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

Faith, Evolution Of Christianity, Community And Meaning Of Membership

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing mothers in my life!  Here is this morning’s sermon …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 10, 2015

1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Faith, Evolution of Christianity, Community and Meaning Of Membership

Two weeks ago, I asked the confirmation class what they wanted me to preach about this week.  After a few seconds of silence they said, “You know … faith.”

Helpful.

After some prodding from the mentors and me, I had a more extensive list:  Faith, evolution of Christianity, community and meaning of membership.

So here goes nothing.

This morning’s gospel reading comes from the gospel according to John.  It picks up where we left off last week where Jesus explains how we are all connected to one another, to him and to God by this life-giving and life-sustaining vine.  In last week’s scripture, Jesus primarily focuses on telling us what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.[1]

Jesus continues in today’s passage with a charge for us.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[2]

This.

This is what it means to grow in and live out our faith.  This is what it means to be part of a community of faith.  This is what it means to be a member of this church.  This is what it means to fully receive nourishment from the vine of Jesus.  We have to love one another as Jesus loved us.  Jesus calls us to love another as he loved us.

Now anyone who has ever existed in any kind of community – whether it be in church or with family or friends or at work – knows how challenging it can be at times to live out this call.  People are people, right?  Even with the best of intentions, there are always going to be moments in the lives of our communities where we are having a hard time liking each other, let alone loving each other.

But this where we have to ground ourselves and our lives and our communities in faith.

We are not just a community; we are a community of faith.  That means something.

In this passage, Jesus tells us that something powerful is going on in our midst when we enter into a community of faith.

You did not choose me, but I chose you.[3]

Jesus chose us; Jesus chose us to do his work in this world.  Jesus chose us to live out the Gospel in our lives and Jesus chose us to be in community with one another in order to do it.

This is real; this is powerful.

Think about it:  From the very beginning, Jesus never intended for us to figure out this whole faith thing by ourselves.  We were always supposed to come together and support one another – to love another – along our journeys of faith.  Jesus chose us to do this.

Jesus chose us to be with one another; Jesus chose us to share in our joys and in our sorrows and to hold one another in prayer.  Jesus chose us to learn with one another, to serve with one another and to worship with one another.  Jesus chose us to love one another, even in those moments where it is slightly – um – difficult to do so.  Jesus chose us to be his friends, to bear his fruit and to be witnesses to the good news that God’s love always wins.  We – every single one of us – have been chosen to do this blessed work in the world.

And this is not a burden, either.  This is such a blessing for us to be a part of.

I was watching coverage of the Royal Baby last week and came across a video clip of Prince William arriving at the hospital with little Prince George.  William took George out of his car seat and carried him into the hospital to meet his new baby sister.  Of course they stopped for a moment on the steps of the Lindo Wing to greet those who had gathered.  And on cue – at 22 months old – Prince George waved to crowd.

Once I picked myself up from the puddle that I had melted into, I started to wonder what it must be like to be born into the royal family.  What is it like, I wondered, to be born into a life – into a fate, really – that has already been chosen for you?  Do you think that is a burden?  Or is it a blessing?

Now I do not know about the royal family (although I am sure I would have made an excellent queen), but I do know about Jesus’ commandments to us and for us – and they are not a burden.  They are, indeed, a blessing.

The reading we heard from the first letter of John that talks about these commandments that Jesus gave to us.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandment.  And his commandments are not burdensome.[4]

These commandments – to be in community and to love one another – are not a burden in our lives.  They are a blessing!

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.[5]

Bad things happen in the world, things we cannot control.  Illnesses, tragedies and natural disasters – these things have and will continue to impact our lives and our families and our world in real and devastating ways.  But these commandments – being in community, loving one another, living out the gospel – are what give us the strength to conquer these things.  These commandments give us the courage and the wisdom to rise up against the bad things that happen; to not only survive in this world, but to thrive in it as well.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.[6]

This commandment is a blessing – in our lives, in our faith and in the church.  This commandment is what has built and sustained our faith for 2,000 years.  This commandment is what has carried our church – our nearly 300-year-old church – through the ups and downs of its lifetime (and we heard in Sally’s history presentation on Wednesday night that there were several ups and downs!).  This commandment is what carries us through the moments in our lives when all seems lost and we do not know where else to turn.

And so we are called to live out this commandment – to love one another just as Jesus loved us.  When there is nothing else we can do, we love one another.

