Finding Peace And Balance Through Faith

Do you ever just have one of those Sundays?

I swear, I should have known something was off when the choir and I walked into church five minutes early.  We’re NEVER five minutes early!  Late?  Often.  Never early.  But for some reason we were early and I actually made a joke about during the welcome and well … I should have known better.  Because fifteen minutes later my Children’s Sermon went horribly wrong (since when do my children NOT talk??) and then fifteen minutes after that I was listening to the Deacon read this week’s scripture and realized … it was the wrong scripture.

Womp womp.

The thing is – the Deacons use a script, so in order for the scripture to be wrong, I had to have put the wrong scripture in the Deacons’ script.

Which I did.

So – pastor of the year right here.  If you listen to the audio you’ll hear me trying to figure out the whole scripture debacle before the sermon actually starts.

Sigh.  Oh well – it led in well to the sermon.  Here it is!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 16, 2016

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Finding Peace And Balance Through Faith

Does anybody else feel like the world is going crazy right now? My sister posted a meme on Facebook the other day that made me laugh.

American: At least 2016 couldn’t get any weirder.
God: Send in the clowns.

Seriously, people! I feel like this year has everyone in a tailspin. I have talked before about what a challenging couple of months my family and I have had, but I keep hearing, in so many different circles of my life, how tough of a year this has been for a lot of people. People all over seem to be struggling right now; they have faced unspeakable trauma and tragedies, they have encountered personal and professional roadblocks, they are stressed and anxious and they are struggling to find peace and balance in their lives. I cannot count the number of times I have said, “Hang in there! This, too, shall pass!” It is exhausting. Life seems exhausting right now. Peace and balance seem out of reach right now.

And yet, I have always felt that our faith is a great way to find peace and balance in our lives.

This morning we heard a reading from 2 Timothy. We talked about 2 Timothy last week; how it is a letter attributed to the Apostle Paul (either Paul wrote it or someone wrote it in his name). The author of the letter was writing to his young protégé, Timothy, who was hard at work growing a church. The author was writing from jail, knowing that his time on earth was quickly coming to an end. And so there was a sense of urgency to his words; he reminded Timothy that, in his efforts to grow a community of faith, he should not lose sight of the very reason he was building that community.

This passage of scripture is a call to action. The author outlines how people should live their lives according to their faith. As I was reflecting on the author’s words this week, I found myself nodding along, verse after verse; every piece of this passage is so good and true and what could be right with the world.

So this week, I thought that instead of just looking at an overview of the whole passage, we could break it down and take it in, verse by verse. Because when it starts to feel like the craziness of the world of the world is taking over, it is so important that we turn to our faith.

In a world where there are far too many opinions, ideas and expectations, we need to use our faith to gain wisdom, guidance and encouragement. In this crazy world, God needs to be our stronghold.

So let us look at this passage together.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.[1]

We have what we need. In coming to church, we learn about scripture, about God’s work in this world and about how we can be better Christians. The basic things we were taught as children in Church School – love God, love your neighbor – still ring true today. We know prayers that we can say out loud when all other words seem insufficient. We understand parables that teach us how to be better people.

The world may be pushing us in a different direction, but we must continue along the journey that has been laid down by the faithful Christians who came before us. We have everything that we need to do this; it is already within us.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.[2]

Scripture is inspired by God; use it!

Now, please note that I am not saying, take it literally; I am saying, use it. Interpret it. Implement it into your own life. Obviously take into account things like the culture and context it was being written in, but also remember that, for thousands of year, scripture has remained the constant; there is no need to write it off today. Far too often we turn to celebrities, sports stars, pastors, politicians, movies, television and the media and we forget we have this book that is chock-full of wisdom, advice and comfort. The bible tells a living story of the generations upon generations of people who have traveled the journey we are on today and it still has so much to teach us. So use it.

So that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.[3]

We are equipped for the work God is calling us to do. We have the tools that we need. We are smart enough, strong enough and compassionate enough. If God calls us to do something and we say, “We are here and we are ready to do this work,” then God will most certainly make sure we are prepared to do it.

God will not let us hang out to dry.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.[4]

This is why it is so important that we come together in worship, week after week. Here, in the presence of God, in the company of the saints who came before us and with one another, we are held accountable for our faith and for our actions. Here, we confess our sins, both individually and as a community, so we can learn how to forgive and be forgiven. Here, we urge one another to live up to the faith that has been given us. Here, we not only learn about God, but we listen to God as well.

And so we need to take what we are given every week and go back out into the world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Because this is news that people need to hear right now. We need to show people that love can win, that light can shine and that grace is real. We need to encourage other people along their own journeys.

I know evangelism is not something everyone is comfortable with, but there are ways to share our faith that are subtle and still respectful of others. Instead of specifically talking about all of the details our faith, we can talk about our church. We can share with people why we go to church, what we love about our church and what we get out of going to church. We can talk about the tangible ministries we are involved in and the ways we can see them helping the community. We can talk about how our lives have been changed. To quote someone in my bible study this week, “Let’s make church normal.” And let’s make church normal by talking about it.

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.[5]

I think we can all agree that today there are an overwhelming number of ways to communicate and get information; the world can be very noisy. I think we can also agree that there are a lot of opinions in this world. And unfortunately, a vast majority of the culture we live in does not encourage living by faith, but separating it completely from life outside the church walls.

And so now is the time; now is the time for us to turn back to our faith and encourage others to do the same. Now is the time for us to lead by example, looking humbly at ourselves and making the sometimes-hard choices that are necessary to live into our faith. Now is the time to make known the values we live our lives by – values that have been and are influenced by the Christian faith – and stand firm in those convictions. Now is the time to not only speak the truth, but live it out as well.

As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.[6]

Here is the part that I get a little bit hung up on. I have a hard time with the martyrdom thing, because sometimes I feel it leads to people boasting about how hard their lives are as if somehow that makes them better or more faithful than the rest of us. I know people who are faithful and resilient and take suffering as part of life and still manage to find joy in it all.

But I am not sure the author of this letter was telling us to seek out suffering for the cause and to try to make our lives more difficult. I think the author of this letter was admitting that sometimes it is hard work to live a life of faith. Sometimes it is easier to follow the crowd, to listen to the voices in our culture encouraging us to move in another direction.

And that is why it is imperative that we turn to God for peace, wisdom and encouragement. It might not be the easiest road, but it will be a road illuminated by God’s light, filled with God’s love and touched by God’s grace. It is on God’s road that we can truly and fully live out God’s call for us.

This scripture was a call to action for Timothy as he worked to build a church 2,000 years ago, but the author’s words ring so true for us, today.

And so I encourage you today – if your life is crazy or even if everything is going okay – to take comfort in these words, but also take charge in them. Live your life inspired by the scriptures that have been given to us. Hold fast to the Christian teachings we have been taught. Boldly and humbly proclaim your faith to others and encourage them on their journey. Resist outside forces that are pushing you in other directions.

And remember, in the midst of this crazy season of life, that you are never alone. You, my friends, are beloved and blessed children of God. God is with you. God has brought you here and God will carry you through. We will get through the craziness. We will find peace. We will find balance. Hold onto that hope.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Timothy 3:14-15, NRSV
[2] 1 Timothy 3:16, NRSV
[3] 1 Timothy 3:17, NRSV
[4] 1 Timothy 4:1-2
[5] 1 Timothy 4:3-4, NRSV
[6] 1 Timothy 4:5, NRSV

To See The Big Picture

I feel like I am constantly signing on and starting my posts with, “Sorry, Sunday got away from me, I’m just now getting to posting my sermon!” like it’s an original thought or something. #brokenrecord

But it is the truth!  So categorized under “better late than never” here are my thoughts from Sunday …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 9, 2016

2 Timothy 2:8-15

To See The Big Picture

Do you ever feel like life has a way of swallowing you up?

Fall is a really busy season; I think it always has been and it always will be. The pace of life picks up from the summer, school and other programs start, people start preparing for the upcoming holidays and employers often ask their employees to work more to successfully close out the year. Everyone starts to go crazy trying to fit it all in.

