In Defense Of Traditions

Happy Labor Day everyone!  I hope you all had a nice long weekend.  It was our last 9AM worship of the summer.  Next week is Rally Day – worship starts at 10, the choir will be back, it’s the first Sunday of Church School.  It’s usually a little bit hectic, but I always love the buzz that is in the air after a quiet(ish) summer.

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  It was the last sermon in our series, Why I Come To Church.  This week’s topic was “tradition” – because it was the first Sunday of the month and we were serving communion, I actually pulled out all of the old silver as a nod to our theme.

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Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 4, 2016
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Tradition

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

In Defense Of Traditions

Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.[1]

Tradition.

I will spare you the Tevye impersonation this morning, but, for the record, know that I am using every ounce of willpower in my body to refrain from breaking out in a chorus of Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof.

Actually, my love of showtunes aside, I think Tevye might have been onto something here. He leads into this well-known opening number by saying this to the audience:

How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition![2]

Balance – now there is a funny concept; and not funny in a “haha” kind of way, either. I think sometimes talking about balance is funny, kind of in an exasperated and sarcastic “Lord, have mercy, I am a hot mess, will I EVER find some semblance of balance in my life?” kind of way.

But isn’t that one of the reasons that we come to church? Don’t we come to worship, at least in part, to participate in something – in traditions, even – that will hopefully help us find balance in our week and in our lives?

Traditions are funny things. We often reject them because they seem meaningless or weird, they make us uncomfortable or they simply are not important to us. Sometimes it is because we are outsiders looking in at other people’s traditions. Sometimes it is because a tradition has become so rote that it has lost its meaning for us. Sometimes it is because we like to think rationally, literally and tangibly and traditions do not always work like that.

But I encourage you not to completely discount traditions. In fact, there is a growing movement of Christians who are trying to reclaim old traditions; who seek to participate in something that they might not understand, but that is still sacred and holy to them; who want to feel God’s power and presence through the safety and security of an ancient tradition.

To be honest, I consider myself part of this movement. It is the reason that I wear vestments and a clerical collar; why I invite everyone to lay hands on something or someone if we are blessing them; why we sing as we center ourselves for prayer; and why I insist, every year, that our annual Christmas Bazaar is as much a part of the spiritual life of our church as it is the community life. I believe that traditions are vital to who we are, both as Christians and as a church family. I believe that traditions create strong connections in our lives, connecting us with our past, with one another and with God.

In this morning’s scripture, Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul addresses the church in a stern tone, wanting to impress upon them just how high the stakes are in how they choose to exist as a church and as a community.

Granted, like in many of Paul’s letters, he is talking about the second coming of Christ, something we do not focus on as much in our own context. But the conclusion he draws is still relevant to us; Paul says that the traditions they, the Thessalonians, have been entrusted with are sacred, that they need to “hold fast” to them.[3] God chose them[4], Paul writes, and is now calling them[5] now to proclaim the Good News. Paul encourages the Thessalonians now to use the traditions they have been taught to share God’s glory with a new generation.

The stakes are just as high for us today. We are living in an increasingly secular world. Balance is hard to find, because there is simply too much going on. Politics are divisive. Hatred and violence are real evils. Families and communities suffer unspeakable tragedies. People struggle in real and heartbreaking ways. Often we do not know where to turn when our worlds are shaken.

But just like the Thessalonians, we have been given the grace, not only of our faith, but also of the traditions that it rests upon; tools that can help us forge ahead, strengthen our faith and continue to write the Christian story.

Paul makes it clear that the authority of the traditions he is teaching does not come from him; it comes from God. Paul blesses the church in God’s name, reminding the Thessalonians that it is through God’s grace that they will obtain comfort, hope and strength.

This sermon is something of a defense of traditions, because I believe the same is true for us, today, every time we participate in some sort of tradition. I believe that when we partake in sacred and ancient traditions that we are being blessed in God’s name and granted comfort, hope and strength. The challenge, of course, is to find ways to sometimes adapt these traditions so they are still meaningful, relevant and accessible to us (and this is a whole different sermon for another day), but the foundation has been set.

It is because of tradition that we are where we are today. The traditions that Paul and the apostles passed on to churches like this church in Thessalonica moved through 2,000 years of Christian history and now have been entrusted to our generation. They are a gift. They are a privilege. They are our responsibility.

Traditions mean something; they mean something to us, as Christians, and they mean something to us, as a church community. They are our lighthouse in a storm; always there, always accessible, always shining light into darkness. They see us through good times and bad times. They have the ability to speak to us, especially in those moments when words are inadequate. They give us a tangible sign of God’s presence in a crazy world and create a safe space for us when we are craving a spiritual connection.

