Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Hi friends!  Happy Reign of Christ Sunday!  It is hard to believe that Advent begins NEXT WEEK!  We are working on a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens service, in addition to our livestream.  Stay tuned for all of that next week!

In the meantime, here is today’s sermon. Peace be with you all – Happy Thanksgiving!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 22, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday; the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent – the first Sunday of a new liturgical year.  If you had told me back in March when we “suspended in person worship for three weeks” and I thought to myself, “how crazy would it be if we are not back in person by Easter” that, eight months later, we would be planning Advent and Christmas in our virtual worship space, I would have thought you were crazy.

But here we are.

And it’s fine.

And not fine in a 2020-sense of the word, “fine” (you know, “it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine” when it’s really not).  It’s fine because we have learned over the past eight months that we can do this; that we can come together and worship God and support one another and grow in our faith without physically coming together.  We have learned that church is not about a building, but about people; in fact, we have learned that, despite the absence of our building, we can still do an awful lot of church.

And so, as we close out this year – a year that unfolded in a way that we never saw coming when Advent began last year – we do so with the realization and the assurance that we are so much stronger than we ever thought possible.  We look ahead to the new beginning of the Advent season with a renewed sense of hope in Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the beginning and then end.

Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us of the infinite sense of Christ; that Christ is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-being.  This year, however, I have been thinking about the fact that we have a role to play in this, as well.  Christ has done his part – and continues to do his part – in our lives.  We are the ones that now have to live into this promise of what it means to follow Jesus and to lean into the wholeness of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our Savior; he is not one thing, he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  He can, if we let him, be a part of all of the pieces of our lives, not just the one piece that comes out in this building on a Sunday morning.

Because we have learned this year that there is so much more to our faith and to our hope in Christ than who we are when we walk into this building one day a week.

We are Christians; we believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end and we believe that Jesus is part of our whole lives.

Our whole lives.

And this is amazing, right?  That we can be fully Christian all the time; that our faith does not start and stop based on where we are and what day of the week it is.

But my goodness, if this is not a challenge, as well.

Because it is not easy to be fully Christian all the time; it is not easy to walk this walk and talk this talk, both when you know people are watching, but also when you think they are not.

It is not easy to carry God’s light when you are in a race with other shoppers for the last package of toilet paper.  It is not easy to share God’s love when you are debating politics on Facebook.  It is not easy to uncover God’s grace when the part of you that is concerned for everyone’s health and safety is telling you to stay home, but the part of you that desperately needs to see and hug your people is telling you that you just cannot do distance anymore.

I think being Christian – and doing church – was a whole lot easier when we could just do it when we walked through the doors of our building and knew people were watching.

But now we are doing it all the time, quite often without the structure and the support of our physical gatherings.

And it is a little bit harder, right?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew and it has always been one of my favorites.  But, if I am being honest, I think I understand it in a completely different way right now.  We are in the 25th chapter of the Gospel; Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and his death is quickly approaching.  Jesus knows what is about to happen; and so there is a sense of urgency to his words.  He is speaking to his disciples and to the crowd that has gathered; he needs them to understand that he is not always going to be there to tell them what to do or how to live or hold them accountable for their actions and their faith.

Think about it this way:  As important as it was – and continues to be in our lives and our faith – Jesus’ time on earth was still such a small piece of the story.  What really mattered – and continues to matter in our world today – is what happened next and what continues to happen; what really matters now is how we write our own chapters.  What makes the Gospel even more powerful than it already is are the billions of people who have decided to, despite the absence of him physically on earth, follow Jesus and share his message.  The reason Christianity continues to change lives and open minds and transform hearts is because people live out their faith regardless of whether or not they think someone is watching.

As Christians, we need to live our lives in such a way so that when we meet Jesus in heaven he will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

My friends, this scripture is a call – it is a call to us to live our lives in accordance to the grace that has been given to us, regardless of who we are with or who we think may we watching.  It is a call to feed the hungry, to take care of the sick and to reach out to the marginalized.  It is a call not only to serve Christ, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was a call to do so both when Christ was physically present among the disciples and the crowds who had gathered to hear him teach, but also looking ahead to when Christ would reign in heaven.

