Finding Hope

Well, if you were wondering how I’m finding the whole balance between motherhood and ministry, the fact that I am here with LAST week’s sermon might give you an indication (insert face palm emoji here).

I preached on the Ten Commandments the week after the Las Vegas shooting.  I think every now and then we need to remind ourselves that we need to hold one another (and ourselves!) accountable for our actions and our faith.  We don’t really like rules in the protestant church (particularly this old congregational ones), but we do need to take responsibility and live our lives worthy of God’s grace.

Here is last week’s sermon.  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Finding Hope

Friends, I am growing weary of the struggle to find adequate words to speak from the pulpit following senseless acts of violence.

I will admit that this weariness has been compounded as of late by devastating earthquakes and frustrating political debates. But 59 people were killed in Las Vegas on Sunday night when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd story of hotel overlooking an outdoor concert.

And that is not okay.

You know, I spent about 15 minutes yesterday googling the official death count. Some places were reporting 58 and some were reporting 59. For some reason I felt the need to make sure my facts were 100% accurate before I got up here to preach today.

And then the thought crossed my mind: Does it really make a difference? 58 or 59, we are still living in a very broken world.

On Monday night, a small group of us gathered in the sanctuary for prayer. We sang together, read the Prayer of Saint Francis out loud, listened to powerful words of scripture and lit candles in the confident hope that even in the darkness of those moments, God’s light would still shine. We had a time of reflection, where we named our fears and our frustrations. We talked about where we go from here, how we can have an impact on this world, how the lives we lead can help to heal our brokenness. Again, I reminded everyone that the work we do here, at the church, matters. We – both as individuals and as a church – can and will make a difference, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those we meet along our journey.

I believe this now more than ever.

I was following a lot of threads on Facebook this week that my clergy colleagues were participating in. They were discussing how to approach this morning’s sermon in light of last weekend’s tragic violence in Las Vegas. Several of them said they were going to preach hope.

Now you know how much I love to preach the resurrecting hope of the Gospel, but y’all I am getting tired. The violence does not seem to stop. To be quite honest, I had a really hard time this week figuring out what I wanted to say this morning.

And then I was singing to Harrison last night, because the kid loves to be sung to. I was singing the song, Beautiful City, from Godspell. It starts:

Out of the ruins and rubble, out of the smoke.
Out of our night of struggle can we see a ray of hope.
One pale thin ray reaching for the day
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

There is something about looking into the eyes of innocent child smiling back at you that makes you want to believe in the kind of hope God gives to us; that makes you want to fight like hell to create that kind of hope around you.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Exodus, which is the second book in the Old Testament that begins the narrative of Moses. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt and were trekking through the wilderness with Moses. When they arrived at Mount Sinai, God summoned Moses to the top of the mountain; when he arrived, God told him to tell the people they were not permitted to go up the mountain themselves, that they should set a perimeter around it and keep it holy.

Moses went down off the mountain and then God spoke to people of Israel, defining the Ten Commandments. These commandments were (and continue to be) a core of ten rules outlining things individuals should and should not do in their lives.

Sometimes, as adults, we are not great with rules. We set and enforce them with our children in order to give them structure and boundaries as they grow up and learn how to live in this world, but when we get older many of us feel as though we do need these same structure and boundaries. We are adults, after all; we know how to live in this world without someone telling us how. We like the flexibility of making our own decisions, setting our own priorities.

One of the statements I hear most often in regards to our church is how much people like the lack of rules. We do not have many – if any – requirements for membership. Members do not have to attend worship a certain number of times, participate in a certain number of events, give a certain amount of money and so on and so forth. We all come to this space, free to make our own choices and decisions about how we want to live out our faith and participate in this community.

And yet there is part of me that always wonders if rules and requirements hold us accountable, if they unite us in a common purpose, if they give us that moral compass so many people feel is gone from our world today, if they create a structure that gives us a space to find that ray of hope and build that beautiful city.

As I was reflecting on this scripture in light of what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, I realized just how important the timing of it is. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the Israelites during the Exodus. They had fled Egypt under Pharaoh’s reign and were wandering in the wilderness, unsure of what their future was going to look like. There were many points along this journey when they were hungry and thirsty, tired and weak. They had moments where they doubted God, were frustrated with one another and grew weary.

And this was the moment when God appeared to the and said, “Here; follow these rules. This is how you should live your life.”

Scripture reminds us that time and time again throughout history, God appears when people are broken and vulnerable and in need of some sort of guidance presence.

And I absolutely believe that in this moment in time, God is appearing to us in our brokenness and our vulnerability and guiding us forward.

But we have to do the work.

