How We Are Responding

Hi friends!

We are still in Romans, which has been such a gift for us in this stage of covid life.  We shared communion today and are getting ready for our first Drive-Thru Communion (I will let you know how it works!).  It feels good to be doing and planning right now – while I do believe that we will get to the other side of this, it’s nice to find ways to do church in the meantime.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14

How We Are Responding

A few months ago was I was in my office sitting at my desk and for some reason I started thinking about September 11th.  I began to wonder how I would have responded if I had been pastoring at the time.  Not to exploit my age or anything, but I was in high school when the planes hit the towers; beyond the fact that I lived relatively close to New York City and had friends whose parents commuted into the city to work, those attacks did not affect my day-to-day very much; I did not have to respond.

So there I was, sitting in my office, thinking about that day and the weeks and months that followed and I began to wonder what I would have said; how I would have led my church through a national crisis.  At the time – a few months ago – I had preached following mass shootings and natural disasters, but I had never pastored through anything that would fill chapters of history books.

How quickly things change.

I guess now, for better or for worse, I have the opportunity to find out how I will respond to a national crisis.

I was thinking about this as I was reflecting on this morning’s scripture throughout the week, particularly Paul’s words in verse 11:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.[1]

How it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

It is now the moment.

In so many ways, I do believe that now is the moment; now is the moment for me, as a pastor, to practice what I preach, to lean into the Gospel and to be innovative, yet grassroots in my ministry.  Now is the moment for us, as a church, to not be defined by buildings, but by people; to not be confined to buildings, but deployed out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, just like the earliest followers of Christ did.  Now is the moment for us, as a community, to care for one another and to think creatively about how to do the things we need to do.  Now is the moment for all of us to rise up, to believe in the promises of our faith and to overcome the crisis we are facing together.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans; we have been hanging out in this letter for the past couple of weeks.  We know that, while Paul did not found this particular church, that he was familiar with it; that, in this letter, he was responding to reports of division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, two very different groups of people who were, together, following this new faith.  This particular section first addresses love and then it talks about specific behavioral problems, such as sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy between different groups of people.

Let’s start with the first section on love.  In these verses, Paul is referencing Jesus’ words when he talks about the Greatest Commandment, which is kind of an RCC favorite, so let’s recap that first.  In the Gospel, when asked, out of all of the commandments, what is the greatest, Jesus responds by saying we should love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, our mind and our soul and we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

In other words:  Love God.  Love people.

Paul reiterates Jesus’ message in his words here.  He talks about the ten commandments, almost reminding the Romans that there are rules that they need to live by, but that they can be summed up in love; that love is the fulfillment of these laws.

These words are super relevant right now, because the words needs love.  The world needs to be reminded that behind every divisive issue, scary circumstance and impossible scenario are people who can, like our church sign has said since March, love one another through this.

And we can.

And we will.

It is funny that I was so drawn to verse 11 and Paul’s words, “how it is now the moment,” because Paul was not actually talking about how to live through and pastor through a pandemic; he was talking about societal behavioral problems, including sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy, which are not really the same thing.

HOWEVER – I do actually see some strange parallels to one another.  What Paul is saying here is that we should live for Christ and not for our own flesh.  Verse 14 – the last verse in this passage – says:

Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.[2]

In other words, the things that our bodies are naturally drawn to, the traps that we cannot quite help but fall into – which Paul names as reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy – are the things we have to fight like heck to push aside so that we can live into Christ.

So that we can, as Paul writes, “put on the armor of light.”  So we can share the Good News and help others to know God.  So we can respond to the trials and tribulations that life often throws at us and lean into our faith instead of running away from it.  So we can journey through a global pandemic – a national crisis unlike any we have ever seen before in our lifetime – and one day look back and be proud of how we responded.

Proud of the ways we stepped up to help the least of these.

Proud of the ways we complied with recommendations even when we did not want to.

Proud of the ways we made the best of bad situations and tried to help others do the same.

Proud of the ways we remembered and clung to the promises of scripture; to the hope that we were created for a moment just like this.

Paul’s words here, in this section, are also super relevant right now, because I think people are pretty much ready to snap.  And I do think that, with the mounting frustration and fear and fatigue comes the tendency to fall into certain traps; to scroll more than we should, to pick fights with other people (particularly in online forums), to rely on unhealthy vices or to make choices that just are not great.

But here Paul reminds us – he encourages us – to resist these traps and to live into Christ.

And I cannot think of a better message for us to hear as we transition into yet another season within this season of covid.

