion and kindness?  Will they see groups of people trying to talk through their differences with grace and in a spirit of friendship?  Will they see us, as a human race, serving the marginalized, embracing diversity and helping the least of these?

Or, when God’s light is shining upon us, will people see hatred and hostility?  Will they see name-calling and opposition?  Will they see emails, texts or comments on social media that, perhaps, were sent too soon?  Will they see ugly division and harmful discrimination?  Will they see us, as a human race, tearing one another down?

In this moment of chaos and confusion, when God’s light shines upon us, what will people see?

I do think, to some extent, this pandemic has brought out the best in people and also the worst in people.  On the one hand, there are many days when I log onto our nightly prayers and I hear stories about people who have sent cards, dropped off meals and made phone calls people both inside and outside our community.  Our mask-makers deployed back in March and donated thousands of masks when they were needed most.  I see the way you all, as a church family, are holding one another in prayer – not only saying you are praying for one another, but by really praying in an on-your-knees and storm-the-heavens kind of way.

But on the other hand, I have also seen moments where the light God shines upon us perhaps reveals a side that is not as compassionate or kind or caring.  A side that is mean and oppressive.  A side that shows disregard for the good of others.  A side that uses the Gospel as a weapon of hatred instead of a bridge towards peace.

And I understand that this is hard and that everyone is doing the best they can, but sometimes I just think we can do better.  I would hate for others to see the light of God shining upon us right now and for it to reveal anything less than the love and grace that is found when you put your hope in Christ’s resurrection.

This is going to sound so cliché, but we are living in unprecedented times.  But here is the oddly comforting thing about scripture’s role in all of this – this is nothing new.  Chaos and confusion and tension are nothing new to this psalm – to the world is was written to or the worlds who have leaned on it for over 3,000 years.  The world was turned upside then and yet there was this promise that God would continue to bless the people of Israel.  And so, even though our world is turned upside down today I do believe that God will continue to shine God’s light upon us and bless us.

But this is our charge.

When that light shines upon us, grace needs to be revealed.  Kindness needs to be revealed. Compassion needs to be revealed.  Justice needs to be revealed.  Friendship needs to be revealed.  Love needs to be revealed.

The Gospel needs to be revealed.

Friends, our world has been turned upside down.  But God is still shining light upon us and blessing us.

What will people see when that happens?

So – when that light shines upon us, may it reveal the Gospel we are called to proclaim, the Church we are called to be and individuals in the Body of Christ that God is looking upon with favor.

We can do this.  Love wins, remember?

To paraphrase verse 1:

May God give us grace and blessings and look at us and smile.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Sharing The Good News

I preached this sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. Gregory Gray as the pastor of the Thompson Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.  I was so honored he asked me to preach!  It kind of felt like a full-circle moment, because I preached at his husband Jon’s installation in 2013 – at the time, Greg was still in Georgia!  It’s crazy to look back at how far we – and our churches! – have come since them.

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Sarah Weaver
Thompson Congregational Church
Thompson, CT
September 16, 2018

Psalm 9
Isaiah 61:1-4
Romans 10:5-15
Luke 4:14-21

Sharing This Good News

I hope the prophet Isaiah will forgive me, but I felt compelled to paraphrase his words, just a bit …

The Holy Spirit has come upon me,
because the Rev. Dr. Greg Gray has asked me to preach at his installation;
he has called me to preach the Gospel to everyone who has gathered here today,
to encourage those in this congregation, wherever they are on their journey through life,
to proclaim an official end to the transition time between settled pastors,
and to tell the church that something really amazing is happening in their midst;
to proclaim a time of new beginnings
a celebration of the conclusion of one chapter;
and the beginning of a new one;
to reassure you that this new chapter is full of great possibilities, grace that is still yet to be uncovered and hope that surpasses all understanding—
to give you courage in the face of adversity,
joy and gratefulness instead of fear and frustration,
a bold voice of praise and thanksgiving instead of a trepid heart.
They will be called Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ,
the church called to show this community what it means to love God will all your hearts, soul, mind and strength; as well to love your neighbors just as much. And also what it means to teach this love to others creating new disciples.
They shall continue their efforts to re-build after the fire,
they shall repair not only the physical space, but the spiritual space, as well;
they shall repair the building that has been damaged,
but hold fast to the truth that their community is and will be strengthened and lifted up by God and God alone; for they are the Church, the Body of Christ, Thompson Congregational, United Church of Christ.

