Our Time In The Wilderness

We kicked off our Lenten season on Sunday in the wilderness with Jesus.  I’m back on the lectionary for the time being and we are going to preach through the Gospel thread during Lent.  I decided not to talk about temptations this year in looking at this narrative, but about being in the wilderness in general – because I think we all find ourselves there at some point in our lives!

I did preach at our Ash Wednesday service – I referenced it in this sermon.  I will post at least the text at some point this week if anyone is interested.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2020

Matthew 4:1-11

Our Time In The Wilderness

I used to think that, at some point, I would figure out the whole “life” thing; that I would magically arrive at a time and space in my life where suddenly everything would make sense and I would be able to wrap up my beliefs in a nice little bow and then just, kind of, coast.  From there on out, I assumed, life would be a little bit easier because I would have this framework and formula for how it was all supposed to work.

It was a really frustrating day in adulthood when I realized that was not actually going to happen.

Life would be so much easier if it happened in a linear and consistently upright motion.  You could learn lessons from the past, but build on them in a slow and steady way, knowing that the best days are always ahead of you.

But that is not how life works.

As it turns out, I probably should have paid closer attention to my bedtime stories when I was little.  Because I was reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss to Harrison this week and I was really struck by the profound life lessons disguised in anapestic tetrameter.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.[1]

Doesn’t this describe life perfectly, though?  We can be going along and be in a good rhythm – we can think we are doing pretty well and that we might even have answers to some of our questions.  Then all of a sudden something knocks us over or stops us in our tracks or brings us into a dark and lonely place and we are left wondering what in the world just happened.  We can find ourselves in a lurch – in a slump – in the wilderness, not really sure how to get out.

This morning we are in the wilderness with Jesus.

I think, for people that observe Lent, even on a passive or marginal level, this passage of scripture is actually pretty well-known because of the correlation between Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness with the 40 days of Lent.  The narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the dessert is recorded in three out of the four Gospel (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and is very often the scripture that is used to kick off the Lenten season every year – to kick off the 40 days of Lent.

That being said, the piece, I think, we forget sometimes is where this story is actually located within the narrative of the Gospel.  Despite its connection to the Lenten season, it is not close to the Easter story; it is, in fact, much closer to the beginning.  It immediately follows Jesus’ baptism.

And so think of it this way:  Jesus goes from this pivotally high moment where he is baptized by John in the Jordan River and emerges from the water to hear God’s voice through the clouds, claiming him as God’s own.  God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” and then almost immediately Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.

Talk about life not happening in a linear and consistently upright motion.

But at the end of his time in the wilderness those promises of baptism are immediately fulfilled for Jesus.

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.[2]

Angels came and waited on him.

Jesus was not alone in the wilderness.

Baptism does not promise us an easy life, but it does welcome us into the Body of Christ and invites us into this sacred and holy narrative where resurrection is real and God is with us and we are not alone.

Do you ever feel like you are out there in the wilderness, kind of wandering around, not really sure how long you are going to be stuck there or even how you are going to get yourself out?

Last week we were on the mountaintop with Jesus as we heard the story of the transfiguration.  And while it would be wonderful if, as Christians, we could always stay on that mountaintop and experience the wonderful highs of life, the truth is, sometimes we find ourselves in the wilderness.

We are tempted by things in this world that want to pull us away from God.

We have a hard time seeing and believing that God’s love is stronger than the struggles we are facing.

We do not know how to get out, how to “un-slump” ourselves.

And yet, this passage of scripture promises us two things:  1) that it is okay if we are in the wilderness, because Jesus, himself, was there and 2) there are angels with us when we are there.

If you ever find yourself in the wilderness, first and foremost, do not beat yourself up for being there.  Jesus could not escape it – what makes us think that we can?  Life is hard and it does not always make sense.  And in dealing with it, we are imperfect and sometimes fall apart and fall short, but that does not make us less faithful, that just makes us human.

And so we do the best we can.  We stay in the wilderness, knowing that it is okay for us to be there, knowing that we are not alone in our struggles and, perhaps most importantly, knowing that God is with us.

And then, slowly but surely, we take a step forward and begin the journey out.

Lent began on Wednesday; about 40 of us gathered here, in the sanctuary, for our Ash Wednesday service.

Even though we mark the 40 days of Lent by Jesus’ time in the wilderness, Lent is not really about putting ourselves into the wilderness, but about acknowledging its existence.  It is about being honest about the fact that as humans, sometimes we end up in the wilderness.

