Total Eclipse Of Our Faith

So sorry for the horrible eclipse joke that didn’t even make any sense!  I think the sleep deprivation is starting to get to me.  Regardless, this is one of my favorite passages to preach on – I love thinking about how the Body of Christ comes alive in local churches!

Here’s my sermon … enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 27, 2017

Romans 12:1-12

Total Eclipse Of Our Faith

Did anybody watch the eclipse this week?

I have to admit, initially I was not sure what the big deal was – I told Bruce I was going to go out and look, “just to say that I did” – but as the day went on, I could not help but get sucked into the whole thing.

First of all, the eclipse itself – even though we only experienced a partial eclipse here in New England – was amazing.  I cannot even imagine how spectacular it must have been to witness totality!

But even more than that, there was a united buzz in the air throughout the entire country on Monday.  I was watching the live feed on NASA’s Facebook page and the energy was palpable as everyone completely geeked out seeing something most had only ever read about.

As the day went on, more and more selfies of my friends wearing their solar glasses appeared in my Facebook and Instagram feeds.  It was fun to see everyone collectively stop what they were doing throughout the day – whether they were home, at work, running errands or had traveled to a viewing party – don some silly-looking (but completely necessary) eye protection and collectively  look up at the sun.

I do not know about the rest of you all, but it felt good to see everyone united over something in our country.

It has been a challenging year for our country.  And while I believe there is still so much work that needs to be done, it was nice that we could all come together, at least for one day, put on our eclipse glasses and enjoy something that we do not get to see very often.

This whole experience reminded me very much of the image of the Body of Christ.

This morning we heard a reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  In this letter, he talked about what it meant to be an active participant in this new Christian church.  Paul knew everyone would have a different role, purpose and identity; but he believed they could all come together, despite their differences, in faithful service to Christ’s church.

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function.[1]

In saying this, Paul was affirming this truth that the Body of Christ is not made up of all like-minded people, but of different individuals with different gifts, different strengths, different opinions, different beliefs.

Those last two are kind of tricky, though, aren’t they?  We all know what it is like to be in families, communities and churches with people who have different opinions and beliefs and it is not easy.

But Paul said these differences are not bad things, rather they are things God inspires within us.  He wrote in his letter:

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us[2]

Then Paul listed gifts such as prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading and showing compassion[3] as examples of ways that everyone in Rome could contribute to the Body of Christ in different ways.

Here is the part I want us to focus on today:  Paul was not saying that we are all different like this because we are human and imperfect and cannot, for the life of us, figure out how to all get on the same page.

No; Paul is saying that we are all different because of God’s grace.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.[4]

This is a God thing!  This diversity exists among us is there because God created us that way.  God created us to have different gifts, passions, talents and even beliefs because this rich diversity is needed to create the Body of Christ.

Last year, I was talking to someone about joining the church and they asked me what the requirements were if they became a member.  The question caused me to pause, because I did not want to make it seem like joining the church was not something that was important.  It is!

But the truth is, we really do not have any requirements to becoming and being a member of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  I believe, in a very real way, that everyone that walks through our doors has something different to offer this church.  Some people are regulars in worship, some people serve on our various boards and committees, some people sing in the choir, some people arrange the flowers, some people fix things when they break around our properties, some people help us with our finances, answer legal questions and set up our technology.

There is a place for everyone here at this church.  We often refer to one of the sayings of the United Church of Christ that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” – and I think this is something we have really tried to live into here.

As a pastor, I want this church to be for you what you need it to be in this moment in time.  If this is a place of refuge where you seek wisdom and prayer on Sunday mornings, then that is what it can be for you.  It this is a place where you can stay busy by serving on a committee, then we have plenty of opportunities for that!  If this is a place where, at various points throughout the year – the perfect example is the Bazaar – then make sure you save those important dates every year and we will welcome you with open arms when we see you at these events.  If this is a place where you want to work with children, we are always looking for Church School teachers.  If this is a place where you want to make a joyful noise, choir rehearsals will start up again in a few weeks.  If this is a place where you want to do some sort of missions project, the Missions Committee works year round to make that happen.

No one’s function at the church is the same.  No one’s role at the church will look the same.  Everyone’s involvement at the church can and will be different and this is not a bad thing, Paul said this is a grace-inspired thing!

