God Meets Us Where We Are

Hello and Happy Ash Wednesday!  I hope you all had a blessed day and are ready for Lent with an open mind and heart.  Here is my reflection from tonight’s service …

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

God Meets Us Where We Are

This morning I had the opportunity to join my colleague, Greta, at the Middleboro/Lakeville train station, where her church was offering “Ashes to Go” to early morning commuters. She has done this for the past four years, setting up a table with free coffee, donuts and ashes and offering any combination of the three to anyone walking by.

I have noticed over the past several years that more and more of my colleagues are doing this. Some are doing it in lieu of traditional Ash Wednesday services and some are doing it in addition to. The idea is that people are so busy – with work, family and life in general – that rather than forcing them to carve out one specific time of their day to receive ashes, the church can go to them; meet them where they are and give them a blessing and a sign of grace.

At one point in between trains, Greta and one of her parishioners and I were commenting on the different reactions we got from people. They ranged everywhere from, “Don’t make eye contact,” to, “Oh, that’s a really nice thing that they are doing,” to, “Can I get a donut without the ashes?” to, “I’m so glad you guys are here again – ashes, please!”

One of the things we all noticed was that no one was rude to us or seemed upset that we were there. I said to Greta, “Well, maybe they would be upset if we were chasing them onto the train with ashes.” We all chuckled at the image and then the next train showed up and we got back to work.

I was pouring someone a cup of coffee when I saw two girls, probably in their mid-twenties, heading towards the train. Greta offered them ashes and one of them said, “No thanks, I’m not practicing. I would feel like an imposter accepting ashes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greta pick up the ashes and say, “Wait a minute, get back here!” and run over to her, explaining that she is, in no way, shape or form, an imposter; that ashes are blessing from God, available to every single one of us, no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life.

My first thought was, “Well, I guess we are chasing people onto the train with ashes.”

But then I thought to myself, what a powerful moment I had just witnessed. Someone felt like an imposter; unworthy of the grace that is receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and we were there – at her train station, part of her morning routine, ready to show her just how powerful and profound God’s love is.

God really has a way of working out the details sometimes, Amen?

A few hours later, I was reading through the scriptures for this evening and almost fell over as I read this passage, 2 Corinthians 6:8:

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true.

Imposters.

Do you know what I love about Ash Wednesday? Ashes are the great equalizer. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, practicing or wandering, affirming or questioning, we all bear the same sign of the cross. We all humbly claim our sins before God and then boldly wear the ash of the burned palms that we once waved while shouting, “Hosanna!” Together, despite our differences, we admit our own brokenness, but also hold fast to the unchanging truth that we are true; that we are not imposters.

My prayer for you all on this Ash Wednesday, is that you not only feel proud to receive these ashes, but that you feel worthy as well.

In participating in this ancient practice of imposition, we remind ourselves of our humanity – from dust you came and to dust you shall return. But in using the palms that we once laid down for Jesus impose these ashes, we also remember that God came to us in human form; that God meets us in our humanity. This is why Jesus walked on this earth; this is what Lent is preparing us for. God came into this world in human flesh so that we can all bear witness to the life-changing reminder that where there is hatred, God’s love is more powerful, where there is darkness, God’s light shines brightly and where there is death, there is always resurrection.

In the same way that God made sure a couple of church folk were on at a train station this morning with coffee, donuts and ashes to meet somewhere where they were at on their journey, God always meets us right where we are on our journeys, as well.

And God is meeting us here tonight, as we prepare to enter this Lenten season.

So let us begin our Lenten season, receive the grace and blessing that is the sign of the cross and know that God is with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Let Yourself Be Changed

Hello and Happy Transfiguration Sunday!  I was so excited to have my podcast officially up and running that I forgot to actually hit record when I started preaching this morning!  So I went back and re-recorded the first 20 seconds.  Oh well, imperfection is a sign of grace, right?

We had such a fun Sunday at the church.  We had two baptisms – two of the most beautiful little girls and more tulle than I think was at my wedding.  Then I handed out Marti Gras beads and masks to the kids and we all paraded around the church singing Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.  Once the kids got started, I could really get them to stop!  So eventually, I just sent them marching out of the sanctuary (they had church school in our hall today – Pancake Sunday to learn about Shrove Tuesday).  It was so cute – everyone broke out in applause as they marched out.  I  couldn’t have planned it better!

Here is my sermon, enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 25, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

Let Yourself Be Changed

So how is everybody doing with their New Year’s Resolutions? Is anyone totally rocking them? Has anyone dropped the ball already?

Sheepishly raises hand.

Well, if you, like me, have already fallen back into old habits, then you are in good company. According to an article in Forbes, only 8% of people actually achieve the New Year’s Resolutions they make.[1]

But there is still hope! For those of you who might be looking for a resolution do-over, Lent starts this week. And while Lent will not turn back time and bring us back to the beginning of January, it does give us the opportunity to give something up, take something on or participate in some sort of spiritual practice or discipline. It gives us all the opportunity to say, “Okay, maybe I was not able to make an entire year (or even two months), but this Lenten season – for 40 days – I can try again.”

The practice of giving something up for Lent is not necessarily a Protestant tradition (in fact, I think I have mentioned this before, but growing up I was always envious of my Catholic friends who “got” to give something up, because it seemed so cool and hardcore). But I would argue that lately there has been a rise of Protestants seeking to reclaim this ancient custom as a way of creating a more meaningful Lenten experience for themselves.

Customarily, Christians would give something up for Lent as a way of connecting whatever sacrifice they were making with the penitential nature of the Lenten season. In a way, they would induce their own small suffering as a way of honoring Jesus’ great suffering.

But more than that – and I think this is why lately Christians have started to reclaim the practice – Lenten traditions have always been about taking part in some sort of spiritual disciple that can act as a catalyst for change in a person’s life.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which is all about change. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent begins. We hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, where he took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and literally changed right in front of them. His face shone brightly, his clothes became dazzling white and suddenly Moses and Elijah were standing next to him. A cloud then appeared and God’s voice was heard saying,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[2]

We pair the story of Jesus’ transfiguration with the Exodus text where God sent Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the law. We do this, not only because Moses was one of the men that appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration, but also because it was in this story – where Moses received the law – that Moses had an experience of his own that changed him. It is in both of these stories that God is not only revealed to individual people, but individual people are changed by this revelation of God as well.

In the original Greek, the word used when talking about the transfiguration is metamorphoō, which means, “transfigured, transformed [and] changed in form.” It refers to an inner transformation that appears on the outside.[3] The transfiguration of Jesus was a literal change that happened to him that the disciples could see on the outside; but there was very much a change that happened within him on the inside, as well. The Lenten practice of giving something up is often a change people can see on the outside – but it almost always changes someone on the inside.

Talking about transfiguration, about metamorphoō, prepares us for the Lenten season because it is in reading this text that we bear witness to the story of a God-sized change in the Gospel narrative.

And so today I ask you to think about this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season?

In my sermon last week, I talked about the television show, Fixer Upper and how one of the reasons I love it so much is because I love a good before and after. The church, I argued gives us some of the greatest before and afters because it is in the business of changing lives. Yes, we come to church to praise God and live out the Gospel, but we also come so that our lives might be changed. After all, God is in the business of personal transformation.

Peter, James and John bore witness to an outward change in Jesus at the transfiguration and this opened their eyes to see the true power of who Jesus was on the inside. But I would be willing to bet that this experience also opened their eyes to the possibilities within themselves; to the promise that they, too, could experience a powerful and God-sized change in their own lives.

So, again, I ask this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season? God-sized changes are possible in our lives, as well; changes that start on the inside and changes we might even see on the outside.

One final note: In re-reading the story of the transfiguration this week, I was particularly struck by the moment where Peter, James and John were overcome with fear and fell to the ground and Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.” This phrase kept running through my head, because it is one we see over and over again in this bible. We heard it at Christmas; the Angel Gabriel said it to Mary[4] and later in the story the angels said it to the shepherds.[5] My bible study heard it this week in our study of 1 Samuel; David said it to the son of a priest who had just been slaughtered by King Saul.[6] In fact, I read online that the phrase, “Do not be afraid” appears 70 times in the bible (and that does not include variations such as, “fear not” or “don’t fear”).[7]

Change can be a really scary thing, but time and time again, our faith teaches us that we do not have to be afraid. Lent gives us a safe space where we can jump blindly into the darkness of the unknown and make feasible and attainable changes in our lives. We do not have to be afraid; God is with us and we are surrounded by the Body of Christ within our church community.  Sometimes it takes a village and our church in the village not only holds us accountable, but also supports us on this journey.

And even if we really struggle to live out these changes (as apparently 92% of us who tried to make New Year’s Resolutions do), as people of the resurrection, we know that Easter morning is coming. We can try for 40 days, knowing that Easter is coming.

So let yourself be changed: Let yourself be changed by the mystery of the Lenten season. Let yourself be changed by being intentional for 40 days and bearing witness to how that might transform you both on the outside and also from within. Let yourself be changed knowing that resurrection is coming – both in our faith and also in our lives. Let yourself be changed and may your Lenten season be full of God-sized changes and blessings.

And do not be afraid.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/26/7-secrets-of-people-who-keep-their-new-years-resolutions/#6c6ef7507098
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[3] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017, edited by Scott Hoezee, pg. 27
[4] Luke 1:30, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:10, NRSV
[6] 1 Samuel 22:23, NRSV
[7] https://bodytithe.com/frequent-command-bible/

Podcast Lovers, Unite!

So I did a super geeky thing this week and part of me still can’t believe I actually figured out how to do it:  I created a podcast feed for sermons that is subscribe-able on iTunes!

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Because I have been uploading my sermons to Liberated Syndication for last last year or two, all of my old old sermons loaded into the feed.  Part of me is nervous is putting those out there, because eek – I’m probably breaking all the podcasting rules in the book!  Oh well – moving forward I am going to try to have intros and include the scripture.  Oh!  And a friend of mine told me I should have Jordan record me a theme song, so I’ll work on that as well, too!

I told my church in our weekly e-newsletter that I’m excited about this because it will make my sermons more easily accessible online – BUT I don’t want people to use that as an excuse not to come!  My colleagues and I go back and forth one whether posting sermons is a good idea.  On the one hand, I love the fact that people can stay connected on weeks when they have to miss church.  I love the idea that someone might be thinking about checking out the church and getting to “listen in” was the push they needed.  But I also think that worshipping in community is SUCH a critical piece to faith formation.  So I would encourage you all (RCC people and friends from afar!) to make a commitment to get to church when you can!  If you aren’t local and looking for a church, feel free to reach out!  I have some pretty awesome clergy networks I can reach out to.

Anyway – rambling over.  You can subscribe here!