Today I encourage you to allow yourself to get swept up in the mystery of the traditions, both of our faith, but also of our church and of your families. Be vulnerable. Create room in your life for God to come in and work. Be intentional about finding time to participate in the traditions that we have been given. And may we know, that in finding this time, we will be ready for God to work some unimaginable grace in our lives.

And, who knows? Maybe we will find some balance after all.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

*** 

[1] 2 Thessalonians 2:15, NRSV
[2] If you get my reference here, my apologies if the song Tradition is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. If you do not get the reference, then you need to go find a local production of Fiddler On The Roof because you are missing out on a key piece of my childhood.
[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:15
[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:14

Reaching Out To Families

As the summer winds down, we are almost done with our summer sermon series, Why I Come To Church.  The topic this week was family.  We ended up getting two totally different perspectives, which was nice!  The lay person who offered their testimony talked about our church family and I preached about the call to reach out to families in our church.  After my sermon, Jordan started playing and singing the song, What A Wonderful World, and I jumped in on my saxophone. <3 I posted the video to the church Facebook page if you are interested!

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 28, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Family

Mark 10:13-16

Reaching Out To Families

Growing up, I always equated church with my family.

For a lot of people, church means family time, but, as a preacher’s kid, more often than not, family time also meant church. Christmas Eve dinners were held in the church kitchen in between services and usually consisted of hot dogs that we bought at the gas station and an assorted variety of chips. Easter mornings started long before the sun came up; not with my sister and me grabbing for our Easter baskets, but for whatever instruments we were playing at the sunrise service that year. Last month when my dad’s family gathered in Connecticut for our annual Fourth of July “Camp Keck,” no one ever discussed our plans for Sunday morning; we all just woke up, got ready for church and piled into a couple of cars. It is just what we do (the pre-worship selfie, however, was new this year!)

But, again I say: I am a preacher’s kid. My family has to go to church. It is not unusual for us to figure out a way to fit church into our schedule. We have no other choice but to work around the church calendar and the people around us have learned to accept it.

But what about the families who do not have to come church? What about the families whose friends and bosses and coaches do not expect them to have a standing Sunday morning commitment? What about the families who are trying to balance church along with everything else and who are trying to make church “fit” into the crazy and hectic lives they lead? What about the families who feel guilty that they cannot come to church more or give more or be more involved? What about the families who feel powerless against their own schedules; who want to be here at the church and be part of the community, but also want to provide extracurricular and athletic opportunities for their children, opportunities that often occur on Sunday mornings?

As a church, we can help these families. As a church, we are called to help these families. In fact, I believe this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in the scripture that we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark.

This scripture talks about receiving children. We read it when we baptize children and promise, as a community, to always welcome them, embrace them and support them on their faith journey.

But even though Jesus was talking specifically about the children that were in his midst, I also think that there is a bigger meaning and purpose to what he was saying.

This passage is part of a broader narrative; immediately before it, the Pharisees had questioned Jesus about divorce, asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Rather than answering perhaps the way the Pharisees wanted him to – that it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife and leave her without money, status or power – Jesus favored women in his response, showing he believed women should be considered equal.[1]

And then Jesus started talking about children.

So, let’s think about this: In terms of who had power in the culture and society Jesus was living in, women (particularly divorced women) and children were pretty low on the list. And these were the ones that Jesus took favor on; Jesus cared deeply for the powerless. Jesus wanted to open his arms wide and welcome the powerless into his midst; Jesus wanted to lay hands on them and to bless them and to ensure them that there was a place in the world for them.

The powerless.

Jesus cared for the powerless and went out of his way to reach out to them. I would argue that, as Christians, we are called to do the same.

I know that when we talk about reaching out to the powerless, it opens up the door to also talking about reaching out to other groups of marginalized people; orphans, immigrants, minorities, people with special needs and who are sick, widows and widowers and many more. And I certainly do not want to overshadow these groups or forget about them!

But today in church we are talking about families; specifically family being the reason that we come to church. And so today, in looking at this scripture and how it shows Jesus reaching out to the powerless, I want to talk about families and how sometimes they struggle with feeling powerless.

And I want to talk about how we, as a church, can help them.

I would argue that families today often feel powerless against the craziness of the world that we live in. While the type of powerlessness they feel is different from the systemic powerlessness experienced by the children Jesus was talking about in this scripture, I believe the call to action is the same.

