This Was Not My Vision

It is Star Sunday!  Even though we are having virtual worship, we still decorated the sanctuary for Star Sunday and it was beautiful.

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Since we wouldn’t be able to hand out Star Words in person this year, we put them on the front lawn of the church …

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… and we installed a star above the doors so it can be lit up at night!

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Our Star Stories are included in this morning’s Gathering Music, so I would strongly encourage you to watch that at the beginning of the worship video.  They were amazing!

Here is my sermon from this morning.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 3, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

The Was Not My Vision

“This was not my vision.”

A friend of mine suggested that I go back on all of our worship and prayer services and mash together all the clips of me saying this sentence over the past year.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I received my Star Word back in January, I smiled and got a little giddy.

My word was vision.

And while I loved the suggestion from someone that my Star Word was actually a declaration that everyone around me had to acquiesce to my vision, I actually thought that this word was going to be the culmination of years of discernment that I have done at this church.

You see, I believe in this church; I believe in what we are doing and also what we have the capacity to do in the future.  When I started at the church in 2011, I did not really have a plan.  Some pastors come into new calls much more organized and strategic than I did; but it was never my intention to make changes based on some greater vision that I had.  Maybe I should not admit this, but I did not actually have a vision for this church.  I always said that, when I looked towards the future, I could see the vision God had cast out for RCC, but that it was still blurry and so we just had to keep doing the hard work of listening to God speak to us and wait for that vision to clear.

When I first laid eyes on my 2020 Star Word – vision – I thought that this year would be the culmination of all of this discernment that we have done.  Knowing that the year would end with the kickoff to our 300thanniversary celebration and shortly thereafter I would mark my ten-year anniversary at the church, it seemed too good to be true.  I figured God’s vision for us would clear at the same time we were getting ready to celebrate these milestones and when this all came together we would be stronger than we ever were before.

Cue covid, stage right.  All of a sudden all of the plans we had made for this year – all of the hopes and dreams, yes, even visions, were lost in a sea of public health recommendations and safety precautions.  Like all of us, I had to let go of and adjust my expectations of what the year was going to look like.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos of last year, grace appeared in the most unexpected ways and places.  Virtual worship, nightly prayer services, drive-thru dinners, emails meetings, peace be with you signs and cards and care packages sent in the mail, to name a few.  We did church, even though we had to do it in a way that was different than any of us were accustomed to.  And so what I realized throughout the year was that this was, of course, not at all about my vision – but it was still about the vision that God has cast for us, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

You see, under the most unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, we proved to be the church – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to refuse to let anything but love win.  We did this in the midst of quarantine and social distancing and constantly-changing safety rules and recommendations.

What I realized this year is that it is not about my vision; it is about the vision God casts upon us to be the church in the midst of what is going on around us.

And we did it.

So perhaps this word and this year were not the culmination of years of discernment like I thought a year ago; but I still think – in ways that I never could have imagined – we lived into God’s vision for us this year.  And despite the fact that we have not gathered in person in nearly ten months, I still believe we are stronger than we ever have been before.

I was thinking about the beatings that our Star Words took last year and how our endurance and our perseverance to see them through to the end of the year actually mirrors the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus.  You see, King Herod, knowing that Jesus had been born and that people were calling him the king of the Jews, sensed a disturbance in his own power.  He sent the wise men to find Jesus, not so that he could eventually go and pay Jesus homage, as he said to the wise men in this passage, but so that he could eventually go find the one that was going to threaten his power and deal with that problem himself.  I do not often preach on the passage that follows the visit of the wise men, but after they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod was infuriated and issued an order that all children in and around Bethlehem two years or younger be killed.  Herod, of course, assumed Jesus would be part of that massacre; but at that point Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt, ensuring Jesus’ safety.

My point is this:  We often romanticize the wise men’s journey to visit Jesus.  But the reality is that it was actually a harrowing one; it was one that was filled with great fear and uncertainty – much like the year we just had.

