Remembering That We Are All Worthy

Last year I had some major FOMO when all my friends were preaching Baptism of Christ and doing amazing remembrance of baptism liturgies and I was on the Year of Mark and didn’t get to join in on the fun.  It didn’t work out this year that I was able to do a big baptism remembrance (which honestly, I’m not sure how you do logistically that with 160 people in church anyway!) but we did do a liturgy in between concerns and celebrations where I offered a blessing from the font and then that led into the pastoral prayer.  It was lovely!  And, after receiving a lot of positive feedback, it reminded me that sometimes less is more and simple things really can make a difference in people’s lives.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 12, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

In the church year, the second Sunday of January is typically the Sunday where we remember Jesus’ baptism.  The year begins with the Advent season, then moves to Christmas and Epiphany, which we celebrated last week on Star Sunday.  Jesus’ baptism kicks off the season after Epiphany – or, “Ordinary Time” – before Lent eventually starts and begins our journey to Easter.

The thing about this particular Sunday, however, is that it is not so much officially part of the church calendar as it is a staple in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Now, for those of you who do not know, the Revised Common Lectionary is a preaching calendar that a lot of preachers and churches follow, myself included for many years.  I wandered away from it in 2018 and started taking a sermon series approach to worship planning and preaching and to be quite honest, have not really looked back.

With the exception of the second Sunday in January last year.

It was on this Sunday when it seemed like all of my friends were not only preaching Jesus’ baptism, but also doing really cool remembrance of baptism liturgies with their congregations and I was just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday.  To make worse, it was, of course, the Sunday after Star Sunday, so I was not only just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday, but I was doing so in an empty sanctuary without the 150 three-dimensional paper stars that had suspended from the ceiling the week before.

That night I logged into Facebook and a friend of mine had posted photos of the children in his church running around the sanctuary during worship with tiny spray bottles spritzing everyone so they could remember their own baptisms and it was at that point that I decided I did not care what were in the middle of the next year, we would pause and reflect on Jesus’ baptism.

Now thankfully for you all, the fact that we had an actual baptism this morning put a moratorium on the whole spray bottle thing.

However, God’s timing is a funny thing, because little did I know last year when I promised myself I would take a Sunday and reflect on baptism this year that, in that same week I was planning on doing so, we would also have a baptism is worship.  And, more than that, in the week leading up to that Sunday, I would not only schedule three more baptisms for the upcoming weeks, but I would also begin to have a conversation at a Deacons meeting about creating an official baptism policy at RCC that talks about what the sacrament means to us at church, as well as outlines our process and answers frequently asked questions.

Suffice is to say, I have thought about baptism a lot this week.

The story of Jesus’ baptism appears, in some way, in all four of the Gospels.  The stories are similar in all four accounts:  Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  The heavens open when Jesus is baptized and the spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The intriguing thing to me about the account we just heard, from the Gospel of Matthew, is that John the Baptist actually tries to prevent Jesus from having John baptize him.  John essentially says, no wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you.  But Jesus says, no, it’s okay; this is how it is supposed to happen – and then John baptizes Jesus.

I have been thinking about this exchange between John and Jesus this week, because it is one of those moments where the Body of Christ is called into being and we are reminded that we are all worthy of God’s grace.  John says to Jesus, I can’t baptize you, you need to baptize me and Jesus says, no I need this, too and you are worthy of baptizing me.

In doing this, I think Jesus sets the stage for what baptism now looks like in the 21st century.  Like so many other parts of our faith, everyone does it a little bit differently and it means a little something different to everyone, as well.

And that’s okay.

Some parents bring their children to be baptized as infants and small children and some choose to wait until their children are older and can decide for themselves that they would like to be baptized.  Some churches have infant dedications and then practice believers’ baptism.  Some churches invite godparents to stand with the candidate for baptism and others invite sponsors.  Some churches require godparents to be members of their church and others do not.  Some churches allow parents to choose if they even want godparents or not.  Some baptisms take place around a font or basin where water is splashed or poured on the candidate and some take place in a larger body of water where candidates are submerged.

My point is this – I do not think there is a right or wrong way to baptize.  Do we have our way of doing it here, at RCC?  Of course we do.  But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all worthy, both to be baptized and to baptize.  And, as the Body of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone to the font so that they can feel the redemptive powers of those living waters, so that they, too can be claimed as God’s children and called beloved.

Like I said, I have been thinking a lot about baptism this week, particularly as I began to work with the Deacons to prepare a policy for RCC that outlines not only our own process for baptizing, but also what we believe baptism means.  And I want to close out my sermon this morning by sharing something I wrote as an introductory.

Baptism is one of the two sacraments we recognize at the Rehoboth Congregational Church (the other is Holy Communion).  We believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God.  It both God’s gift and our response to that gift.  It is a tangible act where we use water to symbolize the cleansing of our sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ.  It is a sacred moment where we not only welcome an individual into our church and community of faith, but we also where bear witness to the life-changing truth that, just like when Jesus was baptized and the spirit of God descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” we are all claimed as God’s own children when the waters of baptism touch us and that God loves each and every one of us.