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.[5]

Many of you might remember that last spring I sent an email inviting everyone in the church to a meeting with a friend of mine who consults in church governance and restructuring.  In the months leading up to this meeting, our church leaders had been looking at ways to streamline and simplify our structure so it would be easier for our members to “do” church in this very busy world we are living in.  This meeting was our opportunity to learn about and brainstorm some of our options moving forward.  At a congregational meeting in May, a task force was created and voted on to research and create a proposal for the congregation.  They have been hard at work all summer.

I attended a meeting of the task force this week and one of the big themes that came out of every conversation was, “How can people be involved in our church if they don’t want to be on a formal committee?”

In other words, if someone loves this church and wants to participate in its life somehow, but does not want that responsibility of a committee that meets monthly and has two pages worth of responsibility in the bylaws, then what is their role?  If someone wants to get involved in the church, but is not always able to make it to worship every Sunday morning, how can we create a culture of ministry where this is possible?

Paul said, “But be transformed by the renewing of your minds,”[6] and we all want this to happen here at our church.  We want people to be transformed!  We want this church to be a place where lives are changed.

And I believe it can be.

Friends, grace has been given to us and it is by this grace that we are able to not only be part of the Body of Christ, but also part of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.  As a church, we are a microcosm of this Body of Christ that Paul wrote about in this letter to the church in Rome and, nearly 2,000 years later, is both a privilege and a responsibility to take part in the writing of this church’s story.  We all have different, but equally important roles to play as we write this story together and I believe that our differences are a strength of this church, not a weakness.

At their meeting, the task force has asked me to not only talk about their work from the pulpit, but also to ask for prayers as they continue to look at the mission of our church and how we can create a structure that will fuel our ministry in new, exciting and grace-filled ways.  I do not think it was a coincidence that I was already scheduled to preach on the Body of Christ when they made this request.  Because I do believe in the work they are doing – not only in looking at the structure of our church, but also prayerfully discerning how we can all live into the mission of our church – is the same work Paul called the church in Rome to do.

Friends, we are all here, not by accident, but because God has called us to this time and place.  Grace has been bestowed upon us and it is by that grace that we all have gifts within us that this church needs.

And in the same way that so many of my friends paused and posted eclipse photos from various parts of their lives on Monday, we, too, come to this church from various parts of our lives united in one common purpose.  We want this church to not only survive, but to thrive.  We want to live out the Gospel and share it with others.  We want to strengthen our faith and feel God’s presence within our lives.  We want the spirit to move within us and, as Paul wrote, “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,”[7] so that, within this church, God can use us and our gifts, our strengths, our opinions and our beliefs.

We want lives to be changed.  We want to be transformed.

Today I want to celebrate the Body of Christ.  I want to celebrate every single person in this sanctuary this morning and also those who have joined us in spirit.  I want to celebrate the different ways we are all called to serve this church, both big and small.  I want to celebrate the grace that is the beautiful diversity within community, especially ours.

And I want to encourage all of us to rise up to the call to be part of the Body of Christ.  This is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility.  Listen to what God is calling you to do here and be confident in knowing that what you are doing here at this church matters.

And the good news is that we do not need to wait until 2024 for another solar eclipse to be united over something again.  We can be united here at this church. Here we can experience a total eclipse of our faith.

And we will be transformed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 12:4, NRSV
[2] Romans 12:6, NRSV
[3] Romans 12:6-8
[4] Romans 12:6, NRSV
[5] Romans 12:6, NRSV
[6] Romans 12:2, NRSV
[7] Romans 12:1, NRSV

Step Out Of The Boat

Hi friends … I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am humbled by the inadequacy of words right now.  I don’t know how to reflect on what happened in Charlottesville this weekend and yet I know my silence is deafening and part of the problem right now.

I thought about scrapping my sermon and starting over last night, but ultimately I decided to address what happened in Charlottesville at the beginning of the service and in my pastoral prayer.  Next week is Beatles Sunday at church and Jordan and I are planning weaving the theme of Love Wins throughout the service.  It won’t change anything that happened, but maybe it will inspire us all to continue to fight to resist the evil, hatred and racism in the world.

Here’s my sermon – enjoy (and get out of that boat!) …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33

Step Out Of That Boat

I wrote two sermons this week.

