Better Together

Save this one for next year when you are preaching stewardship!  I actually love preaching about stewardship and we had a great response to this year’s stewardship campaign.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 28, 2018

Mark 6:30-44, Mark 8:1-10

Better Together

It is time for my annual disclaimer.

I am going to talk about money today.

And I am really sorry about that.

But, this is not a bad thing, I promise!  Who read my stewardship letter this year?  If you missed it, here is the gist.  I actually like the stewardship season.  I enjoy talking about money.  I am kind of a geek when it comes to the whole thing.  I get excited to think about the God-sized possibilities that a stewardship campaign could bring.

In my stewardship letter this year, I told the story about a conversation I had in seminary with my nonprofit leadership professor.  I told him I hated asking for money and he smiled at me and told me he loved asking for money.  He explained that he only ever asked for money for organizations that he was truly passionate about.  And, in asking a person to donate to that organization, he was asking them to be part of the mission of the organization, knowing that beyond any kind of financial support they might give, there was a good chance their lives might also be changed along the way.

So even though I am going to talk about money today, it really is not all about the money; it is about changing lives – your lives.

Because here is the thing, Rehoboth Congregational Church – I believe in this church.  I believe it has the power to change people’s lives, both inside our walls and outside our walls.  I believe this church has the ability to proclaim the Gospel in a way that is relevant, meaningful and accessible to all in this generation.  I believe we can get people excited about growing in their faith, being part of the Body of Christ and doing church together.

Together.

Together.

A few months ago, Abbie St. Martin was in my office and we were talking about stewardship.  Abbie is the vice chair of the Executive Board and part of her role as vice chair is to, alongside me, oversee the stewardship campaign. Neither one of us was feeling particularly inspired that afternoon, so we did what probably would have made my nonprofit leadership professor cringe – we turned to Pinterest for ideas.

But lo and behold – we saw something that peaked our attention.

“Better Together”

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Acts 4:32

We were immediately drawn to this, because it described the church in the village we have been celebrating for the past two years.  As a church, we are stronger together than we are separately.  We are more than simply the sum of our parts; we are the Body of Christ.

And that means something.

It means something in the life of our church and it means something in the lives of each and every one of us sitting here.

At the time, we decided on our theme, our logo and the timeline, which included me preaching on stewardship on October 28th, this morning.  I remember thinking that at some point I needed to look at our Year of Mark calendar to see what I was already scheduled to preach on just in case it was completely irrelevant and I needed to go in another direction.

And so after the whole demonic pigs drowning on the same day as Charlotte’s baptism happened, you can imagine my sheer delight when I opened my Year of Mark schedule and realized that this morning we would be reading not just one, but both of the loaves and fishes stories.

These stories speak for themselves.  There did not seem to be enough food to feed the crowds that had gathered around Jesus and yet, after blessing a few loaves of bread and a small number of fish, there was an abundance of food that allowed everyone to eat their full.

We have all seen this happen at the church. We go into an event or a meal worried that there will not be enough food for everyone and then five minutes later we have to set up another table because we are running out of space.

People always ask me how this happens and the truth is, I have no idea; it can only be described as grace.

But here is what I do know:  When we have these loaves and fishes moments at the church – these moments when I see people clearing a space on the floor for another table and hear the familiar sound of those metal table legs banging open – they never happen because of one person.  They happen as a community – because we are better together.

Together, we can take morsels of food and feed a crowd that has gathered.  Together, we can create a space in this church where all people feel welcome, where we all have a safe space to learn and grow in our faith.  Together, we can worship God and teach others that the Gospel is a story that is still worth telling.  Together, we can change people’s lives, our own included.  Together, we can do the impossible.

And that is why I love stewardship.  That is why I have had some of the best and most honest conversations about pledging and giving to the church this year.  That is why I was so open in talking about what Bruce and I are going to increase our pledge by this year.  That is why I am excited to ask people for money and to prayerfully consider their level of giving for the upcoming year.

Because we are stronger together than we are as separate units.  The offerings that we give to this church have more of an impact when they are combined with everyone else’s than they ever would if they were on their own.  We have the capacity to make a real difference here, not only to help sustain this church, but to help it thrive in the years to come.

Something really special is happening here, at the church.  Momentum is building; I can feel it in the very depths of my soul.  God has cast a vision for our church in the village and I can say with absolute confidence that the next chapter of our story is going to be captivating.

This morning marks the end of our official stewardship season and I am humbly asking you a few things:

  1. If you have not yet turned in your pledge card for the upcoming year, please do so. There are pledge cards in the pews if you would like to do so this morning; fill it out and put it in the offering plate.  I know the concept of pledging is scary for some people, but the Executive Board needs to put together a budget for 2019 and they rely on the pledge numbers to estimate what the income is going to be.
  2. Consider increasing your pledge. Think about the impact that even a small increase in your pledge would have on this church if we all did that together.
  3. Also consider signing up for electronic giving. It is simple, it is safe and it is a great way to guarantee that you will stay current on your pledge and that our revenue stream will remain consistent.

