We Have What We Need To Get It Done

My goodness, friends. We have had a weekend at the church that – despite masks and social distancing mandates – has felt “normal”.  We had our Drive-Thru Luncheon yesterday, as well as Homeless Awareness Weekend – which I keep calling scaled back EXCEPT MY YOUTH GROUP RAISED OVER $5,000!!!!!

Perfect timing for a sermon where I talk about the fact that, as a church, we get it done.

Peace be with you, friends! Wishing you love and angeltude.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 15, 2020

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We Have What We Need To Get It Done

Bill Cute said something on Monday night when he and Wendy were leading evening prayers on Facebook that stuck with me all week:  “We get it done.”

The “we” he was referring to, of course, was the church – the Rehoboth Congregational Church, our beloved church in the village.  Bill and Wendy were talking about the Drive-Thru Turkey Supper that had exceeded so many of our goals and expectations.  This re-imagined and adapted supper, considering it is deeply steeped in the tradition of coming to our building and gathering around a table in Fellowship Hall, really went about as smoothly as it could have gone in light of the challenging circumstances we were facing.

Reflecting on the commendable job done by the cooks, the runners, the traffic directors and the website gurus, Bill praised the team that came together without actually coming together and said, “We get it done.”

And he’s right.  We do; we have.  As a church, we have, for the past eight months, gotten it done.  We have moved worship online, finding ways to reach people live, post-filming and without internet access.  We have resumed bible study, gathering from four different states (and two different time zones!) every Wednesday at 10AM.  We have taken suppers that we usually serve in fellowship hall and adapted them into a drive-thru format, serving more people than we have the capacity to serve in the hall.  We have welcomed nearly 200 people to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion from the safety of their cars through Drive-Thru Communion.  We held a Confirmation service that was live, both in person and online.  We sang together at a live hymn sing on Zoom.  In addition to weekly gathering music, we have recorded monthly virtual choir anthems.  Church School classes are happening online, with special appearances from our children as they lead the Lord’s Prayer, Harrison and me for Communion and, a fan favorite, Chris Ware the Science Chair.  Our bazaar silent auction and some items from our marketplace wre moved completely online.  Members of our Youth Group put on N95 masks and face shields in order to safely panhandle at our scaled-back Homeless Awareness Weekend.  For the past 244 days, we have gathered at 9PM in our Facebook group for evening prayers.  Individual members of our church have taken it upon themselves to mail cards, send care packages and drop off meals.  Our Missions Committee participated in the town-wide food drive and is ready with a skeleton crew to assemble Thanksgiving baskets next weekend.  The almost-cancelled women’s retreat in October was re-imagined and moved online.  We have utilized our website more in the last eight months than we have in my nine years in Rehoboth, crashing it only a small handful of times.

Despite the impossible circumstances of the world that we are living it, we, as a church, have been innovative, creative, prayerful, patience and hopeful.

We get it done.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Thessalonica was a port located on the northern shore of Aegean Sea, which is an embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the Greek and Anatolian peninsulas.  This city was a little bit of an enigma, because it was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and therefore part of the imperial cult of ancient Rome, but culturally it was a Greek city and was governed by Greek law.

Paul founded this church in Thessalonica with Silvanus and Timothy; but shortly thereafter received intense opposition from the Jewish community and they were forced to leave.  Eventually, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check in and see how things were going.  When Timothy returned to Paul, he reported that things were going pretty well, but that there was some anxiety over the fact that Paul, himself, had not returned to Thessalonica.  This letter is Paul’s response to that anxiety.

One of the things Paul does in this letter is reinforce the original teachings of Jesus and talk about how they, the Thessalonians, should live their lives not only individually, but also as a community.

The thing is, it would have been nice for the Thessalonians if Paul had always been there to lead them and guide them, but that simply was not possible.  And so, Paul talks, here, about the importance of grounding yourself in the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, so that no matter what life throws at you, you can remain strong and equipped for the journey ahead.

