Rejoice In Stewardship

I kicked off stewardship this morning and someone said to me as they were leaving church, “That was the best stewardship sermon I’ve ever heard, I forgot you were talking about money for awhile!”

Jury’s still out as to whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 😉

I followed the lectionary and it just happened to line up really well with our theme for the year, It Takes A Church In The Village.  I really love the theme this year, because it puts to words what I have been learning about this community for the past 6+ years.  We are a church founded in our community and I am so glad we are finally celebrating that!

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 15, 2017

Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice In Stewardship

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

The first time Bruce and I ever visited what would eventually become our home church in Atlanta, a really nice man came running up to us about two minutes after we sat down and introduced himself as the president of the congregation. He then frantically explained that this Sunday happened to be Consecration Sunday, where everyone brings in their pledges for the year, the pastor preaches about the importance of giving and, specifically pledging, and then, as a congregation, they celebrate and bless their pledges for the year ahead.

Basically – an entire service about money.

You can imagine how horrifying it must have been for them to see a young, energetic looking couple walk into the sanctuary for the first time on the one Sunday out of 52 in the entire year where all they do is talk about money.

Luckily for them, Bruce and I had been around the stewardship block a few times in our home churches so we were not scared off by all the money talk. It is an interesting, though, how apologetic pastors get when they start preaching about money. In theory we all know that the church has bills, just like any other business or household, but when you actually start talking about the reality of paying those bills and needing money to pay those bills, people start to get a little squirmy.

Thankfully, that Sunday we visited Pilgrimage for the first time, the pastor got tongue tied and accidentally said something about a man’s teeny weanie in her sermon, which was not at all what she meant to say, but kind of distracted everyone from the fact that she was talking about money.

Hopefully that will not happen here this morning.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, which I explained a few weeks ago was a church Paul knew really well. He founded the church; it was the first church he founded on European soil, and he cared deeply for them.

I thought it was fitting that this passage popped up in the lectionary this week, on a Sunday when I really needed to be talking about stewardship. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”[1] For what it is worth, I do try to talk about money and pledging in a positive light; we give not out of obligation, but with great joy as an expression of our gratitude and thanks for all that God has given us. Paul’s words are actually an enthusiastically chipper way for me to kick off a few weeks about talking about stewardship.

Of course, Paul was not exactly talking about money when he wrote these words. He was addressing a conflict (big surprise). Though it was not clear what, exactly, was going on, there was some sort of conflict between two women, Euodia and Syntyche.

Paul said:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.[2]

Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church. Scholars are unclear about what their dispute was all about, but clearly it was causing problems in the church, because Paul addressed it here in his letter.

This has absolutely nothing to do with money.

And yet, Paul’s sentiment when he talks about how hard it is to actually do the work God calls us to do and how we should rejoice in that work, let go of our worry and give everything to God through prayer has everything to do with the conversation surrounding stewardship at the church.

In his letter, Paul urged the two women in conflict with one another to “be of the same mind,”[3] but he also commissions the people in the church, itself, to encourage and help these women. And he does so, because – and this, to me, is one of the most compelling part of this passage – they “struggled beside [him] in the work of the gospel.”[4]

You know, I always say that the work we do here matters, but rarely do I acknowledge the fact that the work we do here, at the church, is also very hard. It is time consuming, it is spirit consuming and it is financially consuming. When you make a commitment to this church, very often the church (whether it be what God is calling you to do in the church or what the people in the community are calling you to do in the church) requires a lot of you.

And I am not saying we should be martyrs and walk around and tell everyone how hard it is to be a member of the Rehoboth Congregational Church (that would be the worst marketing campaign ever, actually), but I am saying that we need to recognize the fact that sometimes this – being church and doing everything that comes along with that, which includes talking about money and tending to the fiscal responsibilities of our institution – is hard.

It is hard.

But there is also a lot of grace that can be found in it.

