Hope In God’s Promise

In these times of social distancing, I am grateful for the ability to connect with people through online presence.  While it does not replace in-person community (and I know there are those who do not have access that we still need to call!) it was cool to “gather” with my people this morning and to feel like we were still together, in a way.

Here is my sermon. We did a livestream from our closed Facebook group so we were able to share prayer requests.  For privacy sake, I edited that part out!

Love you all – stay safe.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 15, 2020

John 4:5-42

Hope In God’s Promise

I have really enjoyed, over the past year-and-a-half, wandering away from the lectionary and participating in sermon series – whether they were scripture-based (where we looked at a big block of scripture linearly) or thematic (where we picked a theme and then used various scriptures to touch on the different topics within that theme).  It really has allowed me to elevate my preaching in such a way that ties it together from week to week.  With a few exceptions here and there, really this is the first time in my nine years here that I have been able to create this much continuity in worship.  It does not necessarily feel like we are having individual worship services in a vacuum every week, but that there is a continuum.  We are building on something every week, using lessons from prior scriptures and sermons to support and enhance what we are thinking about that week.

A few weeks ago, I was starting to get nervous about planning for my maternity leave and what that would mean for worship.

(Little did I know that would be the least of my problems.)

From a worship planning perspective, it is certainly much easier to preach from the lectionary – there are countless resources available that contain notes on the scriptures, liturgy (like calls to worship, prayers of confession, etc.), children sermon ideas and hymn suggestions.  Putting together a cohesive worship service is – dare I say it? – much easier when I am preaching from the lectionary, as opposed to preaching through the lectionary and have to find all of that stuff in different places (or, in a lot of cases, create it myself) and then put it together.

Full disclosure, I opted for sanity and decided to work smarter, not harder.  I decided that, during this time of transition in my life, it made sense to step back into the lectionary so that worship was still strong and cohesive, but it would be manageable for me, amidst the rest of the craziness happening

Again – of course, I did not realize, at the time, just how much craziness there would be.)

I also assumed it would make for a smoother transition for someone coming in to cover my maternity leave.

So three weeks ago – on Transfiguration Sunday, our big Mardi Gras celebration – I became a “lectionary preacher” again.  And yesterday, as I was trying to gather my thoughts for today’s sermon (friends, they never talked about how to preach during global pandemic in seminary) I thought back to my sermons over the past three weeks.  The crazy thing is that, even though I did not intend for this to happen (and I certainly did not know what was going to unfold in our country this week), the three sermons that I have preached over the past several weeks – even they were not necessarily “connected” – have built on one another and prepared me – prepared us – for this moment.

Three weeks ago, on Transfiguration Sunday, we were on the mountaintop with Jesus and I focused on Peter’s words to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”  We reflected on why, too, it was “good for us to be here” – to be the church, to gather as a community, to know that we are not alone.

Two weeks ago, we were in the wilderness with Jesus and we believed, even though it seemed hard, even at that time, that God is with us when we, too, are in the wilderness.

And last week we held in sacred hope the truth that this world – this messy and imperfect and chaotic world – is the world that Jesus came into, the world that God believed was worth saving.

And so, friends, this morning, I want to carry these messages with you as you meet Jesus at the well.

Remember that it is good for us to be here.  Even though “here” is not necessarily “together,” it is good for us to be here.  It is good for us to be gathering in this virtual space, to be connecting in a way that we are able to and to be worshiping God even though we are scared and anxious and not really sure what the future will hold.

Remember that God is with us in this wilderness that we have found ourselves in.  That we have not been abandoned.  That there are angels with us, no matter what they might look like – whether they look like a friend who texts us an encouraging message when we are at the end of our rope or a neighbor who runs errands for someone who is high-risk and should not be out and about or a fellow patron who lets you have the last roll of toilet paper at the store.

Remember that this is the world that Jesus came into.  This world – this messy and imperfect and chaotic and currently facing a global pandemic world – is the world that Jesus came into, the world that God believes is worth saving, the world whose story is scary right now, but not over yet.

And friends, I am not saying all of this because I was at a loss for words today and just decided to recycle old content.  I am saying this to remind us all that God has prepared us for this moment.  Our faith grounds us in a way that gives us strength, courage, wisdom, clarity and patience.  Many of us think that we have no idea how we are supposed to handle what is happening in our world right now, but I truly believe that our faith will carry us through in so many different ways.

