Stretch Out Your Hands

Hi friends!  It is Rally Day at RCC and even though we have not yet re-gathered in person, we are very much excited to kick off the program year!  Our worship began with some really special gathering music – our choir recorded an anthem in their homes and then Nathan compiled it together. There are also images from our first ever Drive Thru Communion, which we hosted last week, included at the end of the music – and a welcome from my family!

We ventured into the Old Testament this morning – one of my favorite stories from Exodus.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 13, 2020

Exodus 14:19-31

Stretch Out Your Hands

We are going to do something a little bit different today; we are going to hang out in the Old Testament.  We have spent a lot of time in the New Testament lately; in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans.  These two books of the bible have been so good for us as we have been reminded about God’s goodness, the promises of hope and grace and also the realness of love.  They have also commissioned and challenged us as a church, about what we can do during this time of uncertainty.

However this week, I felt drawn to the Old Testament, particularly to this passage of scripture, from the 14thchapter of Exodus.

I have to be honest; one of the reasons I love this story so much is because I associate it with a really good memory.  When I was a first-year seminary student, an animated movie version of the Ten Commandments came out and it was in theaters when my seminary friends and I were studying Exodus – which is where the story of the Ten Commandments is – in our Old Testament class.

I mean, what were the odds?

So – like the really cool biblical scholars that we were, a group of us decided to go out one Friday night to see it – and, of course, critique its biblical accuracy.

Now before you say, “Oh Sarah, but you probably ruined all the other movie-goers experience by critiquing the entire movie,” have no fear – we were the only ones in the theater.

Apparently that is not how the rest of Atlanta wanted to spend their Friday night.

Anyway, the movie was terrible; the animation felt about as good as the animation for Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, both of which came out in the 60’s.  But there was actually something very endearing about how they played out this particular scene, the parting of the Red Sea (or the “Sea of Reeds” as it actually translated too, which we so obnoxiously pointed out that day in the theater).

It’s not that the animation was any better when Moses parted the seas; it actually felt like the Israelites were walking through the big exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium.  But there was this sense of safety and amazement when the seas parted and the Israelites began to journey through it.  It is almost like they knew they were going to be okay; that they were going to make it to the other side and that the Egyptian army following them would be stopped.

In the movie, there was a sweet moment where a little girl got separated from her parents because she stopped and stuck her face into the water to see the fish.  Moses then scooped her up and carried her to her parents, who, at this point, were frantically looking for her; Moses was laughing and said, “She wanted to see the fish!” (quite frankly sounding more like what I think Santa Claus sounds like and less like Moses).

To be clear, I do not think this is actually how this all happened.  But there is something really comforting about a story that reminds us that even when we are faced with an enormous obstacle in front of us – like a body of water – God can intervene and lead us to safety.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Exodus, which can be found in the Old Testament – it is the second book in the bible.  There are two narratives in this book – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (and, of course, the instructions and laws that follow).

The name, Exodus, is derived from Greek; and it refers to that first narrative – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, which can be found in chapters 1-15.  The passage we are looking at today – 14:19-31 – is at the end of this narrative.

You can look at the Book of Exodus in two ways:  The first as a continuation of the story of Jacob and his clan in Egypt, which began in Genesis and the second as a distinct account of Israel’s formation and the ensuing covenant God makes with them.[1]  Either is fine; I think for our purpose of trying to see how these words and this story apply to us today, it is helpful to look at Exodus as this distinct account; to think about God’s covenant with Israel then and therefore God’s covenant with us, today.

We pick up the story today as the Israelites are approaching the Red Sea.  Now, these Old Testament stories do tend to get a little long, which is why we are not looking at more of this narrative, but I do think it is important to at least remind ourselves of what happened immediately prior to this passage.

So Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt; the journey was long and arduous and the Egyptian army was actually following them and starting to starting to close in on them as they approached this, seemingly, impassable sea.  And so the Israelites started to question Moses, which you do not necessarily blame them for.  But then God told Moses to lift up his staff, to stretch his hand over the sea and then to divide the sea so the Israelites could travel through it on dry land.[2]

And he did.

