To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

Hi friends! It felt great to be back behind the pulpit today. I’ve missed chatting with everyone in the comments and worshiping together in this strange, but grace-filled space.

Here is my sermon and also the video from worship.  Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2021

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel

I want to start off this morning by thanking everyone who tended to worship so carefully and gracefully in my absence the last two weeks.  It was great to step away, even though I did not go anywhere, because I had not really taken time since the pandemic began to do that.  I was joking with the Executive Board that, when the pandemic started, I stopped taking days off and started working a lot at night because things were changing so quickly and it seemed necessary at the time.  But here we are, nearly 11 months later, and I realized that was not necessarily a sustainable pace to maintain.  So it felt really good to stop and recharge, reflect and reset.

One of the best things that I did for myself during my two weeks off was to (and I realize how ironic it is that I am saying this while live on Facebook) take Facebook off my phone.

Here’s the thing:  I love Facebook, I joined when I was a sophomore in college.  It allows me to stay in touch with my family and friends, to share updates about my own life and, of course, to engage in a really special kind of ministry.  My gratitude towards Facebook and what it allowed (and continues to allow) us, as a community, to do throughout the pandemic, knows no bounds.  We were able to swiftly and pretty seamlessly move worship online and we created a beautiful community over in our Facebook group; through Facebook, we have prayed together and we have worshiped together and we have served together and we have problem-solved together and we have really gotten to know one another better together.

And yet, I needed to take a break.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but, for me, despite all of the good things and the potential for good things, Facebook felt like it had become a really negative place.  I know a lot of this had to do with the election and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, but it just felt as though every time I opened the app on my phone or logged in on my computer, I was inundated with intense division and conflict.

And it was one thing to watch strangers argue with one another – or even people I know arguing with people that I do not know.  But it was a completely different thing to see people I know and love arguing with one another.  As a pastor of a very diverse congregation, it weighed heavy on my heart to see and know that we were – are – so divided.  And the fact that we could not physically come together and talk about our differences face to face or even just put them aside to worship together, serve together and break bread together made it worse.  I wondered what it would be like when we were finally able to come back together; would we be able to find unity or had this virtual platform created too much division?

I was thinking about my currently complicated relationship with Facebook when I was reflecting on this week’s scripture reading from First Corinthians, particularly the part where Paul says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law.”[1]  Now, the point of these words is to highlight the fact that Paul is something of a chameleon; he is able to adapt to his surroundings and circumstances in ministry and really be who the people around him need him to be.  This is one of the reasons Paul’s voice changes in his different letters.

That being said, these words actually brought me a lot of comfort and encouragement in specifically reading them now because they reminded me that, from the very beginning, there was so much diversity within our faith.  Paul spoke in different “voices” because he was evangelizing – he was bringing the message of Jesus – to such vastly different people and places.  The Christian Church was built on this foundation of different opinions and values and traditions and lifestyles and beliefs.

This diversity has the powerful potential to be beautiful and to give our faith great depth and opportunities.  But it also has the equally powerful potential to divide us in ways that would not only be devastating to our church, but to the Gospel we are called to proclaim.

Let’s talk about this scripture for a minute.  1 Corinthians is a letter; it is a letter written by Paul in 54 CE to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it housed an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population.  The church that Paul founded was predominantly gentile, although in many ways it did mirror the diversity of the rest of the city.  In other words, just because most of the congregation was gentile did not mean that they all saw eye to eye on everything.

It was likely that people were separated into different parts of the city; that they had small, more intimate home churches (we all know a thing or two about that right now), but then eventually they did come together as an ekklesia, which is a Greek word that means assembly or congregation, to share a meal or to worship together.

As you can imagine, when a community with that kind of diversity comes together, there is a very real potential that disputes can happen and conflicts will arise.  In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to reports that he was hearing about disputes within the congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if hearing about these disputes weighed heavy on Paul’s heart the way it does on mine when I see people that I know, members of our congregation, quarreling about different things.  What’s funny about Corinth – a bustling urban center – is that, in many ways, it reminds me of our little church in the village in our right to farm community.  We have different political, economic, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds.  We do not always see things the same way; we have different priorities for ourselves and for our families.

So when Paul says that he becomes a Jew when he is with Jews and under the law when he is with someone under the law, etc. etc. it resonates with me because I do find myself using different voices depending on the context of the conversation I am having.

I think that is why the conflicts and the division hurt so bad; because I see good in all of us in these different conversations, it is just difficult to bring them together.  And that is not to say I am not being genuine, rather I am trying to bring the Gospel into different contexts.

But this is nothing new.  Our diversity and our struggle to rise up above our differences is not something that is unique to our generation.  In fact, it is one of the reasons Jesus came in the first place, one of the reasons that we are in such desperate need of God’s grace.

My favorite part of this particular passage comes at the very end, verse 23, and it is where Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  Because this statement reminds me – it should remind all of us – why we do this in the first place.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are called to put that Gospel into action and transform people’s lives for the better.  We are called to not only be in relationship with God, but also encourage others in their own relationships with God and on their own faith journey.

Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always agree with one another.  Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always see things the same way.  Paul says he does this for the sake of the gospel, so that he may share in its blessings.  And he does this no matter where he is or who he is talking to.

I do think that part of our call as Christians is to find ways to create unity in the midst of diversity.  Part of our call as Christians is to find ways to share the blessings of the Gospel across those lines of division that are working on overdrive to try to pull us apart right now.

