How Can We Serve Others?

Hi friends!  It has been almost a month since my last sermon.  I didn’t realize I would be away from the pulpit from that long, but since I was away for two weeks and then came back to Beatles Sunday, it ended up being almost a month without a sermon.

We are still in our six-week sermon series on hospitality.  The topic of discussion this week was:  How do we serve others?

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 25, 2019

1 Peter 4:7-11
Luke 10:38-42
Matthew 25:31-40

How Can We Serve Others?

Back in the spring, I tried to get the church to march in the Memorial Day Parade in Rehoboth.

It did not go very well.

I think five people signed up.

Refusing to admit defeat, I changed my plans and decided that, as a community, we were just going to hang out on the front lawn of the church.  We were going to ring the bells when we saw the lead police car come over the hill, open our doors so people could use the restroom or just seek shelter for the sun and we were going to cheer on the parade from the sidelines.  After all, what is a parade without spectators?

Missi Wells reached out when she heard about my plan and organized a lemonade and cookies stand.  The response was incredible.  We filled tables on the side of the road with two different kinds of lemonade and countless plates of cookies.  And as the smell of sugar started to waft out into the crowd, people’s interest was piqued and they started to wander over.

We did not charge for anything that morning; in fact, we did not even put out a donation jar.  And it’s not that I don’t like to raise money or anything (y’all know that’s not true), it’s just that this was something Missi and I wanted to for the community, simply as an act of service.

And I have to say – it was the coolest thing ever.

Because it was like communion.

There was this moment towards the end of the parade when the Fire Department was coming through.  Engine 3 had stopped in front of the church; Jeff Rutko was driving, Zack was sitting shotgun and there was a group of guys in the back seat. Missy Enos ran over to the truck with and entire tray of lemonade and handed it to Jeff through the window.  He grabbed a cup and passed the tray around and everyone took a cup when it came to them.

And I swear to you, it looked exactly like it does on the first Sunday of the month when the Deacons are passing around those trays of juice.

It was in that moment that I knew it was the right decision not to charge a penny for that lemonade; because this was an act of service that felt like worship.  It was a moment where we were able to walk outside the walls of our church building and show the community what it means for us to live out the Gospel. It was hospitality on a level that I could not have planned.

Okay – so.

Hospitality.

We have looked at the why:  Why is it important to talk about hospitality?  Why are names so important?

Then we looked at the what:  What does it mean when we say that all are welcome? What does it look like to welcome children?

Now we are going to look at the how: Today we will ask ourselves, how can we serve others?  And, to close out this series, next week we will ask the question, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

How can we serve others?

I chose three texts to look at in order to address this question.  The first comes from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.  Peter, of course, we know from the Gospels.  He was also referred to as Simon; Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen and they were the first two disciples that Jesus called. Peter was one of the members of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; that Jesus brought with him to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.

Peter was the disciple that denied Jesus three times, but later in his apostolic ministry was one of the key leaders in the early church.  Although the details of his death are not recorded in scripture, most scholars agree that Peter was crucified.

There are two letters of Peter in the New Testament, likely pseudonymous and written in the 80’s after his death.  These letters were addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith and so Peter (or someone writing under Peter’s name) was talking not only what it means to be strong in your faith, but to build a strong community of faith.

Because, like we have talked about, as a community, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts.  We need one another – in good times and in bad times. Peter says in this letter that love and hospitality towards one another lays a strong foundation to build a community that can glorify God and spread the Gospel.

Our second reading comes from the Gospel according to Luke, the story of Mary and Martha.  Mary and Martha appear several times in the different Gospels.  In the Gospel of John, Mary and Martha are identified as Lazarus’ sisters; Lazarus is the man who was presumed dead for several days, but who came to life.  And Mary is also the woman who anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume.  When we read that story in the Gospel of Mark, the woman was not named, but when it is told in the Gospel of John, she is identified as Mary.  Coincidentally (and in keeping with the dynamic of this story), while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, Martha served everybody else.

This story always brings up a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Are we meant to sit and learn or are we meant to stand up and serve others?  Jesus does not necessarily give us a clear answer.

Our final reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; Jesus was teaching his disciples.  They were already in Jerusalem and Jesus had foretold the destruction of the temple.  The end was near; as soon as Jesus finished speaking these words, the plot to kill him begins.  And so what this means is that his final lesson to his disciples before the Passion Narrative begins is about serving others; feeding them when they are hungry, giving them something to drink when they are thirsty, welcoming them when they are a stranger, clothing them when they are naked, taking care of them when they are sick and visiting them when they are in prison.

Jesus’ words in this discourse help us step back and, again, answer the question of, why?  Why is it important that we serve others?  Jesus says because when we serve others, it is as if we are serving Jesus, himself. Jesus says that when we serve others we are doing so in Jesus’ name, because this is what the Gospel teaches us, because this is what it looks like to put our faith in action.  Jesus says that when we serve others, like the Apostle Peter later writes, we are doing so to glorify God and to show an outward expression of the love that we maintain for one another.

