Prepare To Change The World

I don’t normally preach on Homeless Awareness Weekend, but it light of what happened in Sutherland Springs, TX the week before, I really needed to respond from the pulpit.  We ended up having a really nice service – following my remarks and the choir anthem, I interviewed the kids that took part in Homeless Awareness Weekend and they were able to each talk a little bit about their experiences over the weekend.

Here’s my sermon!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

Prepare To Change The World

(I could not help but laugh at the irony of the scripture that says, “Keep awake” being read the Sunday after Homeless Awareness Weekend, where students and chaperones traditionally yawn their way through worship.)

(Sometimes I think God has a funny sense of humor when it comes to what pops up in the lectionary.)

Last weekend, I was on a ministry high. We had an amazing bazaar on Friday and Saturday, we officially welcomed 16 new members into our church family Sunday morning, this year’s confirmation class was scheduled to meet on Sunday night and we were all looking ahead to our 11th annual Homeless Awareness Weekend. Church life was busy, but church life was also very good. There was vitality, a “sweet, sweet spirit in this place,” as we sung on Sunday morning.

But as I was preparing for confirmation, my phone started lighting up with news alerts from CNN; a gunman had opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Over 20 people had been killed.

A church.

A place that is supposed to be a safe space for people to gather, seek wisdom, worship God, find community and offer their prayers.

The question of how we, as a church, respond to gun violence has been the forefront of my mind all week.

The beginning of the week was a little surreal. I offered prayers for the victims of this shooting every time I gathered with even a small group of people. I participated in conversations that used the phrase, “active shooter protocol.” I reviewed our own policies and procedures and then discussed with my clergy group ways we could make our churches safer. My heart was heavy as, over and over again, I was reminded of our brokenness.

But since there was nothing I could do to fix what happened in Texas on Sunday, I turned my attention to Homeless Awareness Weekend preparations. Because not only did our youth and chaperones deserve my attention, I really do believe that the work we do makes a difference, not only in the lives of the people here, but also in our greater community and throughout the world. This weekend has, and will continue to, change people’s lives.

I also believe that, as Christians, when we are faced with adversity, it is our not only our privilege, but also our responsibility to respond with hope and to preach the Good News of resurrection and the unequivocal truth that God’s love always wins.

And so that is what we did this weekend.

As the forecast grew colder, we did adjust our plans accordingly, but this weekend RCC youth and advisors created an outward expression of God’s love in our midst. We took back the sacred space of our church sanctuary as we gathered for worship and communion on Friday night. We gathered around a table of extravagant welcome and remembered what it means to be nourished by simple elements of bread and juice, broken and poured out for every single one of us. We stepped boldly into the darkness, but did so carrying a light that illuminated the path in front of us.

On Saturday, we took to the streets, raising money for organizations who are working directly with people in need of assistance. We prepared food for the hungry, remembering when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We prayerfully discerned what it meant for us to have the ability to move parts of our weekend indoors and reflected humbly on what these harsh winter temperatures mean for people living in homelessness. We talk about the desperate need in our country for emergency shelters.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a parable; it is part of the last of the five major blocks of Matthew’s teaching and addresses what happens when God’s timing does not necessarily match up with our own timing. In this parable, ten bridesmaids went to meet the bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids brought oil for their lamps; they were described as wise. The other five did not bring oil for their lamps; they were described as foolish. The bridegroom was delayed and when he arrived, the foolish bridesmaids were almost out of oil for their lamps and had to leave to buy more. By the time they returned to the wedding banquet with more oil, the door was shut and they were not allowed in.

In this parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and, presumably, we are the bridesmaids. We are called to prepare for the coming of Christ in our lives and in the world.

The fact that this parable uses lamps in the metaphor of how we can prepare ourselves for Christ is fitting for Homeless Awareness Weekend, where we traditionally use flashlights to illuminate our walk from the church to the field after worship on Friday night and keep fires lit on the field throughout the weekend to offer both light and warmth. These symbols of light boldly call us to shine our own lights into the world, reminding us that if sometimes the world seems dark that just means WE have to find, create and share a light that all can see, witness and carry in their own lives.

But even more than that, this parable calls us to be wise as we prepare to live out God’s call for us in the world. We have to be active participants in God’s work here on earth and this is something we must commit to doing every single day. As this parable calls the bridesmaids to always keep oil in our reserves, it calls us today to be ready to shine light into a world that, far too often, is plagued with darkness. We do not always know what life will bring, but we do know that, in the midst of this uncertainty, we can bear witness to God’s light, love and grace. And in doing so, we have the propensity to transform our lives and also the lives of those we meet along our journeys.

So how do we respond to gun violence, especially when it hits so close to home, here at our church? We can prepare our church by reviewing our safety policies and procedures, which we are doing and will continue to do in the days and weeks to come.

But we can also prepare our hearts to proclaim the Gospel. We can create light and let that light shine so no one has to experience darkness. We can refuse to let evil win. We can hold onto the hope of resurrection and proclaim that hope, even when it is hard to do. We can be living and constant testaments to our faith and to a love that always wins.