We live out this commandment by praying – really praying – for and with one another.  We live out this commandment by putting the needs of others before our own needs.  We live out this commandment every time we send someone a card, make someone a meal or call someone just to tell them that we are thinking about them.  We live out this call when we serve faithfully alongside someone, even if we do not always agree with them.  We live out this call when we volunteer our time and our talents in our church and in the community.  We live out this commandment when we show tangible signs of Jesus’ love in our lives and in our community.

This church is more than a community; this church is a community of faith and that means something.  That means something in how we live our lives and that means something in how we should exist as a community.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[7]

One final thought.

We know that Jesus wanted us – called us – to be in community with one another as we grew in our faith throughout the generations.  But how are we supposed to do this?  It is not easy.  Loving people – real and imperfect people – is not always easy.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.[8]

If you remember from last week when Jesus used the word “abide,” I mentioned that the Greek word for “abide” is meinate, which comes from the Greek word menó and means, “to remain, to stay, to wait and to dwell.”  So today Jesus calls us to dwell in his love, to wait in his love, to stay in his love.

And look at the scripture.  This call comes before the call for us to love one another.

In other words:  We cannot love others until we fully dwell within Jesus’ love.

So that is where we begin.

May God bless us as we abide within Jesus’ love so that we can live out the commandment to love one another – in our lives and in this church.

And may this be a blessing.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1] John 15:5, NRSV
[2] John 15:12, NRSV
[3] John 15:16, NRSV
[4] 1 John 5:3, NRSV
[5] 1 John 5:3-4, NRSV
[6] John 15:12-13, NRSV
[7] John 15:12, NRSV
[8] John 15:9, NRSV

Blessed Children Of God

Is anyone else happy spring is finally here?  It’s so nice to show up for church on Sunday morning and not have to change out of snow boot when I get to my office!  I cannot wait to open the windows in the sanctuary and hear the birds chirping as we give thanks to God. :)

Here is this morning’s sermon … enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 19, 2015

1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Blessed Children Of God

On Monday night, Bruce sent me a text message letting me know that he was on his way home from work. Not having the greatest night, I did not respond right away, which led him to ask me, “Are you there?”

“Yes,” I replied with a sad face emoticon in the text.

“Why the sad face?”

“Well I did not get all of the laundry done, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded, I have not written out the checks for our taxes so they have not been mailed yet and I forgot a bunch of stuff at the grocery store.”

A few minutes later I received this response: “Easy there Miss Type A. Why don’t you relax, have a glass of wine and I’ll see you soon.”

Perspective. It’s never a bad thing.

We all have a tendency beat ourselves up at one point or another about something that is really not worth the time or the energy of the meltdown. Whether it is about something going on at home or at work or with our families or friends, we – as human beings – often let our anxiety take away our perspective and then we sometimes find ourselves caught in a self-deprecating cycle of guilt and negative thoughts.

I hear it all the time in the church. “I feel so bad, I have not been to church in weeks!” “I wish we could pledge more right now, but we just do not have the money.” “I am such an awful church member, I have not been able to help out lately.” “Do you hate me? I did not make anything for the bazaar!” Bruce and I have a running joke that once the summer comes, if we run into someone around town the first thing out of their mouth is “Hi!” and the second thing is an explanation of why they have not come to church all summer.

Human beings have this very weird propensity to be hard on themselves. As a pastor, I have the privilege of engaging in deep and intimate conversations with people about their lives and – the truth is – people are struggling in real ways. People feel guilty all the time, often about things that they cannot control. People are constantly comparing themselves – both to others and also to some unattainable ideal version of themselves. People are always wishing that they could do more, give more and achieve more. Rarely do people celebrate who they are – rather they have a tendency more to focus on who they are not.

There is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where this kid that was kind of a dork in High School created this demon and cast a spell where he suddenly became they best at everything. He was good looking and had a great fashion sense. He had tons of friends and even more fans. He was not only part of some government initiative, but he was in charge of it as well. He wrote a bestselling memoir. He was a musician and had put out multiple award-winning albums. He gave great advice so people were always going to him with their problems. He had his own calendar, was on the cover of multiple magazines, was the hero in his own comic strip, was very wealthy and had a gorgeous house and expensive cars. He invented the Internet, supposedly starred in The Matrix, graduated from college and medical school by the age of 18 and coached the U.S. Women’s Soccer team to a World Cup victory. People worshiped him. He was smart, successful and every piece of his life was perfect.

And then the demon that was orchestrating the whole thing tried to kill them all and that’s when they realized they were all under a spell. Things went back to normal – he was no longer the best at everything.

