Named, Claimed and Changed

Hi friends!

I am a few weeks behind in posting sermons here, I had an issue getting into my blog last week.  I will get caught up sometime this week!

In the meantime, here is this morning’s sermon and the video from worship.

Peace be with you. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 28, 2021

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Named, Claimed and Changed

Last Sunday, after worship, I logged onto a New Members Zoom Coffee Chat.  It was amazing; we have over 20 people interested in joining our church right now.  Dan Cogar said it best afterwards in our Deacons group text: “Still can’t get over the fact that during a time where churches, businesses, organizations etc. are justifiably struggling, we have the biggest group of potential new members that I can remember since we joined.”

God is good, friends.  Even though it is hard right now, God is still good.

It is weird, though, how we are currently living in this in-between time.  The crisis is not over, and yet we do see a light at the end of the tunnel.  We are still very much nurturing and putting our energy towards worship and programs that are either online or in some sort of drive-thru, socially-distanced format and yet we are starting to think about – and plan for – what it is going to look like when we re-gather in person again.  Yes, we have settled into what we are doing right now, but I do have a feeling that, similarly to the way things shut down last march, we are going to quickly find ourselves in a position where we can (with proper planning and protocols in place) gather in person again.

And so it is fun to celebrate what we are doing now and what we have done throughout this time of covid, but also to think about the things that we so desperately miss and look forward to getting back to them.

During our conversation at the New Members Zoom Coffee Chat, Jodi Durette talked about one of the things that she is most looking forward to when we get back to in-person and that is the children’s sermon.  And the thing is, I do not know what they are going to look like at first, obviously covid has changed a lot about how we gather children together to learn (we know this from watching the challenges schools have faced this year), but there was something about reading this scripture and reflecting on it throughout the week that made me long to be in worship in person with you all and call the children to gather around me up front and talk about this story in the bible.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Genesis; we were here last week when we were talking about Noah’s Ark and we have moved ahead a little bit in the narrative to the story of Abraham and Sarah.

I do not know about the rest of you, but I think that there are few stories in the bible that have catchier or livelier songs from our childhood Vacation Bible School days to go with them.

Who remembers the song?  Father Abraham, had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham.  I am one of them, and so are you; so let’s all praise the Lord!  And then, of course, there is a dance; right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around, sit down.

I have always loved preaching on the Abraham and Sarah narrative because it just lends itself to a really fun and boisterous children’s sermon where we sing and dance and then the kids run down to Church School while the adults spend the rest of the day with that song stuck in their head.

The story of Abraham and Sarah is another story about a covenant; a covenant that God made with Abraham, but also one that was intended to be passed throughout the generations.  In other words, similar to the covenant God made with Noah, this covenant God is making, here in this morning’s scripture, with Abraham, is one God also makes with us, today.

God says to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NRSV)

And while this covenant does not have nearly the beautiful imagery that the Noahic Covenant has (that rainbow was really something last week!), there is something really special about this covenant that I think actually makes it stand apart.

Before we go on, let, us really quickly, review the story of Abraham and Sarah.  We are first introduced to Abraham in the 11th chapter of Genesis; his father’s name was Terah and he was a descendent in the line of Noah.  Abram was married to a woman named Sarai; before we even get to this point in the story, there is actually a pretty long narrative detailing Abram and Sarai’s time in Egypt, where they fled when there was a famine in their own land.  We learn in this narrative that Sarai was barren and that she told Abram to conceive a child with their slave, Hagar; he did this, the slave bore a child, whose name was Ishmael.

While it would take much longer than the amount of time y’all want to sit in front of your devices and listen to me talk to go over the entire story of Abram and Sarai in detail, I do think it is important to point out that there is a lot of history with them leading up to this moment where God makes a covenant with them; they walked through some valleys before arriving at this point (and, of course – spoiler alert! – there are still challenging times ahead).

And yet, this is when God shows up and names them and claims them as God’s children.

No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful. (Genesis 17:5-6)

‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her. (Genesis 17:15-16)

There are two parts os this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful.

First of all, God calls them by name:

Your name shall be Abraham. (Genesis 17:5, NRSV)

Sarah shall be her name. (Genesis 17:15, NRSV)

Remember that, like the Noahic Covenant, this covenant is not just one that was made with Abraham, it is a covenant made with us, as well.  When God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations,” this means that these words are as much for as, as they were for Abraham.