However you pledge, however you give, however you donate and however you serve – thank you.  You are the reason that we are better together.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

RCC Strong

Our month of Stewardship is complete!  Here is my sermon from today.  I preached for about 8-10 minutes and then I invited Mike Barger – the brainchild behind our RCC Strong theme – to come up and help me finish the sermon.  It was great!  That part is on the audio, but obviously not in the text.

I preached on money last week and then this week really focused on the RCC Strong theme.  It was a celebration about our church, not a conversation about money.  It was fun to march around the church with the children chanting “RCC STRONG!” and then singing along with Jordan and Bruce while they were singing Lean On Me.  A great, great service.

Here’s my sermon!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 25, 2015

Psalm 133
Romans 12:1-10

RCC Strong

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
(Psalm 133:1, NRSV adapted)

Isn’t that such a beautiful quote from the book of Psalms? It illustrates the most stunning picture of what the Christian Church could look like: A place where God’s people – all of God’s people – can come together, dwell in peace with one another, serve with full hearts and be united through worship, service and learning. It is precious, it is sacred and it is ordained.

Man, that sounds great, doesn’t it?

I was talking to someone earlier in the week who said to me, “It must be so nice to work for a church; you probably do not ever have to deal with nasty people and you do not have to deal with politics, either!”

There is a loaded statement if I have ever heard one.

Let’s talk about the church for a second: It is full of people. And people … well, sometimes people will be people. People are imperfect; they do not always agree with one another, they have a tendency to voice their opinions (both positive AND negative) and sometimes they squabble when things do not go their way.

God had a great idea, right? Take one of the most sacred things that God created – the Church, the tangible expression of God’s light and love in this world – and put people in charge of it.

It just seems like there was a bit of an oversight somewhere.

Sometimes I think that Paul was actually a little bit too optimistic when he wrote his letter to the Church in Rome and talked about what the church should – ultimately – look like. Look at the passage we heard today:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. (Romans 12:4-6, NRSV)

I mean, that sounds good in theory, right? Everyone has their own special piece of the puzzle that they bring to the Church and when all of the pieces are put together, it makes a pretty picture.

It makes sense; but in reality this is actually really hard to live out.

Okay, so here is the deal: The Church is something of a hot mess at times. First of all, it is run by volunteers; volunteers who generally do not have a lot of extra time on their hands. There are a lot of different beliefs and ideas and opinions floating around and sometimes these differences create conflict. And Church is a very personal thing for people; people are invested, not only in the institution of the Church itself, but also in the faith that it represents to them. Anytime something is that deeply personal, emotions tend to get very strong and this – again – can sometimes create conflict.

The church is imperfect. I hate to burst your bubble if you walked through the front doors of the church this morning expecting it – and everyone in it – to be perfect, but that is just not the way that it works. As human beings, we are innately broken; this is why Jesus needed to come into our midst, this is why this whole salvation this was necessary to begin with. Our imperfections are the very reason that God breathed life into a Church where individual people could come together and rise up to shine God’s light into a dark world.

But the Church is not immune from our human imperfections. Sometimes the Church is broken; sometimes the Church disappoints us; sometimes the Church falls short.

And yet here, in the midst of our imperfect Church, we have found an unexplainable grace: RCC Strong.

RCC Strong started about a year ago. A few of us – led by Mike Barger – started informally using the hashtag, #rccstrong, when posting on our social media accounts about the church.

(For those of you who do not use social media, a “hashtag” is something that you type onto your post that describes what you are posting – you are essentially “tagging” something virtually.)

Admittedly, the whole thing was kind of silly when we started; but as time went on, other people started to join in. And as more and more people started to use the hashtag, #rccstrong, a spirit came alive within this community: A spirit of diversity, illuminating the different pieces that come together to make us a whole. A spirit of tenacity and perseverance, proving that no matter how many times we stumble we will always get up again. A spirit of strength, reminding us that even though our Church is imperfectly human, it is also divinely ordained by God to do great things in our community and throughout the world.

Eventually the words “RCC Strong” were popping up on all over social media, describing so many pieces of our collaborative puzzle. They would describe the fun were having at community events and suppers throughout the year. They would express gratitude for a particularly meaningful worship service or experience. They would extend a hand of hospitality to newcomers and seekers, inviting them into our midst. They would portray a virtual toe tapping during a particularly lively choir anthem, a collective “aww” as the children’s choir climbed up onto the chancel to sing and an excited countdown for Beatles Sunday. They would affirm our call to be Disciples of Christ as we took part in missions. They would show support (or give thanks for support received) when someone was going through a difficult time. They would remind us over and over again that God will find what is lost, put together what is broken and shine light into darkness.

RCC Strong is a tangible expression of the Body of Christ that Paul described in his letter to the Romans, coming alive at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

Paul said to the Roman people:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God. (Romans 12:2, NRSV)

Today we celebrate who we are as a community of faith and – perhaps more exciting – who God is calling us to be. Today our cries of RCC STRONG will echo throughout our church, into our community and then far out into the world. Today we affirm what we already know to be true – that God is changing lives right here in our midst.

