What The Local Church Can Do

Finishing up our glance at 1 Corinthians, we came off a wonderful evening of show tunes at RCC and then gathered for worship on Sunday morning.  It was a great weekend to finish up this sermon series, think about what local churches are capable of doing (because y’all we have done a lot over the past couple of weeks) and then settle down and start thinking about the Lenten season.

Mardi Gras Sunday is this week!  I decided to jump back into the Revised Common Lectionary (I know, I know) for Lent, so I will be following the Gospel texts until Easter Sunday.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 16, 2020

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 16:13-24

What The Local Church Can Do

When the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and called churches to go out into the world and do the same, I wonder if he ever could have imagined that, in 2,000 years, halfway around the world, a small church in the village of a small town called Rehoboth, Massachusetts would share Christ’s message of love and hospitality with showtunes and appetizers.

I really do love my job.  I mean – I love Jesus.  I love the Gospel.  I love that God came into this world in human flesh and promises to always be with us.  I love that knowing that love triumphs over evil and that I do not have to be perfect to be transformed by God’s grace.

But I also just love the local church.  I love what we can do.  I love who we can be.  I love the fact that we are able to exist within this 300-year-old institution and yet still proclaim a message that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in our world, today.  I love that we are able to change lives and proclaim the Gospel, using the rituals and traditions that have shaped us, as a church, but also put our own twist on things, even if sometimes that twist involves chocolate fountains and Les Mis medleys.

The really cool thing about the local church is that, by being here, we are living into God’s call for us.  Because I do believe that into each generation God calls Christians to do something new, to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today, as we proclaim the Gospel and share Christ’s message of love.

We have come to the end of our glance at 1 Corinthians.  I think, in many ways, Paul is addressing some of the same things in this letter that we, as a church, do as we seek to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today.  He is trying to help the Corinthians overcome differences and seek unity in Christ so they can, not only strengthen their own church, but also extend the reach of the Gospel within their community and throughout the world.  He is trying to help them be authentic to who they are, as a mostly-Gentile Christian community living in Corith exploring this new faith.

Paul covers a lot of ground in this letter to the church in Corinth.  This letter – his first letter to this church – is the second-longest in the New Testament.  The letters – called epistles – are arranged in the bible by length from longest to shortest; 1 Corinthians is the second letter, after Romans.  We have looked at bits and pieces of it, enough to at least understand what was going on.  We know the Corinthian community was in conflict prior to Paul writing this letter.  We know that Paul’s focus is unity; he talks about the fact that differences do not make us weaker; that they, in fact, make us stronger, as a church, as the Body of Christ.  As he begins to close out his letter, Paul assures the church that love will bind them together.

We have now reached the end of the letter – Paul’s offers his final words on the resurrection and what this means for the church as they seek to be authentic to who they are, as Christians living in their world.

In other words – what’s next?  What does this mean for us?  What does it mean to believe in God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love through Jesus Christ and then how do we live that out, as a community?  How can we be authentic to who we are, as Christians?

These are the same questions that we ask ourselves, today.  The same questions that sometimes lead to chocolate festivals and cabarets, but also that lead to intriguing sermon series, new missions projects, compassionate meal trains and fun educational opportunities.

I believe Paul’s words at the end of this letter speak as poignantly to us, today, as I am sure they did to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago.  He says in chapter 15, verses one and three, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”  Today, I remind us all of this same good news – that Christ came not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are perfect, but because we need grace; not because we are whole, but because we are broken.

This is not something that we have to earn – this is something that is guaranteed to us.  This is why we gather in the first place.  It is the hope that we hold onto when it seems like the world is a really scary place to live in; the hope that love is real and that God is always with us; the hope that we remind one another of when we are walking with each other through the deep valleys of life; the hope that sustains us as we do church together.

Paul says in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”  Today we have to remember this same sentiment – that we are who God says that we are, that we are who God created us to be, that we are who God is calling us to be.  We need to remember this as individuals, but also as the church.  Who we are is enough because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are.