This letter is so relevant to us right now, because we have been handed some pretty impossible circumstances this year.  We are living out our faith and doing church in a way that we never have before; there is no precedence that has been set.  There are no rules to follow, no measurement for whether we are doing it right or wrong.  We cannot just do things the way we have always done them in the past – the way they are comfortable and familiar to do – because it is just not possible right now.  I keep wishing for someone to show up and tell us exactly what to do, but, unfortunately, we seem to be the ones in charge, left making impossible decisions with really hard choices.

Similarly, without Paul present among them, the people in Thessalonica are not really sure what they were supposed to be doing.  They are anxious about what they are supposed to do next.  But here Paul reassures them; he tells them that they already have what they need.  He reminds them that they just need to focus on Jesus.

This message speaks powerfully to us today.  Because, just like the people of Thessalonica, we have a lot to be anxious about right now.  And it is not easy to figure out how to do church right now, to put the pieces of our ecclesial puzzle together so that we are creating an experience for people where they can learn and grow in their faith that is not only meaningful, relevant and accessible, but also safe, as well.

But remember what Paul says to the Thessalonians.  Paul says that we need to remember why we have gathered in the first place.  Paul says we need to put our eyes on Jesus.  Paul says we need to stand firmly in the Gospel and let the other pieces fall in around that.

Paul talks about staying alert, about living in the light of the day, about arming ourselves with faith and love and encouraging one another and building one another up.

The thing is, we do not know how all of this is going to play out.  We do not know what the months ahead are going to bring.  But what we do know is that a lot of what we want to do we might not be able to do.  What we do know is that a lot of the ways we want to do church and are used to doing church might not necessarily be feasible.  What we do know is that a lot of our safety nets have been pulled out from under us and that we are living in this unsettled in-between time where we are not necessarily always sure what to do next – or how to do it.

But we still have Jesus.

Friends, the Gospel has not changed, just the world that we are sharing it in.

We still have this Good News; we still have this radical, redeeming and resurrecting truth that God is not done and that the story is not over yet.  We have this love that is stronger than anything else, including this virus that has turned our world upside down.  We have our God who has not abandoned us and whose steadfast presence in our lives has walked us through some really dark moments this year.

And this is precisely the point Paul is making in this letter; that we need to lean into this Good News, no matter what else is going on around us.  Paul is saying that we are equipped to do this – to be faithful and to do church during these crazy times.

Friends, it has been an amazing weekend.  Our drive-thru luncheon served 140 people yesterday, many of whom went home with a delicious sampler box, which had so many of our favorite Bake Shoppe goodies.  Members of our Youth Group participated in Homeless Awareness Weekend, an event we were not sure would happen this year.  With a scaled-back event and less participants, donning multiple levels of PPE, our youth rose to the occasion and raised over $5,000 in one day, money that will be given to local organizations fighting homelessness and hunger.

Like Bill said, “We get it done.”

And in this scripture, Paul tells us how we get it done – because we are “children of light and children of the day.”  We have the Good News – and we are going to use it, no matter what life throws at us.

Friends, I know there is a lot to be anxious and unsettled about right now.  But Paul’s words here remind us that we have the tools that we need to figure this out and to come out strong on the other side.  So let us, “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” and may we continue to write this story, keep the faith and proclaim the Good News.

Let’s keep getting it done.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Live In The Light

Hi Friends!  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  For the fifth year in a row, we trotted for Bella at the turkey trot in Pawtucket, RI.  It was extra special this year, because she had been admitted to Hasbro Children’s Hospital the night before.

Here is my sermon from last weekend.  I talked about living in God’s light and, the funny thing about this sermon was that it was POURING when I arrived at church that morning, but when church was over, the sun was coming out!  I guess when you preach on light, light shine!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 19, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Live In The Light

Does anybody else end up in a funk this time of year?

I blame Daylight Saving Time. Even though I am always grateful for the extra hour on that one Sunday morning when we turn the clocks back, there is something just so abrupt about the whole thing.