In other words, the way we live our lives matters. It is not enough to come to church and proclaim our beliefs, but we have to live out these beliefs as well. The Body of Christ only works if we are all on the same team, helping one another, championing one another, picking one another up when we fall.  As human beings living in this human world, serving other human beings is the conduit in which we serve God.

So that begs the questions of, how?

This might be one of those “easier said than done” scenarios, but I also think that the story of Mary and Martha teaches us that there is no one way to serve others.  Here in this story you have two sisters that take vastly different approaches to welcoming Jesus into their house:  Martha is concerned with “many tasks” – likely cooking and cleaning – and Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to learn.  When Martha shows frustration that Mary is not helping her, Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and distracted by many things and that there is need of only one thing, which Mary is doing.

But I don’t think Jesus is necessarily downplaying the role that Martha is playing; I think he is simply saying that there are many ways to serve others and that we cannot do it all.  This story needs both Mary and Martha.  This world, the Body of Christ, needs both Marys and Marthas to come together and glorify God in their service to others.

Sometimes this means handing out lemonade at parades and refusing to take a dime.  Sometimes this means bringing someone a meal.  Sometimes this means giving someone a ride or just stopping by for a visit.  Sometimes this means letting someone know that you are praying for them.  Sometimes this means lending a hand at a funeral.  Sometimes this means volunteering your time with our youth group, church school or nursery programs.  Sometimes this means celebrating a joyous time in someone’s life and also supporting them through a hard time.  Sometimes this means saying hello to someone who walked through the doors of our church for the first time or sitting down next to someone who is sitting alone.  Sometimes this means hopping on a committee at church or signing up to help out with something.  Sometimes this means volunteering at one of the TACT breakfasts that Missions hosts or donating to one of their collections throughout the years.  Sometimes this means, like Peter points out, serving others with the gifts that we have been given – perhaps offering legal counsel to someone if you are a lawyer, fixing a leak in someone’s house if you are a plumber or tutoring someone if you are a teacher.  As a church, sometimes this means running a fundraiser to support a specific cause or making our building available to someone who is struggling financially at a low or no cost.

This question of how we serve others ongoing and ever-changing.  It is one that I do not ever think we will come up with the “right” answer for, because what it “right” in one moment might change in the next.

But I know one thing for sure:  Our community cares about loving one another.  Our community wants to serve one another and serve others.  And so I invite us all to prayerfully discern how call is calling us to serve in this moment. And may we all be open to the ways God is present in our lives as we seek to glorify God through service to others.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Faith Construction

Good afternoon!  Sorry for the delay in posting this week.  I have no other excuse other than I am two weeks away from my due date and we are busily getting ready for my maternity leave at church and the baby at home.  And holy cow, spring is in full swing and things are BUSY at church!  I think I have something going on every night this week – all good things, but I’ve been trying to keep track of everything and I keep thinking I’m going to miss something.

I won’t be preaching this weekend, so I won’t post another sermon until Memorial Day weekend.  Our Children’s Day & Choir Sunday is this Sunday, so the children are leading worship and we have some special music planned.  We’re looking forward to a great celebration with the theme, It Takes A (Church In The) Village!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:4-10

Faith Construction

Has anyone driven across the Tappen Zee Bridge lately? They are building a new one; construction began in 2013 and the project – which is estimated to cost $3.9 billion – should be completed in April 2018.

Bruce and I have taken a few trips down to Pennsylvania in the last year or so and every time we make the trip, we get almost geekily excited to see the progress that has been made on the bridge since we saw it last. I do not know about the rest of you, but bridge construction has always fascinated me. I understand it is an engineering process but, from my background of theology and church, it just seems like only a series of divine miracles could construct something so sturdy over such a large body of water.

There is just something about construction – any kind of construction – that seems so daunting to me. Think about it: You start with materials that, individually, really do not look like much or have all that much function, and yet somehow, by the end of the process you have something not only functional, but, most of the time, sturdy as well.

My parents had a sunroom put on their house a few years ago and I remember sitting and watching their contractor – who is a good friend of ours – work one afternoon. Eventually I looked at him and said, “So you just took a bunch of wood and put it together and made a whole new room on their house, didn’t you?”

He looked perplexed by, what I can only imagine from his perspective was one of the stupidest questions he had ever heard, and said, “Well, yeah, that’s the idea.”

But, again, not knowing how to do it myself, I really am just fascinated when I observe the construction process! It is methodical, it is intentional, it is creative, it is adaptable, it is collaborative and it is visionary.

Which is why the metaphor used in this morning’s scripture has always been so compelling to me.

