When The Gospel Is Still Relevant

I have gotten nothing but positive feedback about moving away from the lectionary and into a sermon-series mindset.  To be clear – I don’t think there is anything wrong with the lectionary!  I just think I had gotten to a point where I wasn’t feel inspired by the cycle and I needed something to kick start me.

This week Jesus talks about the law and the prophets.  I wasn’t really sure what to do about a children’s sermon, so I ended up using an apple to talk about the different parts of God.  An apple has different parts – peel, flesh and core – just like God has different parts – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It was a pretty good seasonal visual, which I liked – I probably didn’t think the whole “bring a sharp knife up to the children’s sermon to peel the apple” part through, but it all worked out!  I think if I were to do it again I would set up a table with an actual apple peeler.  Next time!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 22, 2019

Matthew 5:17-20

When The Gospel Is Still Relevant

I had a very proud pastor moment on Friday morning when Bonnie Meagher stopped by the office to drop off some cookies for today’s service and she was telling Kathy and me about what she had packed for the retreat she and some of ladies from RCC are away at this weekend at Camp Berea in Hebron, New Hampshire.

And here is something you should know about Bonnie – the reason she had even stopped by was she is currently trying to master how to cook and bake for all of the various allergies and dietary restrictions people may have in our congregation.  Which means that, before she left for her weekend away, she dropped of gluten-free cookies for fellowship.

But back to her packing list; A few months ago, I had given Bonnie a book on hospitality – ah! There’s that pesky word that I keep bringing up – that I was reading and she told me that, after reading the book, she decided to pack an entire suitcase – separate from what she was already bringing – full of extra hospitality items people might need throughout the weekend.

She literally thought of everything.

And I thought to myself, okay, well maybe people’s eyes are starting to twitch when I say the word, “hospitality,” but the seeds we have planted over these past several months in our conversations around hospitality are starting to produce growth that we never could have imagined.  Looking at our church through the lens of hospitality gives us all different and unique ways to love one another, to serve the community and to spread the Gospel.

I want to back up for a minute – because I do not think I have ever really shared my “mission statement,” so to speak, when it comes to worship and how it led me down this rabbit hole of hospitality.  I believe that worship needs to be three things – meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.  And so when I think about the whole of worship – the music, the prayers, the sermon, wearing nametags, how the bulletins are laid out, taking part in sacraments and rituals (like communion and blessings), even the temperature of the sanctuary – I am trying to bring all of the elements of worship together in a way that checks off these three requirements (meaningful, relevant and accessible) so that people who come to worship are able to get the most out of it.

This is one of the main reasons I have obsessed over hospitality for the last year – because it comes back to accessibility.  How accessible is, how welcoming is, how easy is it to come to and take part in our church?  We do not want there to be barriers for people when it comes to walking through our doors and participating in worship and the life of our community.

So that is one part of my worship mission – accessibility.  There are two other parts that I think are important – meaning and relevance.  I want to talk about relevance today.

It is no secret that a lot of mainline protestant churches are dwindling in numbers.  And there are a lot of reasons this is happening, but I think one of the big reasons is that people just do not think the church is relevant anymore.

I get it – we have a lot of old traditions and some of them do not always make sense and our organizational structures are a little bit convoluted and hard to figure out.  But if you think about it, these are the things that we, as human beings, have created – not the faith God gave to us, not the creating, redeeming and sustaining love that encircles us.

And so I believe it is not Christianity, itself, that people find irrelevant, but just the way we have come to define it at times.

But here’s the thing – this is not a new thing, at all.  In fact, this is the very thing that Jesus was addressing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

We are three weeks into our sermon series looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the sermon where the disciples gather around Jesus on the top of a mountain and he teaches them the golden rule of kindness, the Lord’s Prayer and various others sayings and proverbs that, for 2,000 years, have been woven into the vernacular of what it means to follow Jesus and be a good person.