And they did.

And once they were through then God told Moses to, again, stretch out his hand over the sea to bring the waters back down so the Egyptians would not be able to pass through and the Israelites would be able to continue their journey safely.

What I love about this story is not that it reminds me of the Georgia Aquarium (although that was one of my favorite places to go when I lived there), but that it proves that no obstacle is too big for God to intervene.

This story reminds us that God can do the impossible; it shows us that nothing, not even an impassible body of water, is too big for God to intercede with a solution that we never could have come up with on our own.

In so many ways right now, it feels as though every day we are approaching a new sea that needs to be parted.  And some of this is covid-related, but some of it is not, because even without the pandemic, life is hard.  We are constantly faced with obstacles that we have to figure out how to get over, around, under or through and so often we stand in front of them and think to ourselves, it is not humanely possible to do this.

And you know what?  You’re right.  It is not humanely possible.

But that is where God comes in.

We are up against some really big obstacles right now – in our personal lives, in our life at church, within our community and certainly throughout our country.  And many, if not most, of them, I do not have solutions for; I do not necessarily even have good ideas, either.

However – isn’t that where faith comes in?  Are these not the moments where we have to stretch out our hands and put our faith and our trust in God that the seas will part and that we, too, will be delivered to safety?  Are these not the moments where we have to believe that it is not by our own human flesh, but there but by the grace of God that we will find ways over, around, under and through these obstacles.

Last week we hosted our first-ever Drive-Thru Communion.  We had never done this before; there was no tradition or precedent for us to follow.  We wanted to honor the sacredness of the sacrament, but also needed to ensure we were complying with state regulations and public health recommendations.  Truth be told, a few weeks ago we had no idea what we were doing.  It seemed like we had come up against an impossible obstacle.

But we put our faith in God, stood in front of that sea and stretched our hands over it.

And it parted.

And we stepped forward onto dry ground.

And it was good.  And it was holy.  And 55 people were able to come to this table we created in our driveway and receive grace in abundance as they shared in the meal.

Friends, I know the obstacles in front of us seem large and impassable right now – reopening schools, putting out wildfires, bridging political divides, reconciling systemic racism and inequality and putting an end to this pandemic.  This does not, of course, include the obstacles that we, as individuals and families face in our personal lives.  A lot of things feel impossible right now.

But God is in the business of the impossible – the impassable.  God parted those seas and brought the Israelites to safety and we have to believe that the same will happen to us, today.

So let us, like Moses, put our faith and our trust in God.  Let us approach obstacles not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and hope.  Let us stretch out our hands and believe that God is going to part those waters and bring us safely to the other side.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised Edition. Copyright © 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers. Page 83.
[2] Exodus 14:10-16

 

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How We Are Responding

Hi friends!

We are still in Romans, which has been such a gift for us in this stage of covid life.  We shared communion today and are getting ready for our first Drive-Thru Communion (I will let you know how it works!).  It feels good to be doing and planning right now – while I do believe that we will get to the other side of this, it’s nice to find ways to do church in the meantime.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14

How We Are Responding

A few months ago was I was in my office sitting at my desk and for some reason I started thinking about September 11th.  I began to wonder how I would have responded if I had been pastoring at the time.  Not to exploit my age or anything, but I was in high school when the planes hit the towers; beyond the fact that I lived relatively close to New York City and had friends whose parents commuted into the city to work, those attacks did not affect my day-to-day very much; I did not have to respond.

So there I was, sitting in my office, thinking about that day and the weeks and months that followed and I began to wonder what I would have said; how I would have led my church through a national crisis.  At the time – a few months ago – I had preached following mass shootings and natural disasters, but I had never pastored through anything that would fill chapters of history books.

How quickly things change.

I guess now, for better or for worse, I have the opportunity to find out how I will respond to a national crisis.

I was thinking about this as I was reflecting on this morning’s scripture throughout the week, particularly Paul’s words in verse 11:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.[1]

How it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

It is now the moment.