The past couple of weeks have been a pretty typical level of crazy for me this time of year. On top of the hustle and bustle of everyday church life, I have been tending to all of the business that comes up in the fall – evaluations, stewardship, fall programs, Homeless Awareness Weekend preparations and Advent and Christmas planning, to name a few. This week, in particular, Bruce and I have been scrambling to balance our schedules – both of us working more than usual and we offered to help some friends this weekend by taking their daughter while they are out of town.

So I spent a lot of this week running from one thing to the next while staring at a growing pile of laundry, anxious and wondering how I was going to fit in everything that I needed to do. On Wednesday night I had a little bit of a pity party for myself, wishing I could find more time in the day, room in my schedule and balance in my life.

And then on Thursday morning I woke up and saw this alert from CNN on my phone:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott offers dire warning for people living in hurricane evacuation zones to leave: “This storm will kill you. Time is running out.”

In an instant, my mind went to my people in Florida. My Aunt Jen, who lives in Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona; who has a ranch with 11 horses, three donkeys, half a dozen dogs and a handful of cats. My brother-in-law Jason, who is in the Coast Guard and currently stationed in Jacksonville Beach. My seminary friend Sarah, who is currently serving a church in the Orlando area (those of you who bought the stackable elephants at the bazaar last year might remember that Sarah’s husband was the one who made me my original set). Our former office admin, Lorraine, who recently purchased a home in Florida after retiring last year.

A huge storm was coming and it was exceedingly clear that my people were going to get hit. And, while, in fairness to me, the things I was stressing about – church, year-end business, time with my husband, a clean house, finding balance in my life – are all important, it was amazing how quickly I went from caring about the important things to desperately praying for the really important things.

When I arrived at the office that morning I received a text from my aunt telling me she had decided not to evacuate so she could stay with the animals. She asked me to pray for the horses and the donkeys, who would have to weather the storm from the paddocks because the barn would not be safe. I tried to read the text out loud to Kathy, but I burst into tears. I suddenly saw the big picture and it was not stewardship campaigns, hectic schedules or laundry that needed to be put away. It was my people; the lives they had built, the devastation heading their way, the challenges they were about to face and the prayers they so desperately needed.

I had a big picture realization that morning.

The passage that we just heard from 2 Timothy is very much a big picture realization. The letter, itself, is credited to Paul (scholars believe that Paul either wrote it or it was written in his name).[1] The author wrote this letter to his young protégé, a man named Timothy; he wrote it from a prison cell. He was likely facing death and offering his final testament.

As a pastor, I have the privilege of being with people in the final moments before they die. And many of them, in what is known as a “surge,” use that time to share their reflections on life and the wisdom they have gathered. They rarely talk about the times when they were stressed at work or let their laundry sit for days; they talk about the big picture stuff, about the really important things in life.

This was what the author of this letter was trying to do. He was writing to someone (Timothy) who was working hard to build a church in his community and facing the challenges that came with that daunting task. He was getting caught up in the unimportant details and struggling to find balance in it all. The author was trying to use this letter to encourage Timothy to see the bigger picture and to remember the very reason he was building the church to begin with.

The author of this letter wrote to Timothy and said, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” This is something that we, too, need to remember. The resurrection was not a once and done thing; the resurrection still means something in our lives today. It means that we are not alone; that when we face obstacles on our journey, God will always help us find a safe passage. It means that, even when all seems lost and the craziness of life is swallowing us up, God’s love will always win.

This is what we were born into. This is what we baptize our children into. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ, to live into the Gospel, to endure the challenges life throws at us and remain faithful along the way. This passage from 2 Timothy says that if we endure the hardships, that we will reign with Christ and I believe this reign starts right here, on earth, in the lives we are living.