Jesus starts off the sermon by talking about who we are, as human beings – blessed children of God, the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  But here in this section he transitions from blessings and encouragement to a discussion about adherence to the law.

The Gospel of Matthew was primarily written for a Jewish Christian audience – meaning the people initially reading it were people who spent their lives adhering to Jewish law; they were people who now believe in God’s new covenant through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but who still wanted to hold on to their old traditions.  So by including this discussion about the law in the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel writer is reinforcing the point that Jesus is, in fact, an observant Jew, which makes him relevant to his audience.  Jesus is not trying to abolish the law or wipe the slate clean and start over – he is trying to fulfil the law, he is trying to demonstrate the law is still, in fact, relevant.

Let’s talk about the word, law, for a minute.  It is translated from the Greek word, nomos, which means, legislation or legal system.  So you can understand why, when we read this today, we think that Jesus is talking about laying down the law in a very black and white way.

But language is a funny thing – it is not a perfect translation.  The Greek word, nomos, is translated in the LXX, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, from the Hebrew word, Torah, which means, teaching.[1]  And so I have to wonder if its use here is not about laws, but, in fact, about teaching.  I wonder if Jesus is not actually talking about strictly adhering to Jewish laws and rules, but about teaching each generation how to live into the covenant God made with us.

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.[2]

Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill – to fulfill this law, this teaching about God’s continual grace, about this covenant that is upheld through every generation.

What I think this means is that the law is still very much relevant, but perhaps just not in a black and white way.  Remember, the world is not black and white, the world, in fact, exists in vivid color.

And this is the world that God entered into through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – this colorful world of changing times and generations and beautiful diversity.  This is the law, the teaching, that Jesus is fulfilling through his life and this is the law, the teaching, that can be fulfilled in our lives, as well.

It is not about doing things the way they were done 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago; this is not what Jesus is saying.  What Jesus is saying is that we are called to teach about God’s love, about the covenant God made that is still upheld in our generation, in the world that we are living in today.  What Jesus is saying to the disciples in this moment on that mountain is that the law, the teaching, is still relevant to the lives that they are living.

And the same is absolutely still true for us, today, as well.

Church may not always be relevant, but the Gospel is always relevant.  The story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love is relevant.  The inextinguishable light that shines brightly into the darkness is relevant.  The bold and radical truth that love always wins is relevant.  The commitment to love God and love people is relevant.  The Body of Christ we are called into – the body that not only works with one another but also supports one another – is relevant.  The glimmer of hope that can be found in those moments when everything and everyone in your earthy life is otherwise telling you that hope is lost is relevant.

As a church, we need to make sure that these are the stories we are telling as we attempt to be relevant in the world we are living in today.  It is not about our rules and traditions, necessarily, but it is about teaching – teaching about God’s love in this world today and about bearing witness to the fulfillment of that promise.

Today I am going to give you a charge – tell this story in a way that is relevant to the people you are telling it to.  Show them, through your experience with church and your faith and the Gospel, how this story can be relevant in their lives, too.  Teach them about this covenant with God that still applies to them.

Jesus says:

Whoever does [these commandments] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.[3]

The kingdom of heaven is this reality that has been brought into being through Jesus, but it is also one that we can catch a glimpse of in our own lives as we do the hard work that is required to do church in the world that we are living in today, to enact the Body of Christ in this world that is vividly colorful and full of possibilities.

So go tell this story.  Teach about God’s love.  Show the world that the Gospel is still a story worth telling.  Let your life be proof that the church is still relevant today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Feasting on the Gospels (A Feasting on the Word Commentary). Matthew, Volume 1, Chapters 1-13. Edited bt Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Page. 87 – Exegetical Perspective. Written by Lisa Wilson Davison.
[2] Matthew 5:17, NRSV
[3] Matthew 5:19, NRSV

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You Are

Continuing with our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount, this weeks sermon focused on the passage where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.”  I had a really great idea to do a children’s sermon where we all tried salt-free popcorn and then added salt to see the difference in taste but apparently salt-free microwave popcorn is not a thing?  At least it wasn’t at Stop & Shop.  The “healthy” ones all have sea salt.  I suppose I could have used a popcorn maker, but that wasn’t going to happen on a Sunday morning, ha!

