The Promise Is Fulfilled

Psalm 23 is never an easy one to preach on – everyone knows it so well!  Every time it comes up in the lectionary I try to come up with something new and revolutionary to say about it, but every time I think I realize I just need to let it speak for itself.  So that’s what I did!  I reflect on it briefly, but at the end just center us all back and read the Psalm to close my sermon.

Hope you all are having a great week! xo

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 22, 2018

Psalm 23
John 10:11-18

The Promise Is Fulfilled

Full disclosure: I have had a very long week.

Combine that with the fact that the 23rd Psalm is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself and, I have to admit, I was having a really hard time focusing on my sermon.

Which brought me to Thursday evening; I was scrolling through a preaching group I am in on Facebook and there was a conversation happening about whether or not it would be okay to recycle an old sermon this week. One pastor commented on the post, “It’s Earth Day, so surely it’s wasteful NOT to recycle!”

Which I thought was fair.

But I forged ahead, anyway, and tried to come up with a new revelation on the subject.

My Tuesday morning bible study is currently reading the book of Jeremiah, who is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. Jeremiah is often referred to as, “the weeping prophet,” because of the tears he shed over the sins and the fate of his people and the dark prophesies he spoke. Jeremiah is a depressing, violent and somewhat desolate book. It is also fairly repetitive, so it is repetitively depressing, violent and somewhat desolate.

But, bible study is fun! You should consider joining us.

Anyway, the other day we had just read a particularly dark passage when someone flipped longingly towards the end of the bible, sighed and said, “I miss the New Testament.”

This is probably something we have all thought at some point while reading the Old Testament, right? There is quite often a very clear (albeit oversimplified) delineation between the violence of the Old Testament and the love of the New Testament; the death of the Old Testament and the resurrection of the New Testament; the despair of the Old Testament and the hope of the New Testament.

And yet, this morning’s scripture readings – one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament – are woven so beautifully into the fabric of one another. Psalm 23, the Psalm of David, says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” does not at all stand in contrast to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, where he says, “I am the good shepherd.” In fact, when you read these two passages in conjunction with one another, you cannot help but stand in awe at the ways in which God so carefully and gracefully has put some of the pieces of our faith together.

It is fitting that these passages, particularly the 23rd Psalm, popped up in the lectionary on the Sunday when we were already scheduled to bless a new batch of prayer shawls. These shawls act as a tangible reminder of God’s presence in our lives. Very often we give someone a prayer shawl when they are walking through that valley of the shadow of death and that shawl shows them, in a palpable and comforting way, that the promise, “for thou art with me,” is being fulfilled, despite the challenges they are facing.

I saw a friend of mine two weeks ago who I sent a prayer shawl to after the Newtown shooting. He and his family lived across the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time. He looked at me and said, “We still have that prayer shawl you sent us,” and then his eyes filled up with tears.

The work we do here matters. We can touch someone when they are walking through that dark valley; we can remind them that they are not alone, that God is with them; we can bring them comfort. Through these shawls, we enact these words of scripture and bring them to life

I was wrestling with this psalm this week, trying to uncover some new revelation about something that people already know really well. And I kept coming up short, so I reached out to a friend of mine, who is a funeral director, and, admittedly, hears this psalm a lot, and asked him why he thinks people use Psalm 23 so often at funerals and memorial services. And this is what he said:

Because it tells us never to be afraid of death. It tells us that God is with us ALWAYS. Isn’t it nice to know, even with all of our responsibilities, stress, and busy lives, that we are still only sheep? That there is a shepherd far greater and bigger than anything we, as mortals, can accomplish?

I thought those were powerful words coming from someone who quite literally walks through that valley of the shadow of death with people every single day; someone who understands the powerful, yet sometimes heartbreaking truth of these words. Because there is so much we do not understand about this world that we are living in and our existence beyond it. But at the heart of our faith lies a promise; a promise of love, a promise of light and a promise of a grace far more incredible than we can ever imagine.

I love the pairing of the 23rd Psalm with this passage from the Gospel of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Now, it could just be because I still have some of my Christmas decorations up and was staring at a sign hanging in my entryway that says, “For unto us a child is born” when I was writing my sermon yesterday, but as I was writing, I could not help but think about these two passages alongside that Advent promise that Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us – is coming.