Which means when God calls Abraham and Sarah by name and claims them as God’s own children, God is doing the same for us.  God is calling us by name.  God is claiming us as God’s own children.  I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: Even though we are walking through some dark moments right now, God has not abandoned us.  God is calling us by name, claiming us as children.  God is calling us by name, upholding a covenant made thousands of years ago with us, today.  God is calling us by name, calling us to proclaim God’s message of light, love and grace to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Beloved, know that God is calling you by name; God is claiming you as a child.  You are loved, you are cherished and you are worthy of this call.

This is what is promised to us in this covenant.

The second part of this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful is the fact that Abraham and Sarah were changed as a result of this covenant.  God said, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham … as for Sarai your wife … Sarah shall be her name.”  This covenant was so powerful and transformative and life-changing that they took on new names to live into it.

This is what it means to believe in God and follow God – to let your lives be changed, truly and powerfully changed, by God.  To make a commitment that is so strong and so resilient that you are willing to be changed, to give up part of your life that might be comfortable and easy and take on something that you might not yet know or understand.

How many of us are willing to make that commitment?

As I was reflecting on our gathering of new members on Zoom last week, one of things that really stood out to me was (and is) the way we were kind of forced to strip away a lot of the stuff that we thought was the fun and meaningful part of church – we cannot physically be together, watch the carnage unfold during the children’s sermon, eat together, sing together, enjoy activities together and so on, and so forth.  And yet, I think, in some ways (certainly not all), we have been changed for the better throughout this time.  Our faith is stronger.  Our relationship with God is more personal.

But the thing is, when we took away “the fun stuff,” we were left with the most basic, but foundational elements of our faith – we were left with scripture and prayer.

What a gift it has been for us to quiet the noise of the rest of it and to see and hear and know that God is naming us and claiming us.

And changing us.

Like I said last week, the season of Lent is a time of repentance; it is a time when we journey to the cross and remember the part of the story that grounds our faith in hope and resurrection.  It is a time where many of us give things up or take things on with the intended purpose of trying to draw closer to God.

One of the things I have been doing during Lent (although, full disclosure, I did start a few weeks ago) is to go through each room in my house and pay attention to the different spaces throughout the rooms.  I have been slowly clearing out clutter and putting together systems of organization that are simple and easy for young families to maintain.  The reason I started is because I felt like there was a lot of noise in my life (and not just the audible kind that a 3.5 year old and a 10 month old bring).  I am trying to try to quiet some of that noise and create a calmer space where there is room for God.

Where I can see and hear and know that God is naming me and claiming me.

And changing me.

It is my hope and my prayer that you are finding something this Lenten season – that is not too overwhelming nearly a year into a pandemic (remember to be gentle on yourself!) – that will help you create a space where there is room for God, where you can see and hear and know that God is naming you and claiming you and changing you.

So – this covenant does not come with a beautiful rainbow; but I think we have something just as special, just as powerful and just as promising.

Remember that Abram and Sarai walked through some valleys before arriving at a point where God showed up and named them and claimed them as God’s children.

May God do the same for us in this moment as we continue to walk through the valley of this season of life.

Friends, hear this Good News: You are a child of God.  God wants to be in relationship with you.  God want to name you and claim you and change you.  God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years ago and this promise has remained steadfast.  Nothing can, nothing will, break its bounds.  This is who we are, pandemic or not.

We are children of God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

Hi friends! It felt great to be back behind the pulpit today. I’ve missed chatting with everyone in the comments and worshiping together in this strange, but grace-filled space.

Here is my sermon and also the video from worship.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2021

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

I want to start off this morning by thanking everyone who tended to worship so carefully and gracefully in my absence the last two weeks.  It was great to step away, even though I did not go anywhere, because I had not really taken time since the pandemic began to do that.  I was joking with the Executive Board that, when the pandemic started, I stopped taking days off and started working a lot at night because things were changing so quickly and it seemed necessary at the time.  But here we are, nearly 11 months later, and I realized that was not necessarily a sustainable pace to maintain.  So it felt really good to stop and recharge, reflect and reset.

One of the best things that I did for myself during my two weeks off was to (and I realize how ironic it is that I am saying this while live on Facebook) take Facebook off my phone.