Lent is about looking at ourselves in the mirror and recognizing, not only that we are not perfect, but also that it is okay if we are not perfect.  It is about seeing the wilderness as a part of our journey through life and faith and not a place where we go when we have done something wrong.  Lent is about understanding the coming resurrection as a promise of redemption and second chances in our lives.  Lent is about existing in a world that is broken, but also believing that there is hope in that brokenness.

I actually think this one of the reasons a lot of us actually come to church.

I talked about this in my sermon on Ash Wednesday.  I said that we do not come to church to escape life, but as a way to help us deal with it; to acknowledge our brokenness, but also to be assured of our wholeness in God.

And this is what the Lenten journey is all about.  It is about taking an intentional amount of time – 40 days, to honor this scriptural record of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness – to reflect on life, faith and what it means to believe in the promise of resurrection.

It is about believing that every experience in the wilderness will have angels waiting on us.

It is about trusting that we are not alone.

Life is not always easy.  And I want you to know that, if you are in the wilderness right now, that it is okay that you are there, that it does not make you any less faithful and that you are not alone.  This is a journey – life, faith, being part of the Body of Christ – it does not happen in a linear and consistently upright motion, it happens in a very real and messy and human motion.

But that is why we are here – to believe that we are not alone in the wilderness and also to see tangible signs of that witness through our church community.

Because the other thing is that if you are not in the wilderness right now, the work that you are doing matters to the people that are.  The love that you are giving them is changing their lives.  You are their light shining in the darkness.  You are God’s voice reminding them that they are not alone.  You are their earth angels waiting for them, cheering them on, championing the, walking alongside them on their journey.

As we begin to journey through this Lenten season together, I would encourage us all to think about what the wilderness means to us.  Because whether we are there now, we finally are out of it or we have jumped back in to help pull someone out, the hope of the cross that we are walking towards is that the wilderness is not the end of our story.

Resurrection is.

Light is.

Love is.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Oh! That Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss
[2] Matthew 4:11, NRSV

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It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Hi friends!  Happy Shrove Tuesday!

We had our big Mardi Gras celebration at the church on Sunday – it was so much fun!  Decorations, brass, food and a mocktail bar – it doesn’t get better than that!

Our Ash Wednesday Worship service is at 7PM tomorrow.  If you are in Rehoboth, I would love to see you there!  You do not have to get ashes imposed if you would just like to enjoy the service.

Here is my sermon from Sunday – the story of the Transfiguration!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 23, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9

It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Happy Mardi Gras!

Or shall I say, Laissez les bons temps rouler, which is a Cajun French saying that means, “Let the good times roll,” and has become a Mardi Gras mantra over the years.[1]

Of course we know that today is not actually Mardi Gras – the real celebration is on Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday.  Tuesday marks the closing out of one season before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  Today is the Sunday before it all begins – Transfiguration Sunday.  Transfiguration Sunday is the day we remember Jesus taking Peter, James and John up on a mountain, where he is transformed – transfigured! – in front of them, appearing with Moses and Elijah, and a voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”[2]

The story of the transfiguration is a challenging one for preachers, I think partially because it comes up every year the Sunday before Lent starts and so, like Christmas and Easter, there is a little bit of pressure to put a fresh spin on it, year after year.  It is also a challenging one, because it is a kind of a hard story to interpret on a practical, grassroots, “this is how I am called to live out my faith” kind of level.

It is one thing to read a story about Jesus feeding the multitudes and think to ourselves, “Hmm – maybe if people are hungry, we should feed them.”

Or to read a story about Jesus healing someone – even in a miraculous way that we, ourselves, might not be able to attain – and remember that we are called to be agents of healing in our own community, even if that means something as simple as praying for someone, offering to drive them to an appointment or giving them a prayer shawl.

Or to read a story about Jesus reaching out to a marginalized person – say, perhaps, the story of the Good Samaritan – and wonder how we can minister to people who are living on the margins of society.

It is a whole other thing to read this story and wander up a mountain in the hopes that perhaps Jesus might appear with a couple of Old Testament prophets and God will speak to all of us through the clouds.

On the surface, it appears that there is not a whole lot of practical application here.

Every year, without fail, I find myself participating in a conversation with clergy – whether it be on the internet or in person – about how to approach the transfiguration in a sermon.  And not that this was the sole purpose behind our new Mardi Gras Sunday tradition or anything, but I have to admit – filling the sanctuary with an explosion of purple, green and gold, festive music and the promise of delicious food afterwards does, in fact, distract from the possibility that my sermon might be terrible.

So there is that.

When I read the story of the transfiguration this week, the one thing that really jumped out at me were Peter’s words to Jesus in verse four:  “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”[3]

“Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be in worship, to be together as a community and to mark this transition in the church calendar year as we prepare to enter the Lenten season.