When Paul says that, “it is now the moment,” he is saying this because there was a sense of urgency.  They believe the second coming is imminent and that there is not a lot of time to get it together before it happens.  We, Christians living in this generation, have never really understood this sense of urgency, but I think we do now.

And while I am not saying that this is the end of the world (guys, we will get through this, I promise, science is working as fast as it can on a vaccine – this is not forever, this is just for now, we just do not know how long now is), I am saying that I think over the past six months our perspective has changed.  We do have a sense of urgency – just for different reasons.  But they are real.  And they are challenging us and pushing us right now.

Because we understand suffering and frustration and helplessness on a completely different level.

But here is the question I think we need to ask ourselves – when we come out on the other side of this – whenever that is and whatever it looks like, what do we want people to remember about how we responded? Do we want people to remember that we fell into the traps of our own humanness and picked fights and relied on unhealthy vices?  Or do we want people to remember that we responded with love?

Friends, it is now the moment.

It is now the moment to show the community who we are.

It is now the moment to declare to the world that, despite these crazy times we are living in, love still wins.

It is now the moment to lean into our faith and the hope that is promised to us in scripture.

It is now the moment to help others; to care for the least of these and to put the Gospel into action.

It is now the moment to find commonalities that bring us together so that we can be united and remembered for the ways we put positivity and hope and light into the world during a very scary moment.

So friends, it is now the moment.  I invite you to put on the armor of light, to be honorable to live into Christ; to love one another in a way that will bring the dawn of a new day.

And one day may future generations look back at this time – at our church, our community, our family – and see that when we responded, we proclaimed the Good News.

And that we changed the world for the better.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 13:11, NRSV
[2] Romans 13:14, NRSV

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Hold Fast To What Is Good

Hi friends!

We continue to “do church” during these strange and unprecedented times.  It is fun to put dates ONTO the calendar, instead of just taking them off.  Next week we are going to try a drive-thru communion for the first time and our Missions Committee is working on a drive-thru dinner for mid-September.  During worship today we blessed backpack tags and device stickers (here is the liturgy if you would like to use it in your church!) and will send them out to our kids so they’re ready for the start of school.

We continued where we left off in Romans today – this letter has been such a source of comfort to me lately.  I hope you find comfort in Paul’s words, as well!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 30, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

Hold Fast To What Is Good

Well, it has been a week.

Wildfires moved quickly and fiercely through California.

A category four hurricane decimated the Louisiana coast.

A black man was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer, igniting a new wave of black lives matter protests and demonstrating just how much work we still have to do with racial reconciliation in our country.

The Republican National Convention wrapped up and, following last week’s Democratic National Convention, officially kicked off what we all know is going to be a very volatile and divisive presidential election.

Actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43, and indescribable loss to the Hollywood community, both as an actor and as a person.

Schools are trying to re-open. And it’s not easy. And people have lot of thoughts about that.

And this seems so small in the grand scheme of things, but someone impersonated me on Instagram, which was super annoying to have to deal with while I was at the doctor with my daughter for her four-month well visit.

AS AN ASIDE – and I say this not only because of what happened to me on Instagram this week, but also because I have had several clergy friends who have been impersonated by email and it caused giant messes at their churches – please know that I will never randomly email or direct message you on social media and ask you for money or gift cards. I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are evil people in this world that unfortunately are really good with technology. And they really should use their technological geniuses to make the world a better place instead of trying to scam people, but – alas – here we are. Moral of the story: If something seems not like me, it’s probably not me.

But – that is actually a really good segue into this morning’s scripture reading, from Romans. It begins:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9, NRSV)

So let’s talk about evil (that’s a fun topic for a Sunday morning, right?)

Unfortunately, in a lot of different ways, we have all seen evil unfold over the past several weeks – even months. We are living through an indescribable moment in history, collectively wondering when – and how – this chapter is going to end. Amidst a global health crisis our news is filled with headlines of violence, division and turmoil. It is not a dream, it is not a movie, it is not some scenario we are trying to avoid; it is the reality of the world we are living in right now.

But despite all of this, I think we have also seen a lot of love – a lot of true and tangible and genuine love. We have seen goodness in people, in communities and in organizations. We have seen kindness and compassion come in simple and grassroots, but also very real ways. We have seen love conquer the evil we are facing; we have seen good overcome the bad.

And this scripture reminds us that, in this moment, we have to hold fast to what is good.