In so many ways, I do believe that now is the moment; now is the moment for me, as a pastor, to practice what I preach, to lean into the Gospel and to be innovative, yet grassroots in my ministry.  Now is the moment for us, as a church, to not be defined by buildings, but by people; to not be confined to buildings, but deployed out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, just like the earliest followers of Christ did.  Now is the moment for us, as a community, to care for one another and to think creatively about how to do the things we need to do.  Now is the moment for all of us to rise up, to believe in the promises of our faith and to overcome the crisis we are facing together.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans; we have been hanging out in this letter for the past couple of weeks.  We know that, while Paul did not found this particular church, that he was familiar with it; that, in this letter, he was responding to reports of division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, two very different groups of people who were, together, following this new faith.  This particular section first addresses love and then it talks about specific behavioral problems, such as sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy between different groups of people.

Let’s start with the first section on love.  In these verses, Paul is referencing Jesus’ words when he talks about the Greatest Commandment, which is kind of an RCC favorite, so let’s recap that first.  In the Gospel, when asked, out of all of the commandments, what is the greatest, Jesus responds by saying we should love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, our mind and our soul and we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

In other words:  Love God.  Love people.

Paul reiterates Jesus’ message in his words here.  He talks about the ten commandments, almost reminding the Romans that there are rules that they need to live by, but that they can be summed up in love; that love is the fulfillment of these laws.

These words are super relevant right now, because the words needs love.  The world needs to be reminded that behind every divisive issue, scary circumstance and impossible scenario are people who can, like our church sign has said since March, love one another through this.

And we can.

And we will.

It is funny that I was so drawn to verse 11 and Paul’s words, “how it is now the moment,” because Paul was not actually talking about how to live through and pastor through a pandemic; he was talking about societal behavioral problems, including sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy, which are not really the same thing.

HOWEVER – I do actually see some strange parallels to one another.  What Paul is saying here is that we should live for Christ and not for our own flesh.  Verse 14 – the last verse in this passage – says:

Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.[2]

In other words, the things that our bodies are naturally drawn to, the traps that we cannot quite help but fall into – which Paul names as reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy – are the things we have to fight like heck to push aside so that we can live into Christ.

So that we can, as Paul writes, “put on the armor of light.”  So we can share the Good News and help others to know God.  So we can respond to the trials and tribulations that life often throws at us and lean into our faith instead of running away from it.  So we can journey through a global pandemic – a national crisis unlike any we have ever seen before in our lifetime – and one day look back and be proud of how we responded.

Proud of the ways we stepped up to help the least of these.

Proud of the ways we complied with recommendations even when we did not want to.

Proud of the ways we made the best of bad situations and tried to help others do the same.

Proud of the ways we remembered and clung to the promises of scripture; to the hope that we were created for a moment just like this.

Paul’s words here, in this section, are also super relevant right now, because I think people are pretty much ready to snap.  And I do think that, with the mounting frustration and fear and fatigue comes the tendency to fall into certain traps; to scroll more than we should, to pick fights with other people (particularly in online forums), to rely on unhealthy vices or to make choices that just are not great.

But here Paul reminds us – he encourages us – to resist these traps and to live into Christ.

And I cannot think of a better message for us to hear as we transition into yet another season within this season of covid.

When Paul says that, “it is now the moment,” he is saying this because there was a sense of urgency.  They believe the second coming is imminent and that there is not a lot of time to get it together before it happens.  We, Christians living in this generation, have never really understood this sense of urgency, but I think we do now.

And while I am not saying that this is the end of the world (guys, we will get through this, I promise, science is working as fast as it can on a vaccine – this is not forever, this is just for now, we just do not know how long now is), I am saying that I think over the past six months our perspective has changed.  We do have a sense of urgency – just for different reasons.  But they are real.  And they are challenging us and pushing us right now.

Because we understand suffering and frustration and helplessness on a completely different level.

But here is the question I think we need to ask ourselves – when we come out on the other side of this – whenever that is and whatever it looks like, what do we want people to remember about how we responded? Do we want people to remember that we fell into the traps of our own humanness and picked fights and relied on unhealthy vices?  Or do we want people to remember that we responded with love?

