Rejoice In Stewardship

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

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

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

Have a great week, everyone!

***

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

Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice In Stewardship

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

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

Basically – an entire service about money.

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

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

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

Hopefully that will not happen here this morning.

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

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

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

Paul said:

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

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

This has absolutely nothing to do with money.

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

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

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

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

It is hard.

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

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

Or we can rejoice in the Lord always.

Again, I will say, rejoice.

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

That actually sounds like a lot of fun.

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

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

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

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

Rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us rejoice in the Lord always!

Again, I will say, Rejoice!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

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

Monday morning I posted the following to Facebook:

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

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

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

Vegas, my prayers are worth you.

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

***

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

Philippians 2:1-13

Maintaining Our Commitment To The Gospel

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

Cue all the tears in the Weaver household.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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

The Choice Is Ours

Last Sunday’s sermon … posted as I work on Palm Sunday! Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 13, 2016

Philippians 3:4-14

The Choice Is Ours

Ray Medeiros told me this week that when he comes to the church on Tuesday mornings, it always sounds like we are having way too much fun in bible study.

Honestly, I could not even tell you, week to week, what specifically we are laughing about or carrying on about in the Sadie Perry Room. You never really know how the Holy Spirit will move through our conversation.

In other words, we sidetrack easily.

This week, in particular, the group was privy to my rant on how social media is turning us all into narcissists and how I am so tired of people, myself included, either measuring their value and worth on their social media following or hiding behind the anonymity of a computer screen or smartphone when they spout off and post negative things about other people.

Sorry, I think this election has got me kind of cranky.

But seriously, people, I have to do better; I am not even going to say “we” – I have to do better! I need to find a better balance in my life. Lately I have been reading myself to sleep and I am not reading bedtime stories, I am reading junk. Pure junk; I take my phone and read celebrity gossip, Facebook posts that I already saw during the day, a website that is solely devoted to complaining about bloggers and a synopsis of how many “likes” my Instagram photos have gotten that day.

You can see where I might step back and question the integrity of some of the information that I am choosing to fill my mind with.

Which leads me to my next confession. I have this vice that I cannot seem to shake – watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette on ABC.

Now, I could do a whole sermon series on some of the stuff that comes out of this show, but for now I will say this: I recently read a book written by Emily Maynard, a former contestant of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The book was called, I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption and True Love.

In addition to offering some insider info about the filming process of this reality TV show (which, let’s face it, was kind of the reason I bought the book in the first place), Maynard actually talked a great deal about her faith. She talked about the role that her faith did (and did not) play in her childhood and when she first moved out on her own. She talked about something that was missing; something that was missing from her life throughout the filming process of Bachelor and Bachelorette, something that she could not identify at the time, something that – despite the glitz and glam of Hollywood and reality television – could not fill a void in her life.

That something was God.

I have a point: Maynard wrote something in her book that really struck a chord with me. She said one night she realized she needed to close the Internet browsers that she had open that were filled with all kind stories about her, and open her bible, and read those stories instead.

And she did.

And apparently Maynard discovered that when she spent her time reading the bible and pouring through ancient stories that have inspired the faith of billions of people over thousands of years instead of reading gossip posted on the Internet, her life was truly and honestly and humbly changed for the better.

Which leads me to the homework that I assigned to my bible study this week (this was the first time in five years I have actually assigned homework): Read the bible.

I know that kind of sounds redundant (your bible study homework is to read the bible), but I want us all to go deeper. Us – myself included. I want us to read and know the bible. I want us to re-learn the stories we were taught as children, read the random books that we never knew existed and absorb this knowledge so that our lives can be changed for the better. I want us to turn to the bible instead of the useless crap that can be found on the Internet when we are looking for something to read.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi, a city in eastern Macedonia, in the first century about ten years after he visited the city for the first time. I read and re-read this passage of scripture as I was thinking about my sermon this week and kept coming back to Paul’s words, “I want to know Christ.”

