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!

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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.

In Service To Others

Hi friends!  We are slowly improving our technology for our livestream – I had people running the camera and hopefully by next week we will have our sound system hooked into the camera.  We’ve come a long way from my phone on selfie mode propped up on commentaries.

Here is this morning’s sermon, as well as the video to today’s service.  Wishing everyone peace this week. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 1, 2020

Matthew 23:1-12

In Service To Others

It is a big week in our country.

There is nothing quite like a super contentious and really ugly presidential election to serve as a catalyst for conversations about the role of politics in churches.

And before anyone starts to get nervous, I am not here to tell you who to vote for or to argue about any of the issues at stake.  But it just feels weird to stand up here today and not, at least, acknowledge what we are going through, as a country.  Because whether we are Republican or Democrat, politically engaged or totally over it or somewhere in the middle of all of those things, this is real life and feels very personal right now it is what is on our minds and our hearts and our news stations and our social media feeds.

I used to be a firm believer that church should be a safe space where could come and just, kind of, escape from the chaos of the world, but I am starting to realize that church should also, in fact, be a place where we can come and be reassured of hope despite the chaos of the world.

And despite everything we have gone through this year and the uphill battle that is likely still to come, I believe there is still hope, I really do.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew.  This passage occurs towards the end of the Gospel; Jesus has already made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and had gone into the temple and turned over tables.  At this point, Jesus knows what is about to happen; he knows he is going to die, he had foretold it.  Jesus knows that, in a very short amount of time, he would not physically be on earth to guide and teach the disciples.

And so he offers these words to his disciples and to people who had gathered to hear him speak and teach; words of warning about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Do as they say, not as they do, Jesus says.

When I first read this passage in this week’s lectionary options, my initial reaction was to use a different text, because this whole thing about calling out our leadership felt like it hit a little too close to home with an election coming up this week.

But then I read it again.  And I was drawn to the end of the passage where Jesus talks about service and about humility.

And then I thought about the fact that I am not a bystander in my faith; that one of the critical components of Christianity is the fact that we, as individuals, all have a role to play in sharing the Gospel and creating healing and wholeness in the world.  And so it is not necessarily always about the people who lead us, but it is about us and about what we are willing to do and how we are willing to love and serve that matters and can truly make a difference.

Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” and I think these words apply as much to us as they do to the people we elect to lead us.

Because we have a lot of work to do.

We are eight months into a pandemic with no end in sight and numbers, unfortunately, that are on the rise. Tasks that used to be simple and straightforward are complicated and kind of a hassle.  Everyone is tired.  Tensions are running high.  This year has just beaten us in a way that no one saw coming.  People are starting to break down.

And yet – and yet – ultimately, there is hope, right?  The foundation of our faith is the fact that there is hope in the resurrection of Christ; that the story is not over yet, that God is still showing up and working out the details, even if we have no idea how it is all going to work out.

And so I read Jesus’ words as a charge to me; as a charge to rise up and believe that I have a critical role to play in bringing hope and healing to the world.  I read these words as a charge to be that servant; to humble myself and put the needs of others before my own.  I read these words as a charge to focus on my service – on the things that I can do, in my church, within my community, for my family and friends that will make a real difference for people.

Because, in the end, we are the ones that are living out the Gospel in our generation.  If not us, then who?  We are the ones God is calling to this work; we are the ones who God needs to serve, to pick up and continue the work that Jesus started.

And are we going to elect political leaders on Tuesday?  Yes.  But does that mean that we are off the hook?  Absolutely not.  This is just as much about us as it is about anyone; we have so much work that needs to be done.  It does not end on Tuesday; it begins on Tuesday.

God needs us right now.  God needs us to be Christ’s hands and feet and heart and mind in this world.  God needs us to heal the sick and reach out to the marginalized and the oppressed.  God needs us to feed people when they are hungry and care for the vulnerable.  God needs us to pray for one another and to hold one another in the light of the Glory.  God needs us to be God’s servants; to put the Gospel into motion in our lives so that the world will not only know God, but also see God and be changed by God.

And I think this is what Jesus is getting at, because there is a sense of urgency to his words and the timing of them, because he knows he does not have a lot of time left on earth and that work that needs to be done is so important.

That sense of urgency is different today; but it is still there.  God needs us – all of us – to rise up and to live out this call.

Friends, I think we are in for a long and hard week.  But we can do hard things, right?  After all, that is what God is in the business of doing.

And I truly believe there are things that we can do in service to God – real and tangible things, big and small things, noticeable and behind-the-scenes invisible things – that will make this week not so hard, that will make a difference in someone’s life, that might open up someone’s mind and heart to God’s presence in their own life.

We can send cards, make phone calls and drop off meals.  We can participate in the many activities that are going on at church right now – whether we are cooking for one of our drive-thru meals, handing out candy, sharing a Facebook post, donating to the efforts of Homeless Awareness Weekend in two weeks, singing in the virtual choir, collecting items for the silent auction or helping out in another way.  We can serve God right here, within our own lives and that service will make a difference in someone’s life; it will mean something.

Friends, I invite you think about the ways that you can serve others this week.  Remember that the Gospel is made more powerful when it is lived out in service to others and that no matter what happens this week – and I know the stakes are high, I am not pretending that they are not – that our service to others will make a difference in their lives and it will ultimately make the world a better place.

So let us go forth in service to others.  Let us be a tangible witness to the Gospel in a world that needs to hear a message of hope, healing, light and love.  And may the world be changed for the better.

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.