In Defense Of Traditions

Happy Labor Day everyone!  I hope you all had a nice long weekend.  It was our last 9AM worship of the summer.  Next week is Rally Day – worship starts at 10, the choir will be back, it’s the first Sunday of Church School.  It’s usually a little bit hectic, but I always love the buzz that is in the air after a quiet(ish) summer.

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  It was the last sermon in our series, Why I Come To Church.  This week’s topic was “tradition” – because it was the first Sunday of the month and we were serving communion, I actually pulled out all of the old silver as a nod to our theme.

IMG_3974

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 4, 2016
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Tradition

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

In Defense Of Traditions

Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.[1]

Tradition.

I will spare you the Tevye impersonation this morning, but, for the record, know that I am using every ounce of willpower in my body to refrain from breaking out in a chorus of Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof.

Actually, my love of showtunes aside, I think Tevye might have been onto something here. He leads into this well-known opening number by saying this to the audience:

How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition![2]

Balance – now there is a funny concept; and not funny in a “haha” kind of way, either. I think sometimes talking about balance is funny, kind of in an exasperated and sarcastic “Lord, have mercy, I am a hot mess, will I EVER find some semblance of balance in my life?” kind of way.

But isn’t that one of the reasons that we come to church? Don’t we come to worship, at least in part, to participate in something – in traditions, even – that will hopefully help us find balance in our week and in our lives?

Traditions are funny things. We often reject them because they seem meaningless or weird, they make us uncomfortable or they simply are not important to us. Sometimes it is because we are outsiders looking in at other people’s traditions. Sometimes it is because a tradition has become so rote that it has lost its meaning for us. Sometimes it is because we like to think rationally, literally and tangibly and traditions do not always work like that.

But I encourage you not to completely discount traditions. In fact, there is a growing movement of Christians who are trying to reclaim old traditions; who seek to participate in something that they might not understand, but that is still sacred and holy to them; who want to feel God’s power and presence through the safety and security of an ancient tradition.

To be honest, I consider myself part of this movement. It is the reason that I wear vestments and a clerical collar; why I invite everyone to lay hands on something or someone if we are blessing them; why we sing as we center ourselves for prayer; and why I insist, every year, that our annual Christmas Bazaar is as much a part of the spiritual life of our church as it is the community life. I believe that traditions are vital to who we are, both as Christians and as a church family. I believe that traditions create strong connections in our lives, connecting us with our past, with one another and with God.

In this morning’s scripture, Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul addresses the church in a stern tone, wanting to impress upon them just how high the stakes are in how they choose to exist as a church and as a community.

Granted, like in many of Paul’s letters, he is talking about the second coming of Christ, something we do not focus on as much in our own context. But the conclusion he draws is still relevant to us; Paul says that the traditions they, the Thessalonians, have been entrusted with are sacred, that they need to “hold fast” to them.[3] God chose them[4], Paul writes, and is now calling them[5] now to proclaim the Good News. Paul encourages the Thessalonians now to use the traditions they have been taught to share God’s glory with a new generation.

The stakes are just as high for us today. We are living in an increasingly secular world. Balance is hard to find, because there is simply too much going on. Politics are divisive. Hatred and violence are real evils. Families and communities suffer unspeakable tragedies. People struggle in real and heartbreaking ways. Often we do not know where to turn when our worlds are shaken.

But just like the Thessalonians, we have been given the grace, not only of our faith, but also of the traditions that it rests upon; tools that can help us forge ahead, strengthen our faith and continue to write the Christian story.

Paul makes it clear that the authority of the traditions he is teaching does not come from him; it comes from God. Paul blesses the church in God’s name, reminding the Thessalonians that it is through God’s grace that they will obtain comfort, hope and strength.

This sermon is something of a defense of traditions, because I believe the same is true for us, today, every time we participate in some sort of tradition. I believe that when we partake in sacred and ancient traditions that we are being blessed in God’s name and granted comfort, hope and strength. The challenge, of course, is to find ways to sometimes adapt these traditions so they are still meaningful, relevant and accessible to us (and this is a whole different sermon for another day), but the foundation has been set.

It is because of tradition that we are where we are today. The traditions that Paul and the apostles passed on to churches like this church in Thessalonica moved through 2,000 years of Christian history and now have been entrusted to our generation. They are a gift. They are a privilege. They are our responsibility.

