How Can We Not Worry?

Hi friends!  This sermon kind of took a different direction than I thought it was going to, but things kept happening throughout the week pushing me to look at the scripture in a different way.

To give some background, I shared with the congregation on Friday morning that I am pregnant with our second child, due in April.  I start the sermon by talking about a doctor’s appointment I had at the beginning of the week that made me have to live out Jesus’ words, “Do not worry.”

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 27, 2019

Matthew 6:24-34

How Can We Not Worry?

This scripture mocked me this week.

I should preface this by saying that I actually cut a little over 600 words out of my sermon last week (I know that is hard to believe considering I went on for 15 minutes anyway).  I did this because 1) the sermon was getting too long and 2) I thought the part I cut would actually work better with this week’s scripture, which was supposed to be a continuation on stewardship.

So it was win-win, because not only did I feel like I made a more concise point last week, but, as a bonus, going into this week I had a pretty good jump start on my sermon for Sunday – and this NEVER happens!

Well, it still did not happen, because, like I said, this scripture mocked me this week.  And I won’t go into all of the details of the week (because then the sermon would certainly be longer than 15 minutes) but I will say that it started on Tuesday morning at what was supposed to be a quick and routine doctor’s visit which turned into an unexpected ultrasound.

Now, everything turned out to be fine and the whole process, though it felt like an eternity at the time, probably only took about 15 minutes.

However, as I was sitting in the waiting room, waiting for them to call me back for the ultrasound, I thought, as a good distraction, I would pull up the scripture for this week and start taking some notes for my sermon.

And there it was:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I introduced our stewardship theme, Shout It From The Mountaintop, and then looked at the scripture for the week where Jesus calls us to give quietly and not to announce it to everyone and how my initial response was, “Well clearly Jesus never had to balance an operating budget”?  Well suffice it to say, my first thought on Tuesday when I read these words was, “Well, clearly Jesus never had to wait for an OB ultrasound.”

And then my week went on.

And there was nothing major; it is just a really busy time of year and there are a lot of moving parts and honestly most of it resolved fairly quickly.  But there was just moment after moment this week I kept looking at these words, “Therefore do not worry” and thinking, this has got to be one of the hardest calls in the Gospel.

Because how can we not worry?  How can we not look at the realities of our earthly lives – the things that cause us stress and anxiety and pain, particularly the things that we have absolutely no control over – and not worry?  It such a natural response to our humanity.  Does Jesus actually think it is possible for us not to worry?

And yet, it is not like Jesus never had anything worry about.  It is not like Jesus never faced any situation that caused him stress or anxiety or pain.  I mean, this is Jesus we are talking about.  Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is towards the beginning of the Gospel; Jesus just spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.  He knows how hard it is to be human.

And yet, Jesus say these words:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.

Jesus understands – truly understands – the depth of what he is saying.  He knows how it feels to bear the burden of our own humanity and still let go of the worries that brings us.  He knows this will, in fact, be easier said than done.

First of all, I think it is important to note that Jesus was talking about something very specific here.  Remember, this part of the Sermon on the Mount follows the part where Jesus talks about not storing up for ourselves treasures on earth and keeping our focus on God and God, alone.  And so I do think, in many ways, Jesus is talking about money and material things when he tells the disciples not to worry and not just about the grand scheme of things.  Look at the examples he uses:  He says to look at the birds of the air, because they do not sow or reap and yet, God takes feeds them.  Then he says to consider the lilies of the field, because they not toil or spin and yet they grow.

I suppose the very basic lesson in all of this is that God will provide and so we should therefore not hoard our belongings and our money as if we were in control of it all, but rather we should be faithful to God’s call and trust that God is going to guide us on our journey.

Which, to be honest, is probably a good reminder for all of us when we are in the middle of stewardship and budgeting season and that is EXACTLY where those 600 words from last week’s sermon were going to take us this week.

It was such a great story about me canceling Christmas last year, too.

But back to the week I had.

There were too many things that happened to me this week – things that were out of my control, things that did cause me to worry, things that I just kind of had to wait and see what would happen – that brought me back to this scripture and reminded me that there is a greater lesson in here for us.

