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.

I Believe That We Can

Hi friends! As we get closer to the election, I thought it was important to name the political tension, but also hold in light the fact that everyone is in different places right now. Back in 2016, I thought preaching through that election was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the tension we feel today. It is SO hard. But I believe God is in the business of doing hard things! So we can do this – together.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 11, 2020

Philippians 4:1-9

I Believe That We Can

I used to be a very predictable Saturday night sermon writer.  For better or for worse, people knew, that if they drove past the church at any given point on a Saturday evening, my car would be parked right outside the office door and I would be inside trying to decide what the next day’s message would be.

I know this approach made some people in the church nervous, although I always said Saturday night was better than Sunday morning.  But the thing is – I want to be a relevant preacher.  I want to share a message on a Sunday morning that is made for that moment in time, for the specific congregation I am speaking to.  And so very often I draw on thoughts and experiences that I have later in the week – sometimes even Saturday night – in my reflection of the Sunday morning scripture so that message is most relevant to that moment.

My preferred method of sermon writing is a little problematic right now.  First of all, I have small children and so sleep on a Saturday night is not necessarily a guarantee at this stage of my life, let alone a solid and quiet block of time where I can sit down and write.  Second of all, we are in the middle of a political climate and an election season that is tumultuous and, quite frankly, just awful.  So relevant preaching is complicated.

When it comes to talking about politics, I have, at various points in time throughout my ministry, been accused of saying too much, reprimanded for not saying enough and praised for attempting to remain neutral.  These are very often three different responses to the exact same thing, which has kind of taught me two things:  1. I will never please everyone – that is just not possible.  2. People are in very different places when it comes, not only to what they believe, but also what they want out of their church experience.  Some people want to come to church and talk about political issues and how they relate to their faith and some people just want a safe space where they come and a take a break from the political climate of the world.

To be clear, I do not think either desire or longing is wrong – but it does make it challenging to preach in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to everyone; it makes doing church really hard in this particular moment in time.

But I always remind myself that God is in the business of doing hard things.

I say this as a way of, like Bill and Wendy Cute said when they led prayers the day after the presidential debate two weeks ago, naming the political elephant in the room.  The political climate of our country is on everyone’s hearts and minds right now.  And so just know that I am wrestling with these issues as much as you all are right now.  In many ways, it hurts to see where we are and wonder how we got here.  But I believe, as people of faith and members of this beloved church in the village who stand on various places of the political spectrum, that we can do the hard work that is required to come together and proclaim a message of love and unity despite the seemingly impossible circumstance of the world we are living in.  I believe that we can find common ground and have hard, but necessary conversations with kindness and civility.  I believe that we can, like Paul says when we talks about Euodia and Syntyche (two women within the Philippian church experiencing some sort of dispute, though we do not know what, exactly), “be of the same mind in the Lord.”  I believe that we can be informed by our faith and by scripture, as Paul eludes to at the end of this passage, and allow God’s peace to dwell within us.  Though I am not entirely sure how it will work, I believe that we can speak a relevant message of hope amidst our own diversity within this political climate.

Yes we can.  I believe that we can.

So let’s talk about this morning’s scripture reading.

We are coming to the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  If you remember from previous weeks, Paul is writing this letter from prison; he is writing to a church he founded that he loves very much.  Despite the uncertainty of the circumstances in his own life, he has so much hope for this church in Philippi.

Paul’s words actually bring me a lot of hope right now.  Because if he believes God can do hard things and bring unity to this church in Philippi during a time of chaos and confusion, I believe God can and will do the same thing for us during these unparalleled times.

I was really struck by Paul’s words this week in verses six and seven of this passage:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]

I do not think Paul said these words lightly and I do not read them lightly today.  The thing is, it is really hard not to worry about things right now.  It is really hard to “let your requests be made known to God” – to just give it to God and then let go of it.  It is really hard to just “be in the same mind in the Lord” – I mean, who knows what Euodia and Syntyche were disagreeing about, but if it was half as complicated as the political issues that surround us right now, then we know it could not have been as simple as just agreeing to disagree.  It is really hard to trust that God’s peace will “guard your hearts and minds” amidst this painful and stressful turmoil that surrounds us.