Now let us all pick up our empty buckets and meet Jesus at the well.

On Friday morning, I could not help but note the irony of this week’s lectionary passage.  I was not at Jacob’s well with an empty bucket, but I was at the Swansea Target with an empty shopping cart.  Like the woman in this story, I had gone for what I thought I needed – physical sustenance – but came away with far more than that.

For so many reasons, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is an unlikely one.  He is a man and she is a woman; he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan.  There are real and cultural reasons why these two should never have even acknowledged one another and yet, here they are, talking about what it means to drink of the living water.

Again, the woman comes to the well for water – but she leaves with far more than that.  She leaves with the promise that she can drink of this living water and never be thirsty again.  She leaves with the hope in salvation.  She leaves knowing that she can worship God in spirit and truth.  She leaves proclaiming the truth about Jesus, with so many other Samaritans now believing in Jesus because of her testimony.

She shows up, just looking for water – and leaves with the promise that something so much better is coming.

But friends, remember it does not happen right away.  She has to wait.  She has to hold onto that hope.  Resurrection does not happen as soon as she walked away from Jacob’s well – in fact we are still at the very beginning of the Gospel, in chapter four.  It is going to take some time.

But just because the promise is not immediate does mean that it is not true.

And I feel like that is where we are today.  Because now we have to wait.  We have to wait in this moment of uncertainty and this moment of fear and this moment of anxiety.

And yet, this promise is still true for us.  This promise that we can drink of this living water and never be thirsty again.  This promise that we have hope in salvation.  This promise that we can worship God in spirit and truth – even if we are doing so virtually while practicing social distancing during a global pandemic.  This promise that we, too, can proclaim the truth about Jesus, with others believing because of our testimony.

Friends, while it might look different than it has in the past, now is the time to do church.  Now is the time to hold fast to our faith.  Now is the time to believe in what we cannot see, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to believe that God will make order out of this chaos.  Now is the time to, like the woman at the well, leave our empty buckets behind and go tell the world about this promise.

And then show the world what it means.

Our lives have been turned upside down – and the scary and unsettling part right now is that we are not reacting to something that has happened and is in the past, we are living through something that is still happening and we are unsure how long it will last.

But remember, we are still encountering Jesus – I really do believe that.

I mentioned that I found myself at Target on Friday with an empty shopping cart and the need for physical sustenance and came away with far more than that.  Now – did I come away with shelf-stable food, personal hygiene products, paper towels and a new Paw Patrol DVD?  Yes.  Yes, I did.

But I feel like I got more out of my shopping trip than that.  Because I saw the kindness of strangers, as everyone helped one another (from a safe distance, of course!).  I saw patience in the eyes and actions of people shopping – and gratitude for those who were working.  I heard people wishing one another good luck.  No one was pushing or shoving or complaining.  No one was judging other people’s reactions or responses. Everyone was just sort of in the mutual place of trying to prepare for something we do not understand.

Even though we were strangers, we were all in this together.

And while we may have all left the store with full hearts, I know I, personally, left with hope in the promise that we are all going to get through this together.

This hope has only gotten stronger over the past two days as I have witnessed people on social media or reaching out to me about ways that we can all help one another through this pandemic.  People have offered to run errands for their neighbors who are the most at-risk, to donate food to the food pantry and to send cards to the elderly in assisted living with restricted visitation policies.

One of the podcast hosts that I listen to said on social media yesterday that this is hard and isolating, but also super uniting and I thought there is such profound truth in that.  Because we are literally all going through the same thing right now.  All around our country, all around our world – we are united right now.

And so now we have to leave this “space” – this virtual space – and hold onto the same hope that the woman at the well did.  Hope that resurrection is coming, even if we have to wait for it.

So, my friends, I want to remind you all to breathe.  To take care of yourself – physically, but also emotionally and mentally.  Stay educated, but also know your limits and step away from the media coverage if it is starting to be too much for you.  Go outside – get some fresh air.  Reach out to someone if you are starting to feel isolated and anxious.