Granted, in the days and weeks leading up to it, the days are already getting shorter, but it is a gradual shift. Once we fall back, all of a sudden it is like … ugh … now it is dark when I pick the baby up from daycare.

And then I start to countdown to the winter solstice when the days will at least start to get a little bit longer again and I realize … ugh … well, that is still a month away.

So my solution this year has been to pull out some of my Christmas decorations a wee bit early. Nothing major – just some lights, tabletop pieces and of course, Christmas music.

I justify this in two ways:

  1. I am a pastor and I need to plan for Advent and Christmas. What better way to get into the spirit of the season than to surround myself with visual reminders of that season?
  1. We need light. This time of year, us New Englanders physically need light, because the days are getting shorter and shorter. We need light to give us energy, to lift our spirits and to illuminate a sometimes-dark world. When the days are as short as they are this time of year, sometimes that light can come from something as simple as Christmas décor.

Even more than that, I would argue that, as Christians, we need the physical and tangible presence of light to remind us that God’s light always shines; that we live in this light and that this light lives in us.

In this morning’s scripture reading, the Thessalonians are reminded that they are, “not in darkness … [but they] are all children of light.” I was drawn to this passage, especially in light of the darkness this time of year, because it reminds me that we are part of the light we need in our lives and in the world. Light shines because it shines through us. When the world seems dark, we have to shine light into it.

This letter is the first of two letters written to the church in Thessalonica. The first letter, which this morning’s reading is from, is said to have been authored by three men, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, though most scholars believe Paul had the biggest hand in writing it. This is one of Paul’s earliest letters and it is addressed to Gentile Christians who had left their pagan gods and practices for this emerging Christian movement.

One of the frequently mentioned topics in this letter is that of the end time. There was a growing concern as to what was going to happen to Christians who died before Christ’s return and Paul addresses this in the passage we just heard.

Now concerning the times and the seasons … you do not need to have anything written you. For you, yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

In other words, we do not have a clue when Jesus is coming back.

But, in the meantime, Paul assures the Thessalonians that they do not have to be afraid; that, no matter what, they will not be left in the dark. “You are all children of light and children of the day,” Paul writes. “We belong to the day … God has destined us for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul does not want the Christians in Thessalonica to live in the dark, worrying about the fate of their salvation. Instead, he wants them to live into the grace of their lives now, in confident hope that God is constantly drawing them into the light.

Far too often, our world is often filled with uncertainty, but Paul’s words remind us that, in the midst of this, God’s light is always certain and we are living in that light. Paul is not reprimanding the Thessalonians for living in the dark; he is assuring them that they are already living in the light. He is encouraging them to keep doing what they are already doing.

And today, as we read these words, we, too, are reminded that we live in the light. We are encouraged to keep doing what we are already doing to illuminate this world.

Thanksgiving is four days away. I encourage you this year, in addition to giving thanks, to also think about the ways you see light shining in your life and in the world. Because if you look around and really try to notice it, I think you will find that God’s light really does shine, even in the darkest of places.

Even though the days are getting shorter, I have seen a lot of light lately.

I saw light when the water pump died at the parsonage this week and Ray quickly called multiple companies after hours to get someone out to fix it as soon as possible, because it reminded me that the Trustees care about where my family and I live and that everything is working properly (or, at least, on its way to working properly).

I saw light when I dropped the baby off at daycare on Wednesday and I could hear the older kids shouting, “Harrison’s here!” before I even had him out the car, because it reassured me that when I am away from him at work, he is still well cared for and cherished.

I saw light when I heard a knock on my office window on Thursday morning and looked up and saw Deb Burns and Liam Ware waving to me while they were out for a walk, because it made me think about how special it is for a child to know they are loved by the people around them beyond their parents.

I see light every time I talked to a member of the music committee or the choir and witness them working tirelessly to keep our music strong throughout this transition in Music Directors, because their efforts have helped to create worship that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.