Paul says in chapter 16, verse 13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”  These words continue to speak to us because they remind us that we, too, have to remain strong as we do this work God is calling us to do.  It is not always easy to share the Gospel in the world we are living in today.  It is not always easy to be part of the church – on a practical level of finding time in the week to participate or on a theological level of proclaiming this message of love in a world that so often seems divisive and filled with hatred.  But Paul reminds us that we should not waver from our convictions.

“Let all that you do be done in love,” Paul says in verse 14.  Remember what Jesus said – love God, love people.  Paul knows this is not always easy – he knows that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that kind of love.

But Paul also knows that this is where the real work begins.

And that is when transformation happens.

That is when the Gospel comes alive and starts to change lives.

And this is what happens in the local church.

The cool part about the local church is that we are not only the ones that are on the ground and sharing the Gospel in a grassroots and real way, but we are able to decide who we are; we are able to listen to God’s speaking to us, calling us to be the most authentic version of ourselves and our church in this generation.  And so, like Paul reminds the Corinthians at the end of this letter, we need to remember, both as individuals and as a church, of the hope of the promise of our faith.  We need to trust that we are who God says that we are.  We need to stand firm in our faith and be courageous on our journey.

We have had a wonderful couple of weeks here, at our local church.  In many ways, it feels like we were just suspending stars from the ceiling after the new year and now here we are, halfway through February.  Yet, in still a relatively short amount of time, we have done a tremendous amount of work.  We have received star words and remembered our baptisms.  We gathered around the font of living waters and baptized three children; we then lived out the promises we make in baptism a few weeks later by supporting the Youth Group’s fundraising efforts to offset the cost of their winter retreat through Super Bowl Subs.  We enthusiastically participated in Chocolate Festivals and Cabarets and were ambassadors for our church in the community.  We tested out a new mission project that we hope to launch more regularly in the spring and allocated funds from our mission and discretionary accounts to help people in need in our community.

And next week the work continues – we will shift our focus to Lent with our Mardi Gras Sunday celebration; Lent begins the following week.

In other words – we just keep going.

But, to be quite honest, I think that is what Paul is saying here – just keep going.  Keep proclaiming the Gospel.  Keep believing in the promises.  Keep strengthening your faith and finding the courage to remain steadfast.  Keeping sharing Christ’s love.  Keep working together and building one another up.  Keep believing in yourself and your church; that you are who God says that you and that you have the capacity to change someone’s life for the better.  Keep being authentic to who you are, as Christians living in this world today.

This is the charge to the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago.  And this is the charge to us, the church in the village, today.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My life be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Let’s Talk About Love

No, not the Celine Dion song, although you better believe I listened to it while I was writing my sermon this week!

This scripture was actually the catalyst for this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians in the first place.  I wanted to explore some of the “love” passages in the Bible that we know so well to help us, as a congregation, as we continue to figure out how to best love God, love one another and then love others.  Though not at all planned, the timing was perfect in light of Valentine’s Day this week!

We only have one more week left in this sermon series and then it’s Mardi Gras, Lent (I think I’m going to follow the RCL for Lent) and then I’m having a baby!  I cannot believe that at the end of Lent, I will (hopefully) be preaching Easter and then will be off on maternity leave for 10 weeks.  This pregnancy flew by!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 9, 2020

1 Corinthians 13

Let’s Talk About Love

Okay, show of hands:

How many of you have heard this scripture read at a wedding before?

I said a few weeks ago when we kicked off this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians that this chapter of Paul’s letter was the driving force behind my desire to look at this particular book of scripture.  The theme of love appeared and then re-appeared frequently throughout the year here, at RCC, in 2019 and I wanted to further explore, not only Paul’s well-known words about love that we just heard, but also the context in which he wrote them.

In reading bits and pieces of 1 Corinthians leading up to this passage on love, we know now that Paul is not actually addressing two people who are getting married when he talks about love.  Instead, Paul is speaking to a church he founded that is struggling to work through some differences and conflicts.

First of all, before I dig a little bit deeper into this passage, I do want to say that despite the fact Paul is not actually talking about marriage here, I still think this is a really good scripture to read at a wedding – or even 5 – 10 – 20 years down the road in marriage when you and your spouse are deep in the throes trying to do life together and life is hard.  I am only ten years into the whole marriage thing, but that has been long enough to know that sometimes you need a love to sustain your relationship that is strong and powerful enough to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.

Because the things in life are hard, right?

I don’t want anyone to take away from my sermon that I think these words have no value in our marriages or even in our other relationships with one another.  Because they absolutely do.

However, I think these words are even more powerful when we think about where they come from and what Paul means when he writes them.

So let’s talk about love.

If Paul is not talking about marriage here, then what is he talking about?

Okay – who remembers my sermon from last week?  What did I talk about?

The Body of Christ.

This is one of the instances in this sermon series looking at different parts of 1 Corinthians where I intentionally had us read two passages, chronologically, without skipping anything in between.  Because it is imperative to our understanding of Paul’s explanation of love that we see it as a continuation of his explanation of the Body of Christ.  As soon as Paul finishes his dialogue on the Body of Christ in chapter 12, he leads directly into this passage on love.

Understanding these two passages as one linear passage instead of two separate ones gives us a really good insight into what Paul is thinking and that is that the Body of Christ works because love is so powerful.

I spoke last week about the fact that Paul’s words about the Body of Christ acts as an assurance that we do not all have to agree on everything or view the world the same way in order for us to be united in the Body of Christ.  This is especially poignant for us, as a congregation.  We are very diverse politically, generationally and geographically.  We believe different things and come to church for different reasons.  This church means some different to each one of us.  Paul’s words assure us that it is okay if we disagree with the people sitting to the left and to the right of us; but that we are all still united in Christ, called to come together and proclaim the Gospel despite the differences that often threaten to divide us.

You may be wondering, however, how?  How do we come together and stand united in Christ when some of our beliefs are so different?  How do we overcome this diversity and do what God is calling us to do, as the church?

Today, Paul gives us the answer – love.  We are able to come together as the Body of Christ because God’s love is so powerful.  We are able to work together, despite our differences, because God’s love works as an agent of transformation within us.  We are able to be who God is calling us to be and do what God is calling us to do because God’s love is what motivates us and propels us forward.

Paul talks about love as if it is a noun, not a verb.  Love is something that already exists in the world; it is not something that we necessarily have to create, but that we have to uncover.  I think it is one of our responsibilities, as the church, to uncover this love – to show the world that God’s love is real, to demonstrate the bold and radical truth that love can conquer evil and to create a space for love to show us what it is capable of.

I think it is important to remember when we read this passage is the time frame Paul is writing in.  He is part of the first generation of evangelists; not that much time has passed since the resurrection.  This idea of the end time – the return of Christ – is relevant, because they thought it was happening soon; but in other ways, it was also unsettling for people, because they just do not know what the future is going to hold.

And Paul references it, here in this passage.

In verse 12, he says: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  In other words, right now we cannot see fully the glory of God, but one day we will meet Jesus and everything will make sense.  “Now I know only part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  In other words, right now we only understand a part, but one day we will understand completely.

The reason Paul brings up the end time here is actually to strengthen his argument about just how powerful love is.  Because it is permanent – “Love never ends.”  Everything else is temporary, but love will never end.

“As for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.”  Remember back to the chapter leading up to this passage on love where Paul talks about the Body of Christ.  Prophecies, tongues, knowledge – these are all spiritual gifts God appoints to us, but, Paul says, these are all temporary, but love never ends.

