Faith Construction

Good afternoon!  Sorry for the delay in posting this week.  I have no other excuse other than I am two weeks away from my due date and we are busily getting ready for my maternity leave at church and the baby at home.  And holy cow, spring is in full swing and things are BUSY at church!  I think I have something going on every night this week – all good things, but I’ve been trying to keep track of everything and I keep thinking I’m going to miss something.

I won’t be preaching this weekend, so I won’t post another sermon until Memorial Day weekend.  Our Children’s Day & Choir Sunday is this Sunday, so the children are leading worship and we have some special music planned.  We’re looking forward to a great celebration with the theme, It Takes A (Church In The) Village!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:4-10

Faith Construction

Has anyone driven across the Tappen Zee Bridge lately? They are building a new one; construction began in 2013 and the project – which is estimated to cost $3.9 billion – should be completed in April 2018.

Bruce and I have taken a few trips down to Pennsylvania in the last year or so and every time we make the trip, we get almost geekily excited to see the progress that has been made on the bridge since we saw it last. I do not know about the rest of you, but bridge construction has always fascinated me. I understand it is an engineering process but, from my background of theology and church, it just seems like only a series of divine miracles could construct something so sturdy over such a large body of water.

There is just something about construction – any kind of construction – that seems so daunting to me. Think about it: You start with materials that, individually, really do not look like much or have all that much function, and yet somehow, by the end of the process you have something not only functional, but, most of the time, sturdy as well.

My parents had a sunroom put on their house a few years ago and I remember sitting and watching their contractor – who is a good friend of ours – work one afternoon. Eventually I looked at him and said, “So you just took a bunch of wood and put it together and made a whole new room on their house, didn’t you?”

He looked perplexed by, what I can only imagine from his perspective was one of the stupidest questions he had ever heard, and said, “Well, yeah, that’s the idea.”

But, again, not knowing how to do it myself, I really am just fascinated when I observe the construction process! It is methodical, it is intentional, it is creative, it is adaptable, it is collaborative and it is visionary.

Which is why the metaphor used in this morning’s scripture has always been so compelling to me.

This morning’s reading comes from First Peter, which is a letter written during the first century addressed to various churches facing religious persecution. The author of the letter draws from the Prophet Isaiah, who said:

thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’[1]

The author of this letter makes a promise to the persecuted Christians he is writing to; a promise that their sacrifices are not being made in vain. He assures them that Jesus Christ, even though he was rejected, is a living stone; and, like Isaiah prophesied, that living stone is tested, precious and a sure foundation. He tells the people that they are building something on this foundation; something not only functional and sturdy, but life changing, as well.

And even more than that, the author tells these struggling churches that they, too, are living stones; they are called to allow God to build them into this church – into this “spiritual house” – where they can offer themselves to God. It is here in this church, the author says, that they can gather together, learn and grow in their faith and invite others into the narrative of the Gospel.

This is not a passive religious experience. The author is describing the difference between attending a church and being a church. “Now you are God’s people,” the author writes. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[2] Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone and the sure foundation of our faith, but we – we, the persecuted Christians who first read these words 2,000 years ago and we, those of us reading them today – are not only building the church, but we are the pieces of the church as it is built, as well.

I think this is where the engineering process stops and the series of divine miracles begin.

So what does this mean for us? As a church, we are not necessarily building something out of nothing at the moment. We are part of the Christian faith that has been around for 2,000 years, a protestant tradition that has been around for almost 500 years, a denomination that was formed 60 years ago and a church that was incorporated nearly 300 years ago. The situation we face today is different than the Christians this letter was first written to.

But I would argue that there is still very much a sense of urgency to the work that needs to be done in our generation. We live in an increasingly secular society; we, especially, feel this in New England, where we yield some of the lowest percentages of church attendance countrywide at 10%-15%. It is not easy to be a Christian in a world where the culture rejects the very notion that faith is something that should be valued. Being part of a church is no longer something that necessarily fits easily into the routine of our lives. We have to fight hard to make church “work” in our schedule and, even then, sometimes we struggle to find balance.

This is why I think it is imperative for all of us to keep in mind that this scripture is not just talking about building the institutional church; it is also referring to the more widespread notion of building the Church universal and sharing our faith with the world.

I believe the authors identifies us as living stones not simply so we can walk into a church and be members, but so that we can nurture our own personal faith, as well.

Bruce and I have talked about this a lot recently, especially as we think about our growing family and how we can be intentional about building a life, as a family, on the foundation of our faith. We know it will not be easy. We see the struggle people of all generations and stages of life have to find balance and are under no illusion that we are somehow immune to it just because I happen to be a pastor.

