To Fight For Our Church

So I realize that making the statement, “the church is changing,” isn’t exactly a groundbreaking discovery or anything, but over the past couple of weeks, I have really felt a push to start talking more about this at RCC.  We’ve weather the “changing landscape of ministry” storm pretty well over the past couple of years, but over the past year I’ve really noticed people struggling with this notion of time and balance.  Sunday sports and activities are making life more challenging on Sundays and people just don’t have the time and energy they used to.

The thing is … people still LOVE the church.  They want to be part of the community, they want to feel #rccstrong and they want to come worship when they are able.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what the church needs to look like right now.  One of my church members suggested some sort of adult mentoring program when she was leaving worship this morning, which really intrigued me!  We’ll see where God takes us next!

Anyway, here is this morning’s sermon … enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 25, 2016

1 Timothy 6:6-19

To Fight For Our Church

After last week’s sermon where I basically called us all out to look prayerfully at our financial habits, I read this week’s scripture, particularly the line that says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,[1] and thought to myself, “Well they are going to run me out of town.”

So, maybe let’s table that for the moment.

When I was putting together our worship schedule for the fall, I was really struck by another verse of this scripture – verse 12 – that says:

Fight the good fight of the faith.[2]

Today, these words are so powerful, so relevant, so true. Right now, we need to fight the good fight of the faith; we need to fight for our faith, for our church and for this Christian story that is still be written.

Here is a sometimes-hard truth: The church is changing. The church (our church, but also the wider Christian Church) is changing in real and not-so-subtle ways.

The late Phyllis Tickle, who was an author and lecturer on spirituality and religion (she passed away a year ago), hypothesized that every 500 years, the church undergoes a massive upheaval and transition. Here is an overview of the history:

  • The very beginning of the Common Era: Jesus happens and everything changes.
  • 400+ years later, we are in the 4th century, Constantine the Great rises to power and legalizes Christianity and completely changes the way people are able to worship and practice their faith.
  • 500+ years later, the year is 1054 and the Great Schism occurs and separates what is now the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic.
  • 500 years after that, the Protestant Reformation is in full swing and in 1517 the Ninety –Five Theses are posted on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

And 500 years after that? Well, we are living that right now.

Here in the 21st century, the church is changing. And while these changes are exciting and opening up new opportunities and possibilities, they are also scary and unsettling. Because for the first time in our lifetime – our lifetime, not the lifetime of our church or the Christian Church – we do not know what is next.

Our church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, was organized in 1721 and it grew and thrived in a time when mainline protestant churches were a natural part of people’s lives. People attended their local church, often with their extended family, and were tied into the community. Most women did not work and were able to volunteer and give their time to the church. Sundays were considered sacred and going to church was really the only thing that people did. There were fewer ways to communicate and therefore it was relatively easy to reach people with one message.

But things are different now. Our culture is much more transient and there is more turnover in churches. People are able to drive further distances and often do if they really connect with a church, making church membership more widespread than one community. Sundays are no longer considered sacred: Stores are open, sports practice, activities meet and people work. There are so many ways to communicate that people often get over stimulated and messages are inconsistent. People are unable to make commitments, which makes attendance and involvement not always consistent. The expectation is no longer that you will go to church; rather the challenge is finding a way to make church work in your life.

And as our culture and society changes, tremendous stress is put on our church, as an institution, because it simply cannot maintain the same structure that was built when the environment that surrounded it was more church-friendly.

I know people, especially people who are working, raising families and caring for their aging relatives, struggle to get here on a Sunday morning. They lack the time and energy to be involved the same way those who came before us were. They are very overwhelmed.

And, honestly? I feel the problem getting worse. I have noticed, over the past year, even, that people are having more and more of a hard time with this notion of time and balance. And it is very difficult to sustain (much less grow!) a church when this is what we are up against.

So that is the problem. I really wish I had a solution! But unfortunately, I am not quite there yet.

But I will say this: Part of living on this side of this side of the resurrection and professing a belief in a God who conquers death, darkness and despair is trusting that things are going to be okay. Part of our Christian faith means believing that God is working out the details; that something new and powerful and grace-filled is coming. We have to hold onto that hope. We, as individual Christians living in this crazy world and we, as members of this church community, have to hold onto the hope that faith is worth fighting for.

Let’s get back to the scripture we just heard: The first letter to Timothy is attributed to the Apostle Paul (either written by him or written in his name after he died). The author, for all intents and purposes, is talking about money here, issuing warnings about greediness and worshiping material wealth.[3]

But since I do not want to go down that road AGAIN, instead of looking at the issues the author was addressing, I want to look at the author’s response to those issues. Because, essentially, the author was trying to address an issue that was relevant to what people were going through in their lives and the challenges they were facing. And I want to address an issue that we are facing today, this issue of time and balance and of churches struggling to find their bearings in a changing world.

In this particular context, people were struggling with things like money, material wealth and greediness. And the author of this letter calls upon his readers to basically ignore what is happening around them, to “shun all this,” the scripture says, and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.”[4]

In other words, forget about what is going on around you and really focus on who God is calling you to be.