Here’s the thing:  I love Facebook, I joined when I was a sophomore in college.  It allows me to stay in touch with my family and friends, to share updates about my own life and, of course, to engage in a really special kind of ministry.  My gratitude towards Facebook and what it allowed (and continues to allow) us, as a community, to do throughout the pandemic, knows no bounds.  We were able to swiftly and pretty seamlessly move worship online and we created a beautiful community over in our Facebook group; through Facebook, we have prayed together and we have worshiped together and we have served together and we have problem-solved together and we have really gotten to know one another better together.

And yet, I needed to take a break.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but, for me, despite all of the good things and the potential for good things, Facebook felt like it had become a really negative place.  I know a lot of this had to do with the election and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, but it just felt as though every time I opened the app on my phone or logged in on my computer, I was inundated with intense division and conflict.

And it was one thing to watch strangers argue with one another – or even people I know arguing with people that I do not know.  But it was a completely different thing to see people I know and love arguing with one another.  As a pastor of a very diverse congregation, it weighed heavy on my heart to see and know that we were – are – so divided.  And the fact that we could not physically come together and talk about our differences face to face or even just put them aside to worship together, serve together and break bread together made it worse.  I wondered what it would be like when we were finally able to come back together; would we be able to find unity or had this virtual platform created too much division?

I was thinking about my currently complicated relationship with Facebook when I was reflecting on this week’s scripture reading from First Corinthians, particularly the part where Paul says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law.”[1]  Now, the point of these words is to highlight the fact that Paul is something of a chameleon; he is able to adapt to his surroundings and circumstances in ministry and really be who the people around him need him to be.  This is one of the reasons Paul’s voice changes in his different letters.

That being said, these words actually brought me a lot of comfort and encouragement in specifically reading them now because they reminded me that, from the very beginning, there was so much diversity within our faith.  Paul spoke in different “voices” because he was evangelizing – he was bringing the message of Jesus – to such vastly different people and places.  The Christian Church was built on this foundation of different opinions and values and traditions and lifestyles and beliefs.

This diversity has the powerful potential to be beautiful and to give our faith great depth and opportunities.  But it also has the equally powerful potential to divide us in ways that would not only be devastating to our church, but to the Gospel we are called to proclaim.

Let’s talk about this scripture for a minute.  1 Corinthians is a letter; it is a letter written by Paul in 54 CE to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it housed an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population.  The church that Paul founded was predominantly gentile, although in many ways it did mirror the diversity of the rest of the city.  In other words, just because most of the congregation was gentile did not mean that they all saw eye to eye on everything.

It was likely that people were separated into different parts of the city; that they had small, more intimate home churches (we all know a thing or two about that right now), but then eventually they did come together as an ekklesia, which is a Greek word that means assembly or congregation, to share a meal or to worship together.

As you can imagine, when a community with that kind of diversity comes together, there is a very real potential that disputes can happen and conflicts will arise.  In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to reports that he was hearing about disputes within the congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if hearing about these disputes weighed heavy on Paul’s heart the way it does on mine when I see people that I know, members of our congregation, quarreling about different things.  What’s funny about Corinth – a bustling urban center – is that, in many ways, it reminds me of our little church in the village in our right to farm community.  We have different political, economic, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds.  We do not always see things the same way; we have different priorities for ourselves and for our families.

So when Paul says that he becomes a Jew when he is with Jews and under the law when he is with someone under the law, etc. etc. it resonates with me because I do find myself using different voices depending on the context of the conversation I am having.

I think that is why the conflicts and the division hurt so bad; because I see good in all of us in these different conversations, it is just difficult to bring them together.  And that is not to say I am not being genuine, rather I am trying to bring the Gospel into different contexts.

But this is nothing new.  Our diversity and our struggle to rise up above our differences is not something that is unique to our generation.  In fact, it is one of the reasons Jesus came in the first place, one of the reasons that we are in such desperate need of God’s grace.

My favorite part of this particular passage comes at the very end, verse 23, and it is where Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  Because this statement reminds me – it should remind all of us – why we do this in the first place.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are called to put that Gospel into action and transform people’s lives for the better.  We are called to not only be in relationship with God, but also encourage others in their own relationships with God and on their own faith journey.

Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always agree with one another.  Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always see things the same way.  Paul says he does this for the sake of the gospel, so that he may share in its blessings.  And he does this no matter where he is or who he is talking to.