I was thinking about this idea of temporary and permanence this week, particularly as we are pouring so much time into chocolate festivals and cabarets and Mardi Gras Sundays.  Are these temporary?  Technically – yes.  And here’s the thing – it’s not that they don’t matter, because they do; they matter to us and to the people who experience the Gospel through them.  But our legacies are what we leave behind; love is what we take with us when see God face to face, when fully know and understand what this love means.

When Paul talks about temporary versus permanence, I do not think he means that our stuff and our lives and our gifts don’t matter, I think he just means that love is stronger than all of it.

I used to read this passage of scripture as a charge – as a charge to love in a way that is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant and not rude.  But now I am kind of reading it as a promise.

A promise that love is what God says that it is.

A promise that love is real.

A promise that love is powerful.

A promise that love will never end.

A promise that, even in those very human moments of imperfection and conflict and uncertainty, love is still there.

And so as we do the hard work that is proclaiming the Gospel and serving our community and nurturing our local church, we do so assured of this promise that love is already here.

Today, as we read these words that, in many ways, are very familiar to us, I invite you to be reassured of this same promise.  This promise that love is real; that our lives and our relationships and our spiritual gifts work because of this love.  Hold fast to this truth that this love is already here among us, waiting for us to uncover it and use it and show it to the world.  Remember that this love will never end.

Don’t hope that love wins – believe that love wins.

I still think this passage is beautiful to read at weddings – but I do not think we should limit its capacity to transform our lives in other ways and places.  I think we should let it speak to us in all of our moments – the extraordinary and the ordinary.  I think we should remember that love not just something that is celebrated on February 14th every year, but something that is promised to us always – in life and beyond life.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Appointed Into The Body Of Christ

The deacon leading worship on Sunday came into my office before church and was commenting on how much he loves this scripture.  Honestly, it’s always been one of my favorites!  It’s wonderful as it stands alone, but then, when you think about the fact that it leads into Paul’s words on love, is even more powerful.

There are so many different directions you can go with this text!  I talked about the distribution of work within the Body mostly because I thought it was timely with where we are, as a church, but really the possibilities are endless when you preach this.  There’s so much good stuff in it!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 2, 2020

1 Corinthians 12

Appointed Into The Body Of Christ

If ever there was a piece of scripture that has the capability to sum up the work of the local church in less than 1,000 words, it is the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.

It is in this chapter that Paul names the Body of Christ.

It is in this chapter that Paul says we do not all have to live out our faith in the same ways.

It is in this chapter that Paul admits that we are not called to do it all.

It is in this chapter that Paul assures us that different does not mean bad; that not only is it okay that we all possess different spiritual gifts, but that it is actually necessary for the church to survive and thrive in the generations to come.

I think it is easy for us to read this scripture today and think, of course this makes sense, this is the only way that societies and businesses and communities function.  You need different people fulfilling different roles in order for all of the roles to be fulfilled.  Think of it this way:  I am very happy to be your pastor and most days even think I do a pretty good job at it; but if y’all need advice on your taxes between now and April 15th, I am so not the person you should be talking to.  And on the flip side, I do not think my accountant wants to be preaching, either!

But this is exactly my point:  We all take care of a piece of life so that other people do not have to do it all.  And those other people take care of a different piece of life so that we do not have to do it all.  It seems so logical; and yet for this church Paul is writing to, it is countercultural.

You have to remember where the Corinthians were coming from.  This was a relatively new church.  Paul had gone to Corinth and founded this church; but after he left to continue evangelizing in new cities, he heard reports of conflict back in Corinth.

From the very beginning of this chapter, Paul names exactly why the Corinthians are struggling.  He says in verse two, “You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.”[1]  In other words, Paul is saying, I know this whole “one God” thing is very new to you all.

A majority of the Corinthian church is made up of Gentiles (people who were not Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity) and only a small percentage of people in this church are Jewish Christians (people who were Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity).  Because of this, it is safe to assume that most people are not accustomed to monotheism – to worshiping one God.  The Gentile people – the majority of the people in this church – even if they were not practicing, had at least been influenced by the pagan culture in Corinth before Paul entered the scene.  And so they were used to this notion that if you had one gift, you worshiped a certain God and if you had another gift, you worshiped a different God.