“Fight the good fight of the faith,” the letter goes on to say. “Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”[5]

It is so hard to resist what society is telling us to do and embrace what God is calling us to do. It was hard then and it is hard today. But our faith is worth the struggle; the Christian story is worth fighting for. It was then and it is today.

I think this message – this message of getting back to the basics of our faith, of focusing on Godly traits and of being an advocate for our church – is completely relevant to the issues we are facing today. You see, the church (or, at least, the world is exists in) might be changing, but our faith is not going anywhere.

In fact, there are moments when I think we need it now more than ever.

I strongly believe our church is people’s changing lives. I believe, in the midst of personal struggles and national and global unrest, that this church can be a safe space for individuals and families to find refuge, seek wisdom and feel hope. We can preach a truthful message of love, light and second chances that has stood the test of time.

This is worth fighting for. This church – whatever it needs to look like in our generation and for the next 500 years – is worth fighting for.

I think we have to give nod to this scripture and go back to the basics for a little while. We need to remember why we gather in the first place, not only inviting God into our midst, but also reflecting God in who we are and what we do. We need to have honest conversations about what church might look like if we intentionally pursued “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance [and] gentleness”[6] in a way that was meaningful, relevant and accessible to us and our community.

Think about how freeing this might be. Think about what we might be able to do, both as individuals and as a church community, if we fought for the faith that has brought us this far and for a church that is changing people’s lives. Think about what our church and community might look like if we were truly able to live out God’s call for us.

This means we need to come together – all of us.   All of us, from the people who have been at this church their whole lives to those who have just come through our doors. All of us, from those whose have always identified as Christian to those for whom this is all very new. All of us, from those who are feeling great peace and hope to those who are struggling. All of us have to come together and fight for our faith, to fight for our church.

I do not know what the next step is. But I do know that I am excited for the journey that lies ahead. I am excited for my journey as a Christian, for our journey, as a church and for the journey of our Christian faith. Because, for 2,000 years, Christians, just like us, have tackled difficult issues, fought hard for this faith and proved, time and time again, that God’s love always wins.

And that is no different here, today.

So let us fight the good fight of the faith. Let us be advocates for our church and the work we are doing in this community. Let us bear witness to the truths that we learn, but also the questions that we struggle with. Let us love and support one another on our journeys. Let us support this church as it finds its way in a world that is changing.

And may we be changed, inspired and transformed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Timothy 6:10, NRSV
[2] 1 Timothy 6:12, NRSV
[3] Mitchell G. Reddish: Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, pg. 111 & 113 (Exegetical Perspective)
[4] 1 Timothy 6:11, NRSV
[5] 1 Timothy 6:12, NRSV
[6] 1 Timothy 11, NRSV

Call To Worship {extravagant welcome, church community, this is my father’s world}

I wrote this Call to Worship for last Sunday’s worship service.  I was preaching on the parable of the dishonest manager, but this really had nothing to do with that.  I just wanted a nice way to open up our service.  In a way, we are still welcoming people back from the summer (our Rally Day numbers were down this year and our attendance actually increased the week later, which never happens!) so I wanted our Call to Worship to reflect that.  We also opened with the hymn, This Is My Father’s World, and I thought this led in nicely.

***

CALL TO WORSHIP
THEMES: EXTRAVAGANT WELCOME, CHURCH COMMUNITY, USED WITH HYMN ‘THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD’

Come to this place of worship and reflection:
A place where we can worship God and grow in our faith.
Come to this place of extravagant welcome:
A place where ALL are welcome!
Come to this place of safety and security:
A place where it is okay to be who we are.
Come to this place of light, love and grace:
A place where light shines in darkness, love triumphs over hate and grace always intercedes when we need it most.
Come to this place where God is taking us on a spectacular journey!
We are here and we are ready! Let us worship God!

My Apple Watch Issues

This was a fun one, not only to preach, but also to write!  It was more of a commentary on a struggle I’m having in regards to the scripture than a super academic sermon.  I think we all needed “light” today, though.  We had a really busy weekend at the church – the choir sang in a big concert on Friday night, we were at the Rehoboth Harvest Block Party all day on Saturday and then I had a wedding on Saturday night.  It was nice to just relax and be in worship and not feel like I had too many pieces in the air.

We also had some absolutely INCREDIBLE music!  Mary Bee, who grew up in our church and now how a singing career in LA, was back in town doing a benefit concert (the concert the choir sang in on Friday night) and she graciously offered to sing in church this morning!  So she sang How Great Thou Art after my sermon – I kept my phone recording so I would have it.  It’s not the best recording, but you get the idea!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 18, 2016

Luke 16:1-13

My Apple Watch Issues

People who attend Tuesday Morning Bible Study are often privy to some of my more superficial confessions and struggles. For example, over the past year, I have somewhat obsessively talked about – at least once a month – my coveting of a piece of technology released in 2015: The Apple Watch.