I do think that part of our call as Christians is to find ways to create unity in the midst of diversity.  Part of our call as Christians is to find ways to share the blessings of the Gospel across those lines of division that are working on overdrive to try to pull us apart right now.

And I know that this is not as simple as saying that we all just need to “agree to disagree.”  I know there are fundamental differences at play, many of them involving basic human rights and I am not trying to gloss over them.

I am just trying to bring us together.

We have come out of a really hard election season – remember this is the first time I am preaching since the inauguration – we  are still living through a really divisive moment in our political history and, of course, we are constantly facing the added challenges (which is an understatement) that the pandemic brings.

But I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for unity.  It is a moment where we heed the call of scripture to share in the blessings of the Gospel.  It is a moment where we put that Gospel into action, not because we all agree with one another, but because this is who we are, as the Body of Christ.

Friends, it is great to be back.  In many ways, I do feel as though we are entering a new season in ministry.  Not only are we getting ready to begin Lent (not this week, but next!), but we are also starting to think about, what is the church going to look like the world starts to re-open again?  How are we going to re-gather safely?  How are we going to continue to nurture our virtual spaces?  How will we re-imagine the celebration of our 300th anniversary in the meantime?  How will we leave an imprint of the Gospel on our town and our surrounding communities so that people not only know that we are here, but what we are all about and might be inspired to join us, as well and begin their own journey of faith.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

And we have to do it together.

So let us, like Paul says, work together for the sake of the Gospel so that we might share in its blessings.  Let us do what we are being called to do, both as individual Christians, but also as a church.

And may our voices – though they might be different – come together and share this Good News.

Because it is Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, NRSV

This Is Our Moment

Hi friends!  As soon as I hit publish on this post I am signing off for two weeks, so if you don’t see a post from me, I’m okay!  Just on vacation and taking a little step back from my virtual world.  My sermon from this morning and the video from worship are below.  See you in February!

Peace be with you, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-10
John 1:43-51

This Is Our Moment

When I was in seminary, we talked about call stories a lot; stories highlighting the moment or moments in our lives when we knew God was calling us into the ministry.  For some of us, there was one crystal clear moment where we knew for certain what God was asking us to do, for others of us there was a series of moments and some of us just found ourselves in seminary, not really sure what God was up to.

I consider myself to fall within that middle group where there were a series of moments that led up to the realization that I was being called into the ministry.  From that point on, I can even say that there were a series of moments that led me into ministry in a church setting and even moments that specifically led me here and moments that have kept me here and helped me to see that vision (there is last year’s Star Word) that God has for us together in ministry.

I have always loved call stories.  They are, essentially, somebody welcoming you into an intimate moment between themselves and God.  Call stories can be a moment of vulnerability for someone as they try to explain something that might not necessarily be explainable in human words.  They are a peak into someone’s life and purpose.

They can also be a significant moment of purpose and change, not only for the person sharing their story, but also for those who are bearing witness to it.  They are an opportunity for a wider community of people to see where God is at work in this world, something that I think we need desperately, now more than ever.  To see and hear and know that God is at work within the people around us is to believe that God is with us and that God has not abandoned us and that God has a purpose for all of our lives, as well.

Which brings me to this morning’s scripture readings.  I decided to look at both the Old Testament passage from the lectionary and also the Gospel this week.  They both include call stories – one of the Old Testament prophets, Samuel and the other of Philip and Nathaneal, two of Jesus’ disciples.

Our reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of 1 Samuel, which is part of the narrative history of Israel in the Old Testament called the Deuteronimistic history.  God called Samuel when he was a young boy; he was ministering under a high priest named Eli when he hears God calling out to him.  Assuming it is Eli calling his name, Samuel runs to Eli, who tells him he had not called Samuel and that Samuel should go back to sleep.  This happens three times before Eli realizes what is happening, that it is actually God calling out to Samuel.  At this point, Eli instructs Samuel to go lie down and when he hears God calling him again to respond by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Our Gospel reading comes from the Gospel according to John, where Jesus calls Philip and Nathaneal.  Nathaneal is only mentioned in the Gospel of John, though some scholars (not all, but some) also identify him as the disciple, Bartholomew, who is mentioned as one of the 12 disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Philip’s call story is pretty straight forward – Jesus finds Philip, says, “Follow me” and Philip follows him.  But in this record of Nathaneal’s call story, it is a little more complicated.  Nathaneal wants to know where and how Jesus came to know Nathaneal.  And when Nathaneal recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus tells Nathaneal that he is about to see and believe more than he can conceive right now.