Anyway, this is a text that is kind of hard to preach because it’s fairly straightforward.  But there were three things jumped out at me that I thought were worth reinforcing, so I just did a sermon in kind of a bullet-point format instead of just making one point (if that makes sense?).  I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my congregation, so I hope you get something out of it, too!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 15, 2019

Matthew 5:13-16

You Are

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

This passage has always kind of perplexed me, and maybe someone can answer my question:  Does salt go bad?

Maybe it is just that I was raised in a household with a mother who really did not believe in expiration dates …

… who, in fairness, was raised by a mother who believed that everything stayed fresh as long as you put it in the freezer – taco shells, cooked rice, bananas, milk …

… but I always thought salt was just … salty. Does salt actually lose its taste?

Maybe someone can give me a science lesson after worship.

Alas, I do not think Jesus is talking about cleaning out the pantry as he continues his Sermon on the Mount, but he is, in fact, talking about who we are, as our very core.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

We are preaching our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this fall and we began last week with The Beatitudes, which were, comparative to this week’s text, noticeably in the third person until the very end, where Jesus switches from the third person – blessed are thepoor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, etc. – to the first person in the very last Beatitude – blessed are youwhen people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

I think this is an intentional switch from the third person to the first person because, remember, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples – and this makes it more personal.  Jesus is not speaking broadly about just anybody, but intimately, directly to the people who are gathered around him.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

But this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, right?  It is not about blindly following the person who is one rung higher than you on the religious ladder, but rather it is about having this personal relationship – or connection – with God; to be a Christian means that we not only affirm who Jesus is but also Jesus is affirming who weare and what God is calling usto do in this world.

This is a really great passage, because it is one that is really easy to visualize (even if you are not sure that salt can actually lose its flavor), it is straightforward, it is quick to memorize, it turns into great music and it is pretty simple and tangible to demonstrate to children.  In fact, when I was looking at the passage this week, I actually wondered if I even had to preach a sermon on it, because it really is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself.

And sorry to disappoint anyone who might now be excited at the prospect of a really short service, but there are three things that I think are really important to highlight when we think about this passage and these metaphors and what they mean for our lives today.

The first thing I want to talk about it the way Jesus is, sort of, inadvertently laying the foundation for the conversation that is going to begin decades later in Paul’s letters about being the Body of Christ.

So the Apostle Paul talks about the church as if it is a body; and, in the same way that all of the parts of our human bodies perform different functions so the body can function as one body, everyone in the church performs different functions so the church can function as one church.

And this is not something that Jesus talks about directly in the Gospels, but he is kind of setting Paul up here, because things like salt and light are not just used for one thing – they have many functions.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about salt and its practical purposes – it was used for preserving, seasoning, fertilizing soil, sacrificing, covenanting, purifying, cleansing and signifying loyalty.  Even today, salt is not just used for cooking; it still has many different functions.

Light, too, does not just have one function – it is illumination in an otherwise dark space, it is a critical component in the growth of plants, it kills mold, dries things out and acts as a natural bleach and exposure to certain light (sunlight) triggers our human brains to release serotonin, which can boost our moods.

If we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, this does not mean we are all called to do the same thing, this means different things for different people.  It means that we all have a job to do and that our roles are unique to who we are and who God created us to be.

I believe these metaphors of salt and light are not just about something have one function and performing that function, but about something having many functions, in the same way that we all have a different function in this world, in this bodyof Christ.

The second thing I want to talk about is the way that this passage reminds us that we are who God says we are.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and, “You are the light of the world.”  He does not say, “You shall bethe salt of the earth” or, “You will bethe light of the world” or, “You can bethe salt of the earth” or, “You might bethe light of the world.”  Jesus is not saying that this is going to happen eventually or that this is some kind of capability that the disciples have, but he is saying that this is already who they are.