But the other option is to be consumed by the pain and the stress and the turmoil and that is not something that I want for any of us.  Because our faith offers us a promise of something more, something better.  In creation, God made order out of chaos.  Through Christ, God brought light into the darkness.  And so yes, things are hard right now, but that does not mean God has abandoned us, that just means that we have to work that much harder to not only believe in God’s promises, but also to proclaim the Good News that Jesus taught.

I want to offer you two words of encouragement in this scripture.  The first comes from verse four:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[2]

The Passion Translation, which is a translation of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs, translates this passage the following way:

Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life.  Let joy overflow, for you are united with the Anointed One![3]

This is not easy to do amidst the pandemic, the political climate or anything else that has come our way this year.  It is hard to be cheerful when there is so much disappointment, uncertainty and anxiety all around.  But I want to remind you that Paul is writing these words from prison; he is in a season of his life where he is being persecuted because of his faith and yet he is standing firm in that faith and rejoicing in the God of creating, redeeming and sustaining grace.

I implore all of us to do the same.

The second word of encouragement comes from verse eight:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, what is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.[4]

Let’s look at how this is translated in the Passion translation:

So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.  And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.[5]

In other words, the way we live our lives matters, now more than ever.  We need to think about how our words affect others, the consequences of our actions and how we will glorify God.  We have to be kind and show mercy and live our lives with honor and truth.

And here’s the thing – I do not have any easy answers or a clear timeline of when things will get better.  But I believe that God is with us.  I believe, like Paul says in this passage, that, “the Lord is near.”  I believe that we can cast our worries on God, because God has planted us firmly within the foundation of this faith which cannot be shaken and which will carry us safely to the other side.

So today I invite you to remember our two pieces of encouragement from this scripture.  First of all, rejoice in the Lord always!  Celebrate this season of life, as challenging as it is.  And second of all, put the Gospel into motion in your thoughts, in your words and in your actions.

And then I believe that we can have difficult and challenging conversations.  I believe that we can find unity.  I believe that we can overcome starkly contrasted differences.  I believe that we can feel God’s peace during the tumultuous times.  I believe that we can do hard things.  I believe, like Paul says, “the God of peace will be with you.”

My beloved friends – I believe that we can.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 4:6-7, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:4, TPT
[4] Philippian 4:8, NRSV
[5] Philippians 4:8, TPT

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We Can Know Christ And The Power Of His Resurrection

Hi friends!

It definitely felt strange to be preparing the altar for World Communion Sunday knowing that people would only see it through our livestream, but also powerful knowing that everyone was preparing their own tables at home.  We continued through Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our service and talked about what it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and how we can continue to do this during these unprecedented times.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 4, 2020

Philippians 3:4b-14

We Can Know Christ And The Power Of His Resurrection

I have, like I am guessing many of you all have, as well, been on information overload this week.

Between the chaos of the presidential debate, reports of fires continuing to rage out west and, of course, news of the President and First Lady’s covid diagnoses overnight Thursday in Friday, I have to admit, I sat down to write my sermon and found myself a little at a loss of words.  In fact, my sister texted me on Friday morning and asked what I thought of everything and my response was, “I didn’t realize Hope Hicks was younger than me,” because that was about all I could process at that point.

For better or for worse, I had to make a conscious decision to step away from the news at various points throughout the week.  I spent time with my family, painted the trim in my living room and poured myself into my work, finalizing the stewardship packets, putting together a timeline for the bazaar and filming a video with Harrison for this week’s Church School lesson about World Communion Sunday.

I do think that, to some extent, sometimes it is okay to be a little uninformed for the sake of your mental health.  The time I spent away from the news and social media this week was restorative for me; it allowed me to come back and process things with a clearer mind and a stronger heart.  In fact, it allowed me to lead prayers on Friday evening and be a little more politically candid than I usually am, addressing the President and First Lady’s covid diagnoses and my complex feelings on the matter.

My time away from the news, however restorative it was, did not change the fact that we are living in tumultuous times.  Chaos surrounds us pretty much constantly.  We are very unclear about what the future holds, both short term and long term.  So much has been taken away from us.