Friends, allow me to introduce myself – I am the Rev. Sarah Weaver; I am the pastor of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Rehoboth, MA.  I bring greetings and congratulations from my congregation, who – seven years later – still remembers what it feels like to take a giant exhale when the search process and transition between settled pastors was finally over.

So let’s start off by taking that big exhale, shall we?

It is an honor and a privilege and a joy to be here with you all this afternoon.  Greg, I never shared this with you, but I was truly touched that you asked me to preach today; that you trusted me with this moment, what I know is an important moment for you all, as a church.  So thank you, Greg, thank you, Thompson Congregational Church and thank you to the Windham Association for welcoming me here today.

“Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come. It is the thing that gives us the courage to keep going forward.”

I am quoting two of your own members from a video called “Advent Hope” that was posted on your church Facebook page last December.  Greg opened the video with images from during and immediately following the devastating fire you experienced in 2016, but then, in a bold testament to the strength and perseverance of this church, said these powerful words:

“But we still find hope here.”

You were asked to answer the question, “What does hope mean to you?” and I was so touched by those two responses, “Hope is the belief in the good that is yet to come” and, “Hope is the thing that gives us the courage keep going forward,” because they showed me that, even in times of uncertainty, you know that God is still calling you to journey forward. Thompson Congregational Church, you havethat hope that surpasses all understanding; hope that your story is not over yet, hope that you will rebuild, hope that your church will not only survive, but thrive in the days and weeks and months and years to come, generation after generation.

Our Gospel reading comes to us from the Gospel of Luke, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  He began his ministry by reading the same words that we just heard read from the Prophet Isaiah.  What I love about looking at these two passages next to one another is that it reminds us – it reassures us – that these prophesies were not a one-time thing; that they can still be fulfilled today.  These words were just as relevant to those that Jesus spoke to as the ones Isaiah was prophesying to.

And they are just as relevant to us here today.

You, Thompson Congregational Church, are being given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning. Installing Greg as your settled pastor will affirm what God has known to be true all along; that the hope you spoke about in last year’s Advent video is alive and not only inspiring you to rebuild, but also to continue to proclaim the Good News.

Because here is the really cool thing about you guys – you did not let a fire stop you from being the Church.

When Greg first asked me to preach today, I told him that I really wanted to come out and visit at some point so I could get to know you all before today.  But, life happened – and, of course, it is hard for pastors to be with other churches on Sunday mornings – and I never got to come out.  So this past week, I have been trying to get to know you virtually.  I clicked through your website and Facebook page and various articles that came up in a google search.  I looked through pictures and watched videos; and I was inspired by what I saw.

You see, I kind of expected to see more about the fire; about how the church was affected and what is going to happen next. But do you know what I saw instead?

A church that blesses backpacks that are going to be donated to the local schools, first responders in the community and animals, both small and large.

A church that is committed to making a stand against bullying, participating in anti-bullying rallies and offering support to children and youth in the community.

A church that reaches out to individuals and families who have been impacted by addiction through the Holbrook Fund.

A church that collaborates with civic organizations and the local recreation department to host events that are fun for people of all ages.  A church that knows that the true depth of their strength does not come from what happens inside their walls, but outside in the community.

A church that believes in the power of singing together and praying together and eating together.

Thompson Congregational Church, even in the face of adversity, you have continued to look outward.  You have continued to respond to Christ’s call to love God and then love others.  You have continued to proclaim the Good News of God’s love, light and grace and, as Paul wrote to the church in Roman, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

And there are beautiful, beautiful feet in this congregation.

Which brings me to my next point.

Paul told the church in Rome that people will not hear the Good News without someone proclaiming it to them.  And this is a charge that we all need to take seriously today.  Christianity is an experiential and a shared religion; 2,000 years ago, the only reason people knew that Christ had risen was because the women who experienced the Risen Christ went and told other people about it.

And that piece of our faith – the piece where we tell others what we have experienced and how our faith (and, specifically, our church) has changed our lives – is more important now than it ever has been.

Paul said that, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved.”  Thompson Congregational Church, there is an amazing story that is being written here; a story of hope, a story of resurrection and a story of new possibilities. You need to confess that story with your lips; you need to tell your family and your friends, your neighbors and your coworkers.  You need to tell the people that you know and the strangers that you have just met.