Jesus self-identifying at the Good Shepherd reinforces this assurance that God is not some far-away deity that does not understand what we are going through. God is with us; God came into this world in human form; God understands what feel, because God felt those same things. God felt pain, anger, sadness, despair, frustration and rejection in the human body of Jesus Christ and when love conquered the grave on that first Easter morning, a promise was made; a promise that God will never abandon us, that God will shepherd us through our own humanity.

So I said earlier that I was searching, this week, for some new revelation about the 23rd Psalm that I would be able to share with you all this morning. I am sorry to say that I did not find it. This psalm speaks for itself; it is almost like a security blanket that we need to pull out every now and then. When I said this to my friend, who is the funeral director, he replied, “Sometimes all we need is that security blanket to make us feel safe.”

And he is absolutely right.

This morning, I am going to pull out that security blanket and wrap it tightly around us all.

Ironically, when I looked back on one of my past sermons on these same texts, I apparently drew the same conclusion and ended the exact same way.

So perhaps I am recycling an old idea.

Or perhaps this is always simply what we need to hear.

I invite you all to close your eyes and hear these words of the 23rd Psalm:

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Jesus’ Lessons Today

Hi friends and happy Marathon Monday!  I cannot believe this weather – every single runner earned their race medal ten times over today.

Here is my sermon from yesterday.  I preached on the Gospel passage from Luke where Jesus appears to the disciples, shows them the wounds on his hands and feet and then shared a meal with them.  I pulled six lessons out of this passage that are still very much relevant to the world we are living in today.  I think every now and then it’s nice to hear something super practical and easy to understand.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus’ Lessons Today

I want to start off this morning by thanking you all for your prayers for our friend, Diane. In a heartbreaking victory over the grave, Diane was welcomed into the arms of God on Friday afternoon.

When my mom got the call that death was imminent, I immediately thought of that passage from 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And while I think it initially popped into my head because of the first part, “I have fought the good fight,” (because she did fight and she fought heroically) the part that has rung over and over again in my head since then has been the second, “I have finished the race.”

Perhaps I am caught up in the spirit of the long weekend and Marathon Monday, but I started to wonder: What does my race look like? What does my journey look like? How am I impacting the lives of the people around me?

When I told Bruce that Diane had died, he said to me: “Lord knows, haven just got friendlier.” Diane was a friend to everyone; she was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. She was very often the glue that held us all together. And when you lose someone like that, you cannot help but think about how, moving forward, your life can be a reflection of theirs. Her death has made me reflect on the person she was, the person I am and the person I have the potential to be.

Here’s the thing: In life, sometimes there is very little that is actually in our control. Our race course, so to speak, it not always one of our choosing. You guys know this, sometimes all to well. But I do believe, that despite this occasionally chaotic world that we live in, there are some things we can control, things that will never be taken away from us.

In my sermon last week, I talked about doing church and asked the question: Where do we go from here? My sentiment is similar here this morning. What are we doing? How are we living our lives? How are we controlling the things we can control and navigating the things we cannot control? How are we interacting with the people around us? How are we touching their lives? How are we living out our faith? How are we shining God’s light in the world? Sharing God’s love? Uncovering God’s grace?

I am just as guilty of this as anyone, but I think sometimes we get caught up in the busyness and the minutiae of life and we do not really stop to look at the big picture, see who God is calling us to be and enjoy each moment that we have been given.

But doesn’t Easter give us this opportunity? Doesn’t it kind of give us something of an annual reminder, not just of resurrection, but also of the grace bestowed upon us and the Gospel that we are called to emulate? Doesn’t it allow us to pause and re-set, to recommit ourselves to living out our faith?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Luke. We are backtracking a little bit; last week, we talked about the formation of the early church in Acts of the Apostles and this morning we are back in the Gospel as Jesus appears to his disciples.

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

This story takes place sometime in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. The ascension is when Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud to be seated at the right hand of God. And, to be quite honest, part of me has always wondered why this 40 days took place; why Jesus did not ascend immediately into heaven.

Simply put, I think Jesus had one more lesson to teach. I think God knew people would take more seriously Jesus’ life and ministry in light of his death and resurrection; that people were more likely to proclaim the bold and powerful truth that love wins if they had seen it for themselves, in the flesh.

And though they were startled and terrified, disbelieving and wondering, Jesus appeared to the disciples and showed them, in no uncertain terms, that he lived, that grace was real and that the real work began now.