And then let us do church.  In a way that is safe and accessible – let us take care of the most vulnerable during this time.  Even if it is just sending a card or picking up the phone and calling some of our older members who do not have internet access – that WILL make a difference.

And pray.  Pray for health and safety.  Pray for wisdom and guidance.  Pray for patience and encouragement.  Pray for strength and relief from the loneliness you might feel.  Show up at that well with an empty bucket – maybe looking for one thing, but open to receive another.

Because you never know when you might encounter Jesus.

Friends, during these trying times, do not let go of God’s promise to us.

It is good for us to be here today.  To remember that we are not alone in this wilderness, that God believes that our world is still worth saving and that God’s promise is real, even if it is not immediate.

Thanks to be to God!
Amen.

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It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Hi friends!  Happy Shrove Tuesday!

We had our big Mardi Gras celebration at the church on Sunday – it was so much fun!  Decorations, brass, food and a mocktail bar – it doesn’t get better than that!

Our Ash Wednesday Worship service is at 7PM tomorrow.  If you are in Rehoboth, I would love to see you there!  You do not have to get ashes imposed if you would just like to enjoy the service.

Here is my sermon from Sunday – the story of the Transfiguration!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 23, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9

It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Happy Mardi Gras!

Or shall I say, Laissez les bons temps rouler, which is a Cajun French saying that means, “Let the good times roll,” and has become a Mardi Gras mantra over the years.[1]

Of course we know that today is not actually Mardi Gras – the real celebration is on Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday.  Tuesday marks the closing out of one season before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  Today is the Sunday before it all begins – Transfiguration Sunday.  Transfiguration Sunday is the day we remember Jesus taking Peter, James and John up on a mountain, where he is transformed – transfigured! – in front of them, appearing with Moses and Elijah, and a voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”[2]

The story of the transfiguration is a challenging one for preachers, I think partially because it comes up every year the Sunday before Lent starts and so, like Christmas and Easter, there is a little bit of pressure to put a fresh spin on it, year after year.  It is also a challenging one, because it is a kind of a hard story to interpret on a practical, grassroots, “this is how I am called to live out my faith” kind of level.

It is one thing to read a story about Jesus feeding the multitudes and think to ourselves, “Hmm – maybe if people are hungry, we should feed them.”

Or to read a story about Jesus healing someone – even in a miraculous way that we, ourselves, might not be able to attain – and remember that we are called to be agents of healing in our own community, even if that means something as simple as praying for someone, offering to drive them to an appointment or giving them a prayer shawl.

Or to read a story about Jesus reaching out to a marginalized person – say, perhaps, the story of the Good Samaritan – and wonder how we can minister to people who are living on the margins of society.

It is a whole other thing to read this story and wander up a mountain in the hopes that perhaps Jesus might appear with a couple of Old Testament prophets and God will speak to all of us through the clouds.

On the surface, it appears that there is not a whole lot of practical application here.

Every year, without fail, I find myself participating in a conversation with clergy – whether it be on the internet or in person – about how to approach the transfiguration in a sermon.  And not that this was the sole purpose behind our new Mardi Gras Sunday tradition or anything, but I have to admit – filling the sanctuary with an explosion of purple, green and gold, festive music and the promise of delicious food afterwards does, in fact, distract from the possibility that my sermon might be terrible.

So there is that.

When I read the story of the transfiguration this week, the one thing that really jumped out at me were Peter’s words to Jesus in verse four:  “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”[3]

“Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be in worship, to be together as a community and to mark this transition in the church calendar year as we prepare to enter the Lenten season.

There is something about this story of Jesus’ transfiguration that connects us to our own baptism.  When Jesus’ appearance changes, God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[4]  If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because this mirrors so strongly the story of Jesus’ baptism that we heard a few weeks ago, where Jesus emerges from the water and a God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”[5]

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to connect this story back to Jesus’ baptism and to remember, as we prepare to enter the Lenten season, that the living waters of baptism have washed and continue to wash over all of us.

That we do not have to be perfect.

That we do not have to have all the answers.

That grace is powerful and that second chances are possible.

That God is, that love is real and that the Gospel will change the world.