I spend a lot of time working with families at this church, particularly younger families, and I see them struggling in real and sometimes impossible ways. They often feel pulled in too many different directions, lacking the time, energy and money to keep up with everything society is telling them they need to have and do. They have to constantly fight back against the ever-changing world of technological and social media advancement. They have to make difficult choices and often cannot automatically equate family time with church time because their Sundays are taken up by work, sports and other extracurricular activities.

And they feel powerless, unable to find balance in it all.

But this is where the church comes in. We can give power to the powerless.

In this instance, giving power to the powerless means that we can help the families in our community who are struggling and feeling lost. We can empower our families by making sure they know that they are welcome here, at this church, no matter what their lives look like. When we hear the call of Jesus to, “Let the children come to me,” we need to respond by opening our arms wide and making sure our church is a safe space for all of our families to experience God’s love, learn and grow in their faith and worship in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible.

When my mom and I were in Hungary, we worshipped at a Catholic Church in Hévíz, which is in the Lake Balaton region, about two hours from Budapest. And while we each got a lot of different things out of the experience, we both commented later how wonderful it was to see so many young families in the church. It felt a lot like being in our own churches. There was movement; there were small voices asking questions, babies crying, parents shushing and little feet pitter-pattering around the balcony. Even though I was sitting in a Hungarian Catholic mass, it all felt so familiar to me.

And I loved it. I loved a watching a young family settle in next to an older woman who had her head covered was clutching and kissing her visibly worn rosary beads. I loved watching the children kneel and stand and try to sing along with the familiar hymns and prayers. I loved watching a young father frantically try to get his screaming baby out of the church during the homily. I loved seeing this church bear witness to Jesus’ scriptural call, to open their doors wide so that everyone, regardless of their age, gender or life circumstances, could be on the receiving end of God’s grace.

This is what I want for our church.

As a church, we are called to be a safe place for families to come and learn and worship and pray and grow in their faith. We are called to set good examples for them, to help them discern how to find balance and support them when their journeys are difficult. We are called to love them and be patient with the chaos that they sometimes bring. We are called to adjust our calendar if something works better for their schedules. We are called to ask for their opinions and be willing to change if there is a way we can better accommodate their needs. We are called to remember that we are at this church today, as adults, partly because someone embraced us in the church when we were children and we want that legacy to continue.

It is not always easy to embrace a multitude of families in the church and create a space where they can all come and are free to be themselves. But our families need our support; many of them are fragile; some feel powerless.

And Jesus calls us to reach out to the powerless.

As I thought about families in the church this week, I was reminded of a line from Hamilton (sorry, my obsession has continued throughout the summer). It is from the scene where Alexander Hamilton dies; time freezes right before the bullet strikes Hamilton and he launches into a monologue.

Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.[2]

As a church that is committed to our families, we are touching lives in ways that we may never see or know. But we are also touching lives in ways that are real and powerful and grace-filled and life changing.

So let us plant seeds; let us celebrate families and support families and love families. Let us open our arms wide and welcome families into our midst, blessing them by placing our hands on them and ensuring them that there is a place in this church for them.

And may our children one day tell the stories that we are helping to write in this church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] In Matthew 10:1-12, Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife, it should be considered adultery, but if a woman divorces her husband, it should also be considered adultery. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jesus is condoning divorce, but I do think he doesn’t think there should be a double standard.

[2] Hamilton, Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. From the song, The World Was Wide Enough.

Healing Happens In Community

We continue on with our “Why I Come To Church” series with the topic, healing.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 21, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Healing

Matthew 9:35-38

Healing Happens In Community

For those of you who do not know, my mom underwent surgery on Wednesday afternoon; a mastectomy following a July breast cancer diagnosis. She is doing very well and happily recovering at home.

This surgery came on the heels of a less-than-stellar summer for my mom’s family. While my mom and I were in Europe, we got word that her uncle had passed away after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. Less than a month later, my mom called to tell me that her mother, my grandmother and, at that point, the only living member of that generation of our family, had died unexpectedly.

Now, I am not sharing this to get your pity or anything, but to point out the irony of God’s timing. Early in the week, as I was discombobulated and working quickly to put together today’s bulletin in order to be out of the office and in Connecticut for my mom’s surgery, I said out loud, “Okay, so what is the topic of this week’s ‘Why I Come To Church’?”

You can imagine my delight when I opened my worship-planning document and looked it up.

Healing.

Well that is a loaded one for me right now.