The first sermon was … preachable.  Sort of.  It made a point, and not necessarily a bad one, either. It had a solid illustration, although I think it might have been one I used before.  But as I read through it and tried to give it one final edit, the whole thing just seemed repetitive and bland. Not the message I felt needed to be preached this week.  On Friday night, Bruce texted me to let me know he was on his way home from work and asked me if I needed anything.

“Yeah, a sermon that doesn’t stink,” I replied.

Only I didn’t use the word, “stink.”

The thought of rewriting the whole thing seemed daunting.  A few months ago, I would have just made a huge pot of coffee and locked myself in my office the next day for several hours to get it done.  Now, for obvious (and adorable) reasons, that is no longer an option.

By the time Bruce got home, I had worked myself into something of a tizzy.  It was not just about the sermon at that point, but about my own fears, in general, about how I am going to adjust to being a working mom, especially in a job that does not have normal business hours.  I have never wanted anything more and yet sometimes it feels overwhelming.

So back to my sermon.  I couldn’t preach it.  I may be a sleep deprived new mom, but I still refuse to preach a bad sermon.  However, at that point it was almost midnight and entirely too late to do anything about it, so I crawled into bed, pulled up this morning’s scripture on my phone and re-read it as I fell asleep.

This morning’s story follows the one we heard last week.  After Jesus fed the multitude in the story of the loaves and fishes, he sent the disciples away on his boat, dismissed the crowd and then went up to a mountain alone so that he could pray.  A storm came in overnight and the disciples were stranded far from land.  The next morning Jesus went to them, walking on the water towards the boat.  At first, the disciples did not recognize Jesus; they were scared and thought he was a ghost.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.[1]

The disciples were not yet convinced that this man was, in fact, Jesus.  Peter called out to him and said that if he truly was Jesus, then he should command Peter to go to him on the water.  So Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards him.

Immediately, however, Peter realized that the storm was still raging around him.  He was frightened and started to sink.  He cried out:

Lord, save me![2]

Jesus reached out and caught Peter and said to him:

You of little faith, why did you doubt?[3]

Jesus and Peter got back into the boat and the storm was calmed.  The disciples believed this man was Jesus, worshipped him and said:

Truly, you are the Son of God.[4]

As I read this text on Friday night, I was drawn to Peter’s narrative.  In a way, I feel like I am stepping out of that boat right now. As a new mom, I am exploring uncharted waters. My life has changed and I have to adjust how I do certain things, including pieces of my job, my ministry. At times, that feels scary and overwhelming.

Sometimes I think Peter gets a bad rap in this story, because when he started to sink in the water and needed Jesus to save him, Jesus told him he had little faith and asked him why he doubted.  But I cannot help but be inspired by Peter for getting out of the boat in the first place; for asking Jesus to call him in the water; for doing something that was new and different for him.

And yes, Peter was scared and started to sink and cried out for Jesus to save him.  But I do not think that meant his faith was weak; I think that meant his faith was very strong.

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talked about an old saying that her church ladies used to remind her of, that “when you jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either stand on solid ground or be taught how to fly.”  Peter’s faith was what made him call to Jesus.  Peter stepped out of that boat on faith, I think knowing that Jesus would catch him if he started to sink.  He cried out, “Lord, save me!” not out of desperation, but in confident hope that Jesus would, in fact, save him.  That’s faith!

For Peter, faith was not having the ability to walk on water, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus would be there to catch him if he started to sink.

And on Friday night, as I reflected on this story and the terrible sermon I did not want to preach, I realized that for me, faith might not be mean finding the perfect balance between being a pastor and being a mom, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus will be there to catch me if I need help.

Is there something in your life right now that scares you?  Something new or different that you want to try, but are afraid to?  A new job?  A large project?  A big move or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Maybe you are walking through a difficult time in your personal life, facing obstacles that seem large and daunting – a scary diagnosis, challenging relationship, sadness or grief.

Or perhaps this is simply a time of transition for your family – end of summer, back to school with new teachers or college move-in.

This story reminds us that it is okay to step out on faith when we are scared.  Like Peter, our faith is strong enough to withstand whatever we might face; even if we sink, even if we fail, even if we throw away an entire sermon and have to start all over again while the baby is napping the next day, Jesus will be there to catch us and carry us to safety.

I always thought the miracle of this story was that Jesus walked on water; but maybe the greater miracle was that Peter stepped out of the boat and walked towards him.