And so when we read this passage today, “We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world,” we should not think that this is something we are merely capable of doing, but this is who we already are.  The salt of the earth, the light of the world – these are not adjectives or verbs, these are nouns; this is who we already are.

The last thing I want to mention is the fact that these metaphors are not reserved for a certain class of people – and I think this is what speaks to me today as a Christian, as a small town pastor and as a mom who is just trying to figure everything out.

The disciples were not powerful men, they were Galilean fisherman.  At the time, Rome and the emperor were proclaimed as the light of the entire world, which means – particularly with this metaphor about light – Jesus is changing the rules and saying you do not have to be rich or powerful to be the light of this world.  You – you, the disciples, you who choose to follow me – are the light of the world; you are fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament where light overcomes darkness.

This means to me today that I do not have to achieve some sort of level of wealth or power or education to contribute something to the Kingdom of God, that being who God created me to be in this moment is enough.

Salt and light are not rare commodities; they are ordinary and easily accessible.

But they are also life-giving.

We need both of these things to survive.

And so think about it – you, as ordinary people, can also be life-giving.  You can be critical to the survival and the thriving of others.  You can give people hope and work in very small and grassroots, but also very meaningful, ways to change people’s lives for the better. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.

You.

Just as you are.

As I close out my thoughts this morning, I want to remind you of the last verse of this passage:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Remember to give the glory to God.  First of all, this is not about us, this is about God. So as soon as we start taking credit for things or get overly controlling about things (preaching to myself here), we miss the point that this really is not about us, at all.

And furthermore, sharing with others that we are doing what we are doing – loving one another and serving others – for the glory of God is the most powerful kind of evangelism, because it shows the world that our faith is not just about empty words, but about powerful action, action that changes lives.

This is when people outside the church start to say, I wonder what that church thing is all about.

So remember that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

I do not think there is an expiration date on either one of these things.

Go, therefore, and season the earth and shine light into the world.  You are who God says that you are.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Liturgy For Rally Day & The Beatitudes

We kicked off our program year while simultaneously kicking off a 12-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount and I wrote the liturgy we used.  I wasn’t expecting this, but the congregation actually started giggling during the Call to Worship when they realized that I had used a play on the Beatitudes to highlight Rally Day.  It was a fun way to weave the Beatitudes into worship from the very beginning.  For those of you on the lectionary – you’re moving into year A next year, so the Beatitudes will be February 2, 2020, which is Super Bowl Sunday.  It might be fun to find a way to integrate the two (the Beatitudes with football fans, players, halftime show performers, people that work at the stadium, etc.) on that Sunday, as well.

***

CALL TO WORSHIP • The Beatitudes, Rally Day
Rev. Sarah Weaver

When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them saying:
Blessed are the people who gather to worship on Rally Day,
for their hearts will be filled with the Spirit.
Blessed are the children,
for their minds will be opened to learn.
Blessed are the choir members,
for they will experience God through music.
Blessed are the committee members,
for they will find wholeness through service.
Blessed are the staff members,
for they will uncover grace in the most unexpected ways and places.
Blessed are all the members of this church,
for their voices will come together to proclaim the Good News of God’s love.
A new year is upon us:
Let us worship God!

***

PRAYER OF CONFESSION • The Beatitudes, Rally Day
Rev. Sarah Weaver

God, we are so happy to be together today; to see our church family, to feel the buzz of a new year and to dream about what the year might bring. We confess, however, that the flexibility of summer has caused us to fall out of some of our routines. We have missed opportunities to center ourselves in prayer, to serve and to be in community. We have forgotten that we are your blessed children, called to be in community and to bear witness to your love. Remind us, O God, that we are your children, the Body of Christ. Help us to set goals for the year and re-center our lives on you so our year can be an outward expression of your love. Amen.