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.

We Have What We Need To Get It Done

My goodness, friends. We have had a weekend at the church that – despite masks and social distancing mandates – has felt “normal”.  We had our Drive-Thru Luncheon yesterday, as well as Homeless Awareness Weekend – which I keep calling scaled back EXCEPT MY YOUTH GROUP RAISED OVER $5,000!!!!!

Perfect timing for a sermon where I talk about the fact that, as a church, we get it done.

Peace be with you, friends! Wishing you love and angeltude.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 15, 2020

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We Have What We Need To Get It Done

Bill Cute said something on Monday night when he and Wendy were leading evening prayers on Facebook that stuck with me all week:  “We get it done.”

The “we” he was referring to, of course, was the church – the Rehoboth Congregational Church, our beloved church in the village.  Bill and Wendy were talking about the Drive-Thru Turkey Supper that had exceeded so many of our goals and expectations.  This re-imagined and adapted supper, considering it is deeply steeped in the tradition of coming to our building and gathering around a table in Fellowship Hall, really went about as smoothly as it could have gone in light of the challenging circumstances we were facing.

Reflecting on the commendable job done by the cooks, the runners, the traffic directors and the website gurus, Bill praised the team that came together without actually coming together and said, “We get it done.”

And he’s right.  We do; we have.  As a church, we have, for the past eight months, gotten it done.  We have moved worship online, finding ways to reach people live, post-filming and without internet access.  We have resumed bible study, gathering from four different states (and two different time zones!) every Wednesday at 10AM.  We have taken suppers that we usually serve in fellowship hall and adapted them into a drive-thru format, serving more people than we have the capacity to serve in the hall.  We have welcomed nearly 200 people to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion from the safety of their cars through Drive-Thru Communion.  We held a Confirmation service that was live, both in person and online.  We sang together at a live hymn sing on Zoom.  In addition to weekly gathering music, we have recorded monthly virtual choir anthems.  Church School classes are happening online, with special appearances from our children as they lead the Lord’s Prayer, Harrison and me for Communion and, a fan favorite, Chris Ware the Science Chair.  Our bazaar silent auction and some items from our marketplace wre moved completely online.  Members of our Youth Group put on N95 masks and face shields in order to safely panhandle at our scaled-back Homeless Awareness Weekend.  For the past 244 days, we have gathered at 9PM in our Facebook group for evening prayers.  Individual members of our church have taken it upon themselves to mail cards, send care packages and drop off meals.  Our Missions Committee participated in the town-wide food drive and is ready with a skeleton crew to assemble Thanksgiving baskets next weekend.  The almost-cancelled women’s retreat in October was re-imagined and moved online.  We have utilized our website more in the last eight months than we have in my nine years in Rehoboth, crashing it only a small handful of times.

Despite the impossible circumstances of the world that we are living it, we, as a church, have been innovative, creative, prayerful, patience and hopeful.

We get it done.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Thessalonica was a port located on the northern shore of Aegean Sea, which is an embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the Greek and Anatolian peninsulas.  This city was a little bit of an enigma, because it was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and therefore part of the imperial cult of ancient Rome, but culturally it was a Greek city and was governed by Greek law.

Paul founded this church in Thessalonica with Silvanus and Timothy; but shortly thereafter received intense opposition from the Jewish community and they were forced to leave.  Eventually, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check in and see how things were going.  When Timothy returned to Paul, he reported that things were going pretty well, but that there was some anxiety over the fact that Paul, himself, had not returned to Thessalonica.  This letter is Paul’s response to that anxiety.

One of the things Paul does in this letter is reinforce the original teachings of Jesus and talk about how they, the Thessalonians, should live their lives not only individually, but also as a community.

The thing is, it would have been nice for the Thessalonians if Paul had always been there to lead them and guide them, but that simply was not possible.  And so, Paul talks, here, about the importance of grounding yourself in the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, so that no matter what life throws at you, you can remain strong and equipped for the journey ahead.

This letter is so relevant to us right now, because we have been handed some pretty impossible circumstances this year.  We are living out our faith and doing church in a way that we never have before; there is no precedence that has been set.  There are no rules to follow, no measurement for whether we are doing it right or wrong.  We cannot just do things the way we have always done them in the past – the way they are comfortable and familiar to do – because it is just not possible right now.  I keep wishing for someone to show up and tell us exactly what to do, but, unfortunately, we seem to be the ones in charge, left making impossible decisions with really hard choices.

Similarly, without Paul present among them, the people in Thessalonica are not really sure what they were supposed to be doing.  They are anxious about what they are supposed to do next.  But here Paul reassures them; he tells them that they already have what they need.  He reminds them that they just need to focus on Jesus.

This message speaks powerfully to us today.  Because, just like the people of Thessalonica, we have a lot to be anxious about right now.  And it is not easy to figure out how to do church right now, to put the pieces of our ecclesial puzzle together so that we are creating an experience for people where they can learn and grow in their faith that is not only meaningful, relevant and accessible, but also safe, as well.

But remember what Paul says to the Thessalonians.  Paul says that we need to remember why we have gathered in the first place.  Paul says we need to put our eyes on Jesus.  Paul says we need to stand firmly in the Gospel and let the other pieces fall in around that.

Paul talks about staying alert, about living in the light of the day, about arming ourselves with faith and love and encouraging one another and building one another up.

The thing is, we do not know how all of this is going to play out.  We do not know what the months ahead are going to bring.  But what we do know is that a lot of what we want to do we might not be able to do.  What we do know is that a lot of the ways we want to do church and are used to doing church might not necessarily be feasible.  What we do know is that a lot of our safety nets have been pulled out from under us and that we are living in this unsettled in-between time where we are not necessarily always sure what to do next – or how to do it.

But we still have Jesus.

Friends, the Gospel has not changed, just the world that we are sharing it in.

We still have this Good News; we still have this radical, redeeming and resurrecting truth that God is not done and that the story is not over yet.  We have this love that is stronger than anything else, including this virus that has turned our world upside down.  We have our God who has not abandoned us and whose steadfast presence in our lives has walked us through some really dark moments this year.

And this is precisely the point Paul is making in this letter; that we need to lean into this Good News, no matter what else is going on around us.  Paul is saying that we are equipped to do this – to be faithful and to do church during these crazy times.

Friends, it has been an amazing weekend.  Our drive-thru luncheon served 140 people yesterday, many of whom went home with a delicious sampler box, which had so many of our favorite Bake Shoppe goodies.  Members of our Youth Group participated in Homeless Awareness Weekend, an event we were not sure would happen this year.  With a scaled-back event and less participants, donning multiple levels of PPE, our youth rose to the occasion and raised over $5,000 in one day, money that will be given to local organizations fighting homelessness and hunger.

Like Bill said, “We get it done.”

And in this scripture, Paul tells us how we get it done – because we are “children of light and children of the day.”  We have the Good News – and we are going to use it, no matter what life throws at us.

Friends, I know there is a lot to be anxious and unsettled about right now.  But Paul’s words here remind us that we have the tools that we need to figure this out and to come out strong on the other side.  So let us, “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” and may we continue to write this story, keep the faith and proclaim the Good News.

Let’s keep getting it done.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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.