You have to tell people about the ways that God has worked within this church and the ways that God is still working within this church; the ways that God has kept hope alive in this church, the ways that the God that you put your faith and trust in has never left your side.  Display the glory of God, like Isaiah prophesied. Bring this Good News to your community; invite people into your story; pray that their lives might be changed, too.

Greg, I have two gifts for you this morning. The first is a framed print of that passage from Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Because I think this passage is going to define a lot of what you all do here at Thompson Congregational Church.

And I am not just talking about your shoe collection, either.

Because of devastating circumstances, you all understand that a church is more than its building; you all understand what it means to be church and to do church out in the community.  You know that it takes collaboration, creativity, patience.  You believe that it is the hard work you do, but also the grace God gives that enables you to make a difference.  You all are ready to march, dance, stroll, crawl and skip out into the community and bring the Good News.

And I, for one, cannot wait to see how the community will be changed.

The second gift I have for you this morning comes from a stained glass artist in Chepachet, Rhode Island.  You see, one of the things I have always been drawn to is the sun rising behind the church in your logo.  Because it reminds me that, even in the darkest part of night, the sun will always rise again.

As Christians, we hold fast to the truth that, even in the darkest moments of our lives, the Son – S-O-N – will always rise again.  The Good News that he preached, that he lived out and that he called us into will rise up above all else.

This is the Good News, friends.  This is the Good News.

And it is time to share it with the world.

Congratulations, Thompson Congregational Church.  Continue the work that has already started.  Hold onto that hope you spoke so poignantly of last year.  May your ashes be turn into garland; your mourning into gladness; your faint spirit into a mantle of praise.

And may your feet be beautiful as they are called to bring the Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

So That The World Might Be Saved

I’m behind in posting my sermons!  I know, I know.  Here is my sermon from Memorial Day Weekend.  I was totally bummed – we were supposed to worship outdoors (RCC tradition) and they were calling for rain to start at 10AM so we moved it inside. But then IT DIDN’T RAIN. Oh well. Next year.

Here’s my sermon – I preached on John 3:16 – well, I suppose I preached on John 3:17 – ha!  You’ll se what I mean.

Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 27, 2018

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8
John 3:1-17

So That The World Might Be Saved

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

On January 8, 2009, Tim Tebow painted John 3:16 under his eyes in the college football national championship game. That day, John 3:16 was googled 94 million times. Three years later, donning the same scripture under his eyes, he threw a game-winning touchdown pass in an NFL playoff game and led the Broncos to an upset victory over the Steelers. That night, John 3:16 was googled 90 million times.

Suffice is to say, most people know what John 3:16 is. And even if someone does not know exactly what John 3:16 says or means, they know it is kind of an important scripture for Christians.

When I was in college, I was taking an introduction to Christianity class. At the beginning of the semester, my professor had us read the Gospel of Mark. In class the following week, he asked us what the overall theme of the book of was. Someone raised their hand and said that people have to profess their faith and salvation in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. My professor asked where it said that in our reading. The student replied, “John 3:16.” Without skipping a beat, my professor looked at him and said, “But we’re not talking about John, we’re talking about Mark.”

The room went silent.

It is worth mentioning that my professor was a Jewish man who wrote his dissertation on the Protestant Reformation. I do not think he shared the same views on salvation as this particular student.

But it was at that moment that I realized just how complicated this scripture – and people’s understanding of and relationship with it – is. It seems simple enough, right? Believe in Christ – be saved.

Truthfully, this scripture has always perplexed me. It is beautiful; it reads like poetry. It sums up the heart of the heart of the Gospel message – that we obtain salvation through Christ – in a simple and concise way and I am grateful that 184 million people had the opportunity to read it because of a football game because I want people to know that their faith journey can begin by making a decision to follow Christ.

But I still think there is more.

Here is my one hang up with this passage. It leaves out a huge part of the story. If you read this passage by itself, it seems like it is only about personal salvation; that the Christian faith is just about us and our relationship with God and it has nothing to do with helping the people around us. If we go by this passage, this one verse, John 3:16, all we have to do is proclaim a belief in Jesus Christ; we do not have to feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the poor and reach out to the marginalized.

You know, the things Jesus talked about and did.

Here’s the thing about John 3:16 – everybody knows it and loves it, so very rarely do we keep reading after we get to it, because we do not really have a reason to. But we should! Because what I think is the most important part of this whole passage comes immediately after it.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

But in order that the world might be saved through him.