In baptism we make a promise to the one being baptized – and, in the case of infants and young children, their parents – that we will create a space for them here, at this church to learn and grow in their faith and love and support them on their journeys.

When we remember Jesus’ baptism, we are also invited to remember our own.  And so this morning, before our time of prayer, I will bring us through a brief remembrance of baptism liturgy.  Have no fear, there will not be any spray bottles involved!  But instead I will offer a blessing from the baptismal font and invite you to use this time as you need it today …

… to remember your own baptism.

… to remember another baptism in your life that was special to you.

… to think about what it means to be baptized in the same way Christ was.

… to know that you are claimed as God’s own child and that you are beloved.

… to feel connected with the people you are sitting with in worship today.

… to feel welcomed to gather around the font, even if you have not yet been baptized yourself.

May you remember that you are worthy, that you are claimed as God’s child and that you are beloved – and that you are loved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

My Affirmation Journey

Hi friends and Happy New Year!

Like so many other churches, we have adopted the “star word” tradition at RCC to coincide with Epiphany.  This is the 4th year we have done it, so my sermon is brief, as we invite people from the congregation to stand up and share their “star stories” from the year before.  Last year my word was affirmation, so I talked a little bit about that and also about star words in general.  If you didn’t get a star word and would like one, please let me know!  I’m happy to draw and send you one.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 5, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

My Affirmation Journey

I have an important update.

Two years ago, I stood up here on Star Sunday and began my star story about my star word, responsibility, by saying the following:

12 months ago, I thought I would stand up on Star Sunday in 2018 and tell you all of the responsible things I did in 2017.  I thought I would tell you that I revolutionized the way I organized my house and office (which I tried to do); I thought I would tell you that I finally figured out a good system for dealing with my taxes (which I mostly did); and I thought I would tell you that I finally made a long-overdue dentist appointment (which I did not).

Well.

Three years later, I am happy to report that – mostly because of the encouragement of Jen Healy (thank you, Jen!) I finally made that dentist appointment this year.

And I even went six months after that!

Which is my way of saying that you do not have to give up your star word just because the year is over.  The lessons that you have learned this year or the goals you have set or the inspiration that you have, perhaps, found – all of this you can carry with you into the new year as you receive your new star word.

Three years ago, we introduced star words for the first time at RCC.  For those of you who are new to Star Sunday, we celebrate it the Sunday closest to Epiphany, which is the Christian feast commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger.  Epiphany is January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas.  We receive paper stars with words written on them.  Then, like the wise men who followed a star to bring gifts to Jesus, we let the words on our stars guide us throughout the year.

Sometimes the words turn into our intentions and goals for the year.  Sometimes the words teach us lessons.  Sometimes the words give us a different perspective on things.  Sometimes the words frustrate us.  Sometimes the words confuse us all year and bring us back to Star Sunday saying, “I think maybe I did something wrong.”

But the cool part is that there is no right or wrong way to “do” star words.  And we see this, year after year, as people from our congregation share their own star stories from the year before.  Not only are everyone’s words different – but their perspectives about them are different, as well.

This year my word was affirmation.  I have to be honest, this word perplexed me from the very beginning.  I am not even sure I really knew what it meant, although as soon as I drew it, it was sort of like when you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere – I started hearing the word all the time.

The first time I heard the word affirmation was a few days after Star Sunday on a podcast; the host and her guest were talking about setting goals and intentions and how it is important to say them out loud, to put them out into the universe as a way, not only of holding yourself accountable, but also of believing in yourself and what you are capable of.

They referred to this process of vocalizing goals and intentions as daily affirmations.  Instantly I was intrigued, because this is something I have never been good at.  I have always been hesitant to set goals (or, at least, say them out loud) because I have been afraid of what happens if I do not actually reach those goals.  But I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and affirm, over and over and over again, what I thought what we, as a church, were capable of.  I raised my expectations and set goals where I used to just say, “well let’s see what happens.”

I have talked about this, off and on, throughout the year; I think my most exciting moment of affirmation came as we approached the Hillside Takeover and, despite having to overcome multiple obstacles to get to the Tiki Bar, I bravely set a fundraising goal of $5,000 and was overwhelmed when we far exceeded that goal.

But my poignant moment came the morning after Giving Tuesday.  We had set a fundraising goal of $2,019, one that, as the day went on, I was not sure we were going to reach.  I went to sleep that night and we were still well under the $2,000 mark; I actually had a moment of regret where I was mad at myself for setting an unreachable goal.  For the first time that year, my star word frustrated me more than anything.

The next morning, I logged into our PayPal account and saw that a few new donations came in; those donations, combined with the checks we had received in the office, totaled $2,019.65.

Now, in full disclosure, we had a few more donations come in over the next few day and, in the end, we ended up exceeding (I think) $2,200; however, in that moment, I was equally 1) relieved that we reached our goal and 2) needing to figure out what happens when you set an affirmation that you do not meet.

Right before the new year, I was listening to a personal finance blogger talk about the fact that she had not met her 2019 goal of maxing out her IRA contributions.  She used it as an example of how sometimes we just do not meet the expectations of our own affirmations and why not reaching our goals should not deter us from setting them again (or, in the spirit of Star Sunday, from reaching for the stars!).  Because we learn just as much from stating those affirmations and the journey to try to reach them as we do once we get there.