This morning’s reading comes from First Peter, which is a letter written during the first century addressed to various churches facing religious persecution. The author of the letter draws from the Prophet Isaiah, who said:

thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’[1]

The author of this letter makes a promise to the persecuted Christians he is writing to; a promise that their sacrifices are not being made in vain. He assures them that Jesus Christ, even though he was rejected, is a living stone; and, like Isaiah prophesied, that living stone is tested, precious and a sure foundation. He tells the people that they are building something on this foundation; something not only functional and sturdy, but life changing, as well.

And even more than that, the author tells these struggling churches that they, too, are living stones; they are called to allow God to build them into this church – into this “spiritual house” – where they can offer themselves to God. It is here in this church, the author says, that they can gather together, learn and grow in their faith and invite others into the narrative of the Gospel.

This is not a passive religious experience. The author is describing the difference between attending a church and being a church. “Now you are God’s people,” the author writes. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[2] Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone and the sure foundation of our faith, but we – we, the persecuted Christians who first read these words 2,000 years ago and we, those of us reading them today – are not only building the church, but we are the pieces of the church as it is built, as well.

I think this is where the engineering process stops and the series of divine miracles begin.

So what does this mean for us? As a church, we are not necessarily building something out of nothing at the moment. We are part of the Christian faith that has been around for 2,000 years, a protestant tradition that has been around for almost 500 years, a denomination that was formed 60 years ago and a church that was incorporated nearly 300 years ago. The situation we face today is different than the Christians this letter was first written to.

But I would argue that there is still very much a sense of urgency to the work that needs to be done in our generation. We live in an increasingly secular society; we, especially, feel this in New England, where we yield some of the lowest percentages of church attendance countrywide at 10%-15%. It is not easy to be a Christian in a world where the culture rejects the very notion that faith is something that should be valued. Being part of a church is no longer something that necessarily fits easily into the routine of our lives. We have to fight hard to make church “work” in our schedule and, even then, sometimes we struggle to find balance.

This is why I think it is imperative for all of us to keep in mind that this scripture is not just talking about building the institutional church; it is also referring to the more widespread notion of building the Church universal and sharing our faith with the world.

I believe the authors identifies us as living stones not simply so we can walk into a church and be members, but so that we can nurture our own personal faith, as well.

Bruce and I have talked about this a lot recently, especially as we think about our growing family and how we can be intentional about building a life, as a family, on the foundation of our faith. We know it will not be easy. We see the struggle people of all generations and stages of life have to find balance and are under no illusion that we are somehow immune to it just because I happen to be a pastor.

But I think there are some things we can do – things all of us can do – to try. It might not necessarily look like “church” the way is has over the past 100 years, but it can and will be what God is calling us to do, today.

I believe the most important thing the author says in this passage is this:

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house … to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[3]

I do not think the author is talking about elaborate and bizarre ritual sacrifices; I believe the author is reminding us to ask ourselves the question, “Will this bring glory to God?” as we set out to live each day.

Now, will this seem like a silly question when we are doing some of the more mundane tasks in life, like shopping for groceries or pumping gas or cleaning the house? Maybe, but I would also argue that these activities create a sense of home and stability in our lives. And maybe if we approach everything we do – even the seemingly mundane stuff – with this mindset and by asking the question, will this bring glory to God and how, we may find a better sense of balance in our lives.

It starts with the basics. Think about it: When my parents set out to build their sunroom, they did not start by picking out light fixtures and buying furniture and accessories; they started with the basic structure.

And I think as we all seek to live out our faith, to be the church of the 21st century and to continue to write this Christian story, we need to go back to the basics, as well. We need to make a commitment to break bread with our family and friends, find time for personal prayer and devotion, get involved at the church and give back to the community. We need to think about how the different pieces of our lives bring glory to God, in ways both big and small. This is how we will strengthen the foundation of our lives and our faith so it is sturdy enough to withstand everything else we put on top of it.

And I know this is not easy. People are busy, the world is crazy and faith is not exactly mainstream, these days. But here is something I do know about the building and construction process – it is adaptable.

When I was getting ready for my junior year of college, I asked my dad if he could build me a loft for my bed so my roommate and I could maximize our space a little bit more. He drew up some plans and build the loft according to them, but was not satisfied with how sturdy it was when he finished. I remember him saying, “You know, if this was scenery, I would just screw it into the stage to secure it,” and then shrugged, grabbed his drill, screwed the whole thing through the carpet and into the floor of my dorm and said, “There we go!”

We have to be adaptable in today’s world. If we truly want to build our lives on the foundation of our faith, we need to set attainable goals for ourselves, goals that bear in mind the craziness of the world we are living in today and set us up to succeed. For example, it might not be possible to have family dinners every night, but it might be possible to schedule them three or four nights a week. It might not be possible to completely disconnect from technology, but it might be possible to do this for an hour or two every day. It might not be possible to come to church every week, but it might be possible to come twice a month. It might not be possible to join a committee or take on a role at the church that requires hours of commitments every month, but it might be possible to participate in a few projects every year. Give yourselves some grace as you seek to grow in your faith in this crazy world.