Traditions mean something; they mean something to us, as Christians, and they mean something to us, as a church community. They are our lighthouse in a storm; always there, always accessible, always shining light into darkness. They see us through good times and bad times. They have the ability to speak to us, especially in those moments when words are inadequate. They give us a tangible sign of God’s presence in a crazy world and create a safe space for us when we are craving a spiritual connection.

Today I encourage you to allow yourself to get swept up in the mystery of the traditions, both of our faith, but also of our church and of your families. Be vulnerable. Create room in your life for God to come in and work. Be intentional about finding time to participate in the traditions that we have been given. And may we know, that in finding this time, we will be ready for God to work some unimaginable grace in our lives.

And, who knows? Maybe we will find some balance after all.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

*** 

[1] 2 Thessalonians 2:15, NRSV
[2] If you get my reference here, my apologies if the song Tradition is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. If you do not get the reference, then you need to go find a local production of Fiddler On The Roof because you are missing out on a key piece of my childhood.
[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:15
[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:14

Called By Scripture To Change

So I have admit – I was a little scared to preach this sermon.  It challenges the church structure that exists, which is a scary message to hear, but one that I also think RCC is ready, not only to hear, but to live out!  Let me know what y’all think …

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 17, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Called By Scripture To Change

We were cleaning out the office this summer and I came across this.

{Hold up floppy drive}

I have three questions:
1. Who remembers using these?
2. Who thinks that they worked well when they were the best means of storing and transferring files?
3. Who would use one today?

Back in May I was hospitalized for a few days and being given IV fluids. One morning, one of my nurses – an older woman, well past the typical age of retirement – came in to change the IV bag. As she walked around my bed she bumped her cart and the bag of fluid began to roll off and fall towards the floor. I gasped, jumped and tried to grab the bag before it hit the ground, but I was not fast enough.
Thankfully, a bag of saline is relatively versatile. It bounced a few times and eventually rolled under the bed, but it stayed intact. My nurse laughed as she chased after the bag and was finally able to hang it. “Well at least saline is no longer kept in glass bottles!” she said as she started the new IV.

As she checked the machine and took my vitals, we began to chat about her early nursing days. She described a time when nurses wore white uniforms with skirts, when they were not responsible for as many patients as many of them are today, when charts and records were kept on paper and in files and when IV fluids and medications came in glass bottles, glass bottles that did not bounce quite as nicely when you dropped them on the ground.

“Did you ever drop one?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she laughed. “What a mess that used to make.”

My how things have changed.

My how things have changed in medicine and file storage, but also – when you think about today’s world and the society that we live in – my how things have changed in technology, in communication, in travel – the list goes on and on. Society is a living, breathing and constantly evolving and changing entity.

Society is also a very connected entity. And when one piece of it changes, the different pieces around it must adjust to those changes as well. This is the reality of the world that we live in. We all know this – whether we are young, old or in between, we have witnessed and experienced changes throughout our lives. And we have adapted to those changes – sometimes without even knowing it. That is what the pieces of society do – they adapt to the changes that are happening around them.

And the church is no exception.

Phyllis Tickle is an American author who writes about religion and spirituality. She focuses especially on the Emergent Christian Church and how the Church is changing. Tickle argues that the Church (Church with a capital “C” – not individual churches, but the Christian Church as a whole) experiences a major change every 500 years. 2,000 years ago, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shook a Jewish culture that was seeped in laws and traditions. 500 years later – 1500 years ago – the Roman Empire declined and then fell. 500 years later – 1,000 years ago – there was a Great Schism that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. 500 years later – 500 years ago – the Protestant Reformation rocked the foundation of the Catholic Church and from it emerged the Protestant tradition.

500 years later, Tickle argues that we are in the midst of a great transformation.

When she argues that the Church is in the middle of a great transformation, Tickle is not talking about churches that are making small adjustments to their traditions and structures. Tickle is not talking about churches that are in transition and calling new pastors. Tickle is not talking about churches that are experimenting with new worship styles and educational opportunities. Tickle is not talking about churches that are changing their paint colors and updating their computers.

Tickle is talking about the end of Church as we know it – and a transformation into something yet to be seen.

Those of you who have been members of this church for a long time have seen it go through a lot of changes. But Tickle would argue that no one in our generation – whether you have been a member of your church for your entire life and or whether you have only recently begun to attend – no one has ever seen a change like the one we are experiencing right now. This is not something that is coming; this is something that is already happening.

