Welcoming From Within

You’ll see in my sermon that I gave my church a charge this week to go into fellowship after worship and talk to someone they had never talked to before.  I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was awesome!  I posted this on Facebook on Sunday night:

During my sermon this morning, I charged everyone to go into fellowship after worship and talk to someone they had never talked to before. Not necessarily someone new – just someone they didn’t know. We all know how easy it is to just get comfortable in our little groups and social circles but are never sure how to break the cycle. Might as well all give it a shot together, right? I told everyone if they needed an ice breaker, they could either talk about the weather OR use the opening line, “Can you believe Sarah is making us do this?” And seriously – by the time I went downstairs to my office to drop off my robe and walked into fellowship, I literally NOTICED a difference in conversation in the room. I saw people I know didn’t know each other talking and laughing. The only people who came over to talk to me were people who wanted to introduce me to someone who had worshipped with us for the first time. People left and called to me, “I talked to two new people today! I talked to three!” I’m so grateful for my people who humor me and follow along with my crazy ideas. Praise be to God for hospitality, new friendships and a community strengthened by fellowship. ❤️ #rccstrong

I have nothing else to say!  Here’s my sermon – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 17, 2017

Romans 14:1-12

Welcoming From Within

When I was a ministry intern in seminary, I was in a meeting with the pastor of the church I was serving when her phone rang.  It was her husband, so she answered it and I got to hear her half of the conversation that went something like this:

I don’t know, what to you want for dinner?

Long pause.

I don’t really care, what are you in the mood for?

Long pause.

No I really don’t care.

Long pause.

Sigh …

Well just pick something, because I can’t make a decision!

Sound familiar?

I did not mean to eavesdrop, but when she hung up the phone, I just could not help myself.  “How long have you been married?” I asked.  “14 years,” she answered.

Keep in mind, at that point, Bruce and I were not married yet and we were already having this exact same discussion on almost a nightly basis.

“So … at what point in marriage do you stop arguing about what’s for dinner?”  I asked.

She looked at me, thought about it for a second and replied, “I don’t think you ever do.”

That might have been the greatest marriage advice I have ever been given.

We just heard a reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where they were essentially have the exact opposite argument about food.  Instead of nobody being able to make a decision about what to eat, there were two different groups of people who both had very clear opinions about what they should, and more specifically, should not eat.

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, a church he did not found and probably did not know very well.  Up until this point (as we have heard over the past several weeks in reading through earlier sections of this letter), Paul’s instructions to the church had been fairly general about God’s grace and how they should live their lives and interact with one another.

But in the passage we just heard, Paul’s focus shifts from general advice to something a bit more specific – dietary practices.  Paul writes:

Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.[1]

Dietary practices in Rome were clearly a hot button issue when Paul was writing this letter.  On the one hand, you had Jewish Christians, who believed in following the kosher laws ingrained in their religious tradition.  On the other hand, you had Gentile Christians, who were not raised with these customs and did not think they should have to follow them.

The challenge in reading this text today is finding its relevance.  In our church, most of us subscribe to the theology of the potluck, where we all bring something different to the table and usually are just excited to have so many options. Food rarely causes the type of deep-seeded conflict and division today that I did when the church was so young.

But there are things in our church – and all churches, really – that are hot button issues.  We all come to this community from different places on our journeys and have different beliefs and priorities and sometimes our differences in opinion create conflict among us.

That being said – and I really do not even want to say this from the pulpit for fear I might jinx it – I was trying to come up with an issue going on in the church right now that I could compare this dietary conflict in Rome to and I honestly could not.  We really have found ourselves in a positive place here in terms of keeping our lines of communication open to discuss challenging topics and being willing to compromise.

So first of all – let’s celebrate that!  I do not take it for granted.

But I still think this scripture has a lot to teach us.

Paul starts off this passage by saying, “Welcome those who are weak in faith.”[2]

Okay, so he did use this opportunity to take a little stab at those who were restricting their diets by calling them weak, but let’s put that aside for a moment and acknowledge the fact that he started this passage by calling the church to WELCOME.

WELCOME those who are weak in faith.

This is a message that I think can really resonate within our community.  It reminds us that no matter who we are, where we are on our journey through life or why we are here at this church, we are called to welcome one another in God’s love.

Our church is not made up of one demographic of people.  We have twenty-somethings, we have young families, we have youth, we have empty nesters, we have retirees and we have grandparents and great-grandparents.  We come to this space in different places on our journeys through life; we are all looking to get something different out of the church and all have different abilities to give back to the church.

And what Paul is saying here is that we need to welcome one another amidst this diversity.

I do not think this passage is necessarily about seasoned veterans of the church welcoming new people into the community (although I do think that is important!).  I think this passage speaks to our community as a whole – ALL of us – and reminds us to practice hospitality amongst ourselves.

I want everyone to try something:  After worship today, talk to someone you have never had a conversation with before.

I have been thinking about putting this out there for awhile, and this week’s scripture really gave me the push I needed to do it.  Over the past several years, I have spent a lot of time talking with various groups in the church about hospitality and welcoming new members. One of the challenges everyone identifies is how to know if someone is new or not.  “What if I go up to talk to someone who I think is new and it turns out they’ve been coming to the church for awhile?” people always ask.

In reading and reflecting on this scripture, the thought crossed my mind this week that perhaps it does not make a difference whether someone is new or not. Regardless of whether someone has been here their whole life or just walked through our doors, we should always be trying to reach out to one another, foster new relationships and strengthen our community through hospitality.

Paul writes in this letter:

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we died, we are the Lord’s.[3]

It is important we remember that, in coming to this church and being part of the community, we are all equal.  We are all children of God.  We all love this church and want to see it grow and thrive.

And so I think we need to heed the call of scripture today and practice hospitality within our own community.

We may not be quarreling about dietary practices, but Paul’s words about hospitality are so important for us to take seriously as we continue to think about who we are, as a church, and who God is calling us to be.  It is in welcoming one another that we spread God’s love in this world.  As we seek to create the type of peace we pray for, we need to remember that it starts right here.  The work we do in this church matters; the community we nurture and strengthen is important.  Our church can and will change lives.

So after church today, I invite you to welcome one another.  Talk to someone you have never talked to before.  If you need a topic of conversation to break the ice, feel free to start with, “Can you believe Rev. Sarah is making us do this?”

It might not feel totally comfortable at first; but I promise you will not only learn something from doing this – but our community will be better for it.

Friends, let us practice hospitality here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church !

Also – if anyone would like to set up a meal plan for Bruce and me, please talk to me after worship.

AFTER you have talked to someone you have never talked to before, that is.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 14:2, NRSV
[2] Romans 14:1, NRSV
[3] Romans 14:7-8, NRSV

Love Your People

Oh my goodness, y’all I am SO sorry I am so delayed in posting this.  I keep asking veteran mamas what ages their kids were when they managed to pull themselves back together and they all just laugh at me.  Ha!  So I’m doing the best I can, but definitely still working out the kinks of my new schedule.

Anyway, here is my sermon from last week.  I think this is a message we all need to hear – a reminder that so much of the Gospel boils down to the simple commandment to love one another.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 10, 2017

Romans 13:8-14

Love Your People

In the United Church of Christ, when someone wants to be ordained, they have to go through a process that ends with something called an Ecclesiastical Council.  This is where the candidate for ordination essentially defends their ordination papers and answers any questions the association has for them.  At the end of the Council, a vote is taken and the candidate is (hopefully) recommended for ordination.

My Ecclesiastical Council happened nearly seven years ago at my mom’s former church in Kent, CT.  During the Q&A, one pastor, the Rev. Terry Ryan, raised his hand and asked me what I thought my mom’s greatest success was at her church.