It is good for us to be here today to remember our baptism through this story.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to hear Jesus’ words, “Get us and do not be afraid.”[6]  It is good for us to see in verse six that the disciples who witnessed the transfiguration fell to the ground and were overcome with fear and know that we are not alone when our initial reaction to something that we do not understand is fear.  But it is also good for us to remember that that we are called to live in faith, not in fear; to remember Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.”

It is good for us to be here today, because there are many things going on in all of our lives that are scary and unsettling, but when we come together and we remember this story we know, with certainty that we are not alone and that we do not have to be afraid.

It is good for us to be here to live into our faith and not into our fear.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to remember that the story does not end on the top of the mountain, but with the disciples coming down off of the mountain, with strict orders not to tell anyone what they saw immediately, but after the resurrection.

It is good for us, as people living on this side of the resurrection, to hear this call.  It is good for us to remember that, as amazing as those mountaintop experiences are – those moments in our faith when we feel like we are on top of the world – we have to come down off the mountain and both experience and talk about our faith in the real world.  We have to proclaim the good news of the resurrection in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all people.  We have to live out our faith, not solely within the vacuum of our church community, but out in the world where it intersects with the realities of our lives.

It is good for us to be here today so that, together, we can come down off the mountain.

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be here today and to meet one another, wherever we are on our journey through life and faith.  It is good for us to be here today to proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of the messiness and the confusion of life.  It is good for us to be here today and sing with the saints.  It is good for us to be here today and break bread together.  It is good for us to be here to mark the end of one season in the church year and prepare to enter Lent together.  It is good for us to be here today and remember that transfiguration can happen in our own lives.  It is good for us to be here today so we can grow in our faith and strengthen our community.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Let the good times roll.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] https://www.whereyat.com/glossary-of-mardi-gras-terms
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSSV
[3] Matthew 17:4, NRSV
[4] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[5] Matthew 3:17, NRSV
[6] Matthew 17:7, NRSV

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What The Local Church Can Do

Finishing up our glance at 1 Corinthians, we came off a wonderful evening of show tunes at RCC and then gathered for worship on Sunday morning.  It was a great weekend to finish up this sermon series, think about what local churches are capable of doing (because y’all we have done a lot over the past couple of weeks) and then settle down and start thinking about the Lenten season.

Mardi Gras Sunday is this week!  I decided to jump back into the Revised Common Lectionary (I know, I know) for Lent, so I will be following the Gospel texts until Easter Sunday.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 16, 2020

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 16:13-24

What The Local Church Can Do

When the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and called churches to go out into the world and do the same, I wonder if he ever could have imagined that, in 2,000 years, halfway around the world, a small church in the village of a small town called Rehoboth, Massachusetts would share Christ’s message of love and hospitality with showtunes and appetizers.

I really do love my job.  I mean – I love Jesus.  I love the Gospel.  I love that God came into this world in human flesh and promises to always be with us.  I love that knowing that love triumphs over evil and that I do not have to be perfect to be transformed by God’s grace.

But I also just love the local church.  I love what we can do.  I love who we can be.  I love the fact that we are able to exist within this 300-year-old institution and yet still proclaim a message that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in our world, today.  I love that we are able to change lives and proclaim the Gospel, using the rituals and traditions that have shaped us, as a church, but also put our own twist on things, even if sometimes that twist involves chocolate fountains and Les Mis medleys.

The really cool thing about the local church is that, by being here, we are living into God’s call for us.  Because I do believe that into each generation God calls Christians to do something new, to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today, as we proclaim the Gospel and share Christ’s message of love.

We have come to the end of our glance at 1 Corinthians.  I think, in many ways, Paul is addressing some of the same things in this letter that we, as a church, do as we seek to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today.  He is trying to help the Corinthians overcome differences and seek unity in Christ so they can, not only strengthen their own church, but also extend the reach of the Gospel within their community and throughout the world.  He is trying to help them be authentic to who they are, as a mostly-Gentile Christian community living in Corith exploring this new faith.

Paul covers a lot of ground in this letter to the church in Corinth.  This letter – his first letter to this church – is the second-longest in the New Testament.  The letters – called epistles – are arranged in the bible by length from longest to shortest; 1 Corinthians is the second letter, after Romans.  We have looked at bits and pieces of it, enough to at least understand what was going on.  We know the Corinthian community was in conflict prior to Paul writing this letter.  We know that Paul’s focus is unity; he talks about the fact that differences do not make us weaker; that they, in fact, make us stronger, as a church, as the Body of Christ.  As he begins to close out his letter, Paul assures the church that love will bind them together.