And, I would add, God is faithful as we take that journey.

And so I think I have taken two things out of my star word this year.  First of all, I am excited now to continue to integrate affirmations into my life, both here at the church and also at home. But second of all, I think I need to be okay with giving myself the grace I need to potentially fall short.  Because it is not about a destination, it is about the journey; and along the journey, God is faithful.

May you all see God’s faithfulness in the star words you choose this year; and may the light from that star illuminate your journey ahead.

May you find hope, wisdom and strength.

May you be inspired.

May you be frustrated at times.

And may your star word illuminate your year.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

Hi friends!  I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!  Here is my sermon from our 9PM service on Christmas Eve.

Happy New Year!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Sermon

This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

My two-year-old loves watching this show on Netflix called Spirit, which is an adorable animated show about a girl and her two friends who live on “the frontier” with their horses.  My husband and I can’t quite figure out where “the frontier” actually is or what time period the show is set in, but between the one-room schoolhouse, the telegrams and the lack of cars and phones, in many ways (even though you are watching the show through a streaming service on one of your smart devices) you certainly step back into a simpler time when you watch it.

And, to be quite honest, in this crazy world that we are living in, sometimes “simple” is exactly what I need.

A few weeks ago, we were all watching one of the Christmas episodes.  At the end of the episode, it is Christmas day and the main character, Lucky, and her friends ride their horses to the church in town; as the arrive, they can hear the sound of people singing and they run inside and join the worship service.  The episode ends with everyone standing, holding lit candles and singing together, Angels We Have Heard On High.

They are all smiling at each other and embracing one another.  It is simple, but it just seems so perfect and festive and filled with the true spirit of the season.

I looked at my husband and said, “I wish there was a way we could do that at church.”

“Do what?” he asked.

“You know – have a simple little service like that.  Just invite everyone to come to church and hear the Christmas story and sing Christmas carols and light some candles and just be together in the spirit of the season.”

My husband gave me kind of strange look and said, “Isn’t that what you do on Christmas Eve?”

“Well yeah, but I also preach,” I explained to him.

“Well you don’t have to,” he pointed out.

Oh, the Christmas Eve sermon.

The funny thing is that clergy put a lot of pressure on themselves to preach the perfect sermon on Christmas Eve, because it feels like the stakes are high.  And yet, not to downplay the preacher’s role in all of this, sometimes I am not sure that it is actually necessary; because this story really preaches itself.

The Christmas story is a story where magic is real, where hope is alive and where love wins, over and over and over again.  It is a story where light shines and stars guide us along our journeys.  It is a story where grace is uncovered in the most unexpected ways and places – with a baby in a manger, God made flesh in the world.  It is a story where ordinary people are called by God to do extraordinary things.  It is a story where we can see ourselves in the characters that are all playing different, but equally important roles.  It is a story where journeys are long, but not taken alone.  It is a story where angels appear in those moments when we need them most.  It is a story where promises are kept and prophecies are fulfilled.  It is a story that begins a Gospel where peace prevails and death does not have the final word.  It is a story where lives are changed – not just by what has already happened, but also by the way God is still at work today.

It is a story that is simple – but oftentimes is exactly what we need.

If you think about it, the really cool thing about the Christmas story is that it, in this one moment in time – this Christmas holiday – it is told countless times around the world in so many different forms and languages.  Whether it is being carefully read from scripture at a candlelit church service or narrated by our middle and high school students while chaos ensues during our annual Christmas pageant, it is timeless.

For 2,000 years, the Christmas story has stood the test of time.  Over and over and over again, it is has proclaimed this beautiful truth that God’s promises have been fulfilled – that our cries for Emmanuel, God with us, have been heard.

The Christmas story has this crazy and malleable way to touch us, no matter where we are on our journey through life.  Whether we are young or old, hearing it for the first time or reciting it along with the liturgist – this story can inspire us.  Whether we come to this space tonight with a joyful heart or a heavy one, this story can surround us with hope.  Whether we think we have answers or still have a whole lot of questions, this story can give us wisdom.  Whether we have had a really wonderful year or a year that we would rather forget, this story can remind us that God is always with us – and that we are not alone.  Whether we want to soak up every word that is spoken or let our minds wander off to daydream about other things, this story will give us something to think about.

And so, as you listen to the Christmas story tonight, I invite you to sit in its simplicity – and let it be for you exactly what you need it to be in this moment in time.  Let it inspire you, let it give you hope, let it give you wisdom, let it remind you that you are not alone and let it give you something to think about as you leave this space tonight.

As you sing the familiar carols, join your voices not only with those who have gathered here tonight, but with the millions of people around the world who are singing these same carols – and with the multitude of angels who sang them first.

As you light your candle at the end of worship, watch as even the smallest of flames can illuminate even the darkest of spaces.

It might be simple, but in this moment, it might be all that we need.

I invite you now to settle in.  Because you are able to hear one of the greatest stories that has ever been told.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork