Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Hi friends!  Happy Reign of Christ Sunday!  It is hard to believe that Advent begins NEXT WEEK!  We are working on a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens service, in addition to our livestream.  Stay tuned for all of that next week!

In the meantime, here is today’s sermon. Peace be with you all – Happy Thanksgiving!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 22, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday; the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent – the first Sunday of a new liturgical year.  If you had told me back in March when we “suspended in person worship for three weeks” and I thought to myself, “how crazy would it be if we are not back in person by Easter” that, eight months later, we would be planning Advent and Christmas in our virtual worship space, I would have thought you were crazy.

But here we are.

And it’s fine.

And not fine in a 2020-sense of the word, “fine” (you know, “it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine” when it’s really not).  It’s fine because we have learned over the past eight months that we can do this; that we can come together and worship God and support one another and grow in our faith without physically coming together.  We have learned that church is not about a building, but about people; in fact, we have learned that, despite the absence of our building, we can still do an awful lot of church.

And so, as we close out this year – a year that unfolded in a way that we never saw coming when Advent began last year – we do so with the realization and the assurance that we are so much stronger than we ever thought possible.  We look ahead to the new beginning of the Advent season with a renewed sense of hope in Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the beginning and then end.

Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us of the infinite sense of Christ; that Christ is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-being.  This year, however, I have been thinking about the fact that we have a role to play in this, as well.  Christ has done his part – and continues to do his part – in our lives.  We are the ones that now have to live into this promise of what it means to follow Jesus and to lean into the wholeness of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our Savior; he is not one thing, he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  He can, if we let him, be a part of all of the pieces of our lives, not just the one piece that comes out in this building on a Sunday morning.

Because we have learned this year that there is so much more to our faith and to our hope in Christ than who we are when we walk into this building one day a week.

We are Christians; we believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end and we believe that Jesus is part of our whole lives.

Our whole lives.

And this is amazing, right?  That we can be fully Christian all the time; that our faith does not start and stop based on where we are and what day of the week it is.

But my goodness, if this is not a challenge, as well.

Because it is not easy to be fully Christian all the time; it is not easy to walk this walk and talk this talk, both when you know people are watching, but also when you think they are not.

It is not easy to carry God’s light when you are in a race with other shoppers for the last package of toilet paper.  It is not easy to share God’s love when you are debating politics on Facebook.  It is not easy to uncover God’s grace when the part of you that is concerned for everyone’s health and safety is telling you to stay home, but the part of you that desperately needs to see and hug your people is telling you that you just cannot do distance anymore.

I think being Christian – and doing church – was a whole lot easier when we could just do it when we walked through the doors of our building and knew people were watching.

But now we are doing it all the time, quite often without the structure and the support of our physical gatherings.

And it is a little bit harder, right?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew and it has always been one of my favorites.  But, if I am being honest, I think I understand it in a completely different way right now.  We are in the 25th chapter of the Gospel; Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and his death is quickly approaching.  Jesus knows what is about to happen; and so there is a sense of urgency to his words.  He is speaking to his disciples and to the crowd that has gathered; he needs them to understand that he is not always going to be there to tell them what to do or how to live or hold them accountable for their actions and their faith.

Think about it this way:  As important as it was – and continues to be in our lives and our faith – Jesus’ time on earth was still such a small piece of the story.  What really mattered – and continues to matter in our world today – is what happened next and what continues to happen; what really matters now is how we write our own chapters.  What makes the Gospel even more powerful than it already is are the billions of people who have decided to, despite the absence of him physically on earth, follow Jesus and share his message.  The reason Christianity continues to change lives and open minds and transform hearts is because people live out their faith regardless of whether or not they think someone is watching.

As Christians, we need to live our lives in such a way so that when we meet Jesus in heaven he will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

My friends, this scripture is a call – it is a call to us to live our lives in accordance to the grace that has been given to us, regardless of who we are with or who we think may we watching.  It is a call to feed the hungry, to take care of the sick and to reach out to the marginalized.  It is a call not only to serve Christ, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was a call to do so both when Christ was physically present among the disciples and the crowds who had gathered to hear him teach, but also looking ahead to when Christ would reign in heaven.

