You Are

Continuing with our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount, this weeks sermon focused on the passage where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.”  I had a really great idea to do a children’s sermon where we all tried salt-free popcorn and then added salt to see the difference in taste but apparently salt-free microwave popcorn is not a thing?  At least it wasn’t at Stop & Shop.  The “healthy” ones all have sea salt.  I suppose I could have used a popcorn maker, but that wasn’t going to happen on a Sunday morning, ha!

Anyway, this is a text that is kind of hard to preach because it’s fairly straightforward.  But there were three things jumped out at me that I thought were worth reinforcing, so I just did a sermon in kind of a bullet-point format instead of just making one point (if that makes sense?).  I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my congregation, so I hope you get something out of it, too!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 15, 2019

Matthew 5:13-16

You Are

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

This passage has always kind of perplexed me, and maybe someone can answer my question:  Does salt go bad?

Maybe it is just that I was raised in a household with a mother who really did not believe in expiration dates …

… who, in fairness, was raised by a mother who believed that everything stayed fresh as long as you put it in the freezer – taco shells, cooked rice, bananas, milk …

… but I always thought salt was just … salty. Does salt actually lose its taste?

Maybe someone can give me a science lesson after worship.

Alas, I do not think Jesus is talking about cleaning out the pantry as he continues his Sermon on the Mount, but he is, in fact, talking about who we are, as our very core.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

We are preaching our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this fall and we began last week with The Beatitudes, which were, comparative to this week’s text, noticeably in the third person until the very end, where Jesus switches from the third person – blessed are thepoor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, etc. – to the first person in the very last Beatitude – blessed are youwhen people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

I think this is an intentional switch from the third person to the first person because, remember, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples – and this makes it more personal.  Jesus is not speaking broadly about just anybody, but intimately, directly to the people who are gathered around him.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

But this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, right?  It is not about blindly following the person who is one rung higher than you on the religious ladder, but rather it is about having this personal relationship – or connection – with God; to be a Christian means that we not only affirm who Jesus is but also Jesus is affirming who weare and what God is calling usto do in this world.

This is a really great passage, because it is one that is really easy to visualize (even if you are not sure that salt can actually lose its flavor), it is straightforward, it is quick to memorize, it turns into great music and it is pretty simple and tangible to demonstrate to children.  In fact, when I was looking at the passage this week, I actually wondered if I even had to preach a sermon on it, because it really is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself.

And sorry to disappoint anyone who might now be excited at the prospect of a really short service, but there are three things that I think are really important to highlight when we think about this passage and these metaphors and what they mean for our lives today.

The first thing I want to talk about it the way Jesus is, sort of, inadvertently laying the foundation for the conversation that is going to begin decades later in Paul’s letters about being the Body of Christ.

So the Apostle Paul talks about the church as if it is a body; and, in the same way that all of the parts of our human bodies perform different functions so the body can function as one body, everyone in the church performs different functions so the church can function as one church.

And this is not something that Jesus talks about directly in the Gospels, but he is kind of setting Paul up here, because things like salt and light are not just used for one thing – they have many functions.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about salt and its practical purposes – it was used for preserving, seasoning, fertilizing soil, sacrificing, covenanting, purifying, cleansing and signifying loyalty.  Even today, salt is not just used for cooking; it still has many different functions.

Light, too, does not just have one function – it is illumination in an otherwise dark space, it is a critical component in the growth of plants, it kills mold, dries things out and acts as a natural bleach and exposure to certain light (sunlight) triggers our human brains to release serotonin, which can boost our moods.

If we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, this does not mean we are all called to do the same thing, this means different things for different people.  It means that we all have a job to do and that our roles are unique to who we are and who God created us to be.

I believe these metaphors of salt and light are not just about something have one function and performing that function, but about something having many functions, in the same way that we all have a different function in this world, in this bodyof Christ.

The second thing I want to talk about is the way that this passage reminds us that we are who God says we are.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and, “You are the light of the world.”  He does not say, “You shall bethe salt of the earth” or, “You will bethe light of the world” or, “You can bethe salt of the earth” or, “You might bethe light of the world.”  Jesus is not saying that this is going to happen eventually or that this is some kind of capability that the disciples have, but he is saying that this is already who they are.

And so when we read this passage today, “We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world,” we should not think that this is something we are merely capable of doing, but this is who we already are.  The salt of the earth, the light of the world – these are not adjectives or verbs, these are nouns; this is who we already are.

The last thing I want to mention is the fact that these metaphors are not reserved for a certain class of people – and I think this is what speaks to me today as a Christian, as a small town pastor and as a mom who is just trying to figure everything out.