Friends, there is a lot of uncertainty in this world, but this letter reminds us that we can be tangible signs of grace in the midst of that uncertainty. This letter calls the Thessalonians to, “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In other words, it is through our faith and our commitment to the Gospel that we recognize and create a light that can illuminate even the darkest of places. It is through our trust in God that we are assured of our protection and the promise that we are never alone.

The world needs light; sunlight AND Sonlight. I believe our faith calls us to turn on those lights; not only to shine God’s light into the world, but also to recognize when others are shining it for us and to live in that light.

Paul said, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” He said this because he already saw the church doing what God was calling them to do: Shining light in the world, illuminating one another’s journeys, offering strength and encouragement and practicing resurrection in their midst.

And so this morning, I say these same words to you: Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Indeed, you are doing just this.

Rehoboth Congregational Church, our church in the village: This week I will give thanks for you! I will give thanks for the ways you illuminate my life, even when the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon. I will give thanks for the ways that, together, we live out God’s call to love one another, proclaim the Gospel and serve the community. I will give thanks for our worship, for our outreach and for our fellowship.

So if you find yourself in a similar funk this time of you, I would encourage you to do several things.

  1. Pull out some Christmas decorations and let yourself get swept away by the magic of the twinkling light.
  1. Open your eyes and be transformed by the ways that other people are shining light around you.
  1. Remember that, as a child of God, you live in the light. And you can take that light and let it shine for all the world to see.

Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Letting Go Of The Urgency Of The Season

My voice is back!  Mostly.  I still have that lounge-singer thing going for me.  But that didn’t stop me from standing behind the pulpit with a lot to say! :) Here is this morning’s sermon.  This will be it until Christmas Eve – next week is our Christmas Cantata!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Letting Go Of The Urgency Of The Season

Christmas only comes once a year.

I know, I know. Profound statements from the pulpit this morning.

Christmas only comes once a year. It is full of magic, beauty, joy and love. Traditions burst through the routines of our everyday lives. Parties and gatherings put us in the holiday spirit and give us time with our family members and our friends. Decorations light up our homes, bringing awe and wonder to our guests and neighbors.

Of course, because Christmas only comes once a year, there is a sense of urgency to all of the magic, beauty, joy and love. We feel pressured to make sure we squeeze in all of our traditions and work tirelessly to make sure they are perfect. Parties and gatherings fill up our already busy schedules, leaving us feeling exhausted, stressed and sometimes even slightly annoyed at those well-intentioned family members and friends. Magazines and pinterest boards full of exquisitely decorated homes start to give us an inferiority complex when we begin our own decorating.

Boy, that sense of urgency really seems to cut the merry out of our Merry Christmas, doesn’t it?

In this morning’s reading from the New Testament, Paul addresses the church in Thessalonica. This is one of the earliest of Paul’s letters, written not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This should have been a time of great celebration and joy. After all, they had just witnessed a miracle, a moment in time that changed the world forever.

But the Thessalonians, too, felt a sense of urgency among them. They believed in the great mystery of our faith that Christ had died, that Christ had risen and that Christ would come again. But they also believed the second coming of Christ was imminent; not only did they believe that this would happen in their lifetime, but they believed that it would happen in the time and space that they were living in.

There was a sense of urgency; there was a sense of urgency for them, as individual believers and there was a sense of urgency for their community of faith. If Christ was coming, they wanted to – and needed to – be ready.

So here was the question at hand: How were the Thessalonians supposed to let go of their sense of urgency that they felt concerning the return of Christ and just live into the moment that they were experiencing then?

Today the question at hand is this: How are we supposed to let go of our sense of urgency during this Christmas season and just live into the moment that we are experiencing now?

In this letter, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to let go of the sense of urgency that they were feeling and to live faithfully into the moment. He tells them to rejoice and give thanks always, to pray unceasingly and to cling tight to the good news of Jesus Christ and of the fact that they are redeemed and sustained by a God who loves us.

He also urged them to hold on to what the prophets said so long ago, to look to scripture for encouragement and help in our lives.

