To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

Hi friends! It felt great to be back behind the pulpit today. I’ve missed chatting with everyone in the comments and worshiping together in this strange, but grace-filled space.

Here is my sermon and also the video from worship.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2021

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

I want to start off this morning by thanking everyone who tended to worship so carefully and gracefully in my absence the last two weeks.  It was great to step away, even though I did not go anywhere, because I had not really taken time since the pandemic began to do that.  I was joking with the Executive Board that, when the pandemic started, I stopped taking days off and started working a lot at night because things were changing so quickly and it seemed necessary at the time.  But here we are, nearly 11 months later, and I realized that was not necessarily a sustainable pace to maintain.  So it felt really good to stop and recharge, reflect and reset.

One of the best things that I did for myself during my two weeks off was to (and I realize how ironic it is that I am saying this while live on Facebook) take Facebook off my phone.

Here’s the thing:  I love Facebook, I joined when I was a sophomore in college.  It allows me to stay in touch with my family and friends, to share updates about my own life and, of course, to engage in a really special kind of ministry.  My gratitude towards Facebook and what it allowed (and continues to allow) us, as a community, to do throughout the pandemic, knows no bounds.  We were able to swiftly and pretty seamlessly move worship online and we created a beautiful community over in our Facebook group; through Facebook, we have prayed together and we have worshiped together and we have served together and we have problem-solved together and we have really gotten to know one another better together.

And yet, I needed to take a break.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but, for me, despite all of the good things and the potential for good things, Facebook felt like it had become a really negative place.  I know a lot of this had to do with the election and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, but it just felt as though every time I opened the app on my phone or logged in on my computer, I was inundated with intense division and conflict.

And it was one thing to watch strangers argue with one another – or even people I know arguing with people that I do not know.  But it was a completely different thing to see people I know and love arguing with one another.  As a pastor of a very diverse congregation, it weighed heavy on my heart to see and know that we were – are – so divided.  And the fact that we could not physically come together and talk about our differences face to face or even just put them aside to worship together, serve together and break bread together made it worse.  I wondered what it would be like when we were finally able to come back together; would we be able to find unity or had this virtual platform created too much division?

I was thinking about my currently complicated relationship with Facebook when I was reflecting on this week’s scripture reading from First Corinthians, particularly the part where Paul says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law.”[1]  Now, the point of these words is to highlight the fact that Paul is something of a chameleon; he is able to adapt to his surroundings and circumstances in ministry and really be who the people around him need him to be.  This is one of the reasons Paul’s voice changes in his different letters.

That being said, these words actually brought me a lot of comfort and encouragement in specifically reading them now because they reminded me that, from the very beginning, there was so much diversity within our faith.  Paul spoke in different “voices” because he was evangelizing – he was bringing the message of Jesus – to such vastly different people and places.  The Christian Church was built on this foundation of different opinions and values and traditions and lifestyles and beliefs.

This diversity has the powerful potential to be beautiful and to give our faith great depth and opportunities.  But it also has the equally powerful potential to divide us in ways that would not only be devastating to our church, but to the Gospel we are called to proclaim.

Let’s talk about this scripture for a minute.  1 Corinthians is a letter; it is a letter written by Paul in 54 CE to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it housed an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population.  The church that Paul founded was predominantly gentile, although in many ways it did mirror the diversity of the rest of the city.  In other words, just because most of the congregation was gentile did not mean that they all saw eye to eye on everything.

It was likely that people were separated into different parts of the city; that they had small, more intimate home churches (we all know a thing or two about that right now), but then eventually they did come together as an ekklesia, which is a Greek word that means assembly or congregation, to share a meal or to worship together.

As you can imagine, when a community with that kind of diversity comes together, there is a very real potential that disputes can happen and conflicts will arise.  In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to reports that he was hearing about disputes within the congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if hearing about these disputes weighed heavy on Paul’s heart the way it does on mine when I see people that I know, members of our congregation, quarreling about different things.  What’s funny about Corinth – a bustling urban center – is that, in many ways, it reminds me of our little church in the village in our right to farm community.  We have different political, economic, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds.  We do not always see things the same way; we have different priorities for ourselves and for our families.

So when Paul says that he becomes a Jew when he is with Jews and under the law when he is with someone under the law, etc. etc. it resonates with me because I do find myself using different voices depending on the context of the conversation I am having.