Our church is almost 300 years old; and while that is much older than many churches in our community and throughout the country, it has yet to experience that 500 year transformation. We are, as a society, but also as a church community sailing in the midst of uncharted waters; and much remains unknown.

I am not telling you something that you do not already know. If you look around, churches – and people’s attitudes about going to and being active in churches – have changed.

You could look at this reality and feel unsettled. But scripture has something else to say.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” – as it turns out we are not the first generation of people to experience a major change in our lives, in our communities and in our churches. Scripture shows us that throughout time God was constantly creating, moving and transforming.

This particular text from the Book of Isaiah speaks about a historical transformation in Jerusalem; it has undertones of peace, hope and community. But I think that something even bigger is going on. And I think that it is absolutely relevant today when we think about the ways that the landscape of the Church is changing. So often we fear change, but look at what scripture tells us! Scripture tells us that God never stopped creating; that the God that created the earth in Genesis is still actively creating new things in our lives today.

In this morning’s second scripture reading, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, we hear a plea – a plea to remain vigilant and active in faith and not idle. “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” Paul knew that the Church could not afford for people to remain idle in their faith; for people to be complacent throughout out the years.

Now when Paul talked about an active faith, much of what he often wrote about – and therefore much of what we often talk about – was outreach to the poor, hospitality to the stranger and healing to the sick. But there is more to an active faith than that. Part of being vigilant and active in faith is being also relevant and accessible to others.

And the Church must evolve and adapt to changes in society in order to make that happen. The Church must evolve and adapt to changes in society in order for it to be relevant and accessible to others.

Be active, Paul says. Embrace your faith; journey with it and not around it.

Paul’s letter reminds us that we cannot afford to be complacent in our faith. But more importantly, I think, is the message that our churches cannot afford to be complacent in their faith. God not only calls individuals, but he also calls churches – communities of faith – to minister throughout the world; to be relevant and accessible to all. That is our call. That is what our creating God calls us to do.

“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”

Change can be a very scary thing. But change is also rooted in scripture. God may have rested on the seventh day, but he never stopped creating after that. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is radical proof of this constant creating. And the lives that we are leading – our stories – further proves that the Gospel is still being written.

And do you know what else? God delights in new beginnings; God finds joy in new creation. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people.” Just as the God of Genesis looked at creation and saw that it was good, the God of the 21st Century – the God who built and sustained this church, the God that uses this community of faith to reach out to the community and the God who calls each member of this church into a unique and special ministry – looks at the creation that continues to happen and sees that it is good. God looks at the changes we make as we seek to live out his call and sees that they are good.

Change is a good thing. Change means that God is still with us, that God is still creating among us. Change means that we are responding to the changes that are happening around us and adapting our lives and our faith and our churches so that they are relevant in today’s world.

And do you know what? We have the tools to do this. “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us.” That still-creating and still-speaking God is constantly moving and working through us; opening our eyes to see changes as they happen, opening our hearts to respond to those changes and opening the grips of our hands so that we can truly and effectively reach out and serve in this generation.

I read a commentary this week that talked about this passage in Isaiah and change as a means of grace:

We seek to participate in God’s new creation not as a means of earning it but as a way of responding to God’s grace extended to us. Through our restored relationship with God and our relationship with all of God’s creation, we are given new lenses of hope by which can experience a foretaste of the new creation that Isaiah prophesies. {Mary Eleanor Johns, Feasting On The Word, Year C, Volume 4, Page 294}

What do you see through your lens of hope?

Just as we no longer use a floppy drive to store documents and glass IV bottles to dispense fluids and medications, we are called to let go of some of the religious structures that defined our past.

And that is okay. That does not mean that they were not once effective and necessary. It just means that things have changed.

Look ahead, my friends, and see God’s vision. See God’s new creation in you and around you. Be active. Be relevant. And be accessible. And live out your faith.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

Surprising Gifts

Here is my stewardship sermon!  We used the UCC Surprising Gifts theme this year, which really provided a nice jumping off point.  Enjoy!

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Surprising Gifts

Why do you pledge?

This is a question that the Stewardship Committee asked people in the church to reflect on this year as they prepared to make their financial commitments to the church.

It is funny what a difference a few years can make. If you had asked me this question three years ago, my answer would have been simple and straightforward: The church needs money. In fact, when the Stewardship Committee met back in 2011, I distinctly remember saying that we should only focus our efforts on financial stewardship that year and not talk about other forms of giving. The church was in a deficit and it needed to be turned around. It was a scary time and much was unknown.

