A Culture Of Belonging

I hope everyone had a great weekend!  This past weekend was our bazaar weekend at RCC and it was just … awesome.  SO much work went into it, but for some reason, all of the pieces just clicked together and I could feel the spirit move.  Not even an accidentally pulled fire alarm put a damper on our spirits!

Here is my sermon – for some context, it was also Stewardship Sunday, but I think everything tied together really well and this was one of those sermons that I really had fun preaching.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 6, 2016

1 John 4

A Culture Of Belonging

I love the Rehoboth Congregational Church Bazaar.

I have to admit, my first year here, I was a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. The week-long round-the-clock preparations, the two different locations, the multiples shops opened and meals served, the well-oiled schedules and routines you really should not get in the way of, the emotions that sometimes run a little bit high and the sheer volume of inventory that is moved in two days – the Sunday morning after my first bazaar, I got up behind the pulpit and said, “I feel like I should be wearing a button that says, ‘I Survived My First Bazaar at RCC.’”

Over the years, however, I have slipped into the rhythm of the bazaar – and more recently, I have fallen completely in love.

I love the bazaar because it brings the RCC community together. There is no other time during the year when we are all able to share our gifts for one activity or event. It is during the bazaar when we need bakers and chefs, crafters and collectors, servers and dishwashers, car parkers and money counters, decorators and cleanup enthusiasts, advertisers and cheerleaders. We need people to help organize and create and we need people to come participate and purchase. No matter what, every single person in our community – from the person who was a team captain to the person who shared our event on Facebook – is able to contribute in some way, large or small.

I love the bazaar because this is our time to come together, as a community of faith, and live out the scriptural call to be the Body of Christ. This is our time to show people who we are and what God is doing in our church. This is our time to welcome others into our midst and to affirm what we know to be true – that all are welcome within our walls and have a place in our community. This is our time to create a culture of belonging right here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

The bazaar is not just about making money. It helps us find our pulse; the heartbeat of our community.

And so today, we celebrate; we celebrate a wonderful weekend and ministry here at the church. And we thank God for all that God is doing in our midst.

Today is also Stewardship Sunday, a Sunday when we dedicate the pledges that have been given for the upcoming year. When we first met to talk about stewardship season a few weeks ago, we were not sure we would be able to fit this year’s stewardship season into our usual October time frame. So when this Sunday, November 6th, was suggested as Stewardship Sunday, I was initially hesitant.

“That is the weekend of the bazaar,” I thought to myself. “People will not want me to talk about money on such a fun and celebratory Sunday. I don’t want to be a buzz kill.”

But then we came up with our theme for this year’s stewardship campaign: You Belong Here. And I quickly realized that I couldn’t not talk about stewardship today. You see, this idea of belonging – and of creating a culture of belonging by reminding everyone that they are a part of this church, this movement of faith, no matter who they are or where they are on their journey through life – was lived out this weekend at our bazaar. Our pulse of belonging beat strongly through every meal served, craft sold, car parked, greeting extended, cash box counted and table set up or broken down. Every single person who walked through the doors of the church or Goff Hall knew that there was a place for them.

This morning we heard a reading from the first letter of John. This letter is in a collection of three letters of John, which are attributed to one author (possibly the same author as the Gospel of John) and give us a window into the life of the Johannine community around 100 A.D. This letter, in particular, was written because people had left the Johannine community and those who remained were starting to get discouraged. The author of this letter encouraged readers to be faithful; not to focus on those who had left, but illuminate the hope of the future.

All three letters are brief; they are not long enough to include some of the rich parables and sermons of the Gospel. Instead, the ethical teachings focus on much simpler, yet boldly profound teachings. This letter, in particular, talks about love.

The passage that we chose for our stewardship season comes from the fourth chapter of this letter, verse four: “Little children, you are from God,” as it appears in the NRSV or, as it is written in other translations, “You belong to God.” The author of this letter talks about this sense of belonging and how it is inextricably tied to love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.[1]
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.[2]
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us.[3]
Love has been perfected among us in this.[4]

This letter speaks so beautifully to the bold, yet unexplainable truth that we are all connected as one through God and that through this connection, love can win and dwell among us.

We need to hear these words today. It has been a hard year for people; and as another divisive election season winds down in our country, we need to be reminded that God is here with us. We need to know that love can win, that light can shine and that grace will prevail. We need to be reassured that, even if we do not agree with one another, God still binds us tightly together. We need to know that our church is a safe space; a space where joy is created, a space where people know they are loved, a space where hope is alive.

And in a world where churches are struggling and becoming far less relevant than they used to be, we all need the hope of our own future to be illuminated. Because we know we have a message that people need to hear; and we want to share that message with the world.

Friends, the world is watching us. I think one of the reasons that I love the bazaar so much is because it is one of our biggest opportunities to show the community what we are all about.

And while I was not quite expecting to have the opportunity to show the Rehoboth Fire Department what we are all about, this community rose to the occasion this weekend. And, even more than it, we were able to warmly extend a hand of extravagant welcome to all who come through our doors and let them know that they, too, belong here.

Something special is happening here. Here we are creating the type of church that Christ called into being 2,000 years ago. It is not always easy, but as “love is perfected among us,” as the scripture says, we recommit ourselves to doing the hard work that is required to cultivate church in today’s world.

Today, as we celebrate a wonderful bazaar weekend, we live out the words of this scripture, confidently knowing that the spirit is alive, dwelling among us and uniting us in God’s love. We see the hope of our future; we believe in our church. We feel the power of RCCSTRONG moving through us and we know that God has big plans for our church.

Today, we also dedicate our pledges that have come in for the upcoming year. This is about more than meeting goals and balancing budgets. This is about investing in the hope of our future, about creating a culture of belonging so all know that there is a pew for them in this sanctuary and a place for them in our community.

Friends, just as you belong to God, you belong here. God is calling us into the ministry of this church and I can hear it coming through loud and clear. We can create a culture of belonging, right here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. We can demonstrate that it is possible to love one another, above all else. We can shine light into a dark world. We can create joy and believe that hope is alive.

The world is watching us and we are ready

So let us hold on to that spirit of truth, allow God to bind us together as one and perfect love as we journey forward together.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 John 4:7, NRSV
[2] 1 John 4:11, NRSV
[3] 1 John 4:13
[4] 1 John 4:17, NRSV

One thought on “A Culture Of Belonging

  1. Sarah,

    Thank you so much for posting your sermons! No other church I have gone to has made me feel the sense of family and community as RCC. It is so nice knowing that even though I cannot come to church every Sunday but that I can still hear the sermons and celebrate god all my RCC family! The baby will be coming soon and I will be getting in touch with you about the christening. Even though we are in Florida there is no where else we would rather have our baby christened than at RCC.

    Blessings to you always!

    Sally Waterman Denny 😀

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