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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Relational Hospitality

Hi friends!

I cannot believe that Christmas Eve is TWO weeks away.  This season is flying by and I am trying to soak it up and enjoy time with my family, while also enjoying all of the wonderful things we do at church, as well!

Sunday was our second week into our three-week Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices the Christmas story teaches us.  Ironic that I was preaching my sermon on hospitality the same week as our annual meeting where I gave my report and also talked about hospitality!  We had a double baptism on Sunday, so I tried to keep things on the brief side (“tried” – ha!).

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 8, 2019

Luke 2:1-7
Matthew 2:1-12

Relational Hospitality

I was writing my annual report this week and spent a lot of time staring at the dreaded blinding cursor on my computer screen.

And the thing is, I was not experiencing my usual case of writer’s block; I knew what I wanted to say.  The only problem was I was afraid people would start throwing finger sandwiches at me if I started talking about hospitality again.

Hospitality has defined a lot of our conversation this year at the church.  I am not entirely sure where it came from, either; it started on my family’s trip to Disney at the end of 2018 and before I knew it, I was obsessing over wearing name tags and how the soap smells in our bathrooms and planning a summer sermon series on hospitality.

And so, a little over a year later, I am not sure if people have bought into my theology of hospitality or just sort of resigned themselves to listening to me talk about it.

And so here I am talking about it again.  But hear me out.

First of all, over the course of the year, we have made some really poignant changes that are noticeable, not only to us, as a community, but also to others who have noticed and commented to us – and even thanked us for!

And so I do not keep talking about it because I think we are terribly inhospitable and have so much to learn, but because we are learning and growing and it is exciting to me to keep talking about.

Second of all, I just cannot talk about the Christmas story without talking about hospitality, especially in these two stories.

Our first scripture reading is the story of the birth of Jesus.  We all know it well; a census is being taken and everyone needs to travel to their hometowns to be counted.  Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem and when they arrive, it is time for Mary to deliver Jesus.  But there is no place for them to stay; until an innkeeper takes heart and offers them space in the barn, where Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Our second scripture reading is the story of the three kings.  Again, we all know it well; King Herod, frightened upon hearing that a child has been born king of the Jews, sends three wise men to go find Jesus and then tell Herod where he is.  They travel to Bethlehem on camels, following a star that leads them to the manger. When they arrive, they offer Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Before I start talking about hospitality, I do want to confess that I am buying into the romanticized versions of these stories a little bit when I draw together Jesus’ birth and my theology of hospitality.

Because the truth is, the bible does not actually mention an innkeeper.  Scripture says that Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no room at the inn, but some scholars actually believe that the Greek word “inn” has been translated from – “katalymati” – actually is better translated to the word, “guest room”.  This means that Mary and Joseph would have been staying with relatives who did not have a designated room for them to sleep in and therefore slept in a common living space.  And while Jesus was laid in a manger, some research indicates that Palestinian peasant homes had feeding troughs built into the floors of common living spaces because animals were often brought in at night to help heat the homes and keep the animals safe.

And furthermore, the bible never mentions anything about the wise men riding in on camels.  And for that matter, it never says that there are three, either; we just presume there are three because of the three gifts that are mentioned.  AND the wise men actually showed up about two years after Jesus was born, so, as the mother of a two-year-old, I can only imagine that when they offered Jesus these gifts, he did not so much squeal with precious newborn delight, but throw the gifts on the ground, run circles around the manger and then try to climb on the camels.

And yet, there is a magic to these stories – at least the ways in which we have dramatized them over the last 2,000 years – that teaches me, year after year, that sometimes it is better to serve than to be served.  These stories remind me that it is imperative for us, as Christians – who believe in this powerful story where God’s love breaks through our brokenness and comes into the world – to serve others.

We, too, are called to find places for people to stay.  We, too, are called to give gifts that honor those we give them to.  We, too, are called to see the needs of others and listen to the ways in which God is calling you to meet those needs.

The day before Thanksgiving I was on Instagram scrolling through stories and came across a woman named Raechel Myers, the Co-Founder and CEO of She Reads Truth, an organization committed to creating a community – and resources for that community – who reads scripture together every day.  Raechel was talking about how she was getting ready to host Thanksgiving; and, as a girl after my own heart, she had detailed plans for food and beautiful place settings and spectacular décor.

But, she said, you do not have to do this to host Thanksgiving; this is just what brings me joy.  Hospitality is not about place settings and decorations; it is about people.  The next slide on her story had a picture of Thanksgiving prep with the caption:

More than anything, just remember that hospitality is about relationship, not performance.  It’s about them, not you.

There are two things that I think are really important to take away from what she said.  The first is that the way you “do” hospitality does not have to be the way someone else does it.  The Body of Christ works the way that it does because we all perform different functions.  The cool part about looking at these two (albeit dramatized and romanticized) stories is that it is two different kinds of hospitality.  It is welcoming and it is giving, which reminds us that there are no boundaries when it comes to hospitality; there are just people trying to figure out how God is calling them to serve.

The second thing I think we need to take away from what she said is about hospitality being about relationship, not about performance.  And that is where I see the intersection between hospitality and the Christmas story.  Because, at its core, the Christmas story is about a relational God; it is about a God that loves people so much and wants to be in relationship with them that God then comes into this world and lives in human flesh.

O come, o come Emmanuel.

Emmanuel means – God with us.

Our God is not a distant God that we need a mediator in which to communicate with, but a God who is here, who is with us, who is in relationship with us.

And so this is where hospitality kind of begins – in our relationships both with God and with one another.

And in these stories – both in what we know from the bible and the stories we have learned in Sunday School throughout the years – we see hospitality through relationships.  We see the hospitality of people who welcome Mary and Joseph into their home – whether those people were an innkeeper or Joseph’s family – so she can safely deliver her child.  We see the hospitality of wise men – whether there were three or more than three – traveling a great distance to bring gifts to Jesus and then not returning to Herod to tell him where Jesus was.  We see hospitality expressed through the relationships of people showing up and sharing God’s love with one another.

As you continue to journey through this Advent season and prepare for Christmas – and whatever that means for you or looks like in your house – I would encourage you to, first of all, let yourself get lost in the romanticized and dramatized versions of these stories, because I think they do have a lot to teach us.  But then I would encourage you to think about the people in your lives – and the relationships you have with them – and the ways that you can serve them, the ways that you can express hospitality through your relationships by sharing God’s love.

After all, it is not just about wearing name tags and good-smelling soap; it is about the people wearing the name tags and using the soap and about our relationships with them.

Our relationships with one another.

The thing we have to remember is that when we serve others – we serve God.  When we love others, we love God.  When we are in relationship with others, we are in relationship with God.

This Advent season I invite you to be in relationship with one another; to not only serve others, but to get to know them well enough to know how to serve them.  Find out who they are and what they need.  Affirm where they are on their journey through life.  Let them know that they matter.

Remember that Jesus came into this world so that our faith would be incarnational and relational.

And so that is how we are called to live out our lives.

Blessings, friends, as you find ways in which to reach out to others this Advent season to love and serve them.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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