The disciples were not powerful men, they were Galilean fisherman.  At the time, Rome and the emperor were proclaimed as the light of the entire world, which means – particularly with this metaphor about light – Jesus is changing the rules and saying you do not have to be rich or powerful to be the light of this world.  You – you, the disciples, you who choose to follow me – are the light of the world; you are fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament where light overcomes darkness.

This means to me today that I do not have to achieve some sort of level of wealth or power or education to contribute something to the Kingdom of God, that being who God created me to be in this moment is enough.

Salt and light are not rare commodities; they are ordinary and easily accessible.

But they are also life-giving.

We need both of these things to survive.

And so think about it – you, as ordinary people, can also be life-giving.  You can be critical to the survival and the thriving of others.  You can give people hope and work in very small and grassroots, but also very meaningful, ways to change people’s lives for the better. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.

You.

Just as you are.

As I close out my thoughts this morning, I want to remind you of the last verse of this passage:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Remember to give the glory to God.  First of all, this is not about us, this is about God. So as soon as we start taking credit for things or get overly controlling about things (preaching to myself here), we miss the point that this really is not about us, at all.

And furthermore, sharing with others that we are doing what we are doing – loving one another and serving others – for the glory of God is the most powerful kind of evangelism, because it shows the world that our faith is not just about empty words, but about powerful action, action that changes lives.

This is when people outside the church start to say, I wonder what that church thing is all about.

So remember that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

I do not think there is an expiration date on either one of these things.

Go, therefore, and season the earth and shine light into the world.  You are who God says that you are.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Blessed In This Season

Hi friends!  We kicked off the program year at RCC this weekend with a fun Rally “Weekend” – we had a Rally Night on Friday night with a cookout, games, s’mores, movie and fellowship for all ages!  Apparently this was an old tradition at RCC that hasn’t happened in a few years (this was my 9th Rally Weekend at RCC and I’ve never experienced it, so it’s been that long, at least!), so we thought we’d do it again this year and had a great time!  The Youth Group stuck around for a lock-in that night and it just kind of put us in the spirit for Rally Day on Sunday.

We did a blessing of the backpacks on Sunday during worship – we invite the kids to bring in their backpacks from home and we put tags on them and then say a blessing over them.  It was great to have such a wonderful turnout with our families (42 kids total!).

We kicked off a 12-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount this weekend by looking at The Beatitudes.  I started by talking about why I chose a scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to a thematic one) for this fall and then talked broadly about the Sermon on the Mount before focusing on the Beatitudes.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 8, 2019

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed In This Season

When we started the Year of Mark last year, I did not really have any expectations.  Jon told me one of the big reasons he did at Westfield was because they surveyed the congregation and members shared that their biblical literacy was not as strong as they wanted it to be.  And while that is a compelling reason to spend an entire year preaching through one gospel, truth be told, I was just kind of bored with the lectionary and looking for a preaching challenge.

The cool part about the Year of Mark is that it was a story; a continual narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We did not jump around from book to book of the bible, trying to figure out where we were and what was going on every week.  This was a first for me in my preaching career, but I LOVED it; I loved not having to give a whole lot of context every week and just jumping in to talk about the text.  I loved building from week to week, feeling like there was continuity in what we were learning about, as a congregation.

And so I knew fairly early on that I probably would not jump back into the lectionary when the Year of Mark was over; that I liked the linear steps of a sermon series.  But this led me into a place of discernment, because I really was not sure what was next.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to sermon series – scripture-based and thematic.  Scripture-based is like what we did with the Year of Mark.  Is it expository; you look at one big block of scripture (either an entire book or a large portion of one) and just preach through it, piece by piece, with no expectations about what you might learn. A thematic sermon series is like what we did with our summer sermon series on hospitality; you take one theme and break it into sub-parts and then find scriptures that coordinate well with whatever you are preaching on.

There are pros and cons to both methods. Thematic sermon series tend to have an easier buy-in with people, because (in my experience anyway) it tends to be easier to get people excited about ideas that are, sort of, tangible and relevant in their own lives than it is to get them excited about a book of the bible.

On the other hand, scripture was meant to be read and understand as a whole and not cherry-picked to defend whatever proclamation we are trying to make.  We learn a lot more about scripture and about our faith when we are forced to preach on hard passages in scripture-based sermon series.  Do you guys remember the look of terror in my eyes when I stood up to preach on the divorce passage in Mark last year?  It was hard and I did not necessarily want to do it; but I am a better preacher because of it because this is how we learn and grow in our faith.