And then – in both words and actions – Jesus began to teach.

I believe the lessons Jesus taught in this moment are just as relevant to the world we are living in today as they were 2,000 years ago. I think they help us to answer this question of how we are going to run our race, what our journeys are going to look like and how we are going to impact the lives of others. I think this scripture gives us tangible ways that we can live our lives for the Glory of God so that we can not only be who God is calling us to be, but we can also transform the lives of others, as well.

Here are six lessons that I pulled out of this passage.

Lesson #1: Share Christ’s Peace With One Another

Verse 36 says:

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

In a simple and succinct way, this reminds us that we should always share Christ’s peace with one another. Whether we are with our friends or our enemies, at church or in the grocery store, talking about theology, politics, food or sports – we should share the peace of Christ as we do these things.

This often means pausing before we speak; hearing others and affirming what they are saying, even if we do not necessarily agree with them. It means starting difficult conversations with, “I love you,” to remind yourself of Christ’s call to love God and then love people. It often means practicing hospitality so that people’s needs are met at the see Christ in you as you meet those needs.

Lesson #2: Use The Healing Power Of Touch

Verse 39 says:

Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.

We live in a time where it is important to be careful, thoughtful and respectful when it comes to touching someone else, so I am going to preface this particular lesson by saying this: When appropriate, use the healing power of touch.

I strongly believe touch has the unexplainably miraculous power to change lives. Sometimes something cannot be fixed or get better and words are painfully inadequate; but in those moments, we still have touch. We can embrace the people we love, hold their hands and let their tears fall onto our shoulders.

Over and over again throughout the Gospel, Jesus used touch to heal people. Here we are reminded that we hold that same power. 

Lesson #3: Show People The Most Unapologetically Authentic Version Of Yourself

In verse 40:

[Jesus] showed them his hands and his feet.

Jesus did this because he was showing them the wounds from the crucifixion to prove that he was real, and that what they thought happened had actually happened. But don’t you think, in a way, he was also appearing to them and not trying to pretend to be someone he was not; that he was showing them that it was okay to be who they are, wounds and all?

In both our lives and in our faith, it is imperative that we are the most unapologetically authentic version of ourselves. We should not only seek to be who we are, but who God says we are, as well. Will we be perfect? Of course not. Will we have flaws? Absolutely. But God is using every wound, every imperfection, every challenge we face so that we can show the world just how powerful the Gospel is.

Lesson #4: Eat Together

Jesus asked the disciples if they had anything to eat and in verses 42 and 43:

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

So much happens when we sit down with one another a share a meal. Sometimes it is visible, but very often it is invisible, a healing presence working beneath the surface of our very selves and our relationships with one another. It is around a table where we all become equal, all hungry and in need of nourishment. It is around a table where conversations build bridges that unite us, rather than walls that divide us. It is around a table where we share what we have with others, ensuring no one leaves hungry. It is around a table where we know the presence of Christ.

Lesson #5: Study Scripture

Verse 45 says:

Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

You do not need to have a degree in biblical studies to open a bible and read it. Will it always make sense? No; but, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me and I studied it for seven years. Consider buying a study bible with notes and commentaries to help you understand more. If you have never read the bible before, I would recommend not starting in one of the obscure prophets in the Old Testament, because that really will not make any sense! Start with Jesus’ life in one of the Gospels.

But give it a shot. Immerse yourself in the words of Holy Scripture. Feel connected to the cloud of witnesses who used the bible to influence the past, knowing that these words are still very much alive and working here today.

Lesson #6: Trust You Are Witnessing Something Unbelievably Believable

I love the last line of this passage, verse 48:

You are witnesses of these things.

Can you imagine how incredible it must have been for the disciples to sit in Christ’s presence and hear him say those words? To know that they were bearing witness to God’s work in the world?

Here’s the thing, though – so are we! We, too, bear witness to God’s work in the world; we might not experience the bodily resurrection of Christ, but we see the presence of Christ all around us and experience resurrection in our lives.

But we have to believe it is really happening. We have to suspend our disbelief, whatever it might be, and trust that God is really here.

Friends, I believe that we have the capacity within ourselves to really make a difference in the world. I am grateful for the people in my life who have touched me in the most meaningful and loving ways. And moments, like this, in my life, remind me of the person I want to be – of the Christian I want to be and of the Church I want to be apart of.