There was a lot of anxiety in the committee as we faced that daunting task.

Feelings of anxiety permeate the beginning of this morning’s scripture reading. The Thessalonian people thought that Jesus was going to return and that the world was going to end. Paul wrote to the community in response to their anxiety about their fears of this unknown.

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.

But Paul urged them to turn away from their anxiety of what may be and give thanks to God for what is.

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord.

We must always give thanks to God.

And we – the Rehoboth Congregational Church – need to do the same. We need to turn away from the anxieties that hold us back and celebrate the life that is within us. Have we spent the past few years chipping away at a financial deficit? Yes. Were there times of uncertainty? Yes. Have we completely turned things around? Not quite. Are there still a lot of unknowns in our future? Yes. But we need to shift our thinking from fear to thanksgiving. We will not worship, serve and learn in fear – rather we will praise and trust the God who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Easier said than done, right? But remember that Paul did not just say that we have to give thanks to God; Paul gave us a pretty convincing reason to give thanks.

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Because God chose you.

God chose us.

As we think about this church – about our stewardship to this church, about our hopes for this church and about our anxieties within this church – we must always give thanks to God because God chose us. God chose us to be here and to be in ministry with one another.

As a whole, this church has felt a lot of anxiety over the past several years. I arrived at RCC on the heels of a difficult pastoral transition, a large amount of staff turnover, a devastating flood, financial hardships and conflicts between individuals and committees.

But look at where we are now!

New individuals and families have come through our doors and joined our community.
We have been able to explore and implement new Church School curriculum.
Our Missions Committee has been revitalized and has shown unbelievable outreach to this church, to the community and to the world.
We have completed some much-needed upgrades around the church. In addition to being in the middle of a repair and painting project on the front of the church, we were also able to renovate and paint our classroom and create a space that is truly dedicated to the children and youth of this church.
New and creative community activities are being engaged and enjoyed.
Our Youth Fellowship Program is thriving.

I could go on and on – but the life and spirit in this sanctuary today speaks for itself.

Are we perfect? No. But there will always been anxieties within the life of the church. The darkness of the unknown is always on the horizon.

But God called us into ministry and God has given us the tools we need not only to survive, but to thrive.

I do not know if it is true, but I once heard a story that back in early Puritan New England, a major solar eclipse darkened the sky in the middle of the day. Terrified because they did not know what was going on, the people said to one another, “The world is going to end – what are we going to do?” And one man replied, “Let us be found doing our duty.”

The fifteenth verse of this passage says:

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth of by our letter.

Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.

God called us into ministry here and we have to heed that call. We need to take care of the church that has always taken care of us. We need to show thanks to those who came before us – the pillars of this church – and continue what they have started. We need to honor the traditions of the church by doing our part to strengthen its community and live out our piece of its story.

We need to move forward in our journey. We need to jump into the darkness of the unknown. We need to take each challenge that comes our way. We need to praise God, even when we are scared. We need to support the church that supports us. And we need to be committed to the work that God is doing in our community.

The end of this morning’s scripture reads:

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

This text was actually the inspiration for our stewardship campaign this year. The Message, which is a contemporary translation of the bible, translates this text to say the following:

May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.

May … God … who surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.

God has surprised us.

So often we fear the unknown, but we really should be giving thanks for how we are surprised by what God does in the midst of that unknown.

God has surprised us. God has surprised us by breathing new life into our old church. God has surprised us with introductions to new people, ideas and opportunities. God has surprised us with peace in our minds and hope in our hearts. God has surprised us with a spirit of friendship and love. God has surprised us by showing us that we are stronger and more faithful now than we ever have been before – both as individuals and as a church.

God has surprised us – and now it is our turn.

Stewardship is not something that we do – stewardship is something that God does through us.

Why do you pledge?

Rehoboth Congregational Church is a family to us. Like our household, our church has bills, and IT’S important to help provide for a roof over our heads, spiritual nourishment, and the chance to learn and grow in Christ.
Being a part of this church family has made us better people and our own family stronger.
The church is my Family and I support my Family in everything I do.
We feel incredibly blessed by all that God has done in our lives and feel called to try to give something back.
One of the main reasons I pledge is to keep the youth program going strong.
I pledge to this church because I want my children to have a safe haven besides our home.
We pledge because it’s our turn.
I pledge to the church because I am investing in its vision.

Let us allow God to work through us in our stewardship this year. And may we continue to be surprised by the journey we are on.

Thank you for supporting the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.