I have come to the conclusion that there is room for both types of sermon series, but that you just need to be intentional about why you are choosing to do one or the other.  Which leads me to this morning – not only is it Rally Day, but we are kicking off a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven.

I did honestly contemplate moving away from the Gospels (and we will, I promise!) but as I looked at where we are, as a congregation, and what we hope to accomplish in the fall, which is a very busy season at our church, one where are very often out in the community showcasing our church and what we think it means to be disciples of Christ, I kept coming back to Jesus.

In her first book, Faith Unraveled, the late Rachel Held Evans talks about her crisis of faith and how she committed one summer to reading through all four Gospels because, after pouring through commentaries and systematic theology books, she “decided to see if Jesus had the answer.”[1]  And I think, as both a church and a culture, it is imperative right now that we look to Jesus for the answers to our questions; to make sure our foundation is set in Jesus – in both the life he lived and the lives he now calls us to live.

So why the Sermon on the Mount?  Well, it kind of started with all of these funerals I have been doing.  I tend to use the Beatitudes (which is today’s passage) a lot in funerals and so, as I keep reading these words that we just heard, it has left me with a desire to keep reading and hear the rest of what Jesus has to say on the mountain.

The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7 – is the best-known portion of the Gospel of Matthew.  These three chapters are the most widely read chapters – they contain the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and various sayings that have been woven into the repertoire of popular proverbs and folk wisdom.[2]  The theme of this sermon is discipleship – what does it means to respond to the call of Jesus?

Despite the fact that this is fairly early on in the Gospel, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount lends credence to the divinity of Jesus.  When Jesus goes up to the mountain it evokes the imagery of God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai.  And in verse two, where it says, “Then [Jesus] began to speak,” the literal translation of this is, “opening of his mouth,” which, again, sort of implies this revelation of God and, again, the divinity of Jesus as he ascends to the top of this mountain to teach.

It is important to point out that Jesus purposefully distances himself from the crowd and is speaking directly to the disciples.  The disciples are his intended audience, which means that this sermon is an inherent Christian teaching and not just an exposition on good moral behavior.  This is a critical point we allhave to wrap our heads around, because I think often we say, “Oh you just have to be a good person.  Don’t worry about the religious stuff.”  But because Jesus chooses to speak solely to his disciples here, he is boldly declaring that it is not enough to simply be a good person, but that, as Christians, we have to make a deep and radical commitment to follow Christ and his teachings.

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, which are expressed as blessings.  The word “blessed” appears nine times; it comes from the Latin word, Beati, and the Greek, Makarioi. Jesus used to the word “blessed” indicated God’s favor towards certain types of people – some vulnerable (the pour in spirit, those who mourn, the meek) and some who are working fervently for the Kingdom of God (those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake).

The Beatitudes, as a whole, remind us that we are not alone – that God is with us, no matter what we might be going through in life, and that God sees what we are doing and going through and is affirming us by bestowing a blessing upon us.  It creates this image where every single member of the Body of Christ is blessed in the eye of God; this radical and unending love that encircles us, assuring us that no matter who we are or what we are going through, we are blessed, we are makarioi.

So whether we are deep in a season of mourning or we are fighting for peace and righteousness, we are blessed, we are makarioi.

 As I thought about the Beatitudes this week, I realized that this blessing is not just something that is bestowed upon us at one point in our lives, but through every single season that we journey through. I am sure most people can relate to what I am about to say – there are seasons of life where I feel like I am on top of everything and doing well and feeling strong and then there are season of life where I feel like I am Bambi learning how to walk.  But the really cool part about the Beatitudes is that it reminds me that no matter which season of life I am in, I am blessed in the eyes of God.

I am makarioi.

We all are.  No matter what our journeys might look like right now.

As I close out my thoughts this morning, I think it is pertinent to point out that Jesus starts this sermon – this teaching on discipleship – by reminding the disciples that they are blessed.  And so as we gather on Rally Day and gear up for another year of discipleship, I want to remind you all of the same thing.

You are blessed.

You are makarioi.

If you have got it all together or you are a hot mess right now – you are blessed.

If you laughed this morning while you got ready for church or you cried and were not sure if you could make it – you are blessed.

If you come to this space with answers or you are still confused by a lot of questions – you are blessed.

If you are feeling close to God or distant – you are blessed.

If you are feeling strong or feeling weary – you are blessed.

If you are surrounded by people who support you or you feel isolated and alone – you are blessed.