I realized, every time I had to sit with the discomfort of not being in control and not knowing what was going to happen next, that these words can speak to us wherever we are on our journey through life.

Yes, I do think Jesus is referring to money and material items in this passage – things like food to eat and clothing to wear – but I also do not want to take away from the powerful nature of these words:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry.

Because I think they resonate with a lot of us.  I think we all have worries – whether they are related to our heath, finances, work or families.  Life is not always easy, in fact it very rarely is.  But we do have this promise:  This promise that we do not have to worry, this promise that God will provide, this promise that we are not alone in this world.

And this is a promise that is steadfast in our faith, no matter what else might change around us.  I believe Jesus speaks these words in the Sermon on the Mount – one of his earliest recorded teachings to the disciples – because he wants them to understand what this new covenant means, what it will mean to follow him, what it means to have this very human connection to God and for God to have this very human connection to all of us.

Because remember the really amazing thing about this whole Jesus story.  Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us.  On some level, God came into this world and experienced human flesh.  And so when Jesus says that we should not worry and that God will provide, he says so earnestly because God knows how hard it is for us to live out these words.

And the thing is, Jesus does not say, “Do not worry about tomorrow, because everything is going to be okay.”  Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  In other words, he knows that life is not going to be easy and that there are always going to be things that come up; but he also knows that life is not going to be something that we ever have to face alone and that we simply have to rest in the grace of each moment and to give our burdens to God.

So we should believe these words to be true – no matter what we are facing next in life.

One final thought – we are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we are about two-thirds of the way through and Jesus is starting to wrap things up.  And as I reflected on this passage this week at the same time that the excitement of the bazaar was starting to bubble up around me, I started to think that there was a reason Jesus begins to close out his thoughts with this discussion about not worrying.

Because Jesus is getting ready to head out with the disciples to do some real, hard, get-your-hands-dirty kind of ministry.  And they are not going to do it alone.  They are doing it together.

And so, as we get ready to leave this space today and think about this scripture and really wrestle with how hard it is to actually live out these words, I would remind you of the people that are sitting around you right now.  This is your village, your church, your Body of Christ.  When Jesus says, “do not worry” he knows that this is much easier done in community than it is by ourselves.

So do not try to do it alone.

I know there is a lot going on right now – both here at the church and in everyone’s lives.  So I think it is a good reminder for us today to pause for a moment and let Jesus’ words sit in our hearts:  “Do not worry.”

We are not alone.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Shout It From The Mountaintop

Hi friends!

Sunday was my annual stewardship sermon, although Bruce told me last night that he didn’t feel like it was so much a stewardship sermon as it was a sermon on why I love the church so much.  But that totally ties into why I give to the church, right?

We’re still in the middle of our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount!  This week’s scripture tied in really nicely to our stewardship theme.  A totally God thing!

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 20, 2019

Matthew 6:16-23

Shout It From The Mountaintop

This is the perfect stewardship scripture, right?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus is saying, it’s not about the stuff, right?  That the “stuff” we collect on earth is not really what matters most; that what matters most are the divine and faithful treasures that we collect.

So, because we are in the middle of our stewardship season, I can stand up here and self-righteously proclaim that everyone just needs to buy less stuff, because it is just going to get eaten by moths and rust anyway, and then give more money to the church.

Right?

But it is not that simple.

It is not that simple, partially because I currently have five pairs of shoes in my office (which does not include the pair I am wearing right now), so the term “hypocritical” would not even begin to scratch the surface of that sermon.

It is also not that simple because we live in a very human and imperfect world – and in a consumerist society driven by a lot of technological advances on top of that.  So to say, “just don’t buy stuff and give the church all your money,” is not really a realistic or a fair request.

Finally, it is not that simple, because I am not entirely sure that is what Jesus meant, anyway.  The Gospel of Matthew was written in the midst of the Roman Empire, which was a hierarchically ordered, commercialized, peasant society with virtually no middle class.  Jesus is not speaking to the wealthy here; he is speaking to the disciples, who were humble fisherman.  He is not necessarily talking about what they, themselves, give, but more about where wealth comes from.  I do not necessarily think we can put ourselves directly into this context when we are talking about passing our own offering plates around today.