But I think there are some things we can do – things all of us can do – to try. It might not necessarily look like “church” the way is has over the past 100 years, but it can and will be what God is calling us to do, today.

I believe the most important thing the author says in this passage is this:

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house … to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[3]

I do not think the author is talking about elaborate and bizarre ritual sacrifices; I believe the author is reminding us to ask ourselves the question, “Will this bring glory to God?” as we set out to live each day.

Now, will this seem like a silly question when we are doing some of the more mundane tasks in life, like shopping for groceries or pumping gas or cleaning the house? Maybe, but I would also argue that these activities create a sense of home and stability in our lives. And maybe if we approach everything we do – even the seemingly mundane stuff – with this mindset and by asking the question, will this bring glory to God and how, we may find a better sense of balance in our lives.

It starts with the basics. Think about it: When my parents set out to build their sunroom, they did not start by picking out light fixtures and buying furniture and accessories; they started with the basic structure.

And I think as we all seek to live out our faith, to be the church of the 21st century and to continue to write this Christian story, we need to go back to the basics, as well. We need to make a commitment to break bread with our family and friends, find time for personal prayer and devotion, get involved at the church and give back to the community. We need to think about how the different pieces of our lives bring glory to God, in ways both big and small. This is how we will strengthen the foundation of our lives and our faith so it is sturdy enough to withstand everything else we put on top of it.

And I know this is not easy. People are busy, the world is crazy and faith is not exactly mainstream, these days. But here is something I do know about the building and construction process – it is adaptable.

When I was getting ready for my junior year of college, I asked my dad if he could build me a loft for my bed so my roommate and I could maximize our space a little bit more. He drew up some plans and build the loft according to them, but was not satisfied with how sturdy it was when he finished. I remember him saying, “You know, if this was scenery, I would just screw it into the stage to secure it,” and then shrugged, grabbed his drill, screwed the whole thing through the carpet and into the floor of my dorm and said, “There we go!”

We have to be adaptable in today’s world. If we truly want to build our lives on the foundation of our faith, we need to set attainable goals for ourselves, goals that bear in mind the craziness of the world we are living in today and set us up to succeed. For example, it might not be possible to have family dinners every night, but it might be possible to schedule them three or four nights a week. It might not be possible to completely disconnect from technology, but it might be possible to do this for an hour or two every day. It might not be possible to come to church every week, but it might be possible to come twice a month. It might not be possible to join a committee or take on a role at the church that requires hours of commitments every month, but it might be possible to participate in a few projects every year. Give yourselves some grace as you seek to grow in your faith in this crazy world.

I do not think that being the living stones of our faith is as complicated a process as building a nearly-$4 billion bridge; I think it starts at home, supported by our church family and surrounded by a God who is with us always.

So may we all be blessed as we embrace who we are as living stones, building this faith that sustains our lives and truly makes this world a better place. And may we, too, be assured, that our efforts are not being made in vain. May we always remember that we do have to always necessarily understand the process; that divine miracles are happening all around us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 28:16, NRSV
[2] 1 Peter 2:9-10, NRSV
[3] 1 Peter 2:5, NRSV

Building Something With Purpose

Well, it’s taken me a little over a month into the year to mention Fixer Upper in a sermon.  Let’s be honest – for me, that’s pretty good!  Our Women’s Book Club is actually reading The Magnolia Story for our meeting next week – has anyone else read it?

Someone came up to me after church and commented on how everything in the worship service gelled together really well (scripture, sermon, children’s sermon, music, liturgy).  I responded with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm at the time, but inside I was doing a little jig – I definitely try make sure worship is cohesive and flows like that, but some weeks are better than others!  Nice to know we made it work this week …

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Building Something With Purpose

My love of the television show, Fixer Upper, has been well documented here at church. Some might call it obsessive, but I actually do have some concrete – and I would argue, relevant – reasons for loving this show so much.

(And I really do have a point, so bear with me for a moment and hear me out!)

FIVE REASONS I LOVE FIXER UPPER

  1. I love pretty things.

There is a reason that I have painted and rearranged my office three times in the last six years, that I have a fixation with photography and that I usually put up more than one Christmas tree. I love pretty things; I love looking at pretty things and I love being surrounded by pretty things. And, let’s face it, this show is pretty much chock-full of pretty things, whether you are looking at architecture, design or Joanna’s fashion.

  1. I love a good before and after.

This show loves the shock value of an incredible makeover and week after week, the results are spectacular.

  1. I love how Chip & Joanna Gaines ground their family in faith.

I love that, as a couple, they are unapologetic about their faith, but also not exploitative, either. They have a set of values they believe in, and this comes through as they design spaces meant for families and friends to gather, break bread together and be in real and authentic community.