Granted, this is a TV show, but – fictitious demon aside – that level of perfection is unattainable. No one person can be that good at everything all the time. That is not how we were created and that is not who God wants us to be.

As funny as the episode was, I think – in a tongue and cheek way – it did actually hit on a real piece of who we are as human beings. In the midst of the hectic and crazy nature of our imperfect world, I am pretty sure that we can all find ourselves daydreaming about a much more “perfect” life, one where we excel at everything and we overcome challenges simply by our incredible inner strength.

But then we stop daydreaming.

And then we – we as imperfect human beings – have to face world that is far from perfect and often full of chaos that presents real challenges, real struggles and real pain.

Towards the end of the New Testament there is a collection of letters of John; we heard a passage out of the first one today. These letters were most likely written awhile after the Gospel of John was written. They were written to a community of people that knew and loved the gospel and were trying to figure out how to live out their bourgeoning faith. These letters are an interpretation, not only of the Gospel of John, but also of who we are as people of faith and how we should live our lives. [1]

We should be called children of God; and that is what we are. [2]

Beloved, we are God’s children now. [3]

So here’s the thing: We do not need to be perfect – we do not even need to be close. Because we are blessed children of God.

All of us.

No matter what we may be facing in our lives – good or bad – we can and should wake up every day and celebrate the Easter truth that we are created by a God who loves us, who protects us like a parent protects their children, whose love was greater than death and who wants us to feel peace in our lives.

Everything else in our lives should be secondary to that.

This is not something that we are guessing at; this is something that we know for sure. This is something that we know for sure because we celebrated two weeks ago; this is something that we know for sure because Christ’s death was not the end of the story; this is something that we know for sure because on Easter morning we sang with confidence, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appeared before the disciples after his resurrection. Do you remember what he said? “Peace be with you.” [4]

Jesus did not say, “Do you want to serve on this committee?” Jesus did not say, “Did you get your kids signed up for T-Ball on time?” Jesus did not say, “Don’t forget to sign and mail your taxes!” Jesus did not say, “I can’t believe you forgot lunch meat at the grocery story!”

Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”

That is why we celebrate Easter – and that is why we live out our faith.

Because God’s love does not require us to be perfect; but God’s love does give us peace.

The resurrection of Jesus did not happen so that there would be a new and interesting story to tell; the resurrection of Jesus happened so that we would have immeasurable proof of the scriptures that assure us that God loves us just the way that we are.

See what love the Father has given us. [5]

The author of the first letter of John is essentially saying to us, “Did you see what happened at that empty tomb?? Do you understand what God did there?? God’s love is so strong and so powerful that it is not only more powerful than the chaos that we create here on earth, but it is stronger than death itself!”

Perhaps I am taking some creative liberties in my paraphrasing, but we have to believe this to be true if we really want to experience God’s love on a deeper level. We have to believe that God loves us just the way that we are. We have to let go of the guilt that we feel for the things that we have done – and for the things that we have not done. We have to stop comparing ourselves to others and start believing that God created us in God’s own image to be who we are – and not who someone else is. We have to not only say that we are children of God, but we have to believe it as well.

God could have used the resurrection as an opportunity to reset humanity back to some sort of perfect and uniform order, but that is not what happened. When the resurrection happened, the Risen Christ appeared before a bunch of confused, but faithful individuals and said – in the midst of their imperfections – “Peace be with you.”

And that is how the Risen Christ is appearing to us today.

Who you are is enough. Who God created you to be is enough. Who God is calling you to be is enough. That is the truth that we need to remember throughout this Easter season and that is the truth that we need to hold onto throughout the moments in our lives when we start to feel defeated.

And honestly? It is only when we hold onto this truth that we are truly able to face those moments.

Perfection is unattainable. But God’s love is real.

You will forget things at the grocery store. Your house might now always be clean. You may forget to return a phone call and your kids birthday parties will not always look like Pinterest exploded on your backyard. But do not feel guilty. Do not feel defeated. And do not let yourself get so caught up in the stress of your life that you forget the real and redemptive truth that God loves you exactly the way that you are.

Hopefully most days our friends and family members will be there to tell us to get a grip and have a glass of wine when we are beating ourselves up. But for the days that they are not? Remember this:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. [6]

This is what we celebrate throughout this Easter season.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Bartlett, David L. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Page 419
[2] 1 John 3:1, NRSV
[3] 1 John 3:2, NRSV
[4] Luke 24:36, NRSV
[5] 1 John 3:1, NRSV
[6] 1 John 3:1, NRSV