There is something about this story of Jesus’ transfiguration that connects us to our own baptism.  When Jesus’ appearance changes, God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[4]  If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because this mirrors so strongly the story of Jesus’ baptism that we heard a few weeks ago, where Jesus emerges from the water and a God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”[5]

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to connect this story back to Jesus’ baptism and to remember, as we prepare to enter the Lenten season, that the living waters of baptism have washed and continue to wash over all of us.

That we do not have to be perfect.

That we do not have to have all the answers.

That grace is powerful and that second chances are possible.

That God is, that love is real and that the Gospel will change the world.

It is good for us to be here today to remember our baptism through this story.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to hear Jesus’ words, “Get us and do not be afraid.”[6]  It is good for us to see in verse six that the disciples who witnessed the transfiguration fell to the ground and were overcome with fear and know that we are not alone when our initial reaction to something that we do not understand is fear.  But it is also good for us to remember that that we are called to live in faith, not in fear; to remember Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.”

It is good for us to be here today, because there are many things going on in all of our lives that are scary and unsettling, but when we come together and we remember this story we know, with certainty that we are not alone and that we do not have to be afraid.

It is good for us to be here to live into our faith and not into our fear.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to remember that the story does not end on the top of the mountain, but with the disciples coming down off of the mountain, with strict orders not to tell anyone what they saw immediately, but after the resurrection.

It is good for us, as people living on this side of the resurrection, to hear this call.  It is good for us to remember that, as amazing as those mountaintop experiences are – those moments in our faith when we feel like we are on top of the world – we have to come down off the mountain and both experience and talk about our faith in the real world.  We have to proclaim the good news of the resurrection in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all people.  We have to live out our faith, not solely within the vacuum of our church community, but out in the world where it intersects with the realities of our lives.

It is good for us to be here today so that, together, we can come down off the mountain.

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be here today and to meet one another, wherever we are on our journey through life and faith.  It is good for us to be here today to proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of the messiness and the confusion of life.  It is good for us to be here today and sing with the saints.  It is good for us to be here today and break bread together.  It is good for us to be here to mark the end of one season in the church year and prepare to enter Lent together.  It is good for us to be here today and remember that transfiguration can happen in our own lives.  It is good for us to be here today so we can grow in our faith and strengthen our community.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Let the good times roll.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] https://www.whereyat.com/glossary-of-mardi-gras-terms
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSSV
[3] Matthew 17:4, NRSV
[4] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[5] Matthew 3:17, NRSV
[6] Matthew 17:7, NRSV

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What The Local Church Can Do

Finishing up our glance at 1 Corinthians, we came off a wonderful evening of show tunes at RCC and then gathered for worship on Sunday morning.  It was a great weekend to finish up this sermon series, think about what local churches are capable of doing (because y’all we have done a lot over the past couple of weeks) and then settle down and start thinking about the Lenten season.

Mardi Gras Sunday is this week!  I decided to jump back into the Revised Common Lectionary (I know, I know) for Lent, so I will be following the Gospel texts until Easter Sunday.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 16, 2020

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 16:13-24

What The Local Church Can Do

When the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and called churches to go out into the world and do the same, I wonder if he ever could have imagined that, in 2,000 years, halfway around the world, a small church in the village of a small town called Rehoboth, Massachusetts would share Christ’s message of love and hospitality with showtunes and appetizers.

I really do love my job.  I mean – I love Jesus.  I love the Gospel.  I love that God came into this world in human flesh and promises to always be with us.  I love that knowing that love triumphs over evil and that I do not have to be perfect to be transformed by God’s grace.

But I also just love the local church.  I love what we can do.  I love who we can be.  I love the fact that we are able to exist within this 300-year-old institution and yet still proclaim a message that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in our world, today.  I love that we are able to change lives and proclaim the Gospel, using the rituals and traditions that have shaped us, as a church, but also put our own twist on things, even if sometimes that twist involves chocolate fountains and Les Mis medleys.

The really cool thing about the local church is that, by being here, we are living into God’s call for us.  Because I do believe that into each generation God calls Christians to do something new, to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today, as we proclaim the Gospel and share Christ’s message of love.

We have come to the end of our glance at 1 Corinthians.  I think, in many ways, Paul is addressing some of the same things in this letter that we, as a church, do as we seek to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today.  He is trying to help the Corinthians overcome differences and seek unity in Christ so they can, not only strengthen their own church, but also extend the reach of the Gospel within their community and throughout the world.  He is trying to help them be authentic to who they are, as a mostly-Gentile Christian community living in Corith exploring this new faith.