And I know that this is not as simple as saying that we all just need to “agree to disagree.”  I know there are fundamental differences at play, many of them involving basic human rights and I am not trying to gloss over them.

I am just trying to bring us together.

We have come out of a really hard election season – remember this is the first time I am preaching since the inauguration – we  are still living through a really divisive moment in our political history and, of course, we are constantly facing the added challenges (which is an understatement) that the pandemic brings.

But I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for unity.  It is a moment where we heed the call of scripture to share in the blessings of the Gospel.  It is a moment where we put that Gospel into action, not because we all agree with one another, but because this is who we are, as the Body of Christ.

Friends, it is great to be back.  In many ways, I do feel as though we are entering a new season in ministry.  Not only are we getting ready to begin Lent (not this week, but next!), but we are also starting to think about, what is the church going to look like the world starts to re-open again?  How are we going to re-gather safely?  How are we going to continue to nurture our virtual spaces?  How will we re-imagine the celebration of our 300th anniversary in the meantime?  How will we leave an imprint of the Gospel on our town and our surrounding communities so that people not only know that we are here, but what we are all about and might be inspired to join us, as well and begin their own journey of faith.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

And we have to do it together.

So let us, like Paul says, work together for the sake of the Gospel so that we might share in its blessings.  Let us do what we are being called to do, both as individual Christians, but also as a church.

And may our voices – though they might be different – come together and share this Good News.

Because it is Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, NRSV

Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

In addition to it being the First Sunday of Advent, we kicked off our 300th Anniversary celebration on Sunday, complete with confetti and the Fire Department hanging a “300 Years” banner across the top of the building.  The video from the livestream isn’t the best – we had all sorts of internet problems on Sunday, but we did the best we could!

A couple of videos this week – the regular worship video, a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens that we put together and some footage of the fire department hanging our banner.

Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 29, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

I have to admit, I had a little bit of a hard time psyching myself up for this Sunday.

The thing is, I have tried to have a pretty good attitude about missing out on things this year because of the pandemic; but so much of Christmas is – and has always been – wrapped up in church for me.  And so it was hard to imagine not kicking off the Advent season by piling into the church building, singing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and parading all of the greens into the sanctuary for our beloved Hanging of the Greens worship service.

But two things happened this week that gave me some perspective.

The first is that I started to plan and piece together our virtual Hanging of the Greens worship service, which was prerecorded and is scheduled to post at 10:30 this morning, at the conclusion of our livestream.  And it is so good; it is not necessarily the same as it has been in year’s past, but it came together in such a simple, yet powerful way.

Working on this service and seeing the final product come together proved to me, yet again, that God is just never finished; and that we can create beautiful and meaningful things, despite this time of distancing.

The second is the fact that, while today is the first Sunday of Advent, it is also the birthday of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  On this day, 299 years ago, the Rehoboth Congregational Church was incorporated. Today we officially kick off our 300th anniversary celebration.  Members of the 300th Anniversary Committee are in attendance this morning to reveal the 300th Anniversary logo.

And here’s the thing – our work continues.  Despite this pandemic and the chaos it has caused, our work continues.  Our work to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ continues.  Our work to shine God’s light into the world continues.  Our work to love people the way Christ loves us continues.  Our work to wait for the arrival of the Christ child continues.  Our work to believe that our cries for Emmanuel will be heard continues.  Our work to do church here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, continues.

Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth that “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  These are words that we so desperately need to hear today.  We need to be reminded that God is faithful.  We need to be reminded that by God we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.

And we need to rise up to this call, especially right now when the world so desperately needs to know what the fellowship of Jesus Christ is and how it can transform their lives.

Remember that Paul is writing to a Corinthian community that is deeply divided.  But he believes in the power of the Gospel.  He believes the Gospel can and will bring healing and wholeness amidst the turmoil this community is facing.  He believes the Gospel will move mountains and transform hearts.

I think the people who founded this church had those same hopes and dreams for this congregation.  I think they knew that this church could be the foundation that the Rehoboth community needed; that this church would be the foundation where faith, hope, outreach and love blossomed.  They knew that this church could conquer anything – even a global pandemic – and still refuse to let anything else but love win.

Paul says that not only has Jesus enriched the Corinthians, but that the testimony of Jesus is strengthened because of the Corinthians.  Isn’t that amazing to think about?  That not only can Jesus enrich us – that our lives can be strengthened by our relationship with Jesus – but that we, too can strengthen the testimony of Jesus.

Friends, we have as much of a role to play in sharing and strengthening the Gospel as Jesus’ disciples did; as the Corinthians did when Paul wrote them this letter; and as the founding members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ did on November 29, 1721.

And so we are ready.  We are ready to kick off this Advent season and begin our journey towards the manger, but we are also ready to kick off our 300th anniversary celebration so that we can celebrate the ways this congregation has strengthened the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the past 300 years and dream about the ways that we can continue to strengthen it in the future.  We are ready to showcase our congregation to the community, not as a way to boast about who we are, but as a way to boast about who God is.

The 300th celebration might not look like what we initially envisioned when we started meeting last year, but God is faithful.  And God is good.

So, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – our beloved Church in the Village – together, we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.  We give thanks for those who have come before us and we give thanks this moment in time – as strange as it is – where we can celebrate our deep history and wait with wonder to see what God has in store for us for the future.

Suffice it to say, I am psyched up now – and I hope you are too.  Friends, let us – together – begin our 300thAnniversary celebration on this first Sunday of Advent, in the year of the Lord, 2020.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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.