I think that is why the conflicts and the division hurt so bad; because I see good in all of us in these different conversations, it is just difficult to bring them together.  And that is not to say I am not being genuine, rather I am trying to bring the Gospel into different contexts.

But this is nothing new.  Our diversity and our struggle to rise up above our differences is not something that is unique to our generation.  In fact, it is one of the reasons Jesus came in the first place, one of the reasons that we are in such desperate need of God’s grace.

My favorite part of this particular passage comes at the very end, verse 23, and it is where Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  Because this statement reminds me – it should remind all of us – why we do this in the first place.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are called to put that Gospel into action and transform people’s lives for the better.  We are called to not only be in relationship with God, but also encourage others in their own relationships with God and on their own faith journey.

Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always agree with one another.  Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always see things the same way.  Paul says he does this for the sake of the gospel, so that he may share in its blessings.  And he does this no matter where he is or who he is talking to.

I do think that part of our call as Christians is to find ways to create unity in the midst of diversity.  Part of our call as Christians is to find ways to share the blessings of the Gospel across those lines of division that are working on overdrive to try to pull us apart right now.

And I know that this is not as simple as saying that we all just need to “agree to disagree.”  I know there are fundamental differences at play, many of them involving basic human rights and I am not trying to gloss over them.

I am just trying to bring us together.

We have come out of a really hard election season – remember this is the first time I am preaching since the inauguration – we  are still living through a really divisive moment in our political history and, of course, we are constantly facing the added challenges (which is an understatement) that the pandemic brings.

But I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for unity.  It is a moment where we heed the call of scripture to share in the blessings of the Gospel.  It is a moment where we put that Gospel into action, not because we all agree with one another, but because this is who we are, as the Body of Christ.

Friends, it is great to be back.  In many ways, I do feel as though we are entering a new season in ministry.  Not only are we getting ready to begin Lent (not this week, but next!), but we are also starting to think about, what is the church going to look like the world starts to re-open again?  How are we going to re-gather safely?  How are we going to continue to nurture our virtual spaces?  How will we re-imagine the celebration of our 300th anniversary in the meantime?  How will we leave an imprint of the Gospel on our town and our surrounding communities so that people not only know that we are here, but what we are all about and might be inspired to join us, as well and begin their own journey of faith.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

And we have to do it together.

So let us, like Paul says, work together for the sake of the Gospel so that we might share in its blessings.  Let us do what we are being called to do, both as individual Christians, but also as a church.

And may our voices – though they might be different – come together and share this Good News.

Because it is Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, NRSV

Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

In addition to it being the First Sunday of Advent, we kicked off our 300th Anniversary celebration on Sunday, complete with confetti and the Fire Department hanging a “300 Years” banner across the top of the building.  The video from the livestream isn’t the best – we had all sorts of internet problems on Sunday, but we did the best we could!

A couple of videos this week – the regular worship video, a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens that we put together and some footage of the fire department hanging our banner.

Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 29, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

I have to admit, I had a little bit of a hard time psyching myself up for this Sunday.

The thing is, I have tried to have a pretty good attitude about missing out on things this year because of the pandemic; but so much of Christmas is – and has always been – wrapped up in church for me.  And so it was hard to imagine not kicking off the Advent season by piling into the church building, singing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and parading all of the greens into the sanctuary for our beloved Hanging of the Greens worship service.

But two things happened this week that gave me some perspective.

The first is that I started to plan and piece together our virtual Hanging of the Greens worship service, which was prerecorded and is scheduled to post at 10:30 this morning, at the conclusion of our livestream.  And it is so good; it is not necessarily the same as it has been in year’s past, but it came together in such a simple, yet powerful way.

Working on this service and seeing the final product come together proved to me, yet again, that God is just never finished; and that we can create beautiful and meaningful things, despite this time of distancing.

The second is the fact that, while today is the first Sunday of Advent, it is also the birthday of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  On this day, 299 years ago, the Rehoboth Congregational Church was incorporated. Today we officially kick off our 300th anniversary celebration.  Members of the 300th Anniversary Committee are in attendance this morning to reveal the 300th Anniversary logo.

And here’s the thing – our work continues.  Despite this pandemic and the chaos it has caused, our work continues.  Our work to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ continues.  Our work to shine God’s light into the world continues.  Our work to love people the way Christ loves us continues.  Our work to wait for the arrival of the Christ child continues.  Our work to believe that our cries for Emmanuel will be heard continues.  Our work to do church here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, continues.

Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth that “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  These are words that we so desperately need to hear today.  We need to be reminded that God is faithful.  We need to be reminded that by God we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.

And we need to rise up to this call, especially right now when the world so desperately needs to know what the fellowship of Jesus Christ is and how it can transform their lives.

Remember that Paul is writing to a Corinthian community that is deeply divided.  But he believes in the power of the Gospel.  He believes the Gospel can and will bring healing and wholeness amidst the turmoil this community is facing.  He believes the Gospel will move mountains and transform hearts.

I think the people who founded this church had those same hopes and dreams for this congregation.  I think they knew that this church could be the foundation that the Rehoboth community needed; that this church would be the foundation where faith, hope, outreach and love blossomed.  They knew that this church could conquer anything – even a global pandemic – and still refuse to let anything else but love win.

Paul says that not only has Jesus enriched the Corinthians, but that the testimony of Jesus is strengthened because of the Corinthians.  Isn’t that amazing to think about?  That not only can Jesus enrich us – that our lives can be strengthened by our relationship with Jesus – but that we, too can strengthen the testimony of Jesus.

Friends, we have as much of a role to play in sharing and strengthening the Gospel as Jesus’ disciples did; as the Corinthians did when Paul wrote them this letter; and as the founding members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ did on November 29, 1721.

And so we are ready.  We are ready to kick off this Advent season and begin our journey towards the manger, but we are also ready to kick off our 300th anniversary celebration so that we can celebrate the ways this congregation has strengthened the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the past 300 years and dream about the ways that we can continue to strengthen it in the future.  We are ready to showcase our congregation to the community, not as a way to boast about who we are, but as a way to boast about who God is.

The 300th celebration might not look like what we initially envisioned when we started meeting last year, but God is faithful.  And God is good.

So, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – our beloved Church in the Village – together, we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.  We give thanks for those who have come before us and we give thanks this moment in time – as strange as it is – where we can celebrate our deep history and wait with wonder to see what God has in store for us for the future.

Suffice it to say, I am psyched up now – and I hope you are too.  Friends, let us – together – begin our 300thAnniversary celebration on this first Sunday of Advent, in the year of the Lord, 2020.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

What The Local Church Can Do

Finishing up our glance at 1 Corinthians, we came off a wonderful evening of show tunes at RCC and then gathered for worship on Sunday morning.  It was a great weekend to finish up this sermon series, think about what local churches are capable of doing (because y’all we have done a lot over the past couple of weeks) and then settle down and start thinking about the Lenten season.

Mardi Gras Sunday is this week!  I decided to jump back into the Revised Common Lectionary (I know, I know) for Lent, so I will be following the Gospel texts until Easter Sunday.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 16, 2020

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 16:13-24

What The Local Church Can Do

When the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and called churches to go out into the world and do the same, I wonder if he ever could have imagined that, in 2,000 years, halfway around the world, a small church in the village of a small town called Rehoboth, Massachusetts would share Christ’s message of love and hospitality with showtunes and appetizers.

I really do love my job.  I mean – I love Jesus.  I love the Gospel.  I love that God came into this world in human flesh and promises to always be with us.  I love that knowing that love triumphs over evil and that I do not have to be perfect to be transformed by God’s grace.

But I also just love the local church.  I love what we can do.  I love who we can be.  I love the fact that we are able to exist within this 300-year-old institution and yet still proclaim a message that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in our world, today.  I love that we are able to change lives and proclaim the Gospel, using the rituals and traditions that have shaped us, as a church, but also put our own twist on things, even if sometimes that twist involves chocolate fountains and Les Mis medleys.

The really cool thing about the local church is that, by being here, we are living into God’s call for us.  Because I do believe that into each generation God calls Christians to do something new, to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today, as we proclaim the Gospel and share Christ’s message of love.

We have come to the end of our glance at 1 Corinthians.  I think, in many ways, Paul is addressing some of the same things in this letter that we, as a church, do as we seek to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today.  He is trying to help the Corinthians overcome differences and seek unity in Christ so they can, not only strengthen their own church, but also extend the reach of the Gospel within their community and throughout the world.  He is trying to help them be authentic to who they are, as a mostly-Gentile Christian community living in Corith exploring this new faith.