Here is what I am starting to realize: I do not think we get much of a choice when it comes to when and how God comes into our life. I think we all experience defining moments in our life, whether we are ready for them or not or whether we seek them out or not. But I think we do get a choice when it comes to how deep we go into our faith. We absolutely get to choose how well we know God, how much time we spend thinking about our faith and how we will live our lives.

This is why we are here. This is one of the reasons that we come to church, why we gather in bible study, why we get involved in the community, why we serve, donate or give back and why we try to find a better balance in life and faith. We want to know Christ; we want to know more about the life that Jesus led and the lives that we are called to lead. We want to know the power of the resurrection; we want to know what the resurrection meant 2,000 years ago and we want to know if resurrection is still happening in our midst today.

And we can choose to learn about these things. We can choose to know these things.

Paul does not deny that we, as human beings, want to know Christ and want to dig deeper in our faith. But he does, however, speculate that perhaps sometimes we get a little distracted by our earthly lives and put value on things that really do not matter when it comes to going deeper into our faith.

Paul started off this passage by essentially giving us his bloodline and resume: He was a Hebrew, a Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day and righteous with the law. He was a member of the people of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin and blah, blah, blah. By religious and cultural standards, he should have been held in high accord.

But do you know what? Paul said that stuff did not matter. Paul said that the successes and the possessions and the bloodlines of our earthly lives did nothing to strengthen his relationship with God; in fact, it hindered it. Paul said:

Yet, whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

It would be like if I stood up here every week and said, “If anyone needs any assurance about the quality of my sermon, I assure you I graduated with honors from both college and seminary, completed a intensive unit of chaplaincy and was recommended without revisions for ordination.”

News flash: NO ONE CARES. It is not the tangible stuff or successes that matter in our faith. What matters is not the things that we can see and identify; in fact, very often what matters is the stuff that we cannot see. What matters is that we do the hard work that is required today to get to know God, ourselves and what the Gospel is boldly calling us to do.

But in order to do this we have to look forward; we cannot look back. Paul said:

Beloved … this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

This may be a controversial statement, but I strongly believe that there is no hierarchy when it comes to Christians. There may be religious hierarchies, but when it comes to our faith, we are all on this journey together. We all wake up every morning facing the day that lies in front of us, trying to find some semblance of balance in our lives and working to make a difference the world. We all have regrets, make mistakes and learn a lot along the way. We all experience moments of struggle and moments of triumph. We all ask questions and sometimes we find some answers (but let’s face it, not very often).

But Paul is saying here that the journey of faith is one that is open to all of us, regardless of who we are or where we are on our journey through life. We all are free to travel this journey, old or young, rich or poor, privileged or oppressed. We all can know God, dig deeper into our faith and discover the real power of the resurrection.

So I am going to give you the same homework that I gave my bible study: Read the bible. Be inspired, be challenged and be strengthened by those ancient words. Learn more about the people of our faith who came before us. And in doing this, learn more about yourself as well.

And if you are not quite ready to read the bible (believe me, I get it, it is not an easy book to get through!), find a new way to strengthen yourself spiritually. Set up a time or email me to talk about my sermon. Find a way to get involved in the life of the church that stretches you a little bit – and then reflect on that. Try to change a habit that you know is not really good for you and try to replace it with something that will draw you closer to God.

Now, I am not trying to be some stereotypical crazy fire and brimstone preacher that says we need to give up everything that is secular about our lives and narrow our focus solely on our faith at all times (because, rest assured, I will be watching the season finale of the Bachelor this week). But I just think that there is real value in using our faith to help us find balance in our lives. I think grace can be found when we seek God out; when we educate ourselves, when we challenge ourselves and when we hold onto to that real and powerful hope of resurrection.

Next week is Palm Sunday; our Lenten journey is about to come to a close. Soon we will be out of the wilderness. Over the next two weeks, I would encourage you all to think about the ways that you can celebrate this Easter season and practice resurrection in your life.

Beloved, now is the time to look forward. Now is the time to get to know God, to really learn about the gospel and to feel the power of the resurrection.

The choice is ours.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.