We can affect change in our communities. We can take part in weekends like Homeless Awareness, so that we see a world outside of our own and use our privilege to help those less fortunate. We can participate in other mission activities, both through the church and outside of it, well. We can get involved here at the church and strengthen our community. We can encourage others and build one another up, so they, too, can resist evil, shine light, spread love and uncover grace.

Friends, it is at times such as these when we are called to show the world what it means to follow Christ. And just like those wise bridesmaids, we are ready.

We are ready.

And I do believe we can and will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Blessed Is Our Church In The Village

GUYS.

It’s been too long.  I actually took two weeks off from preaching because we had testimonies as part of our stewardship campaign and then last week was so nutty at the church that I never was able to upload my sermon.

SO – he we go.  This is my sermon from November 5th.  I used the All Saints Day liturgy, but tied it into our church bazaar weekend (which is a BIG DEAL in Rehoboth).  We received new members that Sunday and shared communion, so it was a busy Sunday with not a lot of time to preach.  That being said – it didn’t need to be a long sermon!  The message was succinct.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 5, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed Is Our Church In The Village

I told Bruce that between new members and communion, I would have approximately four and a half minutes to preach this week.

So I am going to do my best to keep my remarks brief this morning.

The reading we just heard from the Gospel of Matthew is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus taught the golden rule of kindness, the Lord’s Prayer and various other sayings and proverbs that have sustained our faith for 2,000 years.

This particular text is called, the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are expressed as the blessings that surround us; they are reminders of the blessings in our lives and a promise of the blessings God gives to us in life and beyond life. They are presented not only to those that Jesus was speaking to that day, but also to us, today, as a vision that Jesus had for heaven on earth.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a time where we remember and lift up the saints in our lives. These are the people, the cloud of witnesses who have come before us, who have impacted our lives and made this world a better place, who worked tirelessly in their lives to create that heaven on earth. We read the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday as we celebrate the ways in which all of our saints were and are so very blessed; blessed in the eyes of all of us here today and blessed in the arms of our creating, redeeming and sustaining God.

As I thought about the Beatitudes in relation to the work we, as a community, do at our annual Christmas bazaar, I was struck by the ways in which we are forming our own cloud of witnesses right here, right now, in our lifetime. The work we do here at our church in the village matters; we touch people’s lives. We are laying the groundwork that will impact the lives not only of the people in our generation, but also in the generations of people to come.

I have always said that I love the bazaar so much because it is the one time of year where everyone in the community comes together for one common goal. This does not work – we do not raise over $10,000 in two days – without the help of every single person in this community. It takes a church in the village to pull off the bazaar and this year was no different.

As I thought about the Beatitudes in relation to everything that was going on at the church for the bazaar this weekend, I could not help but think that there might be a new translation relevant to our special community.

Blessed are the turkey makers, for they spend hours in the kitchen ensuring we kick off our bazaar with a delicious thanksgiving dinner.

Blessed are the luncheon ladies, for they fill our stomachs with food, our hearts with love and our ears with good music.

Blessed are the servers, for they bring food, clear plates and ensure everyone is greeted with a smile.

Blessed are the people who work behind the scenes, setting up and cleaning up, for the work they do sometimes goes unnoticed, but is always valued and cherished.

Blessed are the crafters, for they work year round and create the most beautiful pieces to sell.

Blessed are the woodworkers, for they transform fallen trees into incredible works of art.

Blessed are the silent auctioneers, for they ask and call and solicit and put together a room with something for everyone.

Blessed are the gatherers, for they take something someone is throwing away and turn it into someone else’s fall and Christmas décor.

Blessed are the car parkers, for they wave and extend a hand of hospitality as they welcome all people onto our property.

Blessed are the bakers and the food makers, for they fill Goff Hall with the incredible smells of tasty treats.

Blessed are the advertisers, for they spread the word and invite people to come to our fun tradition.

Blessed are the money counters, for they take care of our finances.

Blessed are the Christmas tree decorators and the raffle ticket sellers, for they get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Blessed are the buyers, the bidders, the diners and the dieters who put their diets on hold for a few days, for without them we would still have a church full of stuff.

Blessed are all members of our church in the village, for they care for one another, reach out to the community, find grace and celebrate God’s never ending presence in their lives.

Friends, this morning I am grateful for the blessings that abound; for a wonderful bazaar weekend, for the 16 people who officially joined our church in the village and for the Holy Spirit that moves and grooves among us, inspiring us to live out the Gospel and change people’s lives. I am grateful for the blessings that were then, the blessings that are now and the blessings that are still to come.

Blessed are we, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, the Church in the Village.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Rejoice In Stewardship

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

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

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

Have a great week, everyone!

***

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

Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice In Stewardship

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

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

Basically – an entire service about money.

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

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

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

Hopefully that will not happen here this morning.

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

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

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

Paul said:

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

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

This has absolutely nothing to do with money.

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

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

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

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

It is hard.

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

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

Or we can rejoice in the Lord always.

Again, I will say, rejoice.

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

That actually sounds like a lot of fun.

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

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

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

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

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us rejoice in the Lord always!

Again, I will say, Rejoice!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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