And yet, I found hope in this passage.  Because as I read Paul’s words, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection,” I realized that this is something that cannot be taken away from us.

Nothing can take away our ability to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  Not the pandemic.  Not political divisiveness.  Not the ramifications of having our top political leaders diagnosed with covid-19.  Not blazing wildfires or the evils of systemic racism or the complicated task it has been to re-open schools.

In the midst of the chaos of this current world, we can still know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  This cannot and will not be taken from us.

And I believe this is something that can change the trajectory of where we are and where we are going.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can make order out of the chaos of the world.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can transform hearts and minds and can bring much-needed reconciliation to this world.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can proclaim the radical truth of love and justice and can offer hope – real hope – to a world that is so broken right now.

I, too, want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, because, these days, this is the only thing that reassures me that this is all going to be okay.  These days knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is the only thing that gives me hope that we will find ourselves on the other side of the pain and confusion and anxiety we are feeling right now.

Now more than ever, we – we as individuals and we as a community of faith – need to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  And we need to let this truth and this promise and this love guide our words, our actions and the hope we hold onto.

When we first “shut down” back in March (and I use the phrase “shut down” pretty loosely, because we all know we closed our building, not our church), I was not really concerned about the spiritual health of our church, because one of the important components of it – the ability to hear and reflect on scripture and then pray together – was something that we could very easily bring online.  The transition was seamless (mostly).  Despite the fact that we could not physically be together, we still had ways – through our livestreams on Facebook, our worship videos later uploaded to YouTube and physically mailing copies of the week’s scripture, sermon and prayer to people without access to services online – to immerse ourselves in the words of scripture and then think about what they mean in our lives today.

We have seen this over and over again in our nightly prayer meetings as members of our own community – with no formal theological training – have logged onto Facebook, pressed “go live” and offered beautiful and powerful and meaningful reflections on scripture and their faith.  We have, amidst very challenging circumstances, used scripture and prayer to get to know Christ on a deeper level and strengthen our faith.

Here’s the thing – there are a lot of things that we cannot plan for right now.  Too much is outside of our control; much has been taken from us and more might still be taken from us in the future.

But no one can take away our ability to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  No one can take away the journey of faith that lies in front of us and our ability to take the first step on that journey.

I really like what Paul says at the end of this passage, “Beloved … this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  These words remind me that there is only one way to go right now and that is forward.  In times such as these, we have no choice but to forge ahead.  And, you know what?  We can forge ahead with hope or we can do so despondent and miserable, but I, for one, think hope will carry us a lot further than any other alternative will.

We have to look forward.

As Christians, we have to look forward to the hope in resurrection and what that means for our lives here, on earth.  We have to believe that this is not how our story ends; not with a pandemic and injustice and political divisiveness, but with healing, justice and unity.  We have to believe that the chaos of the current world is only a part of our history; one that we will certainly learn from and that will shape our future, but also one that we will emerge from stronger and with a deeper understanding of who Christ is and what his resurrection means.

Paul says that “[he presses] on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  I do think that right now we have to ask ourselves, what is our goal?  As Christians, what do we hope to accomplish during this time?  When we look back on this moment in our history, in this poignant chapter of our faith that we are writing in this generation, what do we want to see?

Friends, to know Christ is to understand a faith that is radical and transformative enough to overcome the chaos of the current world.  And this is something that we can control; this is something we can do, despite any kind of social distancing or quarantine measures that are and might be put into place.  Nothing and no one can take away our ability to read and reflect on scripture, pray, offer support to our siblings in Christ and deepen our faith.

This is an opportunity; an opportunity for us to make a commitment to get to know Christ.  This is an opportunity to walk away from the distractions of the material world and really focus on clothing yourself in the Gospel and walking in the light of God.  This is an opportunity to begin to understand what resurrection means and why it is so life changing and what it can do for us, as the Body of Christ – the Church – as we seek to share it with a world that so desperately needs hope and healing right now.

May we all seek to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And through the turmoil of our current world, may this knowledge help us shine light, demonstrate love and uncover grace in the most unexpected ways and places.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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