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

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