But it does give us something to think about, does it not?  Particularly as we prayerfully consider our own level of giving for the upcoming year.

If you have heard me preach on stewardship or read my stewardship letters over the past eight years, you know that I have a very complicated relationship with stewardship.

The conversation about pledging and giving money to the church is not really something I remember from my childhood.  I grew up in New England, where money was/is kind of a taboo topic, particularly in old congregational churches.  I remember hearing about stewardship in kind of an abstract way.  There was a church budget that needed to be balanced and church members donated the money to help balance the budget, but I do not ever really remember getting into the nitty-gritty of the who or what or why or how.

Then I went to seminary in the south where, come to find out, money is not as much of a taboo topic.  I have talked about this before, but at one point I went head-to-head with one of my church leadership professors over how to preach about stewardship.

His opinion was, you need to stand behind the pulpit and tell everyone they must tithe (which means, from a biblical perspective, that they must donate 10% of their income to the church).

My opinion was, you will get stoned in an old New England church if you try to do that.

And so I had a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing until I took a course in nonprofit leadership and we got to our unit on fundraising.  When I walked into class and emphatically proclaimed to my professor that I was not looking forward to class that day because I hated fundraising and did not like asking people for money, he smiled and said:

I love asking people for money.  I only raise money for the things I am really passionate about.  Who wouldn’t want to ask someone to give money to something they are really passionate about?  You are inviting them to be part of something that is so important to you.

The funny thing about this interaction is that, in that moment, my opinion did change about stewardship.  It did not seem so scary of off-putting.  It did not seem like the necessary evil I always thought it was, but a faith practice that actually could be grace-filled and life-changing.

So my opinion did change.  However, it is only as I have come to really know and love this church that I actually understand what he was talking about.

I understand the part about passion, because I feel it for this church, now more than ever.  I am passionate about this church, about this community that loves unconditionally and cares more about people than about anything else and because of this passion, I really do not mind asking people to be part of it, even if it means asking them for money (or preaching on stewardship, even though I know everyone haaaaates listening to stewardship sermons).  I want to be able to grow our church and expand the depth that we are able to reach and the number of people we are able to proclaim the Gospel to.  I want our little church in the village to do really big and God-sized things.  And I know, realistically, that it is going to take some money to do it.

So I cannot help but talk about it.  I cannot help but “shout it from the mountaintop.”

Our theme for stewardship this year came out of my desire for us, as a church, to express, more on an outward level, our excitement, joy and pride for giving.  This is not necessarily something that we should be secretive about, but something that we should celebrate.  Because we are not just giving money, we are giving money with the hopes and the expectations and the visions of what we can accomplish together.  We are giving money knowing that our church will not only survive, but it will thrive.  We are giving money knowing that lives will be changed.

And so while I used to dread preaching about stewardship, I have come to a point in my journey with you all where I actually look forward to talking about why it is important that we all (myself included) make a pledge to this church.

Mostly because I see beyond this moment to the moments in the weeks to come where we sit down together and pray and dream about what we can do next year.  And those moments are grace-filled and life-changing.

When Jesus is talking to his disciples about not storing up treasures on earth, I really do believe he is talking about what it means to bring about heaven on earth; to uncover the kind of light, love and grace that will change people’s lives.  If you remember from last week, the passage immediately preceding this one is where he teaches the disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
You will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Part of our call, as Christians, is to do everything we can to bring about heaven on earth; to ensure that lives are changed by the Gospel.  And so when Jesus says to not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, it is because God’s will should be done here.  It is not about our devotion to stuff, it is about our devotion to God.

And one of the ways that we enact our devotion to God is by giving to our church – to our community of faith – so that, together, we can do the hard work that God is calling us to do; so that, together, we can change some lives.