Friends, it is now the moment.

It is now the moment to show the community who we are.

It is now the moment to declare to the world that, despite these crazy times we are living in, love still wins.

It is now the moment to lean into our faith and the hope that is promised to us in scripture.

It is now the moment to help others; to care for the least of these and to put the Gospel into action.

It is now the moment to find commonalities that bring us together so that we can be united and remembered for the ways we put positivity and hope and light into the world during a very scary moment.

So friends, it is now the moment.  I invite you to put on the armor of light, to be honorable to live into Christ; to love one another in a way that will bring the dawn of a new day.

And one day may future generations look back at this time – at our church, our community, our family – and see that when we responded, we proclaimed the Good News.

And that we changed the world for the better.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 13:11, NRSV
[2] Romans 13:14, NRSV

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Hold Fast To What Is Good

Hi friends!

We continue to “do church” during these strange and unprecedented times.  It is fun to put dates ONTO the calendar, instead of just taking them off.  Next week we are going to try a drive-thru communion for the first time and our Missions Committee is working on a drive-thru dinner for mid-September.  During worship today we blessed backpack tags and device stickers (here is the liturgy if you would like to use it in your church!) and will send them out to our kids so they’re ready for the start of school.

We continued where we left off in Romans today – this letter has been such a source of comfort to me lately.  I hope you find comfort in Paul’s words, as well!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 30, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

Hold Fast To What Is Good

Well, it has been a week.

Wildfires moved quickly and fiercely through California.

A category four hurricane decimated the Louisiana coast.

A black man was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer, igniting a new wave of black lives matter protests and demonstrating just how much work we still have to do with racial reconciliation in our country.

The Republican National Convention wrapped up and, following last week’s Democratic National Convention, officially kicked off what we all know is going to be a very volatile and divisive presidential election.

Actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43, and indescribable loss to the Hollywood community, both as an actor and as a person.

Schools are trying to re-open. And it’s not easy. And people have lot of thoughts about that.

And this seems so small in the grand scheme of things, but someone impersonated me on Instagram, which was super annoying to have to deal with while I was at the doctor with my daughter for her four-month well visit.

AS AN ASIDE – and I say this not only because of what happened to me on Instagram this week, but also because I have had several clergy friends who have been impersonated by email and it caused giant messes at their churches – please know that I will never randomly email or direct message you on social media and ask you for money or gift cards. I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are evil people in this world that unfortunately are really good with technology. And they really should use their technological geniuses to make the world a better place instead of trying to scam people, but – alas – here we are. Moral of the story: If something seems not like me, it’s probably not me.

But – that is actually a really good segue into this morning’s scripture reading, from Romans. It begins:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9, NRSV)

So let’s talk about evil (that’s a fun topic for a Sunday morning, right?)

Unfortunately, in a lot of different ways, we have all seen evil unfold over the past several weeks – even months. We are living through an indescribable moment in history, collectively wondering when – and how – this chapter is going to end. Amidst a global health crisis our news is filled with headlines of violence, division and turmoil. It is not a dream, it is not a movie, it is not some scenario we are trying to avoid; it is the reality of the world we are living in right now.

But despite all of this, I think we have also seen a lot of love – a lot of true and tangible and genuine love. We have seen goodness in people, in communities and in organizations. We have seen kindness and compassion come in simple and grassroots, but also very real ways. We have seen love conquer the evil we are facing; we have seen good overcome the bad.

And this scripture reminds us that, in this moment, we have to hold fast to what is good.

That is how we will get through these challenging times, how we will close out this chapter in history we are writing.
Scripture has always kind of fascinated me – for several reasons. First of all, it is so diverse in terms of literature and style, so there is a little something for everybody, no matter what you are going through. Second of all, there is a lot of overlap in stories and timelines, so you know, that even if every single word is not 100% historically accurate, that there is still truth to scripture as a whole.

And finally, scripture has stood the test of time. It has been around a lot longer than we have – thousands of years, in fact. So while we keep saying that we are living in unprecedented times and we have never experienced a pandemic before – scripture has.

