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.

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Enjoy!

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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

My Prayer For The Church

Good evening and a very happy Mothers Day to all of the amazing mothers out there!

My confirmation class led worship today and this sermon really worked well with my final words to them before the are confirmed next week. I hope you enjoy it!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 8, 2016

Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

My Prayer For The Church

I recently read a book called Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. It was written by the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

Beyond Resistance talks about some of the changes that the Church, as an institution, is experiencing right now; it hypothesizes why some of these changes are taking place and explores some of the challenges that the changes are presenting.

This book was informative and insightful; but it was also extremely hard for me to read. Not in a challenging and dry kind of way; but it was hard for me, as a young(ish) pastor, to read about the number of churches that have closed or will close within the next few years. It was hard to read about how many churches are being forced to cut their budgets and reduce their staff. It was hard to read that, for the first time in a long time, there are more clergy than jobs available, particularly full-time positions. It was hard, both as a pastor and as woman of faith, to read that the Church is just not a part of people’s lives the way that it used to be.

And here is something about me that you might not know: I have a tendency to go from zero to disaster in about 3.5 seconds. Which is how I found myself out with friends one night, telling them about my newly-devised plan to become a funeral director when the Church, as an institution, goes crashing down when one of them stopped me mid-sentence and said, “You need to stop reading this book!”

But I kept reading; and it was a good thing that I did. Because what is the one foundational truth about Christianity that never changes?

It never ends with death.

There was hope in this book – I just had to be patient and wait for it.

And I believe there is hope in the Church – whatever it might look like in the future.

This book got me thinking about something that I often forget to shine light on, especially when I get caught up in the busyness of the day to day life of church leadership: I believe in the Church. I believe in the Church as an institution and I believe in this church that called me as pastor and teacher five years ago, a church that I love, a church that is changing lives.

The first scripture that we heard this morning is a letter written to the church in Ephesus sometime in the first century. More than that, however, it is a prayer; it is a prayer written by someone who, like me, loved and believed in the Church. It was written by someone who knew that the Church was not perfect, but who believed that, by the grace of God, the Church would find unity, wholeness and strength. It can be read as a prayer for the Church of the past, the Church of the present and the Church of the future.

And so it got me thinking: What is my prayer for the Church?

I spend my days working for the Church and praying for the people in my Church, but how often do I actually pray for the Church itself?

So that is what I am going to do today. I am going to put to words something that is in my heart; I am going to pray for a Church that I love, a Church that I believe in and a Church that is changing lives. I am not only praying for our church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, but also for the Church as an institution throughout the country and around the world; a Church that came into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a Church that generations upon generations have been commissioned to protect, sustain and grow; a Church that, time and time again, has proven to us that love always wins.

I pray that the church is a space that is safe for all people to come and gather. I pray that, wherever someone is on their journey through life, they are able to retreat from the craziness of life in the sacredness of worship, service and learning. I pray that the Church is a space where conflict can lead to transformation, darkness can lead to light and cries can lead to answered prayers.

I pray that the church is a place where families can come and be together. I pray that everyone in your family feels comfortable and loved in this building and by the people who are in it. I pray that coming to worship and being active and involved in the community will become a part of your family’s regular routine, something you are proud to be a part of.

I pray that the church will facilitate worship that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to everyone who walks into our sanctuary, whether they are old or young, new in their faith journey or walking along a worn-down path.

I pray that the church is a place where we all learn how to be humble and kind, where we learn how to love unconditionally and where we practice reconciliation.

I pray that the church is both a space and a community where people can find joy. I pray that we will see the Holy Spirit alive and at work both in our tears and in our laughter, in our words and in our silences.

I pray that the church is a place where people can make friends that become their family; that everyone shares in one another’s joys and heartaches, challenges and successes. I pray that we are always rooting for one another, even if we do not necessarily agree with one another.

I pray that the church can help people find balance in their lives. I pray that, through worship, learning and service, everyone is able to find perspective, recharge themselves when they are feeling depleted and know that they are never alone.

I pray that, within the Church, people see tangible and outward signs of an inward and unexplainable grace.

I pray that the church is a supportive atmosphere where your questions, fears and doubts will not discourage you, but inspire you. I pray that you will feel the courage to step outside of your comfort zones and grow in your faith. I pray that you will learn from others and allow others to learn from you.

I pray that the church will be a place where you can share your gifts; for these are not just hobbies that you do to pass the time, but blessed ministries that God has called you into. These are ways that you can care for other people.

I pray that the church allows, enables and encourages you to have a direct and personal relationship with a God; a relationship where you ask questions, wrestle with scripture and share real difficulties that you are experiencing.

I pray that when you come to church, you will know, without a doubt, that you are undeniably and unconditionally loved by God.

I pray that the church will change your life.

Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke:

You are witnesses of these things.

This was Jesus’ final prayer before he ascended into heaven, a prayer not only for those who were with him that day, but also for us, today. You are witnesses of these things – we are witnesses of these things; we are witnesses not only to what God did in the time and space of Jesus’ life, but also to what God is doing in our lives today. We are witnesses to what God is doing in this church; we are part of this Christian story that is still being written. We are the disciples of our generation, called to care for the Church and spread the Good News of God’s love in this world.

I pray that we bear witness to Jesus’ prayer for us in our words, in our actions and in the imprint that we leave on this earth.

Beyond Resistance ended with case studies; stories of churches and postmodern communities of faith that are living and thriving. As I read these case studies, I could not help but think about our church and the life and vitality that we are uncovering every day. And so today I leave you with this charge: Pray for this church. Pray for the Church around the world. Pray that doors will be opened, differences will be embraced and lives will be changed.