Beautiful City continues on with these lyrics:

We may not reach the ending, but we can start
Slowly but truly mending, brick by brick, heart by heart
Now maybe now we start learning how
We can build a beautiful city
Yes we can; Yes we can

I believe that when we are faced with adversity in our lives and in the history we are writing, we can either remain in the cycle we are in or we can make a conscious effort to journey forward and find hope.

And I do not know about you, but I want to find hope.

The Ten Commandments remind us that God calls us to live and act a certain way and more and more, I am starting to believe that call starts here, at the church. We might not be able to change what happened in Las Vegas last weekend, but we can change lives in our own community. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can; Yes we can.

This morning, I want to encourage everyone to think seriously about how you can create hope in your own life and in this church. I know we are not big on rules around here, but we need to have accountability. It is not enough to simply profess a belief in God; there has to be more than that. We have to live out our faith. We have to show tangible signs of our commitment to God and to this church.

This means coming to church and getting involved in the community in some way, whether it be through committee work, attending bible study, helping out at missions events, teaching church school, singing in the choir, etc. This means makes a financial commitment to the church so we can sustain our organization. This means familiarizing ourselves with scripture and making prayer a priority in our day-to-day lives. This means encouraging other people in their ministries so, together, we can strengthen and nurture the Body of Christ. This means being the hands and feet and face of Christ to the people we meet along our journey; shining light on the hope we find so that they, too, will believe that they can build a beautiful city.

The work we do here matters.

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but it is true and if last weekend’s carnage in Las Vegas teaches us anything it is that there is still so much work that needs to be done.

I, for one, am grateful for this community of faith, that together we can listen to God’s voice speaking to us; calling us, commanding us to live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us, to find hope even in the darkest of moments and to build a beautiful city.

Yes we can.

Yes we can.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

Oh friends – I am not even sure where to begin following Sunday night’s senseless acts of violence in Las Vegas.  We held a prayer service at the church on Monday night and I continue to discern what God is calling me to say this weekend.

Monday morning I posted the following to Facebook:

I am at a loss for words. I went to sleep last night so grateful for the unity we celebrated yesterday on World Communion Sunday, for the opportunity to remind my congregation that around the communion table light shines, love wins and grace comes alive.

And just like that … 50 people are dead in Vegas.

I still believe in the promises I preached yesterday. Maybe even more so now. But our brokenness is real, raw and undeniable right now. There is still so much work that needs to be done.

Vegas, my prayers are worth you.

Here is my sermon from this past weekend.  I think it speaks even more powerfully now.

***

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

Philippians 2:1-13

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

On Tuesday evening, Chip and Joanna Gaines announced that this upcoming season of their hit television design show, Fixer Upper, would be the last.

Cue all the tears in the Weaver household.

Those of you who have been around for a while have heard me wax on poetically about Chip and Joanna Gaines from the pulpit before. Back in February, I preached a sermon titled, “Building Something With Purpose,” where I talked about building the church and compared the work we do here to their process of taking houses in dire need of repair and transforming them into beautiful homes. I listed off five things I love about their show, one of them being the way they ground their family in faith.

It is really quite remarkable. In a society where being Christian is not exactly mainstream, Chip and Joanna Gaines have never shied away from speaking publicly about their faith. One of the things that has always impressed me about them is the way they center their lives and their business around God. Their decision to complete this chapter of their journey did not come following any sort of drama, scandal or decline in ratings; rather, they feel they need time to step back, recharge, spend time with their children and see what God is calling them to do next.

I posed my grievances on Facebook following the announcement and one of my clergy colleagues so poignantly commented, “I have even more respect for them for making this decision, though.”

And as much as I enjoy their show, I have to agree.

Despite their success, their loyal fan base and the potential they have for more fame and money through this show, their decision to walk away demonstrates their commitment to remain humble in God’s service to their family and their community. It is admirable (even if it is sad for the rest of us!).

This idea of remaining humble in God’s service comes up in this morning’s scripture reading from Philippians. Paul writes this letter to the church in Philippi from prison. He encourages members of the church to be humble not only in their service, but also in their relationships with one another.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.[1]

Paul says humility does not come from the law, it comes from the Gospel; Jesus demonstrated this kind of humility in his own life.

[Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.[2]

Paul urges the church to be more like Jesus, to imitate this humility in day-to-day life.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[3]

Put the needs of others before your own needs, Paul says. Be the voice of Christ to a world that needs to hear the Good News. Be a servant to the Gospel and believe that God is working through you.

Paul had a history with this church he was writing to in Philippi; it was the first church Paul founded on European soil, he cared deeply for them and the affection was mutual. The Philippians knew Paul had been imprisoned and had been praying for him. They sent a member of their community named Epaphroditus to him with a care package and while Epaphroditus was there, he got sick, so Paul sent him back to Philippi with this letter for the church.[4]

This letter was meant to encourage the Philippians to rejoice and live their lives worthy of the teachings of the Gospel. As in many of Paul’s letters, he encourages the community to let go of the dissension surrounding Jewish laws and really just embrace what it means to live into the grace of the resurrection.