And yet there was that star – that perfect light, as the hymn so beautifully says – that guided the wise men on their journey.  It was strong and bright and steadfast.

For many of us, our Star Words were that same perfect light – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

And so it is time, now, to turn our attention to our Star Words for 2021.  Many of us have picked them already; I have not opened mine yet, I was waiting until today to do that.  If you have not picked a Star Word yet, I would encourage to come to the church to get one; they are hanging on the front lawn.  Grab one when you come for Drive-Thru Communion this afternoon or anytime this week – they will be there until Friday.  If you are not able to come to the church, head to our website – rehobothcongregational.org/starwords – to fill out a request form and we will mail one to your house.

This year I am going to try something new with my Star Word.  I got the idea when I was listening to Debby Jarocki offer her Star Story; she said she kept a notebook and wrote down a sentence or two every day about where she saw, heard or felt her word at work in her life that day.  I am going to try this myself and encourage you all to, as well.  I think we all really need the fresh start of a new year and the hope and the promise of a new beginning.

Friends, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to use this time of musical reflection following the sermon to open your Star Word.  It is my prayer that the word that chooses you will not only guide you, but inspire you throughout the year.  May it be that perfect light that you need – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder that God is with you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Better Together

Save this one for next year when you are preaching stewardship!  I actually love preaching about stewardship and we had a great response to this year’s stewardship campaign.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 28, 2018

Mark 6:30-44, Mark 8:1-10

Better Together

It is time for my annual disclaimer.

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

But, this is not a bad thing, I promise!  Who read my stewardship letter this year?  If you missed it, here is the gist.  I actually like the stewardship season.  I enjoy talking about money.  I am kind of a geek when it comes to the whole thing.  I get excited to think about the God-sized possibilities that a stewardship campaign could bring.

In my stewardship letter this year, I told the story about a conversation I had in seminary with my nonprofit leadership professor.  I told him I hated asking for money and he smiled at me and told me he loved asking for money.  He explained that he only ever asked for money for organizations that he was truly passionate about.  And, in asking a person to donate to that organization, he was asking them to be part of the mission of the organization, knowing that beyond any kind of financial support they might give, there was a good chance their lives might also be changed along the way.

So even though I am going to talk about money today, it really is not all about the money; it is about changing lives – your lives.

Because here is the thing, Rehoboth Congregational Church – I believe in this church.  I believe it has the power to change people’s lives, both inside our walls and outside our walls.  I believe this church has the ability to proclaim the Gospel in a way that is relevant, meaningful and accessible to all in this generation.  I believe we can get people excited about growing in their faith, being part of the Body of Christ and doing church together.

Together.

Together.

A few months ago, Abbie St. Martin was in my office and we were talking about stewardship.  Abbie is the vice chair of the Executive Board and part of her role as vice chair is to, alongside me, oversee the stewardship campaign. Neither one of us was feeling particularly inspired that afternoon, so we did what probably would have made my nonprofit leadership professor cringe – we turned to Pinterest for ideas.

But lo and behold – we saw something that peaked our attention.

“Better Together”

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Acts 4:32

We were immediately drawn to this, because it described the church in the village we have been celebrating for the past two years.  As a church, we are stronger together than we are separately.  We are more than simply the sum of our parts; we are the Body of Christ.

And that means something.

It means something in the life of our church and it means something in the lives of each and every one of us sitting here.

At the time, we decided on our theme, our logo and the timeline, which included me preaching on stewardship on October 28th, this morning.  I remember thinking that at some point I needed to look at our Year of Mark calendar to see what I was already scheduled to preach on just in case it was completely irrelevant and I needed to go in another direction.

And so after the whole demonic pigs drowning on the same day as Charlotte’s baptism happened, you can imagine my sheer delight when I opened my Year of Mark schedule and realized that this morning we would be reading not just one, but both of the loaves and fishes stories.

These stories speak for themselves.  There did not seem to be enough food to feed the crowds that had gathered around Jesus and yet, after blessing a few loaves of bread and a small number of fish, there was an abundance of food that allowed everyone to eat their full.

We have all seen this happen at the church. We go into an event or a meal worried that there will not be enough food for everyone and then five minutes later we have to set up another table because we are running out of space.

People always ask me how this happens and the truth is, I have no idea; it can only be described as grace.

But here is what I do know:  When we have these loaves and fishes moments at the church – these moments when I see people clearing a space on the floor for another table and hear the familiar sound of those metal table legs banging open – they never happen because of one person.  They happen as a community – because we are better together.

Together, we can take morsels of food and feed a crowd that has gathered.  Together, we can create a space in this church where all people feel welcome, where we all have a safe space to learn and grow in our faith.  Together, we can worship God and teach others that the Gospel is a story that is still worth telling.  Together, we can change people’s lives, our own included.  Together, we can do the impossible.

And that is why I love stewardship.  That is why I have had some of the best and most honest conversations about pledging and giving to the church this year.  That is why I was so open in talking about what Bruce and I are going to increase our pledge by this year.  That is why I am excited to ask people for money and to prayerfully consider their level of giving for the upcoming year.

Because we are stronger together than we are as separate units.  The offerings that we give to this church have more of an impact when they are combined with everyone else’s than they ever would if they were on their own.  We have the capacity to make a real difference here, not only to help sustain this church, but to help it thrive in the years to come.

Something really special is happening here, at the church.  Momentum is building; I can feel it in the very depths of my soul.  God has cast a vision for our church in the village and I can say with absolute confidence that the next chapter of our story is going to be captivating.

This morning marks the end of our official stewardship season and I am humbly asking you a few things:

  1. If you have not yet turned in your pledge card for the upcoming year, please do so. There are pledge cards in the pews if you would like to do so this morning; fill it out and put it in the offering plate.  I know the concept of pledging is scary for some people, but the Executive Board needs to put together a budget for 2019 and they rely on the pledge numbers to estimate what the income is going to be.
  2. Consider increasing your pledge. Think about the impact that even a small increase in your pledge would have on this church if we all did that together.
  3. Also consider signing up for electronic giving. It is simple, it is safe and it is a great way to guarantee that you will stay current on your pledge and that our revenue stream will remain consistent.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you.  You are the reason that we are better together.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

RCC Strong

Our month of Stewardship is complete!  Here is my sermon from today.  I preached for about 8-10 minutes and then I invited Mike Barger – the brainchild behind our RCC Strong theme – to come up and help me finish the sermon.  It was great!  That part is on the audio, but obviously not in the text.

I preached on money last week and then this week really focused on the RCC Strong theme.  It was a celebration about our church, not a conversation about money.  It was fun to march around the church with the children chanting “RCC STRONG!” and then singing along with Jordan and Bruce while they were singing Lean On Me.  A great, great service.

Here’s my sermon!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 25, 2015

Psalm 133
Romans 12:1-10

RCC Strong

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
(Psalm 133:1, NRSV adapted)

Isn’t that such a beautiful quote from the book of Psalms? It illustrates the most stunning picture of what the Christian Church could look like: A place where God’s people – all of God’s people – can come together, dwell in peace with one another, serve with full hearts and be united through worship, service and learning. It is precious, it is sacred and it is ordained.

Man, that sounds great, doesn’t it?

I was talking to someone earlier in the week who said to me, “It must be so nice to work for a church; you probably do not ever have to deal with nasty people and you do not have to deal with politics, either!”

There is a loaded statement if I have ever heard one.

Let’s talk about the church for a second: It is full of people. And people … well, sometimes people will be people. People are imperfect; they do not always agree with one another, they have a tendency to voice their opinions (both positive AND negative) and sometimes they squabble when things do not go their way.

God had a great idea, right? Take one of the most sacred things that God created – the Church, the tangible expression of God’s light and love in this world – and put people in charge of it.

It just seems like there was a bit of an oversight somewhere.

Sometimes I think that Paul was actually a little bit too optimistic when he wrote his letter to the Church in Rome and talked about what the church should – ultimately – look like. Look at the passage we heard today:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. (Romans 12:4-6, NRSV)

I mean, that sounds good in theory, right? Everyone has their own special piece of the puzzle that they bring to the Church and when all of the pieces are put together, it makes a pretty picture.

It makes sense; but in reality this is actually really hard to live out.

Okay, so here is the deal: The Church is something of a hot mess at times. First of all, it is run by volunteers; volunteers who generally do not have a lot of extra time on their hands. There are a lot of different beliefs and ideas and opinions floating around and sometimes these differences create conflict. And Church is a very personal thing for people; people are invested, not only in the institution of the Church itself, but also in the faith that it represents to them. Anytime something is that deeply personal, emotions tend to get very strong and this – again – can sometimes create conflict.

The church is imperfect. I hate to burst your bubble if you walked through the front doors of the church this morning expecting it – and everyone in it – to be perfect, but that is just not the way that it works. As human beings, we are innately broken; this is why Jesus needed to come into our midst, this is why this whole salvation this was necessary to begin with. Our imperfections are the very reason that God breathed life into a Church where individual people could come together and rise up to shine God’s light into a dark world.

But the Church is not immune from our human imperfections. Sometimes the Church is broken; sometimes the Church disappoints us; sometimes the Church falls short.

And yet here, in the midst of our imperfect Church, we have found an unexplainable grace: RCC Strong.

RCC Strong started about a year ago. A few of us – led by Mike Barger – started informally using the hashtag, #rccstrong, when posting on our social media accounts about the church.

(For those of you who do not use social media, a “hashtag” is something that you type onto your post that describes what you are posting – you are essentially “tagging” something virtually.)

Admittedly, the whole thing was kind of silly when we started; but as time went on, other people started to join in. And as more and more people started to use the hashtag, #rccstrong, a spirit came alive within this community: A spirit of diversity, illuminating the different pieces that come together to make us a whole. A spirit of tenacity and perseverance, proving that no matter how many times we stumble we will always get up again. A spirit of strength, reminding us that even though our Church is imperfectly human, it is also divinely ordained by God to do great things in our community and throughout the world.

Eventually the words “RCC Strong” were popping up on all over social media, describing so many pieces of our collaborative puzzle. They would describe the fun were having at community events and suppers throughout the year. They would express gratitude for a particularly meaningful worship service or experience. They would extend a hand of hospitality to newcomers and seekers, inviting them into our midst. They would portray a virtual toe tapping during a particularly lively choir anthem, a collective “aww” as the children’s choir climbed up onto the chancel to sing and an excited countdown for Beatles Sunday. They would affirm our call to be Disciples of Christ as we took part in missions. They would show support (or give thanks for support received) when someone was going through a difficult time. They would remind us over and over again that God will find what is lost, put together what is broken and shine light into darkness.

RCC Strong is a tangible expression of the Body of Christ that Paul described in his letter to the Romans, coming alive at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

Paul said to the Roman people:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God. (Romans 12:2, NRSV)

Today we celebrate who we are as a community of faith and – perhaps more exciting – who God is calling us to be. Today our cries of RCC STRONG will echo throughout our church, into our community and then far out into the world. Today we affirm what we already know to be true – that God is changing lives right here in our midst.

And so I invite you to heed these same words of Paul: Be transformed. Be transformed by this church. Be transformed by the imperfect, but grace-filled and loving people that come, week after week. Be transformed by the still-speaking God that is alive and active in our midst. Be transformed by our successes and by our mistakes. Be transformed by the ways that we have been, the ways that we are and the ways that we will always be RCC Strong.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.