Because I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I want this church – this community – to transform lives.

But we have to take action. We have to do church. We have to commit ourselves and re-commit ourselves to living out Christ’s call to love and serve.

So let us go forth into the world, back into the ordinary of our lives, and remember these lessons from Jesus.

Share Christ’s Peace With One Another
Use The Healing Power Of Touch
Show People The Most Unapologetically Authentic Version Of Yourself
Eat Together
Study Scripture
Trust You Are Witnessing Something Unbelievably Believable

We are still in the season of Easter. So let us celebrate resurrection. Let us believe in the Church and also our role within the church. Let us believe that the lessons Jesus taught 2,000 years ago are still relevant in our lives today. And let us change people’s lives, open people’s hearts and proclaim the Gospel to all the world.

For we are witness of these things.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Do Church

Hi Friends!

I’ve got two sermons to post today, one from yesterday and one from last week.  Last week I preached from Acts of the Apostles and I talked about doing church – church as a verb, not as a noun.  During my children’s sermon I had everyone do the wave.  At one point I yelled, “freeze!” and we looked at how everyone was doing something different.  And even though they were all doing something different, together they were all doing the wave.  I explained that’s the way church works – we all do something different, but together we’re all doing church.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 8, 2018

Acts 4:32-35

Do Church

When I was in high school, my dad and I used to bond over three things: Broadway, Basketball and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

You can imagine our delight when two of these worlds collided in the fall of 2001 and The Warner Brothers Television Network started advertising a very special musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling.

As it usually went with the plot of this show, there was a demon stirring up all sorts of trouble. This particular demon, however, was musical and it cast a spell that caused everyone to spontaneously break into song and dance.

Those of you who share my fond affinity for musicals might be wondering what the big deal was.

However, there was a catch. People were not just singing and dancing, their songs were actually exposing hidden truths; the characters were revealing secrets they had previously been keeping from one another.

At the end of the episode, with all of the secrets they had been holding onto for weeks out in the open, the characters were kind of left with a sense of, well, where do we go from here? Where do we go with all of this information, with these previously kept secrets, with this new perspective on one another? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before.

Not surprising, at that point they broke out into a song conveniently titled, Where Do We Go From Here?, complete with an underscoring dialogue between Buffy and one of the other main characters discussing what might happen next.

I always think about this song right after Easter because I can only imagine Jesus’ followers were going through the same thing immediately following the resurrection. Perhaps they were not breaking out into song and dance (although that’s a Gospel you know I can get on board with!), but they had to have been asking themselves the question, where do we go from here? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before, right?

Jesus was put to death on the cross, but death did not win; God’s love was victorious over the grave and, in a bold witness to this truth, resurrection happened and it was real and powerful and life changing. This was a monumental moment, not just in Christian history, but also the world as it was and the world as it would be.

But now what? Where do we go from here?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which, as a book, kind of takes a crack at answering this question. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke; it picks up right where the Gospel leaves off, starting with the ascension of Jesus. It is a firsthand account of the formation of early Christianity. It is filled with stories of what early Christians did in those days and months and years, even, following the resurrection. Acts is the only book in the bible that contains this narrative of the early church.

It is no coincidence that the title of this book is Acts of the Apostles, because it there is a very deliberate shift between the Gospel, which is about Jesus, to this continuing narrative of Christianity, which has to do with the acts and the actions of Christians.

Without the media we have today to transmit news, the earliest Christians relied heavily, of course, on the oral transmission of these stories. Because of this, not everyone had a clear understanding of what, exactly, had happened. But I think, for the most part, everyone understood the basic gist: Christ had died, Christ had risen and, they believed, Christ would come again.

But what now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?

To some extent, I believe we are still asking ourselves this very same question. Sometimes it is in response to something big that has happened in our lives or in the world – we ask ourselves this questions every time there is a mass shooting or a natural disaster or we lose someone we love – but very often it happens in those moments in our lives where we pause for a moment and think about how we are living up to the grace God has given us.

What now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?

In just four verses, I believe the passage we just heard gives us a powerful, yet tangible and attainable answer to this question.

We have to do church.

This passage describes the earliest church. There were no bylaws, like we have today; no bazaars, no board and committee meetings and no discussions containing the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way.” Church was not a noun, it was a verb. There was action and a united sense of purpose.