Scripture has been through wars and exiles and natural disasters and pandemics.

And it has lived through it.

And it has been a stronghold and a lifeline for people.

In many ways, scripture has never been so real to me. Sure, it has spoken to me at different points throughout my life and, in many ways, captivated me (I studied it for seven years, after all). But there is something about going through a long-term global crisis that makes me better understand the suffering and uncertainty that is talked about in scripture. And it makes me appreciate peoples’ faith in the midst of their struggles – and their hope, their tenacity and their commitment to overcome evil with good.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is the longest letter Paul ever wrote; it was written to a church that he, himself, did not found, although some scholars believe he did meet some people from the church throughout his travels. Paul had heard reports of quarrels between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – two very different groups of people united under this one umbrella of Christianity, trying to figure out how to be united when their perspectives on things were so very different.

On multiple levels, this actually sounds very familiar to what we are going through in the United States right now.

This particular passage is sort of a rulebook about what it means to be Christian. I read it described this week as, “A staccato series of imperatives for all Christians, drawing on the wisdom tradition and focusing on social relations.” (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, With The Apocraphal/Deuterocanonical Books. San Francisco, Calif. : HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.) In other words, it is a somewhat straightforward (but also in many ways challenging) list of what it means to live out your faith in Christ. Some of these rules seem obvious – some seem like a challenge – some seem downright impossible.

Paul is not saying that it is going to be easy; in fact, I think he knows just how difficult what he is asking us to do is. But he leaves us with this charge of what we have the capacity to do. The final verse of this passage says:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:21, NRSV)

In other words, if we do these things – if we follow these rules and commandments and challenges – we can put goodness into this world.

Goodness that will overcome evil.

Goodness that will bring the Gospel to life.

Goodness that will help us close out this chapter.

Goodness that will change the world for the better.

The thing about this portion of Paul’s letter is that he names evil; he talks about suffering and persecution and sorrow; he says that we will have enemies. He is saying that everything we are experiencing in our lives right now – the realities of this year – a public health crisis, impossible solutions to childcare and education, systemic racism, harsh political division, family members and friends duking it out in the comment section on Facebook (to name a few) – is part of life. It is not a pleasant part of life, but it is a part of life.

And Paul is not saying that Christianity is going to take all of these things away. What he is saying, however, is that, as Christians, we can be active participants in overcoming these things in our lives.

We can be the change that will shine light into the darkness of this moment.

We can be the voice of reconciliation that is so desperately need throughout our country.

We can be the good that will overcome evil.

And none of this is easy, especially not when the world is falling apart and tensions are running high.

But I really do believe that, as Christians, we can rise up. We can overcome evil with good and bless the people who disagree with us and persecute us. We can help others, we can love one another and we can practice hospitality.

And I believe this because it has happened before. Because scripture tells us – it shows us – that people of faith have walked through fire before and come out stronger on the other side. Scripture shows us that nothing – not even death itself – stops God from intervening and redeeming a situation.

Paul is not naively saying these words and commissioning the Roman Church to just Pollyanna a tough situation. Paul knows how hard this is going to be. His own story was not easy – he experienced suffering and persecution. He knows the gravity of what he is asking the Romans to do – and he believes they can do it.

And so when I say these things to you – when I say we can be the change, when I say we can be the voice of reconciliation, when I say we can be the good – I say them knowing that, while it might seem impossible, it has been done before and we can rise up and do it again today.

So let your love be true. Resist what is evil. Hold onto – and lift up – the good things around you. Love God and love one another. Celebrate every little tiny bit of hope you see and experience. Help others when you can. Bless your friends and your enemies. Don’t try to always get the last word in. If you are going to engage in debate with someone, do so with love and affection for the person you are talking to. Make sure we are all taking care of one another – making sure we have the basic things that we need.

So let us put kindness and love and compassion and hospitality into the world so that one day we can look back on this time – we can read this crazy chapter we are writing right now – and see that we were not overcome by the evil we faced – but that we overcame that evil with good.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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