But here Paul is saying that, no matter what gifts you possess, you will all worship the same God.  Because “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.”[2]

This is a very different way of life and spirituality than most of these people are used to living.  What it means is, that instead of silo-ing themselves into different groups of people who all possess like-minded gifts and worship a God that is pertinent to only that like-minded gift, they are now being called to open themselves up to be one body and to serve one God.

I think sometimes when I talk about the Body of Christ, I talk about it in a more superficial way.  I use it for recruiting and for affirming all of the many ways that you can serve this church.  But when Paul talks about it here, he is really digging deep into the depths of how the people in this community understand the world to be.

And so Paul is saying they need to step outside of these silos and embrace not only that which they hold in common with the other members of this church, but also that which stands in stark contrast with them. Because diversity does not mean lack of unity; it just means that together we create the Body of Christ.

When Paul talks to the Corinthians about the Body of Christ, he is not doing this as a way of “volun-telling” people for various boards and committees, like say, perhaps, yours truly might do; he is actually talking about the Body of Christ in order to shift an entire community’s way of thinking, drawing them together in one body, instead of allowing them to remain divided.

And so, when we read these words today, I think there are actually two really important takeaways for us.  The first is the one that we fall back on a lot – that we all have a different, but really vital role to play in the church.

Paul says at the end of this chapter, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.”[3]  As we seek to do the hard work, today, that is proclaiming the Gospel and nurturing our local church, it is absolutely crucial we remember that we each have a unique role to play, that we all can contribute in ways both large and small.

It sounds so cliché, but this church needs you and the gifts that you possess.  This church needs people to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins, ring the bell at the beginning of worship, manage our money, clean the building, teach Church School, arrange the flowers, participate in mission projects and volunteer at events.  This church needs people to donate money and various items to different collections.  This church needs people to show up faithfully in worship and be ambassadors for the church out in the community.

What this church does not need is for you to try to do all of these things.  Like God appointed the Corinthian people to be apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, assisters and leaders, God appoints us in this church today to fulfill these various roles in confident hope that others are being appointed to fulfill the other roles.

In other words, the work that each and every one of us does matters; but we do not have to do it all or do it alone.  Instead, we have this incredible opportunity to stand in awe of the way God is not only using us within this church, but then also putting all the pieces together to create the whole of this beautifully holy, grace-filled and life-changing church.

The second important takeaway for us, today, has more to do with what Paul was specifically addressing in Corinth – and that is this hard to live out truth that it is okay for us to be different.

It is okay if we view the world differently.  It is okay if we understand our faith in different ways.  It is okay if we live out our faith differently from those around us.  We do not have to be of the same mind in order to be united in Christ.

There are very few places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet still be encouraged to love them and encourage them and embrace them and serve alongside them.  There are even fewer places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet know that they are loving you and encouraging you and embracing you and serving alongside you.

This is church.  This is a place where we are all called beloved and claimed as God’s children.  This is a place where we look each other in the eyes and see one another’s humanity.  This is a place where we do not try to change one another; but instead where we meet each other where we are and love one another as Christ loved us.

This is church.  This is the Body of Christ.  The Body of Christ that has many members.  The Body of Christ where all are baptized as one and made to drink of one Spirit.  The Body of Christ that does not consist of one member, but of many.  The Body of Christ where God has appointed us to use our gifts to nurture the church, to love one another and to share the Gospel.

The Body of Christ is not just something we are called into, it is a gift; it is a gift God gives to us so we can be united with one another, so we can be part of something bigger than ourselves and so, together, we can gather the church and proclaim Christ’s message of light, love and grace.

Welcome to the Body.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:2, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, NRSV
[3] 1 Corinthians 12:29, NRSV

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