I think the Christian faith is about more than just individual and personal salvation. The Christian faith is about looking at the life, death and resurrection of Christ and mirroring the pieces of this narrative in our own lives as we work to make the world a better place. The Christian faith is not just about believing in the Good News; it is about proclaiming it to a world that needs to be transformed by it. The Christian faith is not just about individuals being saved by Christ; it is about Christ coming to save the entire world.

And we, as individuals, are part of this. We are the Body of Christ; we enact the Gospel in this world today.

I believe this story – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – has the power to change the world. Yes, I do believe that the world might, in fact, be saved by the power of this narrative. And not simply through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, himself; but through the lives of Christians who now seek to live in his light today and proclaim his Good News. I believe the world might be saved through Christ, because the Christian story is still being written. I believe the world might be saved through Christians like you and me.

Think about Jesus’ birth. Now, when Prince Louis arrived in London a few weeks ago, there were photographers, proclamations, helicopters and a gun salute. He was presented to the world on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital as reporters eagerly snapped photographs while millions of people watched from home (and their church offices). But Jesus? Jesus came into the world in a stable. His mother and father were ordinary people, they had no power or wealth. The folks that they met along their journey to Bethlehem, the important characters in the narrative of Jesus’ birth – were ordinary people. They were shepherds and innkeepers, not Kings and Pharisees.

But this is how the world might be saved. The world might be saved when ordinary people believe that they can make a difference in this world. The world might be saved when ordinary people rise up and make that difference. This world might be saved if we all remembered that we do not need money or power or the extraordinary to happen, but a humble obedience to God’s call.

Jesus’ life is a blueprint for how we should live ours. He taught his disciples through words and actions. He taught them how to pray and about the Golden Rule of kindness. He spoke in parables that made them think about the world they were living in. He fought for justice, he reached out to marginalized people and he showed hospitality to everyone he met. He fed people when they were hungry and healed them when they were sick. He performed miracles that made people believe that the impossible was, in fact, possible.

If we all lived out even a fraction of what is written in this Gospel, yes, the world might be saved! The world might be saved if we looked outwardly instead of inwardly. The world might be saved it we made charity more of a priority. The world might be saved it we judged less and loved more. The world might be saved if we did unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we loved God and loved the people around us. The world might be saved if we shared meals with one another, prayed together and worshiped together. The world might be saved if we touched people in their times of need, showed compassion and fought for justice. The world might be saved if we believed in the possibility of miracles around us.

When Jesus died, death did not win; darkness did not win; hate did not win. Love conquered the grave on that first Easter morning and the world knew that salvation was possible. The world knew that they would be saved through the resurrection of Jesus.

Today, the world might be saved if we believed that resurrection was still possible. The world might be saved if we refused to let hate and evil rule the world. The world might be saved if we created love and kindness. The world might be saved if we spread joy. The world might be saved if we shined God’s light into the darkest crevices of the earth.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

In this story, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, one has to be born from above. And as much as he was talking about getting into heaven, part of me thinks that he was also talking about seeing the kingdom of God here on earth. I think Jesus believed it was possible to see that kingdom in mortal flesh; he believed this world could be saved.

And so do I.

When people talk about being born again, they often talk about proclaiming Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior so that they might have eternal life in heaven. But I think it starts before then. I think we can create heaven on earth, I think it is possible for us to see God in our midst. I think every single day we are born from above; created by a God that wants to see the world flourish, redeemed by a God that believes the world can be saved and sustained by a God that believes we can do God’s work here on earth. I believe we are the ones that can create heaven on earth, we are created, redeemed and sustained to do this work on earth.

When I was planning worship this morning, I originally paired the Gospel with the psalm from today’s lectionary, Psalm 29, because it talks about how strong and powerful God is, calling God to give us strength for the journey ahead:

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)

But last night I was reading the passage from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, verses 1-8. I thought, in light of this message about God using us to spread the Gospel so that the world might be saved, I would read it, as well.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ (Isaiah 6:1-8)

So let us take the Gospel and save the world. Let us share the Good News in both words and actions. Let us live our lives the way Jesus did. Let us believe that the world could be saved then, the world can be saved now and the world will be saved in the future.

Let us give thanks to God for sending Jesus into this world to proclaim the Gospel so that we might create the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.