Remembering That We Are All Worthy

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

Enjoy!

***

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

Matthew 3:13-17

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

… to remember your own baptism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

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

Happy New Year!

Enjoy …

***

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

Christmas Eve Sermon

This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

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

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

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

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

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

“Do what?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

Oh, the Christmas Eve sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

Hi Friends!

We finished up our Advent sermon series on spiritual practices this week by looking at evangelism through the story of the shepherds and the angels.  This is my last Advent sermon – our Christmas pageant is this Sunday.  I will be back a few days after Christmas to post my Christmas sermon.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!

Enjoy …

***

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

Luke 2:8-20

Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

I have to admit, I had a different plan for my sermon earlier this week than where I finally landed by the time I started writing.

Okay, so perhaps not so much different, as a whole, but as I was putting some of the pieces together, I came across a commentary that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion in the end.

But I will get to that in a little bit.

This is the third and final week of our mini Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices highlighted in the Christmas story.  We have already looked at service and hospitality; the topic for this morning is evangelism.

First of all, I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by admitting that I have a complicated relationship with the word evangelism.

To some extent, I used to be kind of scared of it.  When I was in high school and college and thought about the term “evangelical” I thought about a very specific stereotype of Christian; the type of Christian that was more on the extreme side of things and, for lack of a better way to describe it, shoved religion down people’s throats.

I hate to even say this, because I really don’t like feeding stereotypes like this, but I do think that for a long time, there was this line drawn in Protestantism where you were either evangelical or you weren’t.  Unfortunately, the way I understood evangelism was in a negative context; the thought never crossed my mind that I would even have something in common with evangelical Christians, let alone consider myself one.

And yet here I am, years later, and that is exactly what I would consider myself.

In fact, that is what we should all consider ourselves.

The word “evangelize” means to preach the Christian gospel.  And, as Christians, this is something that we are all called to do, regardless if we realize it is what we are doing.  We are all called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – in both word and action.  We are all called to preach of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, a love that triumphs over evil, hatred and death.  We are all called to preach a message where redemption is real and possible and holy.  We are all called to preach the hope that comes from not being defined by our brokenness, but our wholeness in God.

This call to evangelize is something very different from what I used to understand it to be.  But this, in fact, is the scriptural call to evangelize; this is the call from Jesus, himself, to go and make disciples, to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it, to shine light into the darkness of the world.

Our 9th and 10th graders are currently going through Confirmation.  Last month during our meeting, we were talking about the history of Christianity.  One of the things I said in our conversation is that I think it is more important to understand Christianity as an experiential religion and not just memorize dates and other facts about it.  Because, at its foundation, Christianity is about an experience; it is about individuals experiencing God’s love and then sharing that experience with others.

The ironic thing is that I usually use the resurrection as an example when I talk about this.  The women who discovered the empty tomb told others what they had seen; they experienced God’s love through the resurrection of Jesus and then shared that love with others.  But if you think about it, this is also exactly what happens in the part of the Christmas story we just heard with the angels and the shepherds.  An angel appears to the shepherds and tells them that God’s love has come into this world through the birth of Jesus.  They then run to see for themselves and when they return they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”

They experienced God’s love through the birth of Jesus and then they shared that love with others.

One of the miraculous parts of this story is that people were sharing the Gospel long before Jesus even them to.  They knew they had seen and experienced something that was going to change the world and so they shared that something – that Good News – with the world.

This is evangelism.

And that, my friends, is not scary.  It does not feed into negative stereotypes.  It does not shove religion down people’s throats.  Instead it promotes the hope, peace, joy and love of this season.  It points people not only to Jesus, but to the Gospel he lived and calls us to live.  It shines light into the darkness of the world and assures people that redemption is always possible; that, even when the moments of our lives seem bleak, God is not finished writing our stories.

This is what the Christmas story calls us to do – to tell people about this kind of love, to share our stories and to invite them to be part of this narrative.

And this is where I discovered something this week that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion.  The thing is, what I have come to learn about evangelism is that it is something that we all are called to do – even those of us who might not always be comfortable talking about our faith.  We are all called to share our faith, to talk about our faith in a way that brings comfort and hope to our world.

But how do we do this?  How do we do this in a way that feels comfortable to us?  How do we do this in a way that others will listen to and understand?  How do we do this when there are so many competing voices around us, especially at Christmastime when the commercialized narrative of presents and parties and other holiday chaos is so loud?

Listen to what I came across in one of my commentaries:

As elsewhere in these narratives, the word of God come through an angel, a divine messenger.  Luke speaks of angels as easily as he speaks of human beings.  In fact, when a sign is offered as proof of the good news, it is not what moderns might regard as a sign; i.e., something as extraordinary as a heavenly host.  Rather, the sign is as common as a baby to be found in poor circumstances, lying in a feeding trough. (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Jame L. Mays, General Editor with the Society of Biblical Literature, page 931-932)

For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, 2,000 years after this story unfolded, we know that this was just not an ordinary baby lying in a feeding trough, but a savior who will not only one day proclaim the Gospel, but also live, die and be resurrected to new life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would all have a place in God’s eternal home.

But they did not know that at the time.  At the times they just saw a baby.

And yet this was their sign.  This was their sign that a miracle had just happened.  This was their sign that God’s love had broken into our world.  This was their sign that was hope was real and that redemption was possible.  This was their sign that there was Good News happening in this world that was worth sharing.

It did not come through pomp and circumstances and other extravagant things.  It came through the simple image of a newborn baby lying in a manger.

Here’s the thing – sharing God’s love does not have to be complicated and over the top.  It can be as simple as a conversation with a family member or friend about what this season means to you.  It can be a moment where you share a tangible sign of peace with someone else.  It can be sending someone a card, bringing them a meal or surprising them with decorations if their house seems dark.  It can be inviting them to church on Christmas Eve and grabbing their hand if the songs make them cry.  It can be welcoming them into your home if they don’t have family close by to celebrate with.

I think sometimes we are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism because we overcomplicate it.  We think we have to do something grandiose and over the top.  We think that our voices have to be louder than everyone else’s.  What we do not realize is that evangelism can and will happen in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of our lives.

People do not need huge and overwhelming signs to believe in God’s love, they need signs that are accessible and real and easily connect them to this story.

So if there is one thing that you remember from this particular part of this story, may it be this – you, too, can proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth.  You, too, can join the angeltude of voices singing about the birth of Christ.  You, too, can tell the world that God’s love is real and here.  You, too, can help others bear witness to the signs around them – however ordinary they might seem – that will open their eyes to God’s love.

So go, therefore and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to a world that needs to see grace in the ordinary and hope in the mundane.  Share God’s love with others this holiday season.  Sing with the angels.  And may your voices be heard and your signs be recognized.

And may the world be forever changed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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