The earliest church was not an organization to be involved in, but a way of life for a group of people who fervently believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was gathering with one another, sharing what they had so that no one needed anything. It was giving testimony to the Gospel and to the grace God bestowed upon them. It was taking care of one another, in the name of Jesus Christ.

They did church.

Now, did they always do it right? Probably not, because they were human, after all. But what a beautiful testimony this is for us to read today as we continue to discern how we want to do church in our own lives and community.

After Earl Goff’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, Steve Brasier came up to me and said, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but that was the best funeral I’ve ever been to.” At that point I was on my third cup of peach ice cream, so I really could not argue with him, but do you want to know one of the things I loved so much about Earl’s visitation and funeral? Over the course of those two days – and even in the week leading up to it – we did church and I would argue that we did it right.

You – members and friends of this church worked tirelessly to make sure everything went off without a hitch. You showed up with food, stood in the kitchen and did dishes for hours at a time, sang in the choir, found a way to send a live video feed of the service into Fellowship Hall, handed out bulletins and helped with crowd control. Things happened and, to this day, I do not even know how they happened. You set up, cleaned up and hauled tables and chairs around when it was all said and done. You showed up when you could and usually found a way to stay longer than you originally said you were able to. You shared what you had and never asked for anything in return. In the end, we did not need anything, because this community provided everything we needed.

We did church that weekend. We were united in a common sense of purpose, came together and did church together.

And what a testimony that was to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the powerful truth that love can and will win in our midst.

Our scripture reading for this morning talks about giving everything you have and living in community. “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions,” it says. People who owned land and houses, “sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” The believers took everything they had and “laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

They are not talking about bringing food to a potluck. This is a bold and radical statement on what it means to live in community, one that is counter to the world we live in today. It is something I would argue is central to much of the political divisiveness that exists in our country right now. I would not even know where to begin to suggest we try to do exactly what these early Christians did.

But I believe we have to find a balance. We might not be able to give everything and live exactly as these early Christians did, but we can do church, every day. We can get involved here, at this church, and give back as we are able. We can stretch the boundaries of our own generosity, see the needs of others beyond our own and trust that God is actively working out the details.

The Friday before Easter, I was working late in my office. Now, have you ever had one of those moments were you were already tired anticipating how tired you were going to be? That was me on Friday night. I was packing up everything I needed for the Easter Sunrise Service, grumbling about the fact that I am not a morning person and I was already tired thinking about the fact that I was going to have to wake up so early and what, exactly, is wrong with an Easter Sun-is-already-risen Service?

But then I stopped myself – and I changed the narrative from have to, to, get to. Instead of saying, I have to wake up early, I said to myself, I get to wake up early and proclaim the Good News of resurrection. I get to hug my church family and wish them a Happy Easter before most people are even awake. I get to bear witness to the truth that love wins. I get to watch the sunrise and remember that, even in the darkest moments, God’s light always shines. I get to do church and, once again, figure out an answer to that question, where do we go from here?

And I do not know if it was that or the fact that I set four alarms for Easter morning, but I just about jumped out of bed when it was time to get up for sunrise this year. I just kept thinking to myself, it is an honor and a privilege to proclaim resurrection, to enact the Gospel, to live up to the grace given to us, to do church together.

And do we always do it right? No!

But I believe, with my whole heart, that, as a church community, we have all reached a point where we want to try really hard to do it right.

So – it is the week after Easter. Where do we go from here?

Friends, let us all make a commitment to do church. Let us gather together, share what we have with one another and make sure no one needs anything. Let us give testimony to the work God is doing in our lives so that others might know of God’s love and grace. Let us ask ourselves over and over and over again, where do we go from here? What do we do with these profound and life-altering ways God is working in our midst? How does this change our perspectives on life and faith? How do we share this news with others? How will we act moving forward? How will our actions define our generation of Christianity?

I believe that, as a church, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts. Together, we can act out our faith, continue to write this Christian story and see to it that people’s lives are changed along the way. We can share what we have with others – our time, our money, our talents, our resources – so that our testimony to God’s grace is a living testimony. We can do this using through our words, through our actions and – if we’re feeling musical – with a little bit of song and dance.

So let us, proclaiming the grace given to us by the resurrection of Jesus, do church.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.