What is so compelling to me about Paul’s letters from prison is that, in the context of where he is in life, he really gets it. He understands the depths of the sacrifices he is asking others to make. Paul recognizes that the faithful road is not always the easy road. Writing from a prison cell, Paul knows what it truly means to lay down your life for the Gospel and, still, he calls his churches to rise up and make this commitment to serve God.

When Paul talks about obedience from prison, he is living out that obedience; he, too, is struggling in his imperfect human condition to maintain his own commitment to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And yet, Paul still thinks it is possible. Paul believes deeply in the transforming power of the Gospel and he invites the church in Philippi to join him on his journey.

Today, this scripture calls us to do them same. It encourages us to rise up to this level of obedience, service and humility. It inspires us to rejoice in the Good News of God’s love and to live our lives worthy of that love; worthy of the sacrifices Jesus made on the cross, worthy of the grace God bestows upon us, even in the moments when we fall short.

This will not always be easy. But in enacting Jesus’ humility and love, we are doing the hard work that is required to make this world a better place.

I have said this before and I will say it again: The way we live our lives matters. I believe the reason so many people are captivated by Chip and Joanna Gaines has less to do with their home décor and more to do with how they live their lives. They unapologetically live out the faith they profess and their rise to fame has not changed where their priorities lie.

Here is the honest truth: In today’s world it is not always easy to do this; to unapologetically live out the faith we profess, remain humble in service to the Gospel and keep our priorities in check. We often engage in arguments that divide, rather than conversations that unite. We pass judgments against others when we should showing compassion and welcoming all people. We sometimes put our own needs before the needs of others. We are not always able to make our faith and our church community our top priority.

And yet reading this text gives us the opportunity to look at the lives we are leading; who we are, but perhaps, more importantly who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. It reminds us to share the Gospel, let go of our own desires and motivations and emulate Jesus in our lives. It boldly calls us to live the kind of life that Jesus led, even in those moments when it is not easy to do so; to be faithful, even when it is hard to hold onto that faith; to share God’s love, even when rhetoric of hate surrounds us. It evokes a spirit of humility within us and challenges us to be humble and practice the words that we preach every single day.

And here’s the thing. We do not need a hit television show in order to make this commitment. We do not need to be imprisoned to make this commitment. This is something we can do in our own lives. We can make a difference in our community. We can change people’s lives.

The last verse in this passage, verse 13 says this:

For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I believe that God is at work in each and every one of us. This is a gift given to us by grace, but it also comes with great responsibility. A responsibility to share the Gospel, to be strong in our faith, to show others what it means to live the way Jesus did and to create the kind of world we want to live in.

So let us, as Christians and as members of this community of faith, live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:3, NRSV
[2] Philippians 2:8, NRSV
[3] Philippians 2:5, NRSV
[4] The Harper Collins Study Bible, pg. 1991-1992

When People Need More

Hi all!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend.  It kind of feels like summer came back around for one final hurrah – we were debating robing this morning!  Not that I’m wanting it to snow or anything, but I’m definitely ready for fall.

Here is my sermon from this morning.  This was not an easy text to preach on!  I am always grateful for the opportunity to use preaching as a way of deepening my own faith and listening to the bold and radical call of God in my life.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

When People Need More

When my sister and I were little, my mom did the very best she could to make sure everything was equal for us.  She was obsessive about it; to the point where on Christmas morning she would tally up the amount of money she spent on gifts for each of us and whomever she spent less on, she would cut a check for the difference.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a parable that raises up questions of what equal looks like:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.[1]

In the parable, a man who owns a vineyard goes out first thing in the morning and agrees on a daily wage with a group of laborers before sending them out into his vineyard to work.  A few hours later – it is now 9AM – the landowner sees a group of people in the marketplace not doing anything and tells them to go the vineyard and work for the rest of the day.  At noon, he does the same thing; then again at 3PM and 5PM.

That evening, the owner of the vineyard tells his manager to bring the laborers in for the day and pay them.  But he asks the manager to start with the laborers who began working the latest in the day.  The 5PM laborers come in for the day and get paid the daily wage the vineyard owner had agreed on with the laborers that started first thing in the morning.

Then the 3PM laborers come in.  They get paid the same daily wage.

Then the noon laborers.  Same wage.

Then the 9AM laborers.  Do you see where this is going?

And finally, the early morning laborers. Same wage.

Now wait a minute – how is this fair?

The early morning laborers ask the vineyard owner the exact same question.