Now, first of all, I was a little annoyed by the question, because, hello, this was supposed to be about me, not my mom.  But the question also kind of put me on the spot because I honestly had never just thought about it before.  My mom had been at that church for nearly 20 years at that point:  How could I narrow down her one greatest success?

So I gave it a shot:  “The outreach program,” I said.  I had always been impressed by the fact that her church had two completely separate budgets – operating and outreach – and members could choose which percentage of their pledge would go to each budget during stewardship.

Terry listened to my answer, paused and said:  “You’re wrong.”

At which point an audible gasp filled the sanctuary as the congregation (who was feeling kind of protective over me at that point because they had watched me grow up in the church and basically saw me as their collective daughter) waited for me to respond.

I started to stumble through a response when Terry looked at me, waited for me to finish, smiled and said, “She loves these people.”

She loves these people.

At the time, I thought he was out of his mind.  After all, I did not just spend seven years in school, complete two ministry internships and a unit of chaplaincy, do a two-day psychological evaluation and write my ordination papers so I could do a job that just boils down to loving people!  That doesn’t even make sense.

Fast forward to today …

… I get it.

There have been moments along my journey here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, where I have put my education and all of the other pieces of the ordination process to good use.

But there have been far more moments where it has been so much more important for me to put all that aside and just love the heck out of the people in this church.

Let’s look at this morning’s scripture.

We have spent the past two weeks in Paul’s letter to the Romans and we continue again in it this morning.  Paul spent the beginning of this letter talking about what it means for God’s love to be fully inclusive, assuring the Roman citizens that God’s grace has no bounds and is bestowed upon both Jews and Gentiles.  But in the passage we read last week, Paul shifted gears to discuss the fact that, while grace is extended to all of the Roman citizens, the way they lived their lives did, in fact, still matters.

So we know this, right?  We know the way we live our lives matters; we know that the choices we make, the way we treat others and the standards we hold ourselves to makes a difference to the people around us and to the world we are living in.

But how do we decide how to live our lives?  How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

In these verses, Paul makes a reference to the Ten Commandments as a compass for how we can live our lives. But Paul says in fact, it is even easier than that; he says these commandments can be summed up simply – by loving the people around us.

The commandments … are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

Paul says while there are many different pieces to the law, that in loving one another, we are fulfilling the law; that in loving one another we are living in accordance to God’s word.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.[2]

There are many different layers to what it means to be Christian and also what it means to be part of the Church, and part of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  But Paul says that in loving one another we are peeling away those layers and getting at the heart of the Gospel message.

Paul does not want the people in Rome to get caught up in the minute details of the law and then struggle with everyone’s different interpretations of that law. Paul wants the people in Rome to love one another.

This is such a wonderful message for us to hear today in the church.  There is great diversity that exists among us; we all come to this community from different places in our journeys and have different ideas, opinions and priorities.  And while sometimes it is hard to be united in a common purpose or mission or vision (something I would argue many churches struggle with), Paul is saying here that God works out those details for us.  Paul says that if we make a commitment to love one another that God will unite us.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.[3]

There is something so beautiful to this message:  Paul is not saying that in order to live according to the law that everyone needs to agree with one another.  Paul is saying that God’s call for us is to love one another first, and in doing so, we will illuminate God’s law in our own unique and special way.

Of course, there is an eschatological sense of urgency to what Paul is saying as he writes to the church in Rome.  They believed the end of time was near and they had to figure this stuff out quickly.

Now, in our church today, we do not have the same sense of urgency. But I would argue that the call to love within the church is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago.  Because the world is still very much broken and it needs the church to be strong; the world needs to hear and see the Good News; the world needs to know that love wins.

This is what I love so much about our theme for the year, that “it takes a (church in the) village.”  Because in being the village for our church family (and also the community around us and even the world), we are living out this call to love.  We are boldly proclaiming that we do not all have to believe the same things in order to minister to and with one another, that we simply have to love one another, confidently believing that God will work out the rest.

Like many of you, I spent much of the week watching coverage of the hurricane and checking in with my friends and family in Florida.  It is at times such as these that I am reminded of what really matters and of just how important this call to love one another is.  Because right now a lot of people have been impacted by these storms.  And they do not need churches to all agree on the same theology, structure or rules; they need churches to love the heck out of them and help them rebuild.

Rev. Ryan was correct; we can spend years learning about theology and church doctrine, we can spend hours trying to understand rules and regulations and we can completely immerse ourselves in ancient laws and customs – but more often than not, the simple act of love will propel us forward in ministry. And I believe God is calling us to love our people.

I know everyone leads very busy lives, but I strongly believe that, in the midst of that craziness, we all have the capacity within us to love one another in God-sized ways. Paul’s words remind us that love can and will make a real difference in our lives, in the communities we are part of and in the world.

And it starts here, at church.

Friends, it is Rally Day here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  The summer is over and a new season of ministry is upon us.  Paul says, “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep,” and I believe these words focus us today as we transition out of the sleepiness of summer and into the busyness of fall.  Today we think about what kind of church we want to be.  We discern what kind of community we want to create. Because it is in reading Paul’s words that we remember that it is through our love for one another that we find God’s grace among us, that we are strengthened and that we are made whole.

Welcome back, RCC! Let’s love our people.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 13:9, NRSV
[2] Romans 13:8, NRSV
[3] Romans 13:10, NRSV

Thank You, Jordan

Oh friends, I told Bruce last night that “everything is changing this week!”  I am back to work full time, my sweet Baby Harrison started daycare and we have two new staff members starting on Sunday.  This past Sunday was Jordan’s last Sunday and we sent him off with love and music!  If you follow us on Facebook, you saw that we sang Piano Man with re-written lyrics, complete with a harmonica, solos for everyone and a singalong at the end.  It really was incredible!

I hope you enjoy my sermon.  It really was a tribute to the work Jordan has put in at the church over the past 4 1/2 and the impact he’s had on all of us.

Good luck in Austin, Jordan!  They don’t know how lucky they are.

See y’all next week.  On to new beginnings …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 3, 2017

Romans 12:9-21

Thank You, Jordan

As I thought about my sermon in the weeks leading up to today, I knew I could not get up here and preach as if this were any ordinary Sunday.  The truth is, today is far from ordinary.  Today is a sad, but also very special Sunday for us here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  It is sad because we are saying goodbye to Jordan, but also very special because we have the opportunity to celebrate 4 ½ years of incredible music.

And how wonderful is it that we have so much to celebrate!

The reading we just heard from Romans picks up where we left off last week.  Paul is writing to the church in Rome, talking about what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.  Paul had spent the beginning of his letter assuring the citizens of Rome that both Jews and Gentiles were extended the same grace; but here he shifts gears to remind them that even though God gives them grace, the way they live their lives does, in fact, still matter.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.[1]

If you recognize these words, it is because I use a variation of them in my benediction every week.  They are a poignant reminder to us that the way we live our lives matters just as much today as it did 2,000 years ago in Rome.  The choices we make, the relationships we cultivate, the grace we extend and the compassion we surround others with creates and nurtures the Church Paul was calling this community to be.

In so many ways – both big and small, visible and invisible – Jordan lived out these words as he served as our Music Director at RCC.  This morning I would like to share some of the ways he has impacted both the church and me – and changed us all for the better.

I will never forget the first time I met Jordan – because the next day I was hospitalized.

Now, I am confident the two are not related, but my hospitalization did throw a wrench in the hiring plans because the following week – when Jordan was scheduled to play in worship for his trial run – I was also scheduled to have a follow-up procedure done and was out of the office, which meant I did not get him the music until very late in the week.

Which brought us to Sunday morning, when I was going over the order of worship with Jordan, while apologizing profusely for being so last minute with the music, while also trying to explain the bizarre nature of my ailment without scaring him with too much personal information, but still trying to come off as a person who usually is much more prompt with worship planning and music in order to make a good impression on this prospective Music Director.

At which point, Jordan looked at me, shrugged and said, “It’s okay.”

Which set the tone for the entire dynamic of our relationship – me, the high strung neurotic pastor and Jordan, the laid back musician who effortlessly created beautiful music no matter what circumstances surrounded him.

Jordan, you have been our musical rock over the past 4 ½ years.

It is because of you that Beatles Sunday filled our sanctuary with everyone’s favorite music. You took a crazy idea and not only made it work, but produced something outstanding, with opportunities for everyone to get involved.

Your patience with our on again, off again children’s choir made way for some of the most adorable music this church has ever seen.

You used your degree in composition to put together youth ensembles that musicians of any skillset could be a part of.

You sometimes were forced to live out Paul’s words, “be patient in suffering,”[2] when the antics of the choir tested your patience.

Your sense of humor when things went awry kept me calm and reminded me that an entire worship service could not be deemed a failure just because everyone stopped singing the hymn I picked that nobody knew before the hymn was actually over. But even more than that you never gave up on a song (or at least my vision for what it could sound like), making the choir learn said hymn so they could sing it as an introit and redeem it for me in worship the following weekend.

You never questioned my belief that secular music could very much be sacred. You brought a diverse repertoire of music into this sanctuary – everything from country to classical to gospel to classic rock to the occasional show tune (although you never quite appreciated those the way that I do) – and holy moments were created.  We all loved when you played different instruments and I know people were excited when they walked into the sanctuary and saw a microphone set up at the piano, because that meant you were going to sing.

You cared about this church outside of the duties listed in the description of your contract. You showed up for suppers, missions projects and community events.  Your enthusiasm for having a labyrinth in Fellowship Hall on Ash Wednesday last year was the push we needed to stop talking about it and finally do it.  And your careful calculations with the diagram for the labyrinth itself were the only reason Missy Enos and I were able to figure out how to put the thing together correctly the first time.

Jordan, the music you played at funerals and memorial services ministered to families in ways you may never realize.  Time and time again, I was able to sit with a grieving family who was struggling to put together the perfect service for their loved ones and say to them, “Just tell me what you want and my Music Director will make it happen.”  You played and sang some of the most moving music while sanctuaries full of people cried behind you and your voice never once waivered. You never failed to amaze me with your compassion and your professionalism.

In the same way that Paul tells the citizens of Rome that the way they live their lives matters, I say to you that the music you made here at this church mattered; it made a difference in so many people’s lives.  And for that, I am so grateful.

Jordan, you helped us write a really fun chapter of our story here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church and it is my hope that we helped write an equally fun chapter in your story as well.  What may have started as simply a job with a steady paycheck for you and someone who could perform the duties of Music Director for us turned into a friendship that was cherished by all.  Paul tells the church to, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,”[3] and that is what we did in our time together.  We wept with you when your father died and we rang the church bells when you proposed to Lauren.  We welcomed your family every time they came to worship with us and occasionally coerced your brothers to join in on the musical fun.  You became part of our family and the distance between Rehoboth, Massachusetts and Austin, Texas will never change that.

Friends, if there is one thing I have learned from working with Jordan, it is that the way we live our lives matters – sometimes in ways we might not even realize.  And Paul’s call to the church in Rome is one that we must take seriously here, today.  We must choose love, extend compassion and make charity a priority.  We must believe in justice, stand up for the marginalized and create the type of peace we pray for.  Like Jordan has been for us here, we must be the type of people that will have a positive and lasting impact on the world around us.

RCC, I know that change is not easy.  But we will work through this transition with love, compassion, affection, hospitality, peace and hope.

For this we are called.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 12:9, NRSV
[2] Romans 12:12, NRSV
[3] Romans 12:15, NRSV