This morning, I make this same call to you – “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” In the midst of your crazy and hectic and challenging lives (and I KNOW they are crazy and hectic and challenging!), I urge you to see the big picture and remember. Remember what it means to be a child of God. Remember what it means to be created so perfectly imperfect in the image of God. Remember what it means to be redeemed and to know that second change are real (and third changes and fourth chances and sometimes 51st chances, if we need them). Remember what it means to be sustained so we are held up when we are weak, put back together when we are broken and given strength to find new limits to our own capacity. Remember the really important things.

It is so important that we step back and look at the big picture. There are a lot of distractions in this world; obstacles, obligations and stressors that keep us from remembering what is really important. We cannot lose sight of what is. And, in the midst of remembering what is really important, we have to remember that we are in this with God, that we are not alone.

“[Even] if we are faithless,” the author wrote to Timothy, “[God] remains faithful.”[2]

God remains faithful. Always.

Even if our lives are crazy and hectic and challenging, God remains faithful.

And so today I encourage you to take some time to intentionally step out of your crazy and hectic and challenging worlds and look at the big picture. Think about what is really important and try to separate that from everything else. Ask yourself these questions: What is God calling you to do? Who is God calling you to be? Where will you find the Risen Christ in your life and how will you share that with the world? How will you remember Jesus in your life?

Do not let life swallow you up; Jesus did not die for that. Remember that, time and time again throughout history, God has proven to be faithful and today, we are living proof of this faithfulness. Our lives can and will bear witness to this promise.

My people were very lucky. What was damaged can be repaired and what was lost can be replaced. And as scary as it was to watch all of the hurricane preparations this week, I am grateful that I had a big picture realization. Because I was reminded in the midst of a really busy season that I need to let go of the things in life that are not worth stressing about and focus my time, energy and prayers on the things in life that are really important.

This is what this scripture is calling us to do. This is how we can really find God’s grace in the world.

Friends, my prayer for you today is that you will not only see the big picture, but that you will also be able to step out of your crazy and hectic and challenging lives and feel God in real, bold and powerful ways. I pray that you will see and experience resurrection in your own lives. I pray that you will have the courage to focus on the things in life that are really important and not feel guilty letting go of the things are not. I pray that you will find grace in the most unexpected ways and places and that God’s love will change your life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The letter starts out by saying, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:1-2, NRSV), but the Harper Collins Study Bible notes in its introduction to 1 Timothy that, “These letters present Paul as their author, but very few scholars now accept that claim.” (pg. 2015)

[2] 2 Timothy 2:13, NRSV (adapted slightly, but I think these adaptions draw deeper meaning out of an already deep passage – God is faithful to us, no matter what – you don’t get that kind of guarantee anywhere else)

Doing Our Best In Faith

Good morning!  I’m doing the best I can to get myself caught up after a busy first week back.  I think I’m almost there – in the meantime, here’s my sermon from this morning!

xo

***

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Doing Our Best In Faith

It is so wonderful to be back with my church family today. Sunday mornings just did not feel the same while I was home recovering.

It’s funny; word spread quickly around my surgical team that I made my living in vocational ministry. Of course, as these things tend to go, some of the details got a little twisted as the story was passed from person to person. Eventually, during one of my pre-op visits, a first-year resident flung open the door to my room, stormed in and – without even pausing to introduce herself – said, “Hi! Are you really a priest?!”

I spent a lot of time explaining myself.

Bear with me for a moment; I am not just sharing this with y’all as a funny and amusing anecdote from my medical leave. It is relevant, I promise!

Members of my surgical team were not the first people to be perplexed about my role as a minister in a Christian church. In fact, even if you take the “young” and “female” factors out of the equation, I actually spend a lot of time explaining my beliefs in general. I often find myself explaining what we, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, believe and what, exactly, the difference is between pastors and priests and our church and the Catholic Church. I talk a lot about the differences between churches in the community and about the difference between faith and religion.

So let me ask this question: Is there a difference between religion and faith? And what should we be focused on?

Hold onto those questions for a minute and let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.

The Second Letter of Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul. It is widely assumed that Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter; he had likely been abandoned by most of his friends and was facing imminent death. Paul eludes to his imprisonment and suffering in this morning’s reading when he says:

Remember Jesus Christ—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.(1)

I was reading a commentary this week about Second Timothy and it said something that sparked my interest.