So let us look at what the prophets say.

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah was speaking to the very broken nation of Israel; to people who had been oppressed, whose temple had been destroyed and who were struggling economically. There was a sense of urgency in their lives as well; there was a sense of urgency to restore their nations and to deliver their people.

But Isaiah assured them that God was very much active and alive and present in their lives. He proclaimed that God had sent him to bring good news to the nation of Israel, to tell them that change was on the horizon. He prophesied that he was called by God to heal the sick, to ensure dignity for the oppressed and to release those being held captive. He told the Israelites that better times were coming, that their temple was going to be rebuilt and that justice was going to prevail. He promised that God was going to be faithful to the covenant that he made, not just to the people of Israel living then, but also to the generations upon generations that were still to come.

And God was not a distant God, either. The fact that Isaiah was actively prophesying throughout the nation proved that God was with them, that God heard their cries and that God was fighting for them and with them. Isaiah’s presence made confident the truth that God’s promises were not empty, but real and alive in their lives. His prophesies encouraged the Israelites to remember that even though there was a sense of urgency in their lives at that moment, that something powerful was still happening in their midst; and they needed to believe the promises of God – and live into that moment.

God’s promises are still true for us today. Yes, there is a sense of urgency among us during this Christmas season, but we, too, have to believe that something powerful is still happening in our midst and hold onto the promises of God and live into these moments.

The question at hand was: How are we supposed to let go of our sense of urgency during this Christmas season and just live into the moment that we are experiencing now?

This morning, I am going to share with you a groundbreaking discovery.

Are you ready?

Christmas will still come even if the season leading up to it is not COMPLETELY full of magic, beauty, joy and love.

Earth shattering, right? Here’s another one …

The meaning of Christmas will still be the same even if you are not able to carry out all of your traditions exactly perfectly.

I know – crazy, right?

You will still be able to come to church on Christmas Eve and open presents with your children on Christmas morning even if you did not make it to every party and gathering that you were invited to.

And Christians around the world will still celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th even if your decorations would not land a photo of your house on the front cover of a magazine.

There is a sense of urgency to the Christmas season, but we have to remember that the urgency that we feel is something that WE have created in our lives. That sense of urgency is not something that God brought to us; God brought to us – in the form of a baby boy born in a manger – a savior.

And that is what we are called to remember that this holiday season.

At the core of who we are as Christians, that is all that we are called to do.

It is entirely too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season so that we are not actually able to experience the season. In fact, it is entirely too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season so we forget what it is we are actually celebrating.

We are celebrating the moment in time when God broke through the imperfections of our humanity and sent to earth a savior whose life, death and resurrection would change the world. We are giving thanks to God for the humble ministry of a man that generations of people would follow and look to for guidance in their own lives. We are – sometimes against all odds – trusting in that bold promise that God will never abandon us.

We have to let go of the rest of it.

Paul told the Thessalonians to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This holiday season, I encourage you to do the same. We are re-experiencing something that is so much more powerful traditions or parties or decorations. We need to rejoice and give thanks for the way that God came into our life and pray that God to continues to reveal himself and guide us in our lives. If we do that, the rest of that “stuff” – the stuff that is generally causing us stress during the holidays – will fall into place. In fact, I think a new kind of magic, beauty, joy and love might emerge as well.

This is not just a promise that I am making today, this is an ancient promise that Isaiah made thousands of years ago.

You know, in many ways, we are not that different from the Israelites crying out for the nation to be restored. On a day when we remember the lives of 20 beautiful little children and six staff members killed in Sandy Hook, CT two years ago, we are blinded by the devastating reality that we, too, are living in a broken world. We, too, are calling for our people to be delivered, for our world to be restored.

But that is precisely why we have to cling tight to the promise of the Christmas story; that God’s light will not be overcome by the darkness of evil and that God will always dwell among us.

So let us give ourselves permission to let go of the “stuff.” Let us let go of the sense of urgency that this season brings, live into the moment that we are experiencing now and celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.