Category Archives: Sermons

March 17, 2019 Sermon

“That’s Not Fair: Learning Generosity and Grace”                                              Matthew 20:1-16 Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                               
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
March 17, 2019

When I lived in New York City for a year of seminary, I was eligible for SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funded by the federal government often referred to as “food stamps.” I got a restricted debit card, and on the first of the month it was loaded with $194 which was what a formula decided a single person in NYC needed for food. Because of the SNAP assistance I received I was able to take out about $2,000 less in loans than I otherwise would’ve needed.

I remember a few things about being on SNAP.

The first is that it was incredibly difficult to get enrolled in the first place. I couldn’t figure out the online system – and I know online systems pretty well. So I went to the office in Harlem and got in a line that snaked down blocks. I was the only white person in line and it was clear to me from start to finish that the process was designed to be as difficult and dehumanizing as possible.

The second is that I felt so much shame about needing help. I’ve always believed that everybody deserves to eat, and that part of what a society does is make sure that everybody can eat. But since I could listen I’ve also heard the sorts of things our society tends to say about people on “food stamps.” I felt ashamed that I needed help, especially when I would go to pay and everyone saw how I was paying. I felt the eyes on me and my shopping cart, eyes that seemed to ask how I had a nice coat if I needed food stamps, or whether I worked (I did, in addition to full time studies), or why I was getting meat or ice cream. Continue reading

March 10, 2019 Sermon

“Called to be Better: Accountability and Forgiveness”                                    Matthew 18:15-22
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
March 10, 2019

In 1982, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, gathered in Ottawa, drew a line in the sand and declared apartheid a heresy. Apartheid was South Africa’s social, political, and yes, religious system of discrimination, segregation, and violent oppression of Black people. Delegates from churches around the world, including the United Church of Christ, declared that, “Apartheid is a sin, and that the moral and theological justification of it is a travesty of the Gospel…and, a theological heresy.” With that statement, the Alliance suspended the membership of two white Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa that defended and supported apartheid both inside and outside the church, declaring them fundamentally wrong to the point that fellowship could not be maintained.[1]

This was a big, big deal, and it was controversial as all heck. To declare something heresy or somebody heretical is to say that their beliefs and actions are absolutely wrong, and cannot be accepted in the church. There is no stronger statement than a church can make. For decades before, the worldwide body had condemned racism and apartheid, hoping that the racist churches would realize they were wrong and change. But by this point it became clear that was not going to happen. And so we – and as part of that body we are part of that we – declared this to be a status confessionis issue, which is a matter that the church cannot allow disagreement about: If you insist on barring God’s Black children from the Lord’s Table in your churches, if you insist on teaching and preaching that God supports segregation, oppression, and violence against Black people and defending the indefensible actions of your government, you are wrong, and we must draw a line in the sand. If you want to be considered part of the worldwide Church again, you must change. The churches could be reinstated under three conditions: 1) If they no longer excluded Black people from the life of the church, 2) if they offered concrete support to those who were kept down by apartheid, and 3) if they publicly admitted their guilt and rejected apartheid. Until then, they were out. End of story. Continue reading

February 24, 2019 Sermon

“Jesus Changes the Rules”                                                                                     Matthew 14:13-33
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
February 24, 2019

Robert Gench tells a story of a woman who “was serving on a long-range planning committee of her church at a critical juncture in the church’s life. They had decided,” he says, “to reenergize various ministries of the church, but initial enthusiasm waned when the implementation of the ministries proved difficult. Negativity overtook the leadership…[and] finally one of the newer members of the church asked, ‘Is this what it means to be church, believing you should do all these things, and then feeling worn out and guilty because you can’t? Is this the Good News we celebrate?’” The question got people’s attention.

It just so happens that the woman in the story is Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the President of Union Seminary in New York City where I studied for a year. It’s a small story, and it goes to show that no matter our standing or status in the world of faith, we all miss the boat from time to time.

Speaking of boats, Gench told this story in a commentary on part of today’s story from scripture – the story of Jesus walking on water, though I actually think it’s best thought of as the story of Peter walking on water. After all, miracles are kind of Jesus’ thing. But for Peter – ordinary Peter – to walk on water? Well, that gets my attention.

The story tends to be interpreted on the individual level: “in the storms of life, keep your eye on Jesus and you’ll pull through.” Or, Jesus is cast as a kind of superhero who just kind of does amazing stuff. These aren’t necessarily bad interpretations, though I don’t generally think it’s helpful to imagine that Jesus is a superhero because then we forget he was also one of us. But these interpretations tend to miss the bigger picture. Continue reading

February 10, 2019 Sermon

“Judge Less, Grow More”                                                                                  Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
February 10, 2019

A few months ago, I left my glasses in my office before coming out to lead worship. I realized pretty early on, but decided to muddle through. I’m near-sighted, so I was able to see everything I needed to see okay. But there was a pretty big challenge: when I looked out at you, your faces were just blurry blobs. I could guess who was who, but I couldn’t see your faces! This was quite disturbing to me for many reasons, not just because I like looking at you. Leading worship and preaching was completely different! After all, in worship your facial expressions and body language provide me almost all of the feedback I get to make some guesses about how things are going for you. Is the service meaningful? Is my sermon connecting? I had no idea. All I could see was blurry blobs, and I’ll never forget my glasses again.

As I studied and prayed about Jesus’ sayings we heard today, I was reminded of this experience. This is because Jesus uses the example of the human eye to make a point – something he does a lot in the sermon on the mount:

“Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but  don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or    sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your  eye? Continue reading

February 3, 2019 Sermon

“Nothing to Prove: Living and Leading with Jesus”                                              Matthew 6:7-21
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
February 3, 2019

Oseola McCarty was a Black woman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who left school after sixth grade to take care of a sick relative. After that, she went to work doing laundry for the wealthy bankers, lawyers, and doctors in town. She lived in a small home without air conditioning until she installed A/C in her 80s to run only when she had company. She never owned a car, walking every Sunday with a taped up Bible to the Friendship Baptist Church.

When she turned 87, she could no longer wash clothes and had to retire. Shortly after, the University of Southern Mississippi received a $150,000 check from her, designated to a scholarship fund for minority students of color. She had never stepped foot on the campus, had never been past sixth grade, and yet she gave away nearly every penny she had to this fund.

As it turns out, she had opened a savings account decades earlier, and saved every penny she could over the years. The gift made headlines – the university’s public relations department knew they had a good story after all. In an interview shortly before she died, she was asked why she didn’t spend the money she had earned on herself. She smiled and responded, “I am spending it on myself.” Continue reading