  1. I love Chip’s antics.

While there are times when I am watching the show and think to myself, “Gee, I’m glad Bruce has taken a bet to eat a cockroach,” (which. actually. happened.), but I appreciate Chip’s sense of humor and zest for life.

  1. I love that, every episode, they build something with purpose.

There is a reason behind every decision the Gaines’ make when they are working on a house, whether those decisions are related to safety, budget, construction or design. Everything they do has a specific purpose; no part of the process is meaningless.

As I was thinking about our scripture from 1 Corinthians this week, particularly the comparison Paul makes to a skilled master builder laying a foundation and someone else building on top of it, I could not help but think of Fixer Upper. Because more often than not, they build and rebuild the fixer uppers on top of foundations that have already been poured. The aesthetics of the house may change, but the foundation of the home remains in tact.

Well, isn’t that what Paul is saying here? The churches we build and the Christians we become may look different from one another, but the foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ – always remains in tact.

This morning we pick up 1 Corinthians where we left off last week. In the scripture we read last week, Paul talked about divisions in the church; divisions related to allegiances that were forming with different religious teachers. And while, to some extent, Paul was still talking about this, he also went deeper in this passage to talk about why this sense of unity is so important.

Paul believed that churches needed to be unified in God in order for them to grow and thrive. And the reason for this, Paul said, was because Jesus had already laid the foundation of the Church. That part has already been done; the church needed, now, to build on top of that. Building on top of anything else would render a structure unstable and not strong enough.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ … [1]

Paul, of course, had a vested interest in this community. He planted the church in Corinth and obviously wanted it to succeed, but his words are powerfully spoken to more than this one church. These words speak to us, today, in our lives, in our church and in this Christian story that we are writing together.

We are building something in our lives. Every day, every decision we make, every journey we take creates something in our lives and in the story of our faith.

And so Paul’s words remind us that we have to be intentional about this process, we have to ask ourselves: What are we building? What are we building in our lives, in our faith and in our church?

Perhaps the harder question to ask might be this: What do we want to build? What is God calling us to build?

Every stage of life comes with new challenges, something new to build. Whether we are in school, growing careers, raising families, walking through a challenging medical crisis, understanding the nuances of empty nesting or learning how to accept care when we have always cared for others, we are building something, piece by piece.

And while we may not always get to control the circumstances surrounded what we are building, we do get to make some choices in the process. We figure out the “how”: How are we going to build this? Where do we start? What tools do we use?

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Leviticus, the third book of the bible, which is part of the narrative of Moses. This passage gives a really practical discourse on how we can live our lives as people of God. It offers simple, basic practices for us, as human beings, as we try to navigate this crazy world, build our lives and grow our faith. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t fraud others, don’t judge people unfairly, don’t profit from other people’s misfortunes, don’t hold hate in your heart and ultimately, as Jesus later said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is how we ought to live our lives; these are the tools we need to build our lives, our faith and our church. Every piece we add should hold basic principles of love, human decency and hospitality. This is what the bible tells us, over and over again; this is how we can and will build something meaningful and life changing in our lives.

And this is how we can and will build something meaningful and life changing in our church, as well.

What are we building at this church? What do we want to build? What is God calling us to build?

Here’s the thing: We are as much a part of this church’s story as it is a part of ours and I do not know about the rest of you, but I, for one, want to write a story that is worth telling in the years to come.

Paul called the people of Corinth to build their church off of the foundation that Christ had already poured and it seems to me that we must heed this call in our church, today. We must be intentional about what we are building, we must take care with every piece we set and we must build on the foundation Christ gave us us. We must ground ourselves into the life-changing truths of the gospel and be diligent about living that out, not only in our lives, but also within this community. We must build something here that is worthy of the glory of the God, of the Gospel that has been given to us and of the lives and ministries God is calling us into.

I said earlier that this scripture made me think of Fixer Upper and here’s why: Because when I think about the five reasons I love that show, they mirror some of the exact same things I love about the church.

FIVE REASONS I LOVE FIXER UPPER MY CHURCH

  1. I love pretty things.

I love the beautifully arranged flowers our Flower Committee puts together and the altarscapes and fabric installations I am able to do. I love my stole collection and the way we use color in worship to breathe life and purpose into a space. I love powerful music that resonates not only through the walls, but also through the very essence of my soul. I love the mouthwatering food everyone makes and the sweet Valentine’s Day cards our Church School made for several members of our church.

Here at this church, we create beauty. 