The Letter thus assumes many aspects of a final testament. … Concern for church order is thus less important in this Letter than are personal exhortations. (2)

Truth be told, I cannot help but wonder what the church would look like – and even what the world would look like – if we always showed more concern for personal exhortation than we did for church order.

And even more than that, I wonder what the church would look like – and even what the world would look like – if we always showed more concern for personal and individual faith than we did for organized religion and ordered churches.

Because, in the end, what is Christianity? How did it come to be?

Christianity came from a personal and individual faith, not from an ordered church. It came from a personal experience that someone had at an empty tomb; it came from an individual encounter with the risen Christ. It came from 2,000 years of people – millions of people, including all of you sitting here this morning – whose faith brought them to a belief in the gospel.

“Remember Jesus Christ – that is my gospel.” That is what Paul wrote to Timothy in this letter. Jesus is his gospel; the church is not.

Let’s put ourselves in the context of this scripture. Timothy was a young protégé of Paul’s, an up and coming strong church leader. Up until the eighteenth century, the general consensus was that Paul wrote both this letter and First Timothy to this man. Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, the thought began to change. Scholars began to wonder if it actually was a specific letter written to a specific person; or if in fact years later a separate author penned these notes to church leaders in general, giving them an ideal to live up to in their lives, in their churches and in their faith.

I think that is why this letter speaks to us so poignantly today. Because I do think that this letter was also written to us as we try to do the best that we can in our lives, in our churches and in our faith.

The Rev. Peter Holmes, a Baptist minister in Canada, reflected on this passage and what it was saying, not just supposedly to Timothy, but also to us. This is what he said:

The writer has been trying to encourage his young protégé from the distance of a prison cell. Seeing one’s mentor arrested would tax anyone’s hope! There were no great church sanctuaries, or libraries with Christian books, or even the four Gospels, let alone the many other resources we now have to turn to; so the writer begins this section with something to cling to in such times. Perhaps it was a well-known line from a creed or a hymn. It summed things up so well that he was even able to refer to it as “my gospel.” He wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (v.1). The writer did not have all the answers, yet he believed that if we can get this one thing right, the rest will follow: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.” It was like giving his protégé the answer to 1-across and 1-down in the great crossword puzzle of life. (3)

2,000 years later, we still do not have the answers. But we still have our faith – and that is what we need to focus on.

We need to let go of the complicated structures and confusing systems that weigh us down and embrace the individual spirituality that nourishes us. We need to pay attention to the relationships that we personally have with God and to our own understandings of the gospel. We need to look at what Jesus said and did and called us to do and seek out a life that is worthy of that call.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. (4)

No one is perfect. One of the problems with organized religion is that people always try to find some sort of organization and resolve within the church or the structures and they just end up frustrated at the process when it does not work. And then they lose sight of why they even came together to begin with.

I am no saying that we should throw organized religion out the window (I would need to find a new career!). But I think that within our structures we need to keep our own faith on the forefront.

Life is full of imperfections and differences. Life is full of circumstances and decisions that do not make any sense. Life is full of confusion and the unknown. But the one constant in all of it is the faith that we carry within us; the faith that nourishes and strengthens us; the faith that we share with others; the faith that shines the light of Christ into the world for others to see.

Do your best to present yourself to God. (5)

Do your best. Do your best in faith. Do your best to be true to who you are. Do your best to hear God’s call for you in your life. Do your best to be strengthened by the spirit within you.

Religious vs. Spiritual; Protestant vs. Catholic; Priest vs. Pastor – that is not what matters. Our faith is what matters.

Go, therefore, and do the best that you can with the faith that is within you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

(1) 2 Timothy 2:8-9, NRSV
(2) Jouette M. Bassler, Harper Collins Study Bible
(3) J. Peter Holmes, Feasting on the Word: Year C: Volume 4: Page 159
(4) 2 Timothy 2:14, NRSV
(5) 2 Timothy 2:15, NRSV