Paul covers a lot of ground in this letter to the church in Corinth.  This letter – his first letter to this church – is the second-longest in the New Testament.  The letters – called epistles – are arranged in the bible by length from longest to shortest; 1 Corinthians is the second letter, after Romans.  We have looked at bits and pieces of it, enough to at least understand what was going on.  We know the Corinthian community was in conflict prior to Paul writing this letter.  We know that Paul’s focus is unity; he talks about the fact that differences do not make us weaker; that they, in fact, make us stronger, as a church, as the Body of Christ.  As he begins to close out his letter, Paul assures the church that love will bind them together.

We have now reached the end of the letter – Paul’s offers his final words on the resurrection and what this means for the church as they seek to be authentic to who they are, as Christians living in their world.

In other words – what’s next?  What does this mean for us?  What does it mean to believe in God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love through Jesus Christ and then how do we live that out, as a community?  How can we be authentic to who we are, as Christians?

These are the same questions that we ask ourselves, today.  The same questions that sometimes lead to chocolate festivals and cabarets, but also that lead to intriguing sermon series, new missions projects, compassionate meal trains and fun educational opportunities.

I believe Paul’s words at the end of this letter speak as poignantly to us, today, as I am sure they did to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago.  He says in chapter 15, verses one and three, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”  Today, I remind us all of this same good news – that Christ came not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are perfect, but because we need grace; not because we are whole, but because we are broken.

This is not something that we have to earn – this is something that is guaranteed to us.  This is why we gather in the first place.  It is the hope that we hold onto when it seems like the world is a really scary place to live in; the hope that love is real and that God is always with us; the hope that we remind one another of when we are walking with each other through the deep valleys of life; the hope that sustains us as we do church together.

Paul says in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”  Today we have to remember this same sentiment – that we are who God says that we are, that we are who God created us to be, that we are who God is calling us to be.  We need to remember this as individuals, but also as the church.  Who we are is enough because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are.

Paul says in chapter 16, verse 13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”  These words continue to speak to us because they remind us that we, too, have to remain strong as we do this work God is calling us to do.  It is not always easy to share the Gospel in the world we are living in today.  It is not always easy to be part of the church – on a practical level of finding time in the week to participate or on a theological level of proclaiming this message of love in a world that so often seems divisive and filled with hatred.  But Paul reminds us that we should not waver from our convictions.

“Let all that you do be done in love,” Paul says in verse 14.  Remember what Jesus said – love God, love people.  Paul knows this is not always easy – he knows that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that kind of love.

But Paul also knows that this is where the real work begins.

And that is when transformation happens.

That is when the Gospel comes alive and starts to change lives.

And this is what happens in the local church.

The cool part about the local church is that we are not only the ones that are on the ground and sharing the Gospel in a grassroots and real way, but we are able to decide who we are; we are able to listen to God’s speaking to us, calling us to be the most authentic version of ourselves and our church in this generation.  And so, like Paul reminds the Corinthians at the end of this letter, we need to remember, both as individuals and as a church, of the hope of the promise of our faith.  We need to trust that we are who God says that we are.  We need to stand firm in our faith and be courageous on our journey.

We have had a wonderful couple of weeks here, at our local church.  In many ways, it feels like we were just suspending stars from the ceiling after the new year and now here we are, halfway through February.  Yet, in still a relatively short amount of time, we have done a tremendous amount of work.  We have received star words and remembered our baptisms.  We gathered around the font of living waters and baptized three children; we then lived out the promises we make in baptism a few weeks later by supporting the Youth Group’s fundraising efforts to offset the cost of their winter retreat through Super Bowl Subs.  We enthusiastically participated in Chocolate Festivals and Cabarets and were ambassadors for our church in the community.  We tested out a new mission project that we hope to launch more regularly in the spring and allocated funds from our mission and discretionary accounts to help people in need in our community.

And next week the work continues – we will shift our focus to Lent with our Mardi Gras Sunday celebration; Lent begins the following week.

In other words – we just keep going.

But, to be quite honest, I think that is what Paul is saying here – just keep going.  Keep proclaiming the Gospel.  Keep believing in the promises.  Keep strengthening your faith and finding the courage to remain steadfast.  Keeping sharing Christ’s love.  Keep working together and building one another up.  Keep believing in yourself and your church; that you are who God says that you and that you have the capacity to change someone’s life for the better.  Keep being authentic to who you are, as Christians living in this world today.

This is the charge to the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago.  And this is the charge to us, the church in the village, today.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My life be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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