What I love about both of these call stories is that they are complex.  The person being called does not necessarily know right away that it is God calling them or how they are supposed to respond.  Samuel assumes the voice he hears is an earthy voice and Nathaneal has some questions about why, specifically, he is being called.  What we learn from both of these stories is that when God calls us, whether we are being called into vocational ministry or, more likely, when we are being called, personally, to the work of God in our lives, it might not necessarily be straightforward or easy to decipher at first.

Samuel thinks Eli is calling him at first.  Nathaneal wants to know how Jesus knows him.  Both of these call stories remind us that it is okay if we do not figure it out right away, if we do not know or understand the precise moment God calls what, exactly, we are supposed to be doing.

But the thing is, God is persistent.  God does not give up on us.  If God has something for us to do, God is going to keep calling us until we, like Samuel, say, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” or we, like Philip and Nathaneal, respond to those words, “Come and see … follow me.”

We are living through a very complicated moment in our history.  And, in many ways, I am over it; I think we all are.  At some point I think we would all like to go back to a world that will not fill volumes of history books one day.  That being said, we have the opportunity right now to define what this narrative is going to say and how future generations will see God at work in our lives and in the world.

We were talking about the insurrection in bible study on Wednesday morning, particularly the flags bearing Jesus’ name on them that were carried into the Capitol.  The concern, of course, is what happens when a non-Christian or, perhaps, a discerning Christian, sees Jesus’ name cast in such a violent light.  Does that define the narrative?  Does that tell the story of the Gospel and of the work God has done and is continuing to do in this world?

Only if we let it.

Friends, I believe, with every ounce of my being, that God is calling us right now to do something really important.  We are being called to share a message of light, of love and of grace.  We are being called to offer faith and reconciliation to a world that is broken.  We are being called to proclaim the bold and radical truth that resurrection means something, and that redemption is always possible.  We are being called to show the world that God is not finished and that hope real – and that it is always worth holding onto.

And to be clear, I do not believe that this takes away from the individual calls that we all have.  We have all been called on personal levels, professional levels, community levels, to our families and even here, at the church.  But in addition to those calls – in addition to the things that we are already doing and the ways that God has already called us into some sort of ministry and service – I believe that we have been called into this moment.

This moment where the world is broken and in need of healing.

This moment where Christ’s message of love needs to overpower the rhetoric of hatred and violence.

This moment where the Gospel can transform our lives.

This moment where we are tired and weary, but we believe in the capacity that we have to hold it together and keep going forward.

This is our moment.  God is calling us.

After a long, tumultuous and exhausting election season, a new president will take the oath of office on Wednesday.  Following the attack on the Capitol, there are growing threats of violence around our beloved country; in fact, our conference sent an email this week encouraging churches to close their buildings on Wednesday because of threats specifically made to churches.  No matter who you voted for, I think we all feel a little bit uneasy right now.

But I just keep thinking that we can shine light into this very dark moment.  We – as children of God, as devoted followers of Christ – can do something to make this better.  We can share the Gospel in real and practical ways, ways that actually make a difference in people’s lives, ways that restore people’s faith and define the narrative of Jesus as one of love and hope and reconciliation and peace and justice and compassion and mercy and kindness.  This is what defines our beloved church in the village and I believe this can define our greater Christian Church, as well.

Friends, I believe that God is calling us.  And like Samuel and like Nathaneal, it might not necessarily be clear or easy to understand or easy to respond to.  But this is our moment and God needs us.  God needs us to say yes.  God needs us to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  God needs us to follow God.  God needs us to show up; show up in our churches and show up in our communities.  God needs us to take the Gospel and share it with the world.

Friends this is our moment and the moment is now.  Let us say yes to God’s call.  Let us take the Gospel and share it with the world.  Let us write this chapter of the Christian narrative and tell future generations about the love that was shared and the hope that was real.

And let us believe that God has prepared us and strengthened us for this moment.

Friends, as church, I believe this is our call story.  May this be a significant moment of purpose and change – not only for us, but for those we will meet along our journey.

God, speak; for your servants are listening.

Come on; let’s go.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.