When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’[2]

This kind of reminds me of doing group projects in high school.  There was always that one person that never did any work and yet they still got the same grade as everyone else.  Did that ever happen to you? It just never seemed fair!

But, like many of my teachers in high school who told me to suck it up, take my grade and get over it, the owner of the vineyard has some tough love to share with his laborers.

He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?[3]

Technically, the owner of the vineyard has a point.  He agreed on a daily wage with the workers who went out first thing in the morning and he paid them that wage.  He did not change the terms of their original agreement.

And yet, there is part of this whole thing that just does not seem fair.

This passage is an allegory; it is meant to make us think about salvation, reminding us that God’s grace is available to all people.

But I think it has a lot to teach us about life on earth, as well.  Very much like my high school teachers who told me to stuck it up, take my grade and get over it, this passage reminds us that in life and in faith, we should not necessarily be keeping score.

This idea of what is equal comes up a lot in our country today, especially when we talk about things like healthcare and social services.  It comes up in our church a lot when we talk about pledging and where our money then goes into the operating budget.  It came up in my family as my sister and I got older and our circumstances grew different from one another and my mom struggled to still try to make things equal for us.

And while I do not necessarily have any answers about how to make things equal in the world, here is the conclusion I think I am starting to come to:  I do not think equal and fair are necessarily the same things. I also do not think equal and just are necessarily the same things. I think so much of what we give depends on what people are going through; what they need; what we can give back.

I think there are moments when some people need more than others. And I think in those moments God is far more concerned with things being fair and things being just than with things being exactly equal.

We do not know what was going on in the lives of all the laborers who started later in the day. But for some reason, the owner of the vineyard felt compelled to pay them all the same wage.

I cannot help but wonder if perhaps he knew that, for whatever reason, they needed it.

Was the compensation the laborers received at the vineyard that day equal for the amount of time they all worked?  No.

Was it fair? Was it just? That is not for us to decide.

This is a challenging parable to read because it goes against the American dream that the harder we work, the more we will gain. But I think it forces us to realize that sometimes life is not about the bottom line; it is not about compassion, mercy and justice.

I was listening to a podcast on Thursday and the host was interviewing a woman who lives in Houston.  She was talking about Hurricane Harvey and the ongoing relief efforts that were happening through her church.  As I listened to her talk, I thought about the devastation that Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria have caused in less than one month’s time, the horrifying destruction in Mexico following the earthquakes this week and of the people in our own community that are hurting in real and heartbreaking ways.

And all I could think was:  They need more right now.

I think at some point, I think we have to ask ourselves the hard, but necessary question:  Are we trying to make the world a better place or are we trying to make our world a better place? This text challenges us to look at the needs of others and prioritize those needs over our own desires. This text boldly calls us to prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be – as individuals and as a church.

In the parable, the owner of the vineyard says to his earliest laborer:

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’[4]

Generous. We serve a generous God:

A God whose grace is abundant.

A God who is just and fair.

A God who sees the needs of everyone, even if they are not necessarily visible on the outside to the rest of us.

A God who never walks away.

A God who calls the human race to rise up and help one another in their times of need.

And that time is now.

As I said earlier, the older my sister and I got, the more my mom struggled to make sure things were exactly equal for us. I think she finally gave up; and not because it was a lost cause or anything, but because she realized that at different points throughout our lives, we were simply going to need different things – sometimes less, sometimes more. And so now she just tries to meet those needs as best she can, knowing that in the end, it will all even out.

Friends, there are great needs among people in our own community, throughout the country and around the world. The depths of these needs we may never understand; but what we do understand is that God boldly challenges us to meet these needs in ways both big and small and to demonstrate generosity in our lives.

So I would encourage you to think today about how God is calling you to give back and serve those who need more right now.

For starters, come to the Soup Supper next weekend – not only is it a delicious night, but all of the proceeds are going to Hurricane relief. As with most natural disasters, the relief efforts will continue long after the storm is over. I believe this is only the beginning of our church’s outreach to the communities hit hardest. Remember that we can rise up to God’s spirit of generosity in our service.

I would also encourage you to connect here at the church and tie into the life of the community. The fall is a very busy time; there is a lot going on and there are so many different ways and places to serve. Come to our congregational meeting next Sunday after church, hear the proposal of the task force and be part of the conversation envisioning what our church structure could look like.

And here’s the thing: This text also reminds us that – in the end – God will still give us what we need. The early morning laborers received the wage they agreed on; the fact that the owner of the vineyard showed generosity with the other laborers did not mean he took anything away from the ones that started in the morning.

It is in reading this text that we remember we have nothing to lose when we show what God’s generosity can look like here on earth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 20:1, NRSV
[2] Matthew 20:12, NRSV
[3] Matthew 20:13-15, NRSV
[4] Matthew 20:15, NRSV