Living With Hope

Hi friends!

It’s ironic that I talked about my “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” mantra in my sermon this morning because I forgot to put my phone on “do not disturb” for worship and I GOT A PHONE CALL THAT INTERRUPTED THE LIVESTREAM during my sermon.

It’s fine.

I’m fine.

Everything is fine.

So worship does get interrupted for a few seconds during my sermon, but not for long!  Just don’t think it’s your device or connection – all me.

Anyway, I hope you all are well!  It’s funny how, even during covid, things are busy at church right now!  It’s nice to put stuff on the calendar, though.  We’re celebrating the small victories and embracing what we are able to do.

Here is my sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 20, 2020

Philippians 1:21-30

Living With Hope

This week was a big one for our students, parents, teachers and administrators.  For most of them, it marked the official start of school.  After spending the entire summer trying to do the impossible – putting pieces of different puzzles together to create one picture – both physical and virtual doors opened and learning began.

I watched this process unfold largely as an outsider.  I do not have school-aged children and therefore, ultimately, the specific plans of our district did not necessarily affect me.  However, on Friday morning, for posterity sake, I did take “First Day of School” photos.  I put my 5-month-old in a bow, bribed my 3-year-old with Swedish Fish (at 7:30 in the morning) and put them in front of a sign that read:

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
DIGHTON-REHOBOTH
2020-2021

IT’S FINE
I’M FINE
EVERYTHING
IS FINE

Like so many others, this expression – “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” – has become my mantra this year.  It has been my mantra for dealing with the more frivolous things – like when I cut my own hair or put in an online grocery pickup order for pancake syrup and the shopper substituted it for a bottle of syrup made out of rice.  It has been my mantra for dealing with work-related conundrums – like when I yammered on for ten minutes last week before worship without turning on my microphone or wrote a policy for baptisms during covid which states that the parents will pour water over their children instead of me.  It has also been my mantra for dealing with the bigger things – like having a baby during the first wave covid surge in New England.  This mantra has been tested at times – like last week when I heard word that the senior center was burning down and certainly on Friday evening when the news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

It’s fine.  I’m fine.  Everything is fine.  This mantra reminds me that 1. it is okay if every now and then I have to adjust my expectations and 2. big picture, it is going to be okay, even if it is really hard right now.  This mantra has, at times over the past seven months, been a battle cry; a declaration of my refusal to let this pandemic beat me.  It has been a constant affirmation (and there is my star word from last year) that my faith and my faith alone will carry me through the hard times we are experiencing right now; that if I continue to chart the course – to lean into my faith and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – that I will journey safely to the other side of these uncharted waters.

In many ways, this is very similar to what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia.  According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul had traveled to Philippi and founded a church.  The members of this church were predominantly gentile; and Paul loved them very much.  The tone of this letter shows that Paul regarded the Philippians with great affection and deep longing; he had a lot of hope for this church that he had planted.

I know hope is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now, so it is important to point out that hope was not necessarily something that came easy for Paul at the time of writing this letter; in fact, he wrote it from prison.  The Philippians, knowing Paul was in prison, sent a member of their church, a man named Epaphroditus, to bring him gifts.  Epaphroditus became ill when he arrived and, once he recovered, Paul decided Epaphroditus should go back to Philippi.  Paul sent him back with this letter.

One of the main focuses of this letter is that we need to distinguish the things that truly matter from the things that don’t.  I could see where, being in prison, Paul would have the opportunity to reflect on this.  The word “joy” appears five times in this letter and the verbs “rejoice” and “be glad” appear 11 times.  Despite the fact that Paul was living through a hard and arduous season in his own life, he was refusing to let that win; he was determined to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to live in Christ and, as he says in this morning’s scripture, live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Again, I think joy is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now.  And so it is, again, important to think about the fact that Paul’s focus on joy comes from a place of deep pain and sorrow.

And yet he continued to live with hope.

This particular passage has some darker undertones.  He starts off by saying, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  The expression, “living is Christ” is one that does not have a great translation into English, but essentially what Paul is saying is that he does not want to live his life apart from his obligations to Christ.  When he says, “dying is gain” he is insinuating that death might be a better option – that his desire to be with Christ is more than his desire to be in the flesh.

I do think we have to be really careful with this passage, because there is this underlying insinuation of suicidal notions with the statement that Paul would rather be dead and with Christ than alive.  But for me the more important part is the shift where Paul talks about it being more necessary for him to remain in the flesh.  And then he talks about why.  And then he talks about how.

The thing is, Paul is experiencing what, seven months ago, I would have called an unimaginable suffering that most of us would never comprehend in our lifetime.  But this year has just kind of beaten us up in a way that no one ever saw coming.  And so Paul’s words – his suffering – are so much more real to me now.

I would imagine they are to a lot of you who are watching this morning, as well.

But this is not where it ends.  Because as real as Paul’s suffering is to me right now – this makes his faith and his desire to stand in the flesh and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ all the more convicting, as well.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, we not only lost a Supreme Court Justice, but we also lost a champion of equality and an inspiration to so many who believe that a better world is possible.  She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”  These words are so poignant at this moment in our history.  Because we do have to fight for the things we care about; in this moment of chaos in our history, they do not necessarily come easily.

And so we fight.  We fight for hope.  We fight for the Gospel; for the truth that love will always win and that, even in the darkest of moments, light will shine.  We fight for justice to prevail – and for the least of these to be cared for.  We fight for our church to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in the midst of it and to do what God is calling us to do in this moment.  We fight to find ways for our community – our village – to give back and to care for one another.  We fight to keep our faith – and to trust that God will lead us safely to the other side of this pandemic.

And we fight in a way that will lead others to join us.  We fight in a way that is compelling and hospitable and inspiring.  We fight in a way that demonstrates a deep longing and affection for others, like Paul so clearly felt about the Philippians.  We fight in a way that will change people’s lives, that will bring about a better world.

Paul says twe have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; in a manner worthy of the sacrifice that Christ made, of the grace and forgiveness and reconciliation bestowed upon us.  Paul says that this matters; that our lives in the flesh matter and that they have meaning and they give people the kind of hope they need to believe in.

Now more than ever, the way we live our lives matters.  We cannot afford to be silent or complacent.  There is too much at stake.  Our world is in chaos and people are starting to lose hope.

And the thing is – we have hope.  At its core, Christianity is about hope.  At its core, Christianity is about the fact that there is always hope, even when, from the outside, it looks like death, itself, has won.

And so right now we have to show people what it means to believe in this kind hope; this death-defying, life-inspiring hope. Right now, we have to not only proclaim our faith in Christ, but also show people what, exactly, it means.  We have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, showing people that hope is real and it is alive and it is worth holding onto.  We cannot give up – or give in.

And is this fun or easy to amidst a global pandemic and a year that has already taken away so much from us?  Heck no.  But Paul never thought it was going to be easy; in fact, for Paul it was really, really hard.

But he believed it was possible.  And that’s the really cool part.  When faced with imprisonment and the possibility of death, himself, Paul still had hope and he still thought the way he lived his life mattered.

So let us go live our lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, holding onto a hope that will transform our minds, our hearts and our lives.

And may we do so in a way that will lead others to join us.

And then may we all proclaim this hope that will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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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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