Whatever season of life that you are in right now – know without a doubt that you are blessed in the eyes of God.  You are makarioi.

And with this blessing, may you be commissioned as a disciple of Christ to spread the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Evans, Rachel Held. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions. Page 102.
[2]HarperCollins Bible Commentary

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

This is it for our summer sermon series on hospitality!  This week is Rally Day and the beginning of a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which will bring us through Thanksgiving.

It was fun to look at hospitality this summer – I actually had a lot of great feedback from people who gave me tangible ideas and suggestions of ways that we, as a church, can improve.  I hope this is one of those sermon series that we keep talking about, long after it’s over.

The question we answered in this final week was, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 1, 2019

1 Kings 6
Acts 2:37-47

How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

I have to be honest, I thought about cutting some down some of this scripture from 1 Kings and only reading part of it this morning (a decision many of you may have wish I made!), but every time I re-read the passage in its entirety, I got caught up in this beautifully vivid description  of King Solomon building the temple – of Solomon leaving no details unturned as he constructed this place where the Israelites would worship God – and I could not bear to cut any of it out.

You see, I was raised to believe that the details matter.  All of them.

I am the daughter of a director; a director who would spend hours creating lighting designs that not only looked cool on stage, but that also complemented the scenery, music and choreography and were timed perfectly to create a dramatic affect.

I understood from a young age that you do not have to do things like sell light-up wands to kids in the audience to wave around when the beast transforms or when Cinderella goes for a ride in her magical carriage, but that it sure looks amazing when you do.  Or that bubble machines and confetti canons might make a mess, but they are totally worth it anyway.  Or that bringing an actual pony on stage is risky, but it is always a risk worth taking because who doesn’t want to be remembered as the theater group who brought an actually pony on stage?

I came to realize quickly that the atmosphere we created in the lobby, the first thing people saw when they walked in – music, headshots, photo displays, a wide array of snacks and cold drinks, people welcoming patrons with smiles on their faces – created an excitement and energy that everyone carried into the theater.

Because the thing is – when it all came together and the lights went down and the curtain went up, magic was created as we told some of the greatest theatrical stories.

And it mattered.

So you can understand why I obsess over things like soap and coffee and nametags here at church.  Because I want to create an excitement and energy that people bring into the sanctuary with them for worship.  I want to create an experience that people will remember.

Here at this church, we have the privilege of telling one of the greatest stories that has ever been told – the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining work in this world.  And so when people come to church and hear us tell this story, I want to create magic.

Our first scripture reading comes from the first Book of Kings, which can be found in the Old Testament.  There are two books of Kings; first and second Kings were originally a singular literary work.  They give a continuous account of Israel’s history from the death of King David and the ascension of King Solomon to the release of King Jehoiachi, who was being held in prison in Babylon.  This spans the time of approximately 400 years.

The content found in these books reflects the theological concerns of the laws found in the book of Deuteronomy – namely that the Lord is Israel’s only God and that all of God’s covenantal laws must be followed, including the requirement that God may only be legitimately worshiped in one place.

You can see why this temple that Solomon is building is so important.  It is not just a structure; it is a place of worship – the place of worship, the place the Israelites believe is the only place worthy of worshipping their one God, who will dwell there.

And so while this might not be about soap or coffee or nametags, there are 38 verses describing every single detail of this temple that Solomon is carefully building.  Solomon believes that this is important; that the building, the furnishings and the artwork are coming together to create an experience where the Israelites can hear the story of God’s creating work.

Our second scripture reading comes from Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the formation of the early Christian Church; it begins with Jesus’ ascension and goes from there.  The cool part about looking at the book of Acts alongside this passage from 1 Kings is that Acts tells the story of the church before it becomes the church that we know today.  It starts in people’s homes, with the apostles sharing the message of Christ’s resurrection from city to city.

Acts reminds us that we do not necessarily need a church building to worship God; but this particular scripture shows the, sort of, natural tendency for human beings to eventually find themselves in intentional spaces of worship.  The apostles are breaking bread together at home, but also spending “much time together in the temple.”[1]

The thing is, we do not need a physical church building to worship God.  But the building represents something, right?  It represents our faith, our hope, our desire to create love in this world. It represents our community, the cloud of witnesses that came before us whose lessons we are carrying with us and whose legacy we now uphold.  And I think history teaches us that space matters, that when we have a designated and carefully designed space to worship God we do so with intention and reverence and enthusiasm.  The details of our space not only matter, but they help us tell a beautiful story of the love we have for our God, of the pride we have for our community and of our desire to welcome others into our space.

