How Can We Proclaim The Good News

Good morning! Happy Easter!  I have two sermons to post this morning.  This is from our sunrise service at Redway Plain in Rehoboth.

He is risen, indeed!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Redway Plain
Rehoboth, MA
April 4, 2021

Psalm 118
John 20:1-18

How Can We Proclaim The Good News

About two months ago, at a Deacons meeting, someone said to me, “We aren’t doing a sunrise service in-person this year, are we?”  I paused, thought for a moment and then said, “I am not ready to start planning it; and yet I am not ready to not start planning it, either”.

You see, pandemic-aside, so much about the Easter story is about people showing up – in person, in the flesh – to bear witness to the resurrection.  Mary Magdalene is the first to show up in this story; she comes to the tomb early in the morning and realizes that the stone has been rolled away.  But it does not end there; she runs and grabs Simon Peter and another disciple and tells them what she saw and so they then run to the tomb to see for themselves.  They, eventually, return to their homes, but Mary remains at the tomb where, eventually, she has an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Now we have figured out a lot of ways do church in different ways this year – some ways that have involved no direct contact whatsoever – and so many of them have been so meaningful to us and I am so grateful for them.  They have been my lifeline and the pulse of this community that has continued to beat strong throughout this entire pandemic.

By my goodness, nothing beats being with you all here, in person.

Like I said in my words of welcome, to quote Simon Peter – who later will run to the tomb and bear witness to the fact that it is, indeed, empty and that death was not victorious – “it is good for us to be here.”

It is good for us to be here so that we can stand in one another’s presence, not only bearing witness to the resurrection, but to one another’s faith, as well.

It is good for us to be here so that we can look one another in the eyes and see a tangible sign of the hope that we have been holding onto this whole year; that we are not alone.

It is good for us to be here so that we can finally hear, again, the chorus of our voices joined together as we sing and pray and rejoice in the bold and radical truth that Christ has risen and that love has won.

And it is good for us to be here so that we can figure out how to do this again; so that we can learn what it means to eventually transition our community to both online and in-person.  You see, the Easter story is not just a narrative of resurrection, but also about those who bore witness to the resurrection and how they then proclaimed it.

Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples – these were people living in a very specific place and time in this world and so they had to figure out how to tell that story within the context of their world.

And this is what we have always done; but guess what?  Our world has changed.  It is continuing to change.  And part of our call as Christians – as people of the resurrection – is to tell this story the way the world needs to hear it now.

Yes, this story is about resurrection, but it is also about innovation and tenacity and a faith that moves mountains and believes in the impossible.  It is about not giving up; about sticking it out at the tomb until the Risen Christ shows up.  It is about finding others to help you figure out what is happening.  And it is about then proclaiming to the world, “I have seen the Lord.”

And so here we are this morning – together!  It is so good to be here with you all.  While I am grateful for all of the ways that we have made church work this past year – and I will continue to be grateful for the ways we will be able to connect with people online in the future – it feels right to be here.

To show up, in the flesh, the way that Jesus did.

To name resurrection and to believe that it is real.

And then to go and tell others what we have seen.

I have to be honest, when we had that conversation at the Deacons meeting about the sunrise service, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen on Easter morning.  For someone who is a bit of a control freak when it comes to planning, that felt kind of weird.  But I also felt at peace about it, knowing that part of being faithful, especially during this pandemic, is stepping back and letting God take care of some of the details.

I actually kind of think that is what happened on that first Easter.

So, given the fact that we have had the opportunity – with protocols in place to keep us all as safe as possible – to come together and physically be with one another on this beautiful Easter morning, as we leave this space – this space that feels unfamiliar, and yet so familiar at the same time – I invite you all to figure out with me just how to tell this story right now.  How can we, members and friends of our beloved church in the village, in the year of our Lord 2021, proclaim the Good News of resurrection?

For it is Good News.

Christ is risen, friends!  He is risen, indeed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

A Fresh Start

Hi friends!  We welcomed 27 (!) new members into the church this morning.  During a time of physical distancing, we are humbled and grateful for the way God is continuing to work within our church and community.  What a grace that we have uncovered!

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

Peace be with you friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 21, 2021

Psalm 51:1-12

A Fresh Start

Two years ago, I did something that I had not done in well over a decade.

I went to the dentist.

I know.  Not good.

I think part of the problem was, at the beginning of my, let’s call it a, “hiatus”, my life was kind of in transition.  I was in college and therefor moving back and forth between school and home – my dentist was in Connecticut, but I was spending most of my time in Pennsylvania at that point.  Then I moved to Atlanta, which was a permanent residence (we had Georgia license plates and everything), but I was still in school and part of their internal healthcare system and so annual physicals and exams were just not on my radar.  Then Bruce and I spent a very short amount of time in Connecticut before finally moving to Rehoboth.

Now I know that this is the point in the story where I should have found a dentist and made an appointment to see them.

(I also know that we have dentists in the congregation, so really there is no excuse.)

But it just kept slipping my mind.

That is, at first it just kept slipping my mind.

But eventually, it was very much on my mind – because I knew I really needed to go.

And the thing is, the longer I went without making that appointment and just going, the worse I felt about it.  Because I knew the longer I went without going, the worse any potential problems I had were going to be.  I knew the longer I went without going, the scarier it was going to be to walk into that office for the first time.  I knew the longer I went without going, the harder it was going to be to admit to the dentist just how long it had been since I sat in one of those chairs.

The longer I waited, the guiltier I felt.

And truth be told, the only reason I ended up finally making an appointment and going to see the dentist was because I had admitted my dental negligence to Jen Healy, who is our Financial Secretary, and she actually held me accountable to make that first appointment.  She said to me one day, “I am going to text you at noon tomorrow to make sure you’ve done it,” and so at 11:55 the next day I was on the phone making the appointment.

Accountability partners are a good thing – and I will get back to that in a minute.

As strange as this sounds, it felt really good to finally go to the dentist.  It was like I was getting a fresh start.  From that point on, I could do exactly what I was supposed to do – go every six months, be a dutiful dental patient.  And the best part is that my dentist was so gracious towards me; she said, in such a kind and gentle tone, “I know it’s been a long time, but now that you are back, you are going to come back every six months, right?”  And I said, “Yes!” and she said, “Great!” and then we moved on.

It was like a weight had been lifted.

I was doing something wrong.

First I admitted my wrongdoing.

Then I was forgiven.

And finally, I took steps to do better.

This is kind of what happens in prayer.

I was thinking about my experience getting back to the dentist this week as I was looking at the lectionary.  This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Psalms; it is a Psalm of David.  David wrote this when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.  It is a prayer for forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is what is known as an “exilic individual lament.”[1]  A lament is an expression of sorrow or regret.  “Exilic” means that it was written in exile and individual means it was not communal, it was written by one person.

One of the reasons I love this psalm is because it demonstrates a crucial, but simple practice that we all should be doing in our lives.  David uses this psalm as an opportunity to confess his personal sins; to admit the moments in his life where he has fallen short, where he has sinned, where he has made the wrong choice.  David rips off the band aid and puts it all out on the table.

And then David asks God for forgiveness, knowing and affirming that God’s love is steadfast, that God’s mercy is abundant.  David is able to boldly admit his brokenness because he knows that God is ready and waiting to make him whole again.

And the same is true for us, today.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David writes, “and put a new and right spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”[2]

It must have felt like a weight had been lifted for David when he wrote these words, as if he was getting a fresh start.

And here is the Good News that brings us new life:  We can get this fresh start every single day of our lives.

We just have to ask for it.

We just have to ask for it.  We have to, like David demonstrates here, admit our shortcomings to God.  We have to shed light on our brokenness, without shame or embarrassment.  We have to seek reconciliation in real time, knowing that God is waiting for us, believing that God’s love is more powerful than our mistakes, more forgiving than our sins and more hopeful than the hopelessness we often feel as we try desperately to bury our imperfections.

If it has been a while since you have had a conversation with God and admitted the things that you have done wrong and asked for forgiveness, I would strongly encourage you to have that conversation and have it soon.  Humble yourself before the cross and admit your shortcomings.  Remember what David says in this Psalm – he says that God’s love is steadfast and that God’s mercy is abundant.  God is ready to hear you confess your sins.  God is ready to shine light upon those sins in order to help you heal from them.  God is ready to give you that fresh start so that you, like David, can hear joy and gladness.

I think we all have things in our lives that weigh us down.  Some things are bigger and more serious than others, but I think it is important to remember that nothing is too big or too small to receive the grace and mercy of God’s love and forgiveness.  Part of our call, as Christians, is to believe the resurrection not only happened in Christ, but that it happens in us; that God is constantly working on us, through us and within us.  We have to believe that reconciliation did not just happen when the blood of Christ was shed, but that it continues to happen in our lives today.

The season of Lent is a season of repentance where, at the end of 40 days, we experience resurrection.  But as people of faith, we do not have to wait for Lent to come around every year in order to repent; we can pray to God – directly to God – and seek forgiveness every single day of our lives.  We can admit the things that are getting worse, harder and scarier the longer we bury them.  We can be restored with a clean heart, ready to do the work that God is calling us to do.

The work that God needs us to do.

So I would encourage you today to have a conversation with God – an open, honest and humble conversation.  Tell God about the moments where you have fallen short and where you have made mistakes.  Be truthful about how you are feeling in sharing this and how you are hoping to move forward.  Talk about your stumbling blocks and ask God to help you move them.  Know that this is your fresh start – and that it can be, every single day.

And this does not have to be a really formal thing, either, it just needs to be a conversation; a conversation with God where you just talk about what is on your heart, the things you have been afraid to admit, but know you should.

A weight will be lifted.  This will be our fresh start.  We will be able to do better.

And really quickly – back to the thing about accountability partners.  As people of faith, we are called to hold one another accountable.  And the thing is, we do not have to know the specifics of one another’s sins and shortcomings in order to hold each other accountable to confess them to God and seek reconciliation.

So use one another; hold one another accountable.  You do not have to share your deepest and darkest secrets with our entire church family, but we can all make sure that we are sharing them with God.

Today we are welcoming new members into our church family.  Part of being in community – being a member of a local church – is pledging to support one another along our journeys of faith.  Today we make this pledge to our new members and they make this pledge to us – this pledge to not only serve God and our church, but one another, in love, friendship and faith.  As members of this church, we know that faith does not happen in a vacuum and we are ready to stand together and help one another along our journeys.

Friends, in so many ways, a fresh start is happening right now.  Resurrection is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha © 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Page 819
[2] Psalm 51:10, 12, NRSV

Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

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

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

***

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

Psalm 51

Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I also have a lot of hope to float.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.