These and all our prayers, I offer in the name of the one who creates us, redeems us and sustains us; who conquers death, resists oppression and demands justice; whose grace always appears in the most unexpected ways and places, whose light always shines and whose love always wins.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

A Faithful Legacy

Happy Tuesday morning!  Here is Sunday’s sermon.  I referenced Kathie Lee Gifford’s tribute to Frank, which you can find here if you haven’t heard the whole thing.  I strongly encourage watching it!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 16, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-20

A Faithful Legacy

Did anyone happen to see Kathie Lee Gifford’s tribute to her late husband on her first day back to work this week?

As many of you may know, former NFL player and Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford passed away suddenly two weeks ago at his home in Connecticut. Almost every type of news outlet I follow picked up this story and paid tribute to Gifford. They paid tribute to his athletic abilities, to his well-respected career, to his success in broadcasting and to his work with the Special Olympics. The tributes, Kathie Lee said when we returned to the Today Show on Tuesday, were “extraordinary.”

But those were not the things that Kathie Lee wanted to talk about when she paid tribute to him on national television. Do you know what she talked about? His faith.

Kathie Lee said that we all knew the “public” Frank – the football player, the hall of famer, the Emmy-award recipient, etc. etc. But she wanted to share something about the man that she knew, about the “private” Frank that most people did not get to see. She spoke of his great faith, reflecting that he was the happiest, most contest-est person at this point in his life. She talked about how his upbringing shaped that faith. Born into nothing in the Depression, sometimes with no food to eat or clothes to wear, the Gifford family was grateful for all that they had, even when it was not much. They diligently found a church every time they moved to a new community and worshipped together as a family. “They had nothing,” Kathie Lee said, “But they had their faith.”

Even if you did not follow the “public” Frank’s life and career, as Kathie Lee spoke with tears in her eyes, with a smile on her face and with visible hope in her heart, you could not help but be grateful for the legacy of the “private” Frank, for his faith. You could not help but reflect on that ways that you, too, could live your life in a way so that one day you would leave that same legacy behind. It was clear by the number of my friends and by the news outlets that shared this touching tribute that many others felt the same way.

I could not get Kathie Lee’s tribute out of my head when I started reading over this passage from Ephesians.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. {Ephesians 6:10}

Frank Gifford was a phenomenal athlete and a very talented broadcaster, but those were not the things that gave him strength, hope, courage, healing and purpose. His faith is what gave him strength, hope, courage, healing and purpose.

You see, it does not matter if you have money, fame or some sort of high social standing. I suppose it might be nice; but that is not what is going to sustain you throughout your entire life. Your faith is what is going to sustain you throughout your entire life. God has the power to do what no money or status could ever do. God walks with you through every step and every different stage of your journey through life. God shines a light in the darkest of places. God breaks down barriers that we, as human beings, have put up around us. God infuses peace in the midst of war. God gives us strength from within, even in those moments when we feel weak, broken and hopeless.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. {Ephesians 6:10}

Frank Gifford did not need the things that made him famous to give his life meaning and we do not either. We do not need to be football stars or broadcasting legends. We do not have to have big houses or fancy cars. We do not have to fill our schedules with every activity that comes along. We do not have to own every fancy and expensive gadget out there. And we do not have to create some sort of perfect image for the rest of the world to see.

We do, however, need our faith.

Kathie Lee said that, “[Frank’s] world got smaller as his God got bigger.”

Think about that for a second. As he let God further and further into his life and into his heart, he realized that he did not need the “stuff” that the world tells us we need to be strong. He just needed God.

That is what we need. We do not need the “stuff” around us to stand strong in this world. We need God. We need to use God’s strength to make us strong. We need to “put on the whole armor of God,” as the scripture says, so that we are able to stand strong in this imperfect and broken world.

The world can be one hell of a challenging place to live in. But this scripture calls us to “fasten the belt of truth around your waist,” to “put on the breastplate of righteousness” and to put on a pair of shoes that “will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” {Ephesians 6:14-14}

(And somehow I do not think Paul was talking about cute heels.)

We can make this world a better place, but we are not going to do it with fame, prestige and material possessions. We are going to do it with our words, with our steps and with our actions. We are going to do it with our faith and we are going to do it with the help of God.

Paul wrote:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power of this present darkness. {Ephesians 6:12}

I would argue that our struggles today are very similar. Every day we are up against a world driven by violence, consumerism and hostility. We see news reports of wars, shootings and tragedies. Our political campaigns are driven by negative marketing. The internet facilitates a medium for anonymous hatred to be spread.

This is the world that we are up against, but this does not need to be the world that defines us. Our faith is what should define us. In a world filled with hatred, we can speak with love. In a world filled with violence, we can act with peace. In a world filled with darkness, we can shine a light for all to see. In a world wrought with hopelessness, we can pray for God’s hope to fill our hearts and the hearts of everyone who is struggling.

Kathie Lee talked about a trip to the Holy Land that she and Frank took several years ago and how they visited the Valley of Elah were David slayed the giant, Goliath. She said that their tour guide commented that the miracle of this story was not that David slayed the giant, but that David put his trust in a living God – and that was all that he needed to win that battle.
We need to put our trust in that same living God.

We need to put our trust in that same living God so that we can rise up against the darkness in this hurting and broken world. We need to put our trust in that same living God so that we can be strengthened in our lives and so that our lives can have purpose. We need to put our trust in that same living God that washed over us with the waters of baptism so that we can be cleansed and redeemed every single day. We need to put our trust in that same living God so that we can live out the Gospel and continue writing the Christian story.

Paul says that we do not need to do this alone.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. {Ephesians 6:18, NRSV}

We all have a spirit within us that will help us strength our faith and put our trust in a living God.

It is already there. Use it. Let that define your life. Let that create your legacy.

Let your legacy be strong. Let your legacy be meaningful. Let your legacy be faithful.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.