Today we celebrate that reign of Christ; and we, too, live out this call.

I believe in the world we are living in today, this is a call to do things like wear a mask when we are out in public and stay home as much as possible so we can try to keep our own community and our families and friends safe.  I believe it is a call to find new and distanced ways to take care of one another, even if we are not necessarily going to get recognized by our community in our building for doing so.  I believe it is a call to keep up our giving to the church, despite the fact that we are not in the church to physically to put money in the offering plate.  I believe it is a call to attend and participate in worship, even if we are not able to physically “count” you.  I believe it is a call to continue to participate in the life of our church, even though, in many ways, it is more complicated.

I have been amazed this year at the ways in which this church has risen up and done the work we are being called to do, despite the fact that it is happening in kind of a nontraditional way.  Thank you.  Thank you for your participation, for your support, for your creativity, for your flexibility and for your grace.  Thank you for doing the work when you think no one is watching and for stepping up to serve when you might not necessarily get credit for doing so.  Thank you for not only celebrating the reign of Christ, but also demonstrating the reign of Christ in your own life; removing the boundaries between who you are at church and who you are in your life and just being Christian and following Christ in all aspects of your being.

I know you all are tired; I am, too.  It has been a long eight months and we still have a little ways to go before it gets better – before we can “come back” and do church the way we want to be doing it.

But there is a lot of work to do in the meantime.  And I am grateful and honored to be doing this work “with” you.

I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  I look forward to beginning a new year with you all next week where we can continue to see and know and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

May Christ reign in your life – your whole life – now and forever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

A Love That Can Unite Us

Hi friends!

We were working with new technology this morning – the church purchased a MEVO camera for streaming worship.  I know we are so behind everyone else who did that months ago – ha! – but we’re slowly working on figuring out what is going to work for us longterm as we think about what streaming looks like, even post-covid.

One of my favorite scriptures this morning – The Greatest Commandment!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 25, 2020

Matthew 22:34-46

A Love That Can Unite Us

Last weekend was everything that I did not realize I needed in my life and in my ministry and in my faith.  It was so wonderful to gather the Confirmation Class and their mentors and families here, at the physical church building, for their long-awaited Confirmation Sunday.  It felt great to work through the necessary logistical challenges to ensure we could have an in-person service that was safe for those in attendance, while also livestreaming for everyone watching from home.

It is a strange world that we are living in – and also “doing church” in right now.  But there are, indeed, these moments of grace that we uncover along the journey and in those moments, I see God’s presence so clearly.  Last weekend was one of those moments.

Much of that service felt different than Confirmation services in the past – we were outside and wore masks, there was a much smaller number of people in attendance, we did not sing and I could not physically lay hands on each Confirmand during the Act of Confirmation.  But other things felt so familiar – we wore red and used the liturgy we always use.  I pulled out my red fabric to create an installation on the altar, we read the Pentecost text out of Acts of the Apostles and “Hear I Am, Lord’ was our gathering music (even though it was prerecorded).

And finally, like in year’s past, in lieu of a formal sermon, I wrote a Letter to the Confirmation Class.  Typically, this letter talks about the journey we took together and what it meant to me.  This year, however, I felt compelled to talk more about what is going on in the world (it’s not like I could avoid it, we were, after all, sitting outside wearing masks).

I started off with an apology – I said I was sorry that their Confirmation journey was not ending the way we all envisioned it would, that this pandemic has taken so much from them and that we, as adults, do not actually know what we are doing when it comes to managing life in a pandemic.  I used that apology as a way of transitioning into my hope for them that they would not lose faith – that they would not lose faith in God, faith in the church and faith in the people around them.

I never have a lot of time to preach on Confirmation Sunday and this year, in particular, I felt as though there was so much more that I wanted to say.  I wanted to further apologize for the fact that, collectively, we have not managed to get a better handle on this pandemic.  I wanted to share my sorrow and disappointment that our election and democratic process has not shown civility and unity, but hostility and division.  I wanted to explain that we, as adults, have made mistakes, but that we are trying to create some semblance of order out of chaos right now.

But I did not just want to focus on the negative, because there is so much more to the story that is being written right now and I wanted to make sure the Confirmands saw that, as well.  I wanted to tell them about all of the things I am seeing behind the scenes that is restoring my faith in humanity and offering my hope for a better world.  I wanted to talk about all of the ways I have seen people in our own church community step up during this pandemic to love one another – by making masks, sending cards, dropping off meals, donating money, calling someone they know is going through a tough time and praying for one another.  I wanted to tell them about this love that I have seen – a real and powerful and life-changing love that has refused to be conquered by anything, despite the messiness of our world.  I wanted to explain that this is the kind of love that moves mountains and gives us that kind of hope that we need right now.

And so it is fitting that, as we settle back into the lectionary this week – we went off lectionary last week to read that Pentecost story – that this is the Gospel passage that appears:  The Greatest Commandment.

A lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is – out of all of the laws in all of the world.  Jesus responds by saying, “‘You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment.”

I always imagine Jesus taking a really long pause here for dramatic effect and then looking each Pharisee in the eyes before continuing: “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is probably, hands down, my favorite passage of scripture.  It can be easily summed up in four words – love God, love people – words that this church has certainly clung onto and tried to live out.  The fact that The Greatest Commandment appears, in some way, in all four Gospels reminds me of just how important love is to the centralized message of the Gospel and how foundational it is to our faith.  And the order in which we are called to love – first to love God and then to love our neighbor – teaches me that, in those moments when it is really hard to love other people (because we all have those moments), that we need to first love God and then try to work out the rest of it.

One of the things that really struck me this week when I was preparing this sermon is the fact that, while this is clearly one of, if not the most important piece of our faith according to Jesus – the greatest commandment, he says – this is not something Jesus came up with on his own.

When Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” he is referring to words of Hebrew scripture, from Deuteronomy 6:5, which says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Moses spoke these words to Israel not long after he conveyed to them Ten Commandments.

Furthermore, when Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he is referring to, again, words of Hebrew scripture, from Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

So, first of all, the first half of this verse, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people,” I think is really relevant in our country right now, especially as we get closer and closer to the election and begin to think about how, regardless of the outcome, we are going to untangle the mess it created in the process.  Emotions are running high and family members and friends are, understandably so, having a hard time reconciling certain differences.

And so I think it is all the more important to look at these words not as Jesus’ original thought, but as Jesus recognizing and upholding scriptures that were around long before even him.  Christians are not the sole proprietor of love as the foundational property of their religious tradition.  It is important that we understand that love is not what sets us apart from others, rather it is what unites us with them and what will, ultimately, help us together find hope, healing and wholeness.

We have a little over a week to go before the election; and there very likely will be moments where it is hard and ugly and where we are unable to reconcile certain differences.  But I want to go back to what I said at the beginning of this sermon.  I said that one of the messages I so desperately wanted to convey to the Confirmation Class last week was that, despite the mess we are in right now, I have seen the most incredible displays and concrete examples of love happen within our church community these past eight months.  It has given me so much hope and strength in a time when both of those things have been hard to find.  And I really do believe they have made a difference – and will continue to.

With a little over a week to go, I want to encourage you all to use this last stretch before the election to create love in the world.  Send cards and notes of encouragement.  Check in with someone you know is going through a hard time.  Drop off treats to people who live nearby, even if it just a little baggie of Halloween candy or a piece of some baked good you might have made.  Offer to run errands for someone – or even just pick something up for them while you are already at the store.  Say please and thank you.  Look people in the eyes and smile at them, even if they cannot see it from behind your mask.  Show kindness and mercy.  Lift one another up by acknowledging each other’s gifts and affirming who they are, as a child of God and the impact they have made on your life.

I invite us all to make a conscious effort this next week or so to create so much love that it quiets the noise of anything else we might otherwise overhear.  Remember it is not love that should set us apart, but love that should unite us.  So let love be something that unites us in ways that only God can bring forth.  Let love be something that unites us in ways that crosses religious and political divides.  Let love be something that unites us in ways Jesus acknowledged as a foundational part of being human and then called into being when he said these words.  Let love be something that unites us in ways that truly can offer hope and healing to a world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

We Are Not On A Sinking Ship

Hello, friends!  There has been a lot going on behind the scenes at RCC lately – plans for what church will look like during this time of social distancing – plans that we are ready to put into action!  Thank you for continuing to tune into worship, week after week.  We appreciate the love and support more than I can say!

Here is my sermon from this week, as well as the video from worship.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 23, 2020

Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

We Are Not On A Sinking Ship

Someone asked me this week what is has been like to pastor a church throughout a pandemic.  I said that, in many ways, I feel like the musicians on the movie version of the Titanic.  The boat was sinking and chaos was ensuing all around them and yet they just kept playing.

This was never more apparent to me than during Holy Week and Easter:  We were approaching the first wave surge in Massachusetts – the Governor was literally saying, please stay home, everything that was nonessential was shut down, I was livestreaming worship from a half-finished nursery – and yet, on Sunday, April 12th, I hit “go live” on my phone, looked directly into the camera and said, “Christ is risen, friends; he is risen, indeed.”

When it comes to my pastoral approach to things over the past five or six months, while I have been very cautious and conservative in terms of safety, by and large, on the outside, I have tried to remain positive and optimistic about the situation.

Behind the scenes, however, I was breaking down just like everybody else.  I was very much mourning all that we were losing – and will continue to lose.  I moved worship online, canceled events and indefinitely postponed other things.  I watched dates on the calendar pass by – dates that were supposed to be filled with fundraisers, meals and special worship services.  I hung up my vestments, which I had draped over a chair in my office after our March 8th worship service, wondering when I would robe again.

And then last week I had a change of heart.  I was out in my vegetable garden, which was a little bit of a mess.  It was kind of a strange gardening year – par for the 2020 course, I suppose – that I assumed had come to a screeching halt during the tropical storm a few weeks when all of my tomato plants collapsed in a giant heap on top of one another.  As I looked around that day, there were plants that had bolted, had been eaten by bugs and were lying flat on the ground.  I thought to myself, well there is always next year.

But then I thought to myself, well maybe this year is not over yet.  Maybe there is still hope.

So I wandered over to the raised bed that held all of our lettuce and greens; I pulled those plants out, tilled the soil and planted some beans.

A week later, that raised bed is full of bean plants – about three inches tall.

I was inspired.  This week, I pulled out some other plants and planted some more beans and a packet of peas.

We’ll see what happens.  It might work, it might not.  But the year is not over yet.

And the same is true at the church.

Time is marching forward.  And while we now have to consider things like safety and the Governor’s most recent orders and our sector-specific guidelines for the reopening of religious organizations during covid, the church is marching right along with it.  Much like the renewed sense of hope and excitement I feel for gardening right now, I feel the same way when it comes to the church.  Because this week, we put some dates onto the calendar; we planned a much-anticipated Confirmation Sunday, a drive thru communion service and a takeout supper fundraiser for the Missions Committee.  We talked through some of our traditional fall events – such as, Trunk or Treat, the Bazaar and Homeless Awareness Weekend – and what they might look like during covid times.  We put together a plan for Virtual Church School, including videos with lessons for our different classes based on ages and activities for every month.  We dusted off the plans that were in their initial stage back in March for a fall women’s retreat and brainstormed how we could still move forward with that event on a virtual level.

Church is not over; it is just in a different season.

I chose two scriptures for worship this morning, because when I looked at the lectionary, I noticed just how well they complement one another.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks about what his church will be built on; in the letter to the Romans, Paul talks about what the Body of Christ – the Church that Jesus enacted into being – looks like.

Let’s start with the Gospel of Matthew:  In the passages leading up to the one we just heard, Jesus had set the stage for what it meant for people to follow him.  He taught by speaking in parables, performed miracles and blessed the loaves and fishes, feeding the multitude.  At this point, people know that to follow Jesus means to believe in the unseen, to care for the least of these and to challenge yourself as you learn and grow in faith.

In this passage Jesus is in the district of Caesarea Philippi, which is a city about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus is asking the disciples who the Son of Man is and who people say that he is.  Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replies to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

Two things are important to know about this exchange.  The first is that Jesus’ phrase, “I tell you” is a common introduction to Jesus’ authoritative teaching; it is found at other points throughout the Gospel.  Jesus’ use of the phrase, “I tell you” in this passage is sort of like a high school teacher saying, “Listen up, guys – this is going to be on the final exam.”

In other words, this is important.

The second thing that is important to note is that Jesus uses the word (or what we translate in English to be), “church” – “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” – but this is only one of two times Jesus uses the word, “church” in all four Gospels.  Church is not something Jesus talks about a lot – and even here church is not something he is talking about in regards to a religion; he is telling Peter that he – Peter – is part of the foundation of the church.

For Jesus it was never about buildings or institutions, it was about people; it was about commissioning people to go out into the world to share the Good News that love is real, that justice should be fought for and that hope is worth holding onto.

In a way, Jesus sets Paul up for his conversations about the Body of Christ.  Because the church Jesus calls into being is not one concerned with elaborate governance and power, it is one that gives everyone the opportunity to pitch in and keep things going.  Paul says, “[do not] think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”  There is no time for a hierarchy; instead, as members of the Body of Christ – the church – we all have to get to work.  As members of the Body of Christ – the church – we do not all have the same job, but we do all have a crucial role to play in the church “according to the grace given to us.”

There has been a lot of talk about re-openings lately and churches are certainly not excluded from this conversation.  And I understand the context for this conversation; I really do.  The state needs to mandate certain things to make sure people stay safe if they physically gather together.  But here is the thing we have to remember:  We never closed in the first place.  Churches are not about buildings and institutions; they are about people.  We are where Christ builds his church.  We are the Body of Christ.

And we are still here.

And we still have a lot of work to do.

Bruce told me I had a look in my eyes this week – the look I get when I’ve got an idea and I need all hands on deck.  And he was right.  I have this renewed sense of hope and excitement because I no longer feel as though we are simply trying to figure things out; I truly believe that God is using us to write this chapter of our narrative where we show the world just what the church is capable of doing.

Our church was not built on a building; it was not built on historical documents and bylaws and governance structures.  It was not built on anything that is “closed” or in a phased opening because of this pandemic.  Our church was built on people who came together and said we want to tell this story.

And that is what we are going to do.

So as we close out the summer and begin our program year in this virtual space during this time of distancing, I invite you to remember who you are – a member of the Body of Christ, an individual on which Christ’s church is built on.  You are telling this story with your gifts and exercising your membership in our church through the gifts you have been given.

When you send cards and seeds and lemonade.

When you lead prayers.

When you log on to prayers and worship and comment so those of us on the other side of the screen know who we are talking to.

When you submit music for our gathering music.

When you serve as a virtual greeter.

When you organize scavenger hunts and put together summer fun buckets.

When you distribute over 100 Peace Be With You signs – and when you proudly display those signs in your yard.

When you cook for the Missions drive thru dinner.

When you agree to virtual hymn sing-a-long.

When you fuss with technology for hours so Church School is accessible online or so people can pre-order and pay for their drive thru dinners.

When you keep up with your pledges and offerings.

When you participate in a virtual choir.

When you agree to manage new software so we can do a completely online silent auction.

When you drop off meals or bring someone a picnic lunch you can share together outside.

When you contribute to a collection.

This is more than enough right now.  This church – built on the Body of Christ – sharing the Gospel in a time when, more than ever, the world needs to hear it.

Friends, while sometimes it feels this way, remember this:  We are not on a sinking ship.  We are just navigating uncharted waters.

And we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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