So here’s the thing: I do not need an Apple Watch. BELIEVE me when I say that I have given this a LOT of thought since the first time I saw one in person at a wedding rehearsal last year where the wedding coordinator was wearing one with a white band (not that I remember all of the details or anything). I have a watch, I have a phone, I have a collection of other forms of technology that chirp at me day and night and I have GPS-enabled sports watch that I wear when I am running to track things like distance and time and pace, so I am pretty much covered on a bases.

I do not need an Apple Watch. But – I want one! They are so cool, the technology is amazing, I love the design and every time I see someone wearing one, I just think about how hip and trendy I would look if I had one.

But it is not something that I need. And, right now, it is not even something that I want for the right reasons.

I was thinking about my Apple Watch issues this week as I read and thought through this scripture, particularly the very last line, where Jesus says:

You cannot serve God and wealth.[1]

Jesus is telling a parable here, The Parable of the Dishonest Manager. And while it is easy to get lost in the details of this particular story (I actually read in a commentary that biblical interpreters are more baffled by this parable than any of the other ones), the point is pretty clear at the end: If we are a little faithful, then we are a lot faithful. And if we are a little dishonest, they we are a lot dishonest.

In other words – and I apologize, because I know I say this all the time and am probably starting to sound like a broken record – our lives matter. The choices that we make in our lives – how we choose to earn a living and spend our money and organize our time and interact with other people – matter. We should earn fairly, give more and spend less. We should resist the consumerist society that we live in that is always telling us to make more, buy more and spend more. We should worship God first and not the material and monetary things that we have in our lives.

And we KNOW this; we all know this – in theory, anyway.

But, man, is it hard to live it out sometimes?

I read a book while I was on sabbatical called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. The author, Jen Hatmaker, essentially took different aspects of her life – food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress – and, for seven months, participated in seven one-month fasts on each item.

This book was AWESOME. I would get into it more, but the Patriots do play at 1:00, so I want to keep worship moving. However, I will say that as I was reading it, I was excited; I was excited just thinking about the possibility of not constantly needing (or wanting) more, I was excited thinking about the fact that it does not matter how much money I make or what I can buy, but God is good and I have what I need and that is enough and I was excited about the whole concept of simplifying my life and just re-focusing on God and how God is calling me to reach out to our world that is so, SO broken.

And then I realized that I was reading this book while sitting poolside at a spa in Hungary, so I was probably not off to the best start.

The struggle is real, my friends.

Jesus said:

If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?[2]

Oh man, this stuff is really hard to talk about. But it is also so important; it is important to remember that we have been entrusted not only with this beautiful world in which to take care of, but also with this beautiful Christian story that is still being written. We have to think about the ways that we are earning our living and spending our time, money and resources, because these choices make a real difference in our lives and in the world.

And we want that to be a positive difference in the world. We, as Children of God, have to prayerfully discern where God is in the midst of our choices, because who we are in our everyday, earthly lives will absolutely reflect who we are in our spiritual lives.

Jesus talked about the dishonest manager acting shrewdly and said:

For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.[3]

I believe God is calling us to be children of the light. And while sometimes that may mean making hard, but necessary choices, it also means that we are traveling along a journey that illuminated by God’s light where grace can be found.

Hear me out: I am in no way, shape or form saying that, in reading this scripture, we all need to freeze our spending, sell all of our possessions or find seven things to fast on. Bruce and I are people with hobbies, hobbies that involve expensive camera equipment, fishing rods and reels, running sneakers and golf clubs; I understand spending money on things that are not really crucial to our survival.

And then there is the whole thing with my shoe collection.

My point is this: This is just something that we should be talking about. We are never going to get it perfectly right; but in talking about it, we might be able to find a good balance that works for us.

We need to talk about these issues. We need to talk about what it means to live in this developed country and to have access to things that a lot of people around the world do not. At the same time we need to talk about earning money and having the right to spend the money that we earn. But then we need to talk about earning money in honest and fair ways. And, at some point, we need to talk about what God is calling us to do and how we set our priorities in order to do that.

In preaching this sermon today, I do not have any concrete answers for you; but I do want to start a conversation.

So I would encourage you all, especially as we head towards the year-end and Christmas season and retailers explode with sales and other buying coercions, to just be mindful of how God is calling you to live your life. For some, this might mean changing your spending or work habits. For others, this might mean taking more time to show gratitude for what you have and to pray for those who are not as fortunate. For others, this might mean focusing more time and energy on service. For others, this might mean changing absolutely nothing because you are walking through a really difficult journey and are just maxed out at the moment.

Here is the ironic thing: I got home last night after finishing this sermon and, as I was trying to wind down, I found myself scrolling through Facebook and an ad popped up. Do you want to know what it was for? The Apple Watch 2 Series that just came out.

And it’s even cooler than the original.

Like I said, we are never going to get it perfectly right. Truth be told, I do not even know what “right” is.

Ultimately, though, I think that the work that we do, the money that we spend and the possessions we acquire should bring us joy, they should shine light in our lives and they should help us find grace.

So listen to God; listen to God speaking to you in this time and in this place of your journey. And let yourself by a child of the light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 16:13, NRSV
[2] Luke 16:11, NRSV
[3] Luke 16:8, NRSV