This church did some really cool things this year.  For the first time in the four years since its inception, our New Year’s worship brunch exceeded capacity.  We brought our love of all things visual to a new level when we suspended over 100 paper stars from the ceiling in preparation for Star Sunday.  Our Mardi Gras worship included special music that was followed up by an email I received the following week from our guest trumpeter who said, “Your church is really cool, call me if you ever do anything like that again.”  God’s love overflowed on Easter morning (literally), which kicked off a season of science-experiments-turned-Children’s-sermons.  In May we hosted our first annual Blessing of the Bikes, blessing over 30 motorcycles in our parking lot on a beautiful spring day.  We took over Hillside Country Club at the end of July, with something fun for everyone to do.  We brought back Rally Night, playing games, cooking out, making s’mores and watching a movie.  We became a name tag church, which is … going … and we spent a lot of time talking about – and practicing – hospitality, which is casting a vision for this church that I never could dreamed of.

The thing is, we are not storing up for ourselves treasures on earth, but instead we are asking God to transform the money that we give to this church so that we can expand the depth that we are able to reach and the number of people we are able to proclaim the Gospel to.  We are giving to our little church in the village not necessarily so that the church, itself, can become bigger, but so that we can do bigger and God-sized things.

That is what I want to shout from the mountaintop; that is what I want the world to know.

You should have received your stewardship packet this week (if you did not, let me know, we will be happy to get you one!).  As you look through everything and get ready to fill out your pledge form for next year, I want you to, first of all, think about what you are able to give, because obviously that is the most important piece when it comes to our own personal pledging.  And then I want you to think about what your money can do here, at this church.  How will it be used change lives?  To spread the Gospel?  To strengthen our own faith?

And then let us do the hard work that is required to bring about heaven on earth.  I think we will be inspired by the treasures we uncover as we do this work.  For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Are We God-Serving Or Self-Serving?

Hi friends!  This sermon should not have been a hard one to preach, but the timing of it falling the same week our stewardship packets were mailed made it much more challenging!  I had one thing in mind, but ended up scrapping it and taking a different course, which I actually think started some good conversations.

I’m curious – how do your churches handle stewardship?  Is it a quiet thing or are you encouraged to talk about it more?  I love hearing about other church’s stewardship practices – I’m kind of a stewardship nerd!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 13, 2019

Matthew 6:1-15

Are We God-Serving Or Self-Serving?

I ate, slept and breathed stewardship this week.

Like I mentioned during announcements, stewardship packets were mailed on Friday.  And so I spent a majority of the week writing letters, creating forms, pouring over budgets, coordinating with different people and doing more math than I have done since I was a business major that one semester in college.

On Friday morning, I sat in the Sadie Perry Room with a couple of kind and willing volunteers and, together, we stuffed, sealed and stamped 275 stewardship packets.  I said goodbye to everyone and walked into my office, finally able to switch gears and think about Sunday’s worship service.

And that was when I was struck with a very large dose of, what I like to call, ecclesial irony.

I walked into the office, holding my phone that had this week’s scripture pulled up on it.  “Kathy,” I asked.  “What is our theme for stewardship this year?”  “Shout it from the Mountaintop!” she said with great enthusiasm, pride and joy, echoing the sentiments I have been using talk about stewardship this year as I seek to create a culture where we celebrate our giving and what we can collectively do with our gifts.

“And what is our scripture for this week?” I followed up with.  She gave me a perplexed look as I started reading.

Beware of practicing your piety before others

in order to be seen by them;

for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you,

as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,

so that they may be praised by others.

Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms,

do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

so that your alms may be done in secret;

and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I could not believe I had just put together 275 stewardship packets using the theme, “Shout it from the Mountaintop,” two days before I was scheduled to preach on the passage of scripture where Jesus says we are supposed to give quietly.

To quote one of Bruce’s favorite movies, Caddyshack, “So I got that going for me, which is nice.”

I kind of huffed and said to Kathy, “Well clearly Jesus wasn’t trying to balance an operating budget,” and then stormed out of the office.

We wrestled a lot with our stewardship theme this year, not because we realized this passage would fall the same weekend we mailed out our stewardship packets (truth be told, if I had put that together ahead of time I might have come up with an alternate plan), but because this idea of being proud of what we give and of what we are able to do here, at the church, with our offerings seems counterintuitive to some of the basic biblical teachings we have learned throughout our lives (including the one Jesus talks about in this morning’s passage).