That is how we will get through these challenging times, how we will close out this chapter in history we are writing.
Scripture has always kind of fascinated me – for several reasons. First of all, it is so diverse in terms of literature and style, so there is a little something for everybody, no matter what you are going through. Second of all, there is a lot of overlap in stories and timelines, so you know, that even if every single word is not 100% historically accurate, that there is still truth to scripture as a whole.

And finally, scripture has stood the test of time. It has been around a lot longer than we have – thousands of years, in fact. So while we keep saying that we are living in unprecedented times and we have never experienced a pandemic before – scripture has.

Scripture has been through wars and exiles and natural disasters and pandemics.

And it has lived through it.

And it has been a stronghold and a lifeline for people.

In many ways, scripture has never been so real to me. Sure, it has spoken to me at different points throughout my life and, in many ways, captivated me (I studied it for seven years, after all). But there is something about going through a long-term global crisis that makes me better understand the suffering and uncertainty that is talked about in scripture. And it makes me appreciate peoples’ faith in the midst of their struggles – and their hope, their tenacity and their commitment to overcome evil with good.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is the longest letter Paul ever wrote; it was written to a church that he, himself, did not found, although some scholars believe he did meet some people from the church throughout his travels. Paul had heard reports of quarrels between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – two very different groups of people united under this one umbrella of Christianity, trying to figure out how to be united when their perspectives on things were so very different.

On multiple levels, this actually sounds very familiar to what we are going through in the United States right now.

This particular passage is sort of a rulebook about what it means to be Christian. I read it described this week as, “A staccato series of imperatives for all Christians, drawing on the wisdom tradition and focusing on social relations.” (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, With The Apocraphal/Deuterocanonical Books. San Francisco, Calif. : HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.) In other words, it is a somewhat straightforward (but also in many ways challenging) list of what it means to live out your faith in Christ. Some of these rules seem obvious – some seem like a challenge – some seem downright impossible.

Paul is not saying that it is going to be easy; in fact, I think he knows just how difficult what he is asking us to do is. But he leaves us with this charge of what we have the capacity to do. The final verse of this passage says:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:21, NRSV)

In other words, if we do these things – if we follow these rules and commandments and challenges – we can put goodness into this world.

Goodness that will overcome evil.

Goodness that will bring the Gospel to life.

Goodness that will help us close out this chapter.

Goodness that will change the world for the better.

The thing about this portion of Paul’s letter is that he names evil; he talks about suffering and persecution and sorrow; he says that we will have enemies. He is saying that everything we are experiencing in our lives right now – the realities of this year – a public health crisis, impossible solutions to childcare and education, systemic racism, harsh political division, family members and friends duking it out in the comment section on Facebook (to name a few) – is part of life. It is not a pleasant part of life, but it is a part of life.

And Paul is not saying that Christianity is going to take all of these things away. What he is saying, however, is that, as Christians, we can be active participants in overcoming these things in our lives.

We can be the change that will shine light into the darkness of this moment.

We can be the voice of reconciliation that is so desperately need throughout our country.

We can be the good that will overcome evil.

And none of this is easy, especially not when the world is falling apart and tensions are running high.

But I really do believe that, as Christians, we can rise up. We can overcome evil with good and bless the people who disagree with us and persecute us. We can help others, we can love one another and we can practice hospitality.

And I believe this because it has happened before. Because scripture tells us – it shows us – that people of faith have walked through fire before and come out stronger on the other side. Scripture shows us that nothing – not even death itself – stops God from intervening and redeeming a situation.

Paul is not naively saying these words and commissioning the Roman Church to just Pollyanna a tough situation. Paul knows how hard this is going to be. His own story was not easy – he experienced suffering and persecution. He knows the gravity of what he is asking the Romans to do – and he believes they can do it.

And so when I say these things to you – when I say we can be the change, when I say we can be the voice of reconciliation, when I say we can be the good – I say them knowing that, while it might seem impossible, it has been done before and we can rise up and do it again today.

So let your love be true. Resist what is evil. Hold onto – and lift up – the good things around you. Love God and love one another. Celebrate every little tiny bit of hope you see and experience. Help others when you can. Bless your friends and your enemies. Don’t try to always get the last word in. If you are going to engage in debate with someone, do so with love and affection for the person you are talking to. Make sure we are all taking care of one another – making sure we have the basic things that we need.

So let us put kindness and love and compassion and hospitality into the world so that one day we can look back on this time – we can read this crazy chapter we are writing right now – and see that we were not overcome by the evil we faced – but that we overcame that evil with good.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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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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