I am not suggesting that we build a temple that is 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high with recessed windows and three stories.  But I am saying that our space matters.  Because I want people to walk through our doors and not only hear the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, but I want them to experience magic while they do so.

Earlier this week, I went on our Facebook group and posed the question that is the topic of this week’s sermon:  How can we create a space where people feel welcome? The responses were wonderful and thought-provoking and gave me so much pride for our church in the village and the spirit of hospitality that we are trying to foster here.  They ranged from talking about what we are already doing (physical access, nametags, delicious food) to simple ways that we can improve (hearing devices connected to our sound system, making fans available in the summer).  They talked about what happens when we leave our physical space and then extend our reach out beyond our walls (the Hillside Takeover, the Memorial Day Parade). Multiple people talked about the ways we extend our ministry beyond our membership (the bazaar, the bike blessing, your grace in giving me the time to preside over funerals for nonmembers).

What I love about these responses is that they are not specific to one area of our church and community – they span the gamut – which means that every single person in our church can participate in our ministry of hospitality; that no matter who you are or how long you have been attending RCC or how much time you have available or what you are interested in, you can help create a space of bold and extravagant welcome.

So how do we do this?

I said in my Facebook post that I hoped this sermon would start the biggest brainstorm session we have ever had – and I am going to start!  I have five suggestions.

#1.  Nametags, nametags, nametags!  I preached a whole sermon on this so I am not going to bore you again, but Rally Day is NEXT week, which means we might have some new faces in our pews.  If you have not been wearing your nametag this summer, dust it off and put it on next Sunday (and if you lost it, I will make you a new one).

#2. I want everyone to try to put yourself in an “outsiders” position and think about what our worship experience looks life. Coming to church and being in worship makes sense to all of us, because we are used to it, but is it easy for someone coming for the first time?

Is our signage clear and thorough?  Is there always a place for a newcomer to park? Do we make people feel welcome when they first walk in?  Are our worship bulletins easy to follow?  Do we approach first-time guests after worship and invite them into fellowship? Do we use language that new guests will be able to understand or do we use insiders language?

The thing about all of these questions is that if we are falling short there are simple and immediate solutions.  We can buy new signs, create designated parking and reformat the bulletin.  We can change our language.

We need to make it easy:  Easy to find out what time church is, easy to get here, easy to participate in worship and easy to get involved.  If you have a tangible suggestion about how we can make something more welcoming, please share it with me!  I will ask that you please try to share it with me using a kind and constructive tone, but remember that I am the worst offender of getting caught up in what we are doing because I am so deeply embedded into it.

#3. Let’s all look at our space – our physical space.  Is bright, fresh, clean and functional?  Does it give you a sense of calm and comfort?  If the answer to any one of those questions is, “not really,” then take the initiative, come up with a solution, talk to the Executive Board, maybe put together a group of people and make it happen.

Some of the church school classrooms got a fresh coat of paint this summer because two or three people took the initiative, came up with a solution and made it happen.  And they look fabulous!  There are so many little projects around our building – inside and outside – that might seem daunting for one person, but we are not one person, we are a village – the body of Christ.

#4. If you see someone that looks like they might be new, say, “Hello!”  Introduce yourself.  People always tell me that they are worried they might go up to someone they think is new and accidentally introduce themselves to someone who has been attending for months or even years.  But honestly – who cares?  If you do not know someone’s name, they are new to you.  If someone has a confused look on their face, ask them if they need help. When we have New Member Sunday, make it a point to talk to the new members in the weeks that follow; get to know them and find ways to integrate them into our community.

#5. Remember that it is the little things that make a difference.  If you know it is going to be hot, maybe offer to bring bottles of cold water and have them available for people in worship (who else was totally psyched when Bonnie Meagher was making root beer floats the Sunday the heat index was over 100°?). If it is going to rain, show up to church early with an umbrella and walk people in.  If it is going to be cold, offer to start people’s cars during Fellowship.  If you have not seen someone in awhile, contact the office for their phone number or address and give them a call or send them a note to let them know you are thinking about them.

Friends, this is it for our mini sermon series on hospitality.  I have to say that I am thrilled with the response that I have gotten to this already. From donations of nice-smelling soap to offers to help fix our front steps, people are carefully discerning ways that they can give back to this community that they love so much and to help to create a more hospitable space for others to be welcomed into.

So let us, like the first apostles that laid the foundation for the Christian church we love so much today, praise God and have the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day, may God use us to welcome others so that God can add to the number of those being saved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Acts 2:46, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork