My goodness, friends. We have had a weekend at the church that – despite masks and social distancing mandates – has felt “normal”. We had our Drive-Thru Luncheon yesterday, as well as Homeless Awareness Weekend – which I keep calling scaled back EXCEPT MY YOUTH GROUP RAISED OVER $5,000!!!!!
Perfect timing for a sermon where I talk about the fact that, as a church, we get it done.
Peace be with you, friends! Wishing you love and angeltude.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 15, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
We Have What We Need To Get It Done
Bill Cute said something on Monday night when he and Wendy were leading evening prayers on Facebook that stuck with me all week: “We get it done.”
The “we” he was referring to, of course, was the church – the Rehoboth Congregational Church, our beloved church in the village. Bill and Wendy were talking about the Drive-Thru Turkey Supper that had exceeded so many of our goals and expectations. This re-imagined and adapted supper, considering it is deeply steeped in the tradition of coming to our building and gathering around a table in Fellowship Hall, really went about as smoothly as it could have gone in light of the challenging circumstances we were facing.
Reflecting on the commendable job done by the cooks, the runners, the traffic directors and the website gurus, Bill praised the team that came together without actually coming together and said, “We get it done.”
And he’s right. We do; we have. As a church, we have, for the past eight months, gotten it done. We have moved worship online, finding ways to reach people live, post-filming and without internet access. We have resumed bible study, gathering from four different states (and two different time zones!) every Wednesday at 10AM. We have taken suppers that we usually serve in fellowship hall and adapted them into a drive-thru format, serving more people than we have the capacity to serve in the hall. We have welcomed nearly 200 people to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion from the safety of their cars through Drive-Thru Communion. We held a Confirmation service that was live, both in person and online. We sang together at a live hymn sing on Zoom. In addition to weekly gathering music, we have recorded monthly virtual choir anthems. Church School classes are happening online, with special appearances from our children as they lead the Lord’s Prayer, Harrison and me for Communion and, a fan favorite, Chris Ware the Science Chair. Our bazaar silent auction and some items from our marketplace wre moved completely online. Members of our Youth Group put on N95 masks and face shields in order to safely panhandle at our scaled-back Homeless Awareness Weekend. For the past 244 days, we have gathered at 9PM in our Facebook group for evening prayers. Individual members of our church have taken it upon themselves to mail cards, send care packages and drop off meals. Our Missions Committee participated in the town-wide food drive and is ready with a skeleton crew to assemble Thanksgiving baskets next weekend. The almost-cancelled women’s retreat in October was re-imagined and moved online. We have utilized our website more in the last eight months than we have in my nine years in Rehoboth, crashing it only a small handful of times.
Despite the impossible circumstances of the world that we are living it, we, as a church, have been innovative, creative, prayerful, patience and hopeful.
We get it done.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a port located on the northern shore of Aegean Sea, which is an embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the Greek and Anatolian peninsulas. This city was a little bit of an enigma, because it was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and therefore part of the imperial cult of ancient Rome, but culturally it was a Greek city and was governed by Greek law.
Paul founded this church in Thessalonica with Silvanus and Timothy; but shortly thereafter received intense opposition from the Jewish community and they were forced to leave. Eventually, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check in and see how things were going. When Timothy returned to Paul, he reported that things were going pretty well, but that there was some anxiety over the fact that Paul, himself, had not returned to Thessalonica. This letter is Paul’s response to that anxiety.
One of the things Paul does in this letter is reinforce the original teachings of Jesus and talk about how they, the Thessalonians, should live their lives not only individually, but also as a community.
The thing is, it would have been nice for the Thessalonians if Paul had always been there to lead them and guide them, but that simply was not possible. And so, Paul talks, here, about the importance of grounding yourself in the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, so that no matter what life throws at you, you can remain strong and equipped for the journey ahead.
This letter is so relevant to us right now, because we have been handed some pretty impossible circumstances this year. We are living out our faith and doing church in a way that we never have before; there is no precedence that has been set. There are no rules to follow, no measurement for whether we are doing it right or wrong. We cannot just do things the way we have always done them in the past – the way they are comfortable and familiar to do – because it is just not possible right now. I keep wishing for someone to show up and tell us exactly what to do, but, unfortunately, we seem to be the ones in charge, left making impossible decisions with really hard choices.
Similarly, without Paul present among them, the people in Thessalonica are not really sure what they were supposed to be doing. They are anxious about what they are supposed to do next. But here Paul reassures them; he tells them that they already have what they need. He reminds them that they just need to focus on Jesus.
This message speaks powerfully to us today. Because, just like the people of Thessalonica, we have a lot to be anxious about right now. And it is not easy to figure out how to do church right now, to put the pieces of our ecclesial puzzle together so that we are creating an experience for people where they can learn and grow in their faith that is not only meaningful, relevant and accessible, but also safe, as well.
But remember what Paul says to the Thessalonians. Paul says that we need to remember why we have gathered in the first place. Paul says we need to put our eyes on Jesus. Paul says we need to stand firmly in the Gospel and let the other pieces fall in around that.
Paul talks about staying alert, about living in the light of the day, about arming ourselves with faith and love and encouraging one another and building one another up.
The thing is, we do not know how all of this is going to play out. We do not know what the months ahead are going to bring. But what we do know is that a lot of what we want to do we might not be able to do. What we do know is that a lot of the ways we want to do church and are used to doing church might not necessarily be feasible. What we do know is that a lot of our safety nets have been pulled out from under us and that we are living in this unsettled in-between time where we are not necessarily always sure what to do next – or how to do it.
But we still have Jesus.
Friends, the Gospel has not changed, just the world that we are sharing it in.
We still have this Good News; we still have this radical, redeeming and resurrecting truth that God is not done and that the story is not over yet. We have this love that is stronger than anything else, including this virus that has turned our world upside down. We have our God who has not abandoned us and whose steadfast presence in our lives has walked us through some really dark moments this year.
And this is precisely the point Paul is making in this letter; that we need to lean into this Good News, no matter what else is going on around us. Paul is saying that we are equipped to do this – to be faithful and to do church during these crazy times.
Friends, it has been an amazing weekend. Our drive-thru luncheon served 140 people yesterday, many of whom went home with a delicious sampler box, which had so many of our favorite Bake Shoppe goodies. Members of our Youth Group participated in Homeless Awareness Weekend, an event we were not sure would happen this year. With a scaled-back event and less participants, donning multiple levels of PPE, our youth rose to the occasion and raised over $5,000 in one day, money that will be given to local organizations fighting homelessness and hunger.
Like Bill said, “We get it done.”
And in this scripture, Paul tells us how we get it done – because we are “children of light and children of the day.” We have the Good News – and we are going to use it, no matter what life throws at us.
Friends, I know there is a lot to be anxious and unsettled about right now. But Paul’s words here remind us that we have the tools that we need to figure this out and to come out strong on the other side. So let us, “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” and may we continue to write this story, keep the faith and proclaim the Good News.
Let’s keep getting it done.
Thanks be to God!