The way I see it, we have two options when we talk about money here. We can either get really anxious and uncomfortable. We can stop coming to church until after the bazaar when you know pledge cards are due and I will move on to preaching about something else. We can get frustrated with one another when our projected income is not as high as we want or need it to be. We can hate the process and wonder why the Trustees cannot just figure out the money stuff without bothering the rest of us.

Or we can rejoice in the Lord always.

Again, I will say, rejoice.

We can live out these words of scripture. We can be gentle with one another as we talk about money and pledges and budget. We can speak to one another with the kind of respect and civility that is worthy of the grace given to us by God. We can choose to not worry about the things we cannot control. We can center this process around prayer and give to God our fears and our uncertainties, but also our hopes and our visions. We can keep on doing the work God is calling us to do with confidence that God is walking with us on our journey. We can live into Paul’s call to do what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

That actually sounds like a lot of fun.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice! Stewardship is actually fun! Right?

The theme for our stewardship campaign this year is, “It Takes A Church In The Village,” which is a motif that has been woven throughout our year here at the church. It boldly reminds us that, together, we are stronger than simply the sum of our parts. The work we do here matters, but the work we do here together brings grace to life.

Stewardship packets were mailed out on Thursday afternoon, so you should have either received one yesterday or will tomorrow. If, for some reason, you do not get one, we do have plenty of extra here at the church. Pledge cards need to be filled out and returned to the church, preferably by Sunday, November 5th. This morning I ask you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2018 year, remembering the words of Saint Francis of Assisi said that, “It is in giving that we receive.” I will humbly and (hopefully with some grace) remind you about the fact that we have bills to pay at the church, just as you do at home, and pledges help us estimate how much money we are going to have in the upcoming year to pay those bills and budget accordingly.

And finally, I invite you to join with me as I rejoice; as I rejoice in the resurrecting truth of the Gospel, of a God who walks with me through every step of my journey and of a church that is a village, not only for its people, but also for the people who need it, as well.

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

Harrison’s baptism is next week and I hope to, at a some point throughout the service, share my testimony on how this church has been my village as I make this transition into motherhood and ministry. Please come and celebrate with us; Bruce and I want nothing more than our entire village to bear witness to the living waters of baptism as they wash over our son.

And then the following week, October 29th, I will be inviting members of the congregation to share their testimony about how this church has been their village. We will celebrate this church; we will commend to God with great thanksgiving this church in the village.

After church, we will come together as a community. Our annual Trunk or Treat is that Sunday, so Allison and I invite the kids to come to church dressed in their costumes and everyone else – regardless of whether or not you have kids in Church School – to decorate your cars and hand out candy down in the field.

If you do not want to participate in Trunk or Treat, but want to get involved in the church on that Sunday, Rob Johnson is working on organizing a makeover of the island out in front of the church and will need volunteers to help plant some bulbs that will come up in the spring and bring some beautiful colors to the village. Come to church dressed to work that Sunday.

And then the following weekend is the bazaar – which is where our community shines. We will be receiving new members in worship that Sunday. If you are interested in joining the church, please let me know. If you are interested in getting involved in the bazaar in some way, talk to me and I will point you in the right direction.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you. You are the reason that together we are the church in the village.

So let us rejoice in the Lord always!

Again, I will say, Rejoice!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:2-3, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:2, NRSV
[4] Philippians 4:3, NRSV

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

Oh friends – I am not even sure where to begin following Sunday night’s senseless acts of violence in Las Vegas.  We held a prayer service at the church on Monday night and I continue to discern what God is calling me to say this weekend.

Monday morning I posted the following to Facebook:

I am at a loss for words. I went to sleep last night so grateful for the unity we celebrated yesterday on World Communion Sunday, for the opportunity to remind my congregation that around the communion table light shines, love wins and grace comes alive.

And just like that … 50 people are dead in Vegas.

I still believe in the promises I preached yesterday. Maybe even more so now. But our brokenness is real, raw and undeniable right now. There is still so much work that needs to be done.

Vegas, my prayers are worth you.

Here is my sermon from this past weekend.  I think it speaks even more powerfully now.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 1, 2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

On Tuesday evening, Chip and Joanna Gaines announced that this upcoming season of their hit television design show, Fixer Upper, would be the last.