Paul covers a lot of ground in this letter to the church in Corinth.  This letter – his first letter to this church – is the second-longest in the New Testament.  The letters – called epistles – are arranged in the bible by length from longest to shortest; 1 Corinthians is the second letter, after Romans.  We have looked at bits and pieces of it, enough to at least understand what was going on.  We know the Corinthian community was in conflict prior to Paul writing this letter.  We know that Paul’s focus is unity; he talks about the fact that differences do not make us weaker; that they, in fact, make us stronger, as a church, as the Body of Christ.  As he begins to close out his letter, Paul assures the church that love will bind them together.

We have now reached the end of the letter – Paul’s offers his final words on the resurrection and what this means for the church as they seek to be authentic to who they are, as Christians living in their world.

In other words – what’s next?  What does this mean for us?  What does it mean to believe in God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love through Jesus Christ and then how do we live that out, as a community?  How can we be authentic to who we are, as Christians?

These are the same questions that we ask ourselves, today.  The same questions that sometimes lead to chocolate festivals and cabarets, but also that lead to intriguing sermon series, new missions projects, compassionate meal trains and fun educational opportunities.

I believe Paul’s words at the end of this letter speak as poignantly to us, today, as I am sure they did to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago.  He says in chapter 15, verses one and three, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”  Today, I remind us all of this same good news – that Christ came not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are perfect, but because we need grace; not because we are whole, but because we are broken.

This is not something that we have to earn – this is something that is guaranteed to us.  This is why we gather in the first place.  It is the hope that we hold onto when it seems like the world is a really scary place to live in; the hope that love is real and that God is always with us; the hope that we remind one another of when we are walking with each other through the deep valleys of life; the hope that sustains us as we do church together.

Paul says in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”  Today we have to remember this same sentiment – that we are who God says that we are, that we are who God created us to be, that we are who God is calling us to be.  We need to remember this as individuals, but also as the church.  Who we are is enough because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are.

Paul says in chapter 16, verse 13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”  These words continue to speak to us because they remind us that we, too, have to remain strong as we do this work God is calling us to do.  It is not always easy to share the Gospel in the world we are living in today.  It is not always easy to be part of the church – on a practical level of finding time in the week to participate or on a theological level of proclaiming this message of love in a world that so often seems divisive and filled with hatred.  But Paul reminds us that we should not waver from our convictions.

“Let all that you do be done in love,” Paul says in verse 14.  Remember what Jesus said – love God, love people.  Paul knows this is not always easy – he knows that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that kind of love.

But Paul also knows that this is where the real work begins.

And that is when transformation happens.

That is when the Gospel comes alive and starts to change lives.

And this is what happens in the local church.

The cool part about the local church is that we are not only the ones that are on the ground and sharing the Gospel in a grassroots and real way, but we are able to decide who we are; we are able to listen to God’s speaking to us, calling us to be the most authentic version of ourselves and our church in this generation.  And so, like Paul reminds the Corinthians at the end of this letter, we need to remember, both as individuals and as a church, of the hope of the promise of our faith.  We need to trust that we are who God says that we are.  We need to stand firm in our faith and be courageous on our journey.

We have had a wonderful couple of weeks here, at our local church.  In many ways, it feels like we were just suspending stars from the ceiling after the new year and now here we are, halfway through February.  Yet, in still a relatively short amount of time, we have done a tremendous amount of work.  We have received star words and remembered our baptisms.  We gathered around the font of living waters and baptized three children; we then lived out the promises we make in baptism a few weeks later by supporting the Youth Group’s fundraising efforts to offset the cost of their winter retreat through Super Bowl Subs.  We enthusiastically participated in Chocolate Festivals and Cabarets and were ambassadors for our church in the community.  We tested out a new mission project that we hope to launch more regularly in the spring and allocated funds from our mission and discretionary accounts to help people in need in our community.

And next week the work continues – we will shift our focus to Lent with our Mardi Gras Sunday celebration; Lent begins the following week.

In other words – we just keep going.

But, to be quite honest, I think that is what Paul is saying here – just keep going.  Keep proclaiming the Gospel.  Keep believing in the promises.  Keep strengthening your faith and finding the courage to remain steadfast.  Keeping sharing Christ’s love.  Keep working together and building one another up.  Keep believing in yourself and your church; that you are who God says that you and that you have the capacity to change someone’s life for the better.  Keep being authentic to who you are, as Christians living in this world today.

This is the charge to the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago.  And this is the charge to us, the church in the village, today.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My life be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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