  1. I love a good before and after.

The church is about changing lives. And while there’s no giant portrait of us that gets pulled away to reveal our new and improved self every week, the shock value of the life-changing magic of the Gospel is every-present here in our worship, in our fellowship and in our mission work. As we do the hard work that is required of us to build this church, lives are being changed. And that is that Good News of Jesus Christ; that is resurrection in motion.

  1. I love how Chip & Joanna Gaines the church ground(s) their family its community in faith.

I love that this church gives individuals, couples and families a safe space to learn and grow in their faith. In today’s world it is not always easy to proclaim our faith outside of our walls; and while I would argue that, now more than ever it is important that we do that, this church gives people a safe space to be who they are and listen to who God is calling them to be. It gives people a place to learn about Christian values, ask questions, pray for others and hold one another accountable.

  1. I Chip’s our church’s antics.

We do not have a Chip Gaines running amok, but we do have choir members throwing their music, candles that won’t light during the prelude and communion trays discovered with leftover cups filled with moldy grape juice that were never thrown away and discovered a month (okay, two) later. Sometimes it seems like a comedy of errors around here, but the people around me are always reminding me that sometimes this is just what grace in motion looks like.

We learn at this church that it is okay to laugh and that we do not have to be perfect.

  1. I love that, every episode day, they we build something with purpose.

Every day, we are building something, with purpose, at this church. Whether we are shoveling snow or leading worship, there is a reason for everything that we do. If you come to this church and participate in one way or another, you are part of that. I would argue that there is not only a place for you at this church, but there is a purpose for you at this church, as well.

There are so many ways to participate in the life of this church and this scripture reminds us that as long as we are building on the foundation of Jesus Christ, we are building something that will practices resurrection and change people’s lives.

This church is a place where children are baptized, where people in need are cared for, where gifts are transformed into ministries, where prayers are lifted up and where people of all backgrounds come together to worship, serve and learn. This church is a place where breaking bread together is not only a sign of nourishment, but also friendship and covenant. This church is a place where the secular becomes sacred and the ordinary becomes holy. This church is a place we are building together.

So let us heed the call. Let us, like Paul said, according to the grace given to us, build something with purpose. Let us heed the call to build on the foundation Christ set for us – in our lives, in our faith and in this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

Remember: It takes a (church in the) village. And we are building that church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:11, NRSV

On Becoming Spiritual People

I had originally planned on preaching just out of the Psalms this weekend, but decided when I read the passage from 1 Corinthians that I really wanted to preach out of that and supplement with the Psalms.  I think the lesson of Paul’s words here – that we really all belong to God – ring true, now more than ever!

Here is my sermon from the weekend.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 12, 2017

Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9

On Becoming Spiritual People

On Wednesday night, as schools, businesses and organizations were announcing their closings for the following day, someone on one of my clergy forums posted about how excited they were for the upcoming snow day. Someone else replied that they would be excited, but the prospect of keeping their two children occupied without fighting all day already had them exhausted and the snow had not even started falling yet.

I am sure other parents of young children can commiserate. I know the scripture says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,”[1] but I would imagine that for parents of multiple small children some days it feels more like, “Where two or three are gathered on a snow day, they will start fighting.”

The truth is, sometimes we, as adults, do not do much better than children. Sure, we might be able to occupy ourselves during a blizzard without fighting, but we do not always get along with one another. Just like children, we often find ourselves at odds with the people around us, sometimes even with the people we love.

Being in community – whether it is here at the church, in our families, with our friends, at work, in our towns or within other organizations – is not easy. When conflicts arise, we try the best we can to be mature and use our ‘I’ statements to find some sort of resolution, but we are human beings living in a very imperfect world. When the rubber meets the road and tensions are running high, sometimes we are not much better than siblings squabbling on a snow day.

In our second scripture reading this morning (from 1 Corinthians), Paul did not talk to the Corinthian people as if they were grown adults, but addressed them as if they were those squabbling siblings. He said he was not speaking to the Corinthians as spiritual people, but as infants in Christ, who needed to be fed with milk and were not even ready to eat solid food.[2]

Ouch!

I mean, certainly we all have our moments when we are not as mature as we could have been, but think about it: As a church, if we were experiencing some sort of conflict, would we really want someone to come in to help us resolve it and basically put us in the same maturity category as the preschool Church School class?

It certainly was an effective way for Paul to make his point.

Paul had a history with this community in Corinth. He traveled there sometime around the year 51CE and spent about 18 months establishing and cultivating a church.[3] His goal was to build a flourishing Christian community, but, unfortunately, this community was full of people, human beings that also lived in a very imperfect world. There were differences among them, differences that often threatened to divide them. And as the people in Corinth tried to live and be in community, they realized just how challenging it actually was; not surprisingly, they experienced tension and conflict.