Cue all the tears in the Weaver household.

Those of you who have been around for a while have heard me wax on poetically about Chip and Joanna Gaines from the pulpit before. Back in February, I preached a sermon titled, “Building Something With Purpose,” where I talked about building the church and compared the work we do here to their process of taking houses in dire need of repair and transforming them into beautiful homes. I listed off five things I love about their show, one of them being the way they ground their family in faith.

It is really quite remarkable. In a society where being Christian is not exactly mainstream, Chip and Joanna Gaines have never shied away from speaking publicly about their faith. One of the things that has always impressed me about them is the way they center their lives and their business around God. Their decision to complete this chapter of their journey did not come following any sort of drama, scandal or decline in ratings; rather, they feel they need time to step back, recharge, spend time with their children and see what God is calling them to do next.

I posed my grievances on Facebook following the announcement and one of my clergy colleagues so poignantly commented, “I have even more respect for them for making this decision, though.”

And as much as I enjoy their show, I have to agree.

Despite their success, their loyal fan base and the potential they have for more fame and money through this show, their decision to walk away demonstrates their commitment to remain humble in God’s service to their family and their community. It is admirable (even if it is sad for the rest of us!).

This idea of remaining humble in God’s service comes up in this morning’s scripture reading from Philippians. Paul writes this letter to the church in Philippi from prison. He encourages members of the church to be humble not only in their service, but also in their relationships with one another.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.[1]

Paul says humility does not come from the law, it comes from the Gospel; Jesus demonstrated this kind of humility in his own life.

[Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.[2]

Paul urges the church to be more like Jesus, to imitate this humility in day-to-day life.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[3]

Put the needs of others before your own needs, Paul says. Be the voice of Christ to a world that needs to hear the Good News. Be a servant to the Gospel and believe that God is working through you.

Paul had a history with this church he was writing to in Philippi; it was the first church Paul founded on European soil, he cared deeply for them and the affection was mutual. The Philippians knew Paul had been imprisoned and had been praying for him. They sent a member of their community named Epaphroditus to him with a care package and while Epaphroditus was there, he got sick, so Paul sent him back to Philippi with this letter for the church.[4]

This letter was meant to encourage the Philippians to rejoice and live their lives worthy of the teachings of the Gospel. As in many of Paul’s letters, he encourages the community to let go of the dissension surrounding Jewish laws and really just embrace what it means to live into the grace of the resurrection.

What is so compelling to me about Paul’s letters from prison is that, in the context of where he is in life, he really gets it. He understands the depths of the sacrifices he is asking others to make. Paul recognizes that the faithful road is not always the easy road. Writing from a prison cell, Paul knows what it truly means to lay down your life for the Gospel and, still, he calls his churches to rise up and make this commitment to serve God.

When Paul talks about obedience from prison, he is living out that obedience; he, too, is struggling in his imperfect human condition to maintain his own commitment to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And yet, Paul still thinks it is possible. Paul believes deeply in the transforming power of the Gospel and he invites the church in Philippi to join him on his journey.

Today, this scripture calls us to do them same. It encourages us to rise up to this level of obedience, service and humility. It inspires us to rejoice in the Good News of God’s love and to live our lives worthy of that love; worthy of the sacrifices Jesus made on the cross, worthy of the grace God bestows upon us, even in the moments when we fall short.

This will not always be easy. But in enacting Jesus’ humility and love, we are doing the hard work that is required to make this world a better place.

I have said this before and I will say it again: The way we live our lives matters. I believe the reason so many people are captivated by Chip and Joanna Gaines has less to do with their home décor and more to do with how they live their lives. They unapologetically live out the faith they profess and their rise to fame has not changed where their priorities lie.

Here is the honest truth: In today’s world it is not always easy to do this; to unapologetically live out the faith we profess, remain humble in service to the Gospel and keep our priorities in check. We often engage in arguments that divide, rather than conversations that unite. We pass judgments against others when we should showing compassion and welcoming all people. We sometimes put our own needs before the needs of others. We are not always able to make our faith and our church community our top priority.