And yet, I kept coming back to it; I kept coming back to this line from one of my favorite hymns:

I’ll shout it from the mountaintop – I want the world to know.[1]

And I think there is a reason for that and there is also a reason for the fact that this passage fell on the same weekend that our packets got mailed out.  Because I think what Jesus is doing here is teaching about how to hold this tension between sharing our faith outwardly and being in community, but also doing so with reverence and humility.

Jesus addresses two things back to back here – the giving of alms and then prayer.  And what he is saying in both instances is that we should not do these things for credit or attention; we should do them for God and God alone.

The ironic part about Jesus’ teaching here is that after he says we should go into our room and shut the door and pray to God in secret, he teaches the disciples how to pray.

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases … pray then in this way.[2]

And then Jesus proceeds to teach the disciples the foundation of a prayer that will eventually become one of the most common prayers that is said in community.

And the thing about the Lord’s Prayer is that it is one of the greatest gifts Jesus gave to the church, because it has stood the test of time, it draws us together and it gives us words to speak when we are, sort of, humbled by the inadequacy of our own words and I could preach a whole other sermon on that.

BUT – I think as we read this passage today, one of the things we are called to do is to hold this tension between what Jesus is saying here, which is, don’t do these things for credit, and the reality of the world that we are living in today, which is sometimes showy and narcissistic and reward-seeking .

It’s funny, because when I complained to Kathy about Jesus not trying to balance an operating budget, I was obviously joking, but it got me thinking about the fact that what Jesus is saying here kind of goes against everything I was taught about nonprofit fundraising and evangelizing and marketing your church.

And so I have just kind of been stuck in this place of bewilderment for the past two days because I just cannot seem to reconcile it.

Part of me thinks I should have just preached the sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, itself, and ignored the part where Jesus says we are supposed to quiet about it, but I also think in these two sections Jesus is laying the foundation for a community of faith that is grounded in worship for God and not worship for people.

Almsgiving and prayer are two very different things, but what connects them here is the fact that Jesus says we are supposed to do both of these things NOT to achieve some sort of human privilege, but to be drawn closer to God.  And so as Jesus begins his ministry with the disciples, he reminds them of just how important it is not to lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish in this faith and ministry while they are still living their day-to-day lives.

Our faith does not exist in a vacuum, right?  It exists in the real world and sometimes the two things are hard to reconcile.  I think this section in the Sermon on the Mount serves a bigger purpose than simply a conversation about almsgiving and prayer; I think it actually opens up a broader conversation about the motivation behind all the things that we do – in our lives and our faith.  What I think what Jesus is saying here is that we always need to remember what our values are and what our shared mission is.

And can we celebrate our victories along the way?  Absolutely!  Remember, Jesus says that we are the light of the world and that we need to let that light shine for everyone to see.  We do have to talk about our faith and our ministries and, yes, even our money.  But we need to do so in order that we can give glory to God and not get the approval, attention or praise of other humans.

So I want you to do two things for me this week.

Actually, I want you to do three.  The first is to keep your eye out for your stewardship packet in the mail; because a lot of time and love and brain power went into it last week and I do want it to be a useful resource for you as you think about your pledge for next year.  The Executive Board is in a place of dreaming about what the next fiscal year could bring and you all are a part of that; and I am so grateful for your love of this church and your commitment and devotion to your stewardship.

The second thing I want you to do is think specifically about this passage.  When it comes to how you give and how you pray, how do you do it?  How do you talk about it?  How do your own practices line up with what Jesus is saying to the disciples here?

And then the third thing I want you to do is to think more broadly about your life and the things you do on a regular basis.  Do you do them for God or do you do them for other human beings?  Do you keep things a secret or do you do things in order to be seen by others?  Are your actions God-serving or self-serving?

Some of these questions might be hard to answer – but I think the process of thinking about them and then trying to realign our priorities will help us all dig to a new depth of our faith.  And I think when we do this not only will our faith be strengthened, but our community of faith will grow stronger, as well.

So go, therefore, and give to God and pray to God, knowing that God sees you, knows you, is calling you blessed and is illuminating a light within you that will shine not so the world might be impressed, but so the world might be changed.

God will see you.  And God will reward you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] From the hymn, Pass It On, by Kurt Kaiser
[2] Matthew 6:7, 9, NRSV

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