I do not think that being the living stones of our faith is as complicated a process as building a nearly-$4 billion bridge; I think it starts at home, supported by our church family and surrounded by a God who is with us always.

So may we all be blessed as we embrace who we are as living stones, building this faith that sustains our lives and truly makes this world a better place. And may we, too, be assured, that our efforts are not being made in vain. May we always remember that we do have to always necessarily understand the process; that divine miracles are happening all around us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 28:16, NRSV
[2] 1 Peter 2:9-10, NRSV
[3] 1 Peter 2:5, NRSV

To Do What Is Good

Have a blessed Memorial Day celebration!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth Ministerial Grounds, Pond Street
Rehoboth, MA
5/25/2014

1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

To Do What Is Good

So I am not going to lie – I spent a solid 25 minutes last night googling Mister Rogers quotes when I was stuck trying to figure out how to start my sermon.

When you first read it, this passage from 1 Peter sounds really complicated – the author is kind of long-winded and convoluted and rambles on a bit about suffering and conscience and sanctification. But as I read it over and over again yesterday, I started to widdle some of the wordiness away and realized that perhaps it was not as complicated as it first sounds. In fact, I think that the core of what the author is saying is that we should just be good people.

(Hence me looking for Mister Rogers quotes, because – let’s face it – “we should just be good people” is pretty much the core of what Mister Rogers spent his life teaching as well.)

First of all, I think it is important to remember that there is a huge difference between us as a community reading this passage of scripture today and the community that this letter was originally addressed to. 1 Peter was addressed to Christians living in the northern half of the peninsula of Asia Minor (what is now Turkey) during the end of the first century. Christians were being persecuted. Their lives were at stake. The author was telling them to push forward in their faith, even if meant oppression or death. There is a sense of intentional urgency in this letter that we do not necessarily feel or understand today when it comes to how we express our beliefs and our faith.

That being said, I still think we have a lot to learn from this letter. The author was talking about suffering and fear and defense, because this community was under religious attack and those were the (very real) things that Christians were experiencing at the time. But if you take that out of the equation for a second, what you essentially have is the author saying to this community, “You have been dealt a very difficult hand of cards, but it is still so very important to simply do what is good and be true to who you are.”

And I think that is a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Here is what jumped out at me when I picked apart this passage:

“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”
“You are blessed.”
“Do it with gentleness.”
“Keep your conscience clear.”
“Baptism saves you.”

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, excitement and challenges. We cannot always control the hand of cards that we will be dealt, but we can control how we will respond to them. We can face conflict and still be good people. We can face challenges and still make good choices. We can be eager to do what is good, we can defend ourselves with gentleness and we can live out the promises made to us in baptism.

Jesus said in this morning’s gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He said these words right before he was betrayed and crucified; this was one of his final prayers for us as his earthly life was coming to a close. But he knew that this would not always be easy for us. And that is why he made sure that we would never be alone.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” {John 14:15-17}

We are never alone in this world. Yes, as human beings we will experience loneliness and sadness and tragedy and sorrow, but we will never be alone – Jesus made sure of that. God’s spirit is alive and at work here on earth. Sometimes we see it in tangible ways and sometimes it is unexplainable. But it is always there – I really do believe that. And we can use that spirit to help us live out this call that the author of 1 Peter gives to us to do what is good and to be true to who we are.

The second verse of this morning’s passage says, “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” The author said this – “but even if you do suffer” – because the Christian community was suffering. But there are two parts to this sentence – the first part is “but even if you do suffer” and the second part is “you are blessed.” I think the author wanted Christians to understand that – while they might face adversities and challenges in their lives – they would still be blessed.
And this is something we need to always remember as well.

Whatever you are facing in your life, know that you are blessed. You are blessed by a God who loves you and who is always with you. You are blessed by a God who shares both in your joy and in your sorrow. You are blessed with a God who rejoices with you and weeps with you. You may face earthly challenges, but you are blessed by a God who lives within you always and who – through the waters of baptism – showers his healing and renewing grace upon you.

It is fitting that we read this passage of scripture on Memorial Day Weekend, a time when we pause and remember those who lost their lives serving and protecting our country. Because I think the best way that we can honor our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the line of duty is to be good people: To choose love over hate, peace over war, friendship over hatred and charity over greed. I think that we can celebrate this holiday by – as the scripture says – being eager to do what is good and also by remembering that the living waters of baptism draw us closer both to God and to one another.

So this morning I leave you with words of wisdom from Fred Rogers that I think are appropriate: “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.