Last summer, I preached on one of the healing stories from the Gospel. I was struck, as I read that particular story, how much the physical act of touch played a role in Jesus’ healing and so I asked John Haynes, who was the deacon that month, what he thought about me offering a short sermon that week and then creating a space for healing prayers; a time when we literally laid hands on every single person in the church and prayed over them; a time when we acknowledged the unexplainable nature of God’s healing and yet trusted that it was real.

Neither one of us really knew how this was going to work (and I would be lying if I said we were not a little bit nervous to do something so touchy-feely with a group of mainline New England Protestants), but suffice is to say, it exceeded all of our expectations. As we prayed over people, we embraced their stories and shared the burden of their struggles. There were moments when we wept; when our words seemed insufficient.

And yet, it was holy. It was powerful. It was real and raw and hard and exactly what we were supposed to be doing. When John and I walked back up to the chancel after it was over, we just looked at each other with our eyes wide open, as if to say, “What just happened?”

Well God happened; and even though Jason Bacon slammed his finger in a car door about an hour after church was over, I do believe that real and powerful healing happened that morning.

I was so deeply moved by that worship service that, when we started planning our summer sermon series, I asked Anne Marie if I could be the one to preach on healing. Honestly, I planned to do the same type of healing prayers.

And yet, this scripture – a scripture that I chose kind of arbitrarily, long before this challenging summer started – really is not about the healing that we do not understand. It is about healing that we do understand; the healing that happens in our midst; the healing that we are a part of; the healing that I saw this summer.

This scripture talks about Jesus moving through villages and teaching people, sharing the Good News with them and healing those who were sick and hurting. The need was great; scripture describes the crowds of people who were in need of hope and healing like “sheep without a shepherd.”[1] And so at the end of this passage, there is a call; a call to the disciples to go out into the world and do what Jesus was doing; teach people, share the Good News with them and heal those who are sick and hurting.[2]

Here’s the thing: Jesus knew his time on earth would be brief. He knew he needed to commission a group of people to carry out the work he started and to pass this call on to this next generation so that, long after he died, healing would still be real and powerful.

Healing happens in community. While I am certainly not denying the unexplainable and divine healing that happens in our lives, I also know that real and powerful healing happens when people come together in a spirit of faith and conviction and work tirelessly to meet the needs of others.

I have seen healing in community happen this summer. It happened in the form of greeting cards, thoughtful emails and text messages filled with heart and prayer hand emojis. It happened when people all around the country lifted my family in prayer. It happened when meals showed up and flowers were delivered. It happened when family and friends checked in with us over and over and over again. It happened when people intentionally filled our lives and the spaces we were in with positivity. It happened when the love surrounding us was so great that our tears turned into laughter and our fear, pain and sadness turned into peace.

Healing happens in community; healing happens here in community.

What we are doing here matters. Here we meet people wherever they are on their journey through life and walk alongside them. Here we help them find healing. Here we seek to meet people’s physical needs as well as spiritual needs. Here we allow people to be broken and vulnerable. Here we pray for one another. Here we laugh together and cry together. Here we hold onto the sacredness of one another’s struggles and make a promise that we are all in this together.

Today, instead of throwing myself a pity party for a challenging summer, I am choosing to celebrate the healing that I witnessed in the midst of it, the healing that was created in community.

And I am also making a pledge; I pledge to intentionally create a space of healing in this community so that others will witness what I have witnessed and so that the work of Jesus will continue on in our generation.

So here is what I need from you: After church today, as we gather on the lawn and eat cookies, drink lemonade and shop at the farmers market, please do not ask me how I am doing or show me pity me in any way; while I do want to be honest with you all about where I am at, I do not want to spend our gathering time after church talking about it.

Because there is something much more important that I actually do want to talk about: I want to talk about is how we can create healing in this community. I want to talk about how we can help the people in Louisiana whose lives have been devastated by flooding. I want to talk about how we can reach out to the families in our own church who are struggling. I want to talk about how we can actively respond to the concerns and celebrations that will be shared shortly. I want to talk about how this church can make a difference in our community and in the world. I want to talk about how we can be the hands and feet and face of Christ to the people we love when they need it most. I want ideas, I want passion, I want excitement and I want energy. I want to see joy in your eyes and call and conviction in your hearts.

So let us go forth and, like the disciples, be labourers of the harvest that God is gleaning in our midst. May we create healing. May we find healing. And may we believe that healing is possible.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

***

[1] Matthew 9:36, NRSV
[2] Matthew 9:37-38, NRSV – the passage reads, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” I have always interpreted this passage as the harvest being the work of God on this earth and the labourers as us, those who God calls to work and minister in the world.