Today we celebrate that reign of Christ; and we, too, live out this call.

I believe in the world we are living in today, this is a call to do things like wear a mask when we are out in public and stay home as much as possible so we can try to keep our own community and our families and friends safe.  I believe it is a call to find new and distanced ways to take care of one another, even if we are not necessarily going to get recognized by our community in our building for doing so.  I believe it is a call to keep up our giving to the church, despite the fact that we are not in the church to physically to put money in the offering plate.  I believe it is a call to attend and participate in worship, even if we are not able to physically “count” you.  I believe it is a call to continue to participate in the life of our church, even though, in many ways, it is more complicated.

I have been amazed this year at the ways in which this church has risen up and done the work we are being called to do, despite the fact that it is happening in kind of a nontraditional way.  Thank you.  Thank you for your participation, for your support, for your creativity, for your flexibility and for your grace.  Thank you for doing the work when you think no one is watching and for stepping up to serve when you might not necessarily get credit for doing so.  Thank you for not only celebrating the reign of Christ, but also demonstrating the reign of Christ in your own life; removing the boundaries between who you are at church and who you are in your life and just being Christian and following Christ in all aspects of your being.

I know you all are tired; I am, too.  It has been a long eight months and we still have a little ways to go before it gets better – before we can “come back” and do church the way we want to be doing it.

But there is a lot of work to do in the meantime.  And I am grateful and honored to be doing this work “with” you.

I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  I look forward to beginning a new year with you all next week where we can continue to see and know and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

May Christ reign in your life – your whole life – now and forever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

We Have What We Need To Get It Done

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

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

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

***

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

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We Have What We Need To Get It Done

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

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

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

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

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

We get it done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we still have Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Like Bill said, “We get it done.”

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

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

Let’s keep getting it done.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Choice To Follow God

Well friends, it has been quite the morning here, at church.  There was an earthquake this morning and then the internet cut out at church mid-scripture, causing us to re-start the feed twice in order to resume worship.

I’m fairly certain the Apostle Paul never had to deal with these problems.

Anyway, I pieced together the two different livestreams and here we are.  Here is the text to my sermon, as well as the video of today’s sermon.

Peace be with you, friends

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The Choice To Follow God

The story of God is a story about people; and it is a story about those people making choices.  Choices to follow God, choices between right and wrong, choices that affect not only themselves, but also the people around them – the Body of Christ, as we understand it – choices that define not only their generation, but also the generations that are still to come.

The same is true today.  We choose to be here.  We, as God’s people, choose to enact our faith.  We choose to do church.  We choose to follow God even when that is not the easy choice or the convenient choice or the popular choice.

More relevant to this moment, in this time of social distancing, we choose to enter this virtual worship space, even though it would be really easy to just do something else during this 10:00 hour.  But we choose to be here.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Joshua, which is in the Old Testament; it is part of the Deuteronomistic history.  This history tells the story of Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian exile.

Essentially this whole Deuteronomistic history is a story about people and the choices they made; it is a story about Israel’s choice to follow God, even when that was not the obvious choice or the safe choice.

Specifically, the Book of Joshua tells the story about the Israelites crossing the Jordan River to take over Canaan.  The Israelites are listening to Joshua, for whom God is speaking to.  And this land, this land they are seeking to conquest, is land that was promised to them by God in Genesis.

And so the Israelites are making a choice.  They are making a choice to listen to Joshua.  They are making a choice to follow God, even though the road ahead of them might not be an easy one.  They are making a choice to abandon their former lives and the gods they and their ancestors served and step out on faith – together – and believe in the hope of God’s promise.

This morning’s scripture brings us into a covenant ceremony that Joshua is presiding over.  Joshua has gathered the tribes of Israel and brought them to a place called Shechem.  Here they are renewing the covenant their ancestors made with God.

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,” Joshua says to the tribes.  “Long ago your ancestors … lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.  Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.  Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

In other words, Joshua is gathering the people of Israel and saying, “Friends, God is reminding us of where we came from and also of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations.  And God is asking us now to love and serve God with honesty and with loyalty.  God wants us – God needs us – to step away from our former lives and be faithful to God.

As Christians, of course, this story is eventually woven into the narrative of the Body of Christ.  And so we read these words not only as a call to follow God, but also as a call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And so when Joshua says to Israel, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him,” this is a challenge to us today to make that same choice.

To choose God.

To serve God.

To proclaim and live out the Gospel.

To uphold that Greatest Commandment that we talked about a few weeks ago to love God and to love the people around you.

To do church, even in those moments when it is hard.  Because that is what those who came before us did to lay the foundation that we stand on today.  That is what Abraham did, as Joshua says here in this passage.  That is what the Israelites are doing in this passage, as a part of this covenant ceremony.  That is what the disciples did, when Jesus called them to abandon their lives and follow him.  That is what the apostles did, as the early Church was called into being.  That is what the founding members of this church did nearly 300 years ago.

And that is what those who will come after us need us to do today so that they can continue to do this work and to tell this story in their generation.

The people could have said no, right?  They could have said, “You know what?  We do not need to be here.  We are just going to go back to our former lives because that feels safe and that feels easy.”

But that is not what the people of Israel said.  The people of Israel said yes.  The people of Israel said, “We are witnesses … the Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”  The people of Israel, knowing God was asking them to do a hard thing, renewed their covenant with God because they believed that, with God’s help, they could do hard things.

And the same is true for us today.

It was a very long week in our country.  We have a new President-Elect and an extraordinarily divided nation.  And regardless of whether the candidate you voted for won or lost, the message I want you to hear is the same:  We have so much work to do.

The story of God is a story about people; and it is a story about those people making choices.  Choices to follow God, choices between right and wrong, choices that affect not only us, but also the people around us – the Body of Christ, choices that define not only our generation, but also the generations that are still to come.

And so we have a choice to make.  We can choose to turn away or we can choose to turn to God.  We can choose to stay divided and hate each other or we can choose the much harder task to find unity in Christ.  We can choose to come together and follow God.  We can choose to worship God and enact the Gospel in real and powerful and lifechanging ways.  We can choose to forsake the lives that are comfortable to us and, instead, commit to be all in to the lives God is calling us into.

The story of God is a story about us; and it is a story about this moment in time, about our generation and the choices that we are making.  It is a story about the church – both our beloved church in the village and also the wider Church – that has an uphill battle to climb as we seek to bring healing and wholeness to a very broken world.  It is a story about individuals whom God has called; individuals who wake up every day and choose to follow that call.

This is the time of year when our church typically shines; we create magic as we gather people in our building and on our property for Trunk or Treat, the Bazaar, Homeless Awareness Weekend, Hanging of the Greens, holiday concerts, our Christmas Pageant, Christmas Eve worship services, New Year’s Worship Brunch and Star Sunday.  This is the season where people, who otherwise might not have walked through our doors, come to our church and experience the Gospel in motion and the radical hospitality of a church family that loves to welcome newcomers into their midst and they are forever changed.

And church – we are still going to do all of these things.  It is going to look different this year.  But I have said it before and I am going to say it again:  Our church is not closed.  We have a lot of work to do; the story of God still needs to be told, we just need to find some different ways to tell it right now.

And we have to do it, because, now more than ever, the Gospel needs to be heard.  Now more than ever, God is calling us.  Now more than ever, God needs us to choose to follow God, to do church and to be the hands and the feet and the face and the voice and heart of Christ to our community and to our world.

And it might at times be hard or logistically complicated.  But we can do it.  Because what do I keep saying?  We can do hard things.

My friends, it is time to make a choice.

So may we, like the Israelites, bear witness to our choice to follow God.  May we, too, promise to uphold this covenant and remain faithful, worshiping and serving God.  May we, too, renew the ancient covenants made by those who came before us so that we continue to lay the strong foundation for the generations that are still to come.  May the story of us be one of tenacity, of gratitude, of service, of obedience, of faithfulness, of hope and of choice.

And may it begin with that choice to follow God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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