We have now reached the end of the letter – Paul’s offers his final words on the resurrection and what this means for the church as they seek to be authentic to who they are, as Christians living in their world.

In other words – what’s next?  What does this mean for us?  What does it mean to believe in God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love through Jesus Christ and then how do we live that out, as a community?  How can we be authentic to who we are, as Christians?

These are the same questions that we ask ourselves, today.  The same questions that sometimes lead to chocolate festivals and cabarets, but also that lead to intriguing sermon series, new missions projects, compassionate meal trains and fun educational opportunities.

I believe Paul’s words at the end of this letter speak as poignantly to us, today, as I am sure they did to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago.  He says in chapter 15, verses one and three, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”  Today, I remind us all of this same good news – that Christ came not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are perfect, but because we need grace; not because we are whole, but because we are broken.

This is not something that we have to earn – this is something that is guaranteed to us.  This is why we gather in the first place.  It is the hope that we hold onto when it seems like the world is a really scary place to live in; the hope that love is real and that God is always with us; the hope that we remind one another of when we are walking with each other through the deep valleys of life; the hope that sustains us as we do church together.

Paul says in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”  Today we have to remember this same sentiment – that we are who God says that we are, that we are who God created us to be, that we are who God is calling us to be.  We need to remember this as individuals, but also as the church.  Who we are is enough because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are.

Paul says in chapter 16, verse 13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”  These words continue to speak to us because they remind us that we, too, have to remain strong as we do this work God is calling us to do.  It is not always easy to share the Gospel in the world we are living in today.  It is not always easy to be part of the church – on a practical level of finding time in the week to participate or on a theological level of proclaiming this message of love in a world that so often seems divisive and filled with hatred.  But Paul reminds us that we should not waver from our convictions.

“Let all that you do be done in love,” Paul says in verse 14.  Remember what Jesus said – love God, love people.  Paul knows this is not always easy – he knows that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that kind of love.

But Paul also knows that this is where the real work begins.

And that is when transformation happens.

That is when the Gospel comes alive and starts to change lives.

And this is what happens in the local church.

The cool part about the local church is that we are not only the ones that are on the ground and sharing the Gospel in a grassroots and real way, but we are able to decide who we are; we are able to listen to God’s speaking to us, calling us to be the most authentic version of ourselves and our church in this generation.  And so, like Paul reminds the Corinthians at the end of this letter, we need to remember, both as individuals and as a church, of the hope of the promise of our faith.  We need to trust that we are who God says that we are.  We need to stand firm in our faith and be courageous on our journey.

We have had a wonderful couple of weeks here, at our local church.  In many ways, it feels like we were just suspending stars from the ceiling after the new year and now here we are, halfway through February.  Yet, in still a relatively short amount of time, we have done a tremendous amount of work.  We have received star words and remembered our baptisms.  We gathered around the font of living waters and baptized three children; we then lived out the promises we make in baptism a few weeks later by supporting the Youth Group’s fundraising efforts to offset the cost of their winter retreat through Super Bowl Subs.  We enthusiastically participated in Chocolate Festivals and Cabarets and were ambassadors for our church in the community.  We tested out a new mission project that we hope to launch more regularly in the spring and allocated funds from our mission and discretionary accounts to help people in need in our community.

And next week the work continues – we will shift our focus to Lent with our Mardi Gras Sunday celebration; Lent begins the following week.

In other words – we just keep going.

But, to be quite honest, I think that is what Paul is saying here – just keep going.  Keep proclaiming the Gospel.  Keep believing in the promises.  Keep strengthening your faith and finding the courage to remain steadfast.  Keeping sharing Christ’s love.  Keep working together and building one another up.  Keep believing in yourself and your church; that you are who God says that you and that you have the capacity to change someone’s life for the better.  Keep being authentic to who you are, as Christians living in this world today.

This is the charge to the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago.  And this is the charge to us, the church in the village, today.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My life be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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