In this morning’s reading, Paul talked about alliances he heard were forming in Corinth:

For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?[4]

Essentially, communities within the community were emerging within the church; each with their own religious teacher that each group believed had superior wisdom and knowledge.

Paul had actually addressed the same thing earlier in the letter – in the first chapter of this book – when he wrote:

Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?[5]

A lot of this tension boiled down to the simple notion of everyone thinking they were right and anyone who believed differently was wrong. But Paul strongly urged the Corinthians not to put the human wisdom of their religious teachers over the divine wisdom that comes from being in a relationship with God. Keeping God at the center of the Corinthian community – not splitting off according to religious teachers – was going to give them spiritual strength and growth. “For we are God’s servants,” Paul said, “working together.”[6]

Paul’s use of this spiritual infancy metaphor is actually really intriguing to me because, as much as it sounds like it, I do not think Paul was trying to insult the Corinthians or act like he was somehow superior to them. I think Paul wanted the Corinthians to experience the fullness of God’s grace in a way that they could not when they were splitting off according to their human leaders.

Paul said there was more to our faith than the spiritual infancy where we all begin and where the Corinthians seemed to be stuck. He said that in order for the Corinthians to be spiritual people and not infants in Christ, they needed to look away from the things on earth that were threatening to divide them (these alliances to various religious teachers) and look instead to God, who could and would unite them.

Paul reminded the people in Corinth that religious teachers were servants of God, but they were not God. Yes, they played a crucial role in sharing God’s message and cultivating this community of faith, but God was still the one that should be the ultimate power and authority for Corinthian people.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.[7]

Paul was trying to impress upon the Corinthian people that spiritual growth and maturity would come from putting God at the center of their lives and their community. They needed to start there – with God – if they wanted their church to grow and thrive.

Now, as much as this letter is about a specific conflict Paul was attempting to resolve, I actually think his words go much deeper than that. I think Paul was talking about more than just reconciliation; he was talking about spiritual wholeness. At its core, this letter showed the Corinthians one of the ways they could grow in their faith from infants in Christ to spiritual people.

This is a wonderful lesson for all of us as today we seek to learn how to grow in our own faith. Far too often we look to earthly people, things and desires for authority in our lives and forget to look to God. Paul not only believed this – this ultimate focus on God – would bring unity to the church in Corinth, but spiritual wholeness to the individual people that made up the church.

And I strongly believe this can bring us spiritual wholeness as well. So often our lives are crazy, busy and out of our control, but Paul’s words remind us that regardless of what else may be going on, we all have the capacity within ourselves to be spiritual people, to experience the fullness of God’s love, light, grace and wisdom in our lives. But we have to remember to turn our focus on God. We have to center our lives around God. We have to wake up every day and make a commitment to live out the Gospel as we seek to strengthen our faith.

I wanted to read the psalm from the lectionary this morning because I think it gives us a really beautiful prompt on how we can live our lives as we seek to grow into spiritual people.

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.[8]

We need to walk in the law of the Lord.

This means that if we really want to grow as Christians, then we have to let go of the things on earth that often consume us and cling to God in a way that gives us life. Even when our lives are super distracting and making us crazy, we need to try that much harder to focus on our faith and live our lives for the glory of God. This means making time for prayer, reading the bible, coming to church, doing some sort of mission work, helping others and giving our time and our money. This means doing the sometimes hard work that God requires of us to not only live out our faith, but also to share that faith with others. This means holding ourselves accountable and always seeking to dig deeper into our faith.

There are a lot of things in this world and in our lives that are extraordinarily distracting. Some are good – Super Bowl comebacks, for example – and some are bad – illnesses and tragedies unfortunately impact a lot of us. All have the potential to turn our attention away from God and this is not always easy to control. But we can push back. We can make a commitment. We can make our faith a priority. Paul wrote this letter because he wanted this community not only to feel a sense of unity among themselves, but also the freedom and wholeness that comes from keeping God at the center of our lives.

And I think, more than ever, his words ring true for us in our lives today. I believe we all have the potential to become spiritual people, we just need to tap into the wholeness that comes from knowing God, nurture our faith and give ourselves space to grow into spiritual people.

So may we all find this grace, understand this fullness of divine authority and feel the wholeness of God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 18:20, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthian 3:2, NRSV
[3] The CEB Study Bible, edited by Joel B. Green, NT pg. 303
[4] 1 Corinthians 3:4, NRSV
[5] 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, NRSV
[6] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
[7] 1 Corinthians 3:7, NRSV
[8] Psalm 119:1-3, NSRV