And yet reading this text gives us the opportunity to look at the lives we are leading; who we are, but perhaps, more importantly who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. It reminds us to share the Gospel, let go of our own desires and motivations and emulate Jesus in our lives. It boldly calls us to live the kind of life that Jesus led, even in those moments when it is not easy to do so; to be faithful, even when it is hard to hold onto that faith; to share God’s love, even when rhetoric of hate surrounds us. It evokes a spirit of humility within us and challenges us to be humble and practice the words that we preach every single day.

And here’s the thing. We do not need a hit television show in order to make this commitment. We do not need to be imprisoned to make this commitment. This is something we can do in our own lives. We can make a difference in our community. We can change people’s lives.

The last verse in this passage, verse 13 says this:

For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I believe that God is at work in each and every one of us. This is a gift given to us by grace, but it also comes with great responsibility. A responsibility to share the Gospel, to be strong in our faith, to show others what it means to live the way Jesus did and to create the kind of world we want to live in.

So let us, as Christians and as members of this community of faith, live our lives worthy of the grace that has been given to us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:3, NRSV
[2] Philippians 2:8, NRSV
[3] Philippians 2:5, NRSV
[4] The Harper Collins Study Bible, pg. 1991-1992

Welcoming From Within

You’ll see in my sermon that I gave my church a charge this week to go into fellowship after worship and talk to someone they had never talked to before.  I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was awesome!  I posted this on Facebook on Sunday night:

During my sermon this morning, I charged everyone to go into fellowship after worship and talk to someone they had never talked to before. Not necessarily someone new – just someone they didn’t know. We all know how easy it is to just get comfortable in our little groups and social circles but are never sure how to break the cycle. Might as well all give it a shot together, right? I told everyone if they needed an ice breaker, they could either talk about the weather OR use the opening line, “Can you believe Sarah is making us do this?” And seriously – by the time I went downstairs to my office to drop off my robe and walked into fellowship, I literally NOTICED a difference in conversation in the room. I saw people I know didn’t know each other talking and laughing. The only people who came over to talk to me were people who wanted to introduce me to someone who had worshipped with us for the first time. People left and called to me, “I talked to two new people today! I talked to three!” I’m so grateful for my people who humor me and follow along with my crazy ideas. Praise be to God for hospitality, new friendships and a community strengthened by fellowship. ❤️ #rccstrong

I have nothing else to say!  Here’s my sermon – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 17, 2017

Romans 14:1-12

Welcoming From Within

When I was a ministry intern in seminary, I was in a meeting with the pastor of the church I was serving when her phone rang.  It was her husband, so she answered it and I got to hear her half of the conversation that went something like this:

I don’t know, what to you want for dinner?

Long pause.

I don’t really care, what are you in the mood for?

Long pause.

No I really don’t care.

Long pause.

Sigh …

Well just pick something, because I can’t make a decision!

Sound familiar?

I did not mean to eavesdrop, but when she hung up the phone, I just could not help myself.  “How long have you been married?” I asked.  “14 years,” she answered.

Keep in mind, at that point, Bruce and I were not married yet and we were already having this exact same discussion on almost a nightly basis.

“So … at what point in marriage do you stop arguing about what’s for dinner?”  I asked.

She looked at me, thought about it for a second and replied, “I don’t think you ever do.”

That might have been the greatest marriage advice I have ever been given.

We just heard a reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where they were essentially have the exact opposite argument about food.  Instead of nobody being able to make a decision about what to eat, there were two different groups of people who both had very clear opinions about what they should, and more specifically, should not eat.

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, a church he did not found and probably did not know very well.  Up until this point (as we have heard over the past several weeks in reading through earlier sections of this letter), Paul’s instructions to the church had been fairly general about God’s grace and how they should live their lives and interact with one another.

But in the passage we just heard, Paul’s focus shifts from general advice to something a bit more specific – dietary practices.  Paul writes:

Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.[1]

Dietary practices in Rome were clearly a hot button issue when Paul was writing this letter.  On the one hand, you had Jewish Christians, who believed in following the kosher laws ingrained in their religious tradition.  On the other hand, you had Gentile Christians, who were not raised with these customs and did not think they should have to follow them.

The challenge in reading this text today is finding its relevance.  In our church, most of us subscribe to the theology of the potluck, where we all bring something different to the table and usually are just excited to have so many options. Food rarely causes the type of deep-seeded conflict and division today that I did when the church was so young.

But there are things in our church – and all churches, really – that are hot button issues.  We all come to this community from different places on our journeys and have different beliefs and priorities and sometimes our differences in opinion create conflict among us.

That being said – and I really do not even want to say this from the pulpit for fear I might jinx it – I was trying to come up with an issue going on in the church right now that I could compare this dietary conflict in Rome to and I honestly could not.  We really have found ourselves in a positive place here in terms of keeping our lines of communication open to discuss challenging topics and being willing to compromise.

So first of all – let’s celebrate that!  I do not take it for granted.

But I still think this scripture has a lot to teach us.

Paul starts off this passage by saying, “Welcome those who are weak in faith.”[2]

Okay, so he did use this opportunity to take a little stab at those who were restricting their diets by calling them weak, but let’s put that aside for a moment and acknowledge the fact that he started this passage by calling the church to WELCOME.

WELCOME those who are weak in faith.

This is a message that I think can really resonate within our community.  It reminds us that no matter who we are, where we are on our journey through life or why we are here at this church, we are called to welcome one another in God’s love.

Our church is not made up of one demographic of people.  We have twenty-somethings, we have young families, we have youth, we have empty nesters, we have retirees and we have grandparents and great-grandparents.  We come to this space in different places on our journeys through life; we are all looking to get something different out of the church and all have different abilities to give back to the church.

And what Paul is saying here is that we need to welcome one another amidst this diversity.

I do not think this passage is necessarily about seasoned veterans of the church welcoming new people into the community (although I do think that is important!).  I think this passage speaks to our community as a whole – ALL of us – and reminds us to practice hospitality amongst ourselves.

I want everyone to try something:  After worship today, talk to someone you have never had a conversation with before.

I have been thinking about putting this out there for awhile, and this week’s scripture really gave me the push I needed to do it.  Over the past several years, I have spent a lot of time talking with various groups in the church about hospitality and welcoming new members. One of the challenges everyone identifies is how to know if someone is new or not.  “What if I go up to talk to someone who I think is new and it turns out they’ve been coming to the church for awhile?” people always ask.

In reading and reflecting on this scripture, the thought crossed my mind this week that perhaps it does not make a difference whether someone is new or not. Regardless of whether someone has been here their whole life or just walked through our doors, we should always be trying to reach out to one another, foster new relationships and strengthen our community through hospitality.

Paul writes in this letter:

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we died, we are the Lord’s.[3]

It is important we remember that, in coming to this church and being part of the community, we are all equal.  We are all children of God.  We all love this church and want to see it grow and thrive.

And so I think we need to heed the call of scripture today and practice hospitality within our own community.

We may not be quarreling about dietary practices, but Paul’s words about hospitality are so important for us to take seriously as we continue to think about who we are, as a church, and who God is calling us to be.  It is in welcoming one another that we spread God’s love in this world.  As we seek to create the type of peace we pray for, we need to remember that it starts right here.  The work we do in this church matters; the community we nurture and strengthen is important.  Our church can and will change lives.

So after church today, I invite you to welcome one another.  Talk to someone you have never talked to before.  If you need a topic of conversation to break the ice, feel free to start with, “Can you believe Rev. Sarah is making us do this?”

It might not feel totally comfortable at first; but I promise you will not only learn something from doing this – but our community will be better for it.

Friends, let us practice hospitality here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church !

Also – if anyone would like to set up a meal plan for Bruce and me, please talk to me after worship.

AFTER you have talked to someone you have never talked to before, that is.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 14:2, NRSV
[2] Romans 14:1, NRSV
[3] Romans 14:7-8, NRSV