I think we have to believe this miracle can happen in our lives, today.  Maybe, like Peter, we are being called to step out on faith, with confident hope that Jesus will, in fact, save us, as well.

If this story teaches us anything, it is that it is okay to be scared!  The disciples were scared when the first saw Jesus; Peter was scared when he stepped out of the boat and started to sink.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

What if listened for Jesus speaking these same words in our lives, today?  What if we acknowledged the presence of fear in our lives, but also believed that Jesus’ presence is stronger than that fear?  What if we stepped out on faith, believing we will either walk on water or that Jesus will catch us and carry us to safety?

It is really hard for me to admit when something scares me, especially in ministry.  It is hard for me to show a more vulnerable side to a community of people who have called me to be their pastor and teacher.  And so I share my struggles with you not because I want sympathy or pity, but because I want you to see my humanity and know that your humanity is okay, too. Like Peter and the rest of the disciples in that boat, we are all just navigating the twists and turns of life as best we know how. Our struggles and our fears strengthen our faith as we cling to Jesus in the confident hope that he will hold us up.

We do not have to be afraid of the unknown.  Remember that after Jesus prayed, he came down off of the mountain and went to the disciples who were in the middle of the stormy seas.  Jesus will always come to us, no matter what we are going through.  Jesus will walk towards us. Jesus will save us when we cry out to him.  As long as we have our faith, we will never fall, sink or fail.

As I re-wrote my sermon yesterday, I don’t think I found any answers to how I might balance being both pastor and mom.  But I was reassured that Jesus would be fully present in my life as I walk this new part of my journey, that I would be shown grace along the way.

And so today I share this same message of encouragement to you all.  Whatever your struggle is right now – whatever you are afraid of, whatever is challenging you, however you feel God is calling you to step out on faith – do not be afraid.

So step out of that boat and believe with all your heart that you will either walk on water or that Jesus will carry you to safety.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 14:27, NRSV
[2] Matthew 14:30, NRSV
[3] Matthew 14:31, NRSV
[4] Matthew 14:33, NRSV

Thoughts On Being A Mom {I wonder if I get my brain function back?}

So I’m 9 1/2 weeks into this whole mom thing and I have to admit that I haven’t quite pulled myself back together again.

About a week ago, I loaded Harrison up in the car and we drove to my doctor’s office, which is about 40 minutes away.  I needed to sign something and I figured, while I was there, I would go to city hall and get a copy of his birth certificate, because the insurance company needed one.  I was a little bit nervous, because it was the longest trip I had ever attempted with him by myself, but I figured that best case scenario, he would sleep in the car and if he screamed, I would just turn on show tunes and sing loudly.

We made it to my doctor’s office without a problem, I went in, signed the paperwork and headed on my way to city hall.  I parked, carried him up to the second floor and walked into the city clerk’s office feeling pretty good about myself for having made it this far without a meltdown (from either one of us).  I filled out the paperwork and handed it over, at which point the clerk spent a few minutes staring at her computer with a very perplexed look on her face.

“He’s not in the system yet.”

“You need to call medical records at the hospital and make sure everything is okay on their end.”

Well, that’s not good.

So I carried Harrison back down two flights of stairs and out to the car.  At this point it was raining.  I got him loaded up and headed home.  When we got home, I fed him and got him settled, then called the hospital and left a message with medical records.  The woman called me back and was SO sweet, but also super concerned that he wasn’t in the system.  Everything was fine on her end and she couldn’t figure out why Harrison wasn’t in the state system.  She asked which city hall I had been to and said she was going to call in the morning and find out what was going on.

The whole thing just seemed really strange.  I had already gotten his social security card, why couldn’t they find him in the state system?

About an hour after I got off the phone with her, I looked at the paperwork I had filled out.

And that’s when I realized what the problem was.

Date of Birth: 7/2/2017.

Which would have been fine if Harrison was born on July 2nd.

But he was born on June 2nd.

Insert hand-slapping-face emoji here.

Not only did I have to admit to my slightly-concerned husband later on that night that I’m an idiot and the state probably did have a record of our son, but the next morning I had to call the hospital and tell the medical records woman to tell her the same thing, hopefully getting her before she called the city clerk and yelled at them.  And then two days later I had to walk back into the city clerks office and fill out a new form, while explaining that apparently I don’t know that June is the 6th month of the year and not the 7th.

So I’ve got that going for me.