And so I invite you to heed these same words of Paul: Be transformed. Be transformed by this church. Be transformed by the imperfect, but grace-filled and loving people that come, week after week. Be transformed by the still-speaking God that is alive and active in our midst. Be transformed by our successes and by our mistakes. Be transformed by the ways that we have been, the ways that we are and the ways that we will always be RCC Strong.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Called To Serve – Called To Give

Hello and Happy Harvest!  I had a busy weekend with church activities (and my final wedding of the season!) so I’m only now getting caught up.  Here is this week’s sermon.  I don’t have the audio because I forgot to shut off the recording and all of the prayer requests were recorded – whoops!  Sorry about that.  Still working out the kinks of my own system. :)

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 18, 2015

Mark 10:35-45

Called To Serve – Called To Give

Lock the doors; I am about to talk about money.

When I was in seminary, I got into a disagreement with one of my professors about how pastors should talk to their churches about money.

Here is what happened: My professor kept saying that we, as pastors, needed to preach about money; and not only did we need to preach about money, but we needed to preach often about money (often – as in, more than once a year!). He said that we needed to be transparent about our own giving and ask others to be transparent about their giving. He talked about the biblical notion of “tithing” – literally giving 10% of your income to the church – and said that we needed to set that expectation – that expectation that every single member of the church ought to tithe – when talking about stewardship and giving money to the church.

Now, remember – I went to seminary in Atlanta. My professor was a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia conference and had spent his entire life down south.

At one point I turned to him with kind of a perplexed look on my face and rested my chin on my hand and said, “You’ve never been to New England before, have you?”

So let me put this right out there on the table: We are New Englanders. We do not like to talk about money.

Amen?

But let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. As a nonprofit organization, we have salaries to pay, buildings to maintain and programs to run. All of these things cost money. Part of being the church means rising up to the fiduciary duty of the organization and ensuring that the church has sufficient resources to pay its bills.

And let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. A church that God has called us into; a church that Jesus laid the foundation for 2,000 years ago; a church that we are still building today. Part of being the church means remembering – even when it is uncomfortable to do so (and I know that it is uncomfortable to do so!) – that Jesus called us to give back and sometimes that means pledging and giving our own money.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples and the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection for the third time (he did this immediately prior to this reading in chapter 10, verses 32-34). After hearing Jesus say that he would be violently killed and then rise again after three day, James and John wanted to make sure they had their bases covered.

Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left. (Mark 10:35-36)

Talk about trying to get on the fast track to a place of honor.

Jesus was not easily giving into the brothers’ request. Jesus told them that they would be baptized and that they would drink from the cup of salvation; but that sitting in a place of honor was not for Jesus to grant on earth.

The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. (Mark 10:39-40)

This could easily turn into a horrendous sermon about giving money to the church so that you can get into heaven, but I swear on everything that is important to me that is NOT where I am going with this.

Here is where I am going with this: The disciples were focusing on the wrong thing.

The disciples were fixated on how to get that “good” spot in heaven and not paying attention to what was happening in their midst. They were focused on the future and not at all on the present. They wanted to figure out how to get in cahoots with God, but were actually ignoring the people that were in their midst and needed tangible signs of God’s love and grace; tangible signs that they, in fact, could give them.

Jesus said:

Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:43-45)

For Jesus, it was not just about ‘talking the talk’ it was also very much so about ‘walking the walk’. Jesus said that there was a level of servant hood to our faith that could not be ignored.

I was really intrigued by Jesus’ use of the word “slave” in this passage:

Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:44)

What is a slave, after all? A slave is a person who has absolutely no choice but to humble themselves and serve others; a person who must put the needs of others before the needs of themselves. The term “slave” carries a lot of heavy connotations and I do not think that we should ignore the significance of its use here. Having faith is necessarily glamorous; in fact sometimes it is downright grueling. Living out our faith is not easy, sometimes it is messy and oftentimes it takes a lot of work.

But Jesus called us to live out our faith; Jesus called us to serve.

It is not enough for us to just say that we are Christian; we have to act as though we are Christian as well.

And here is where things start to get a little bit uncomfortable: Because it is not enough for us to just say that we are members of this church; we have to act as though we are members of this church as well.

We have to be invested in the wellbeing of this church. Jesus said that we have to serve and – in many ways – we have to serve this church. We have to serve this church with our time, with our energy and with our ideas. We have to serve this church with our prayers and with our money.

I was talking to a couple a few weeks ago that is thinking of joining the church and they asked me how the whole “money thing” worked. How does the money get spent? Where does the money come from? How do people decide how much money to give? And here is a the question that got me thinking: Why do people give their money to the church in the first place?

So why do we give our money to the church? I know that money can sometimes be an uncomfortable subject for us, but this question is actually a really fun and amazing thing to think about.

We give our money to the church because we are called by Jesus not to first come and receive, but to first come and serve. We give our money to the church because giving money makes us vulnerable and the more we open ourselves by giving, the more space God has to come into our midst. We give our money to the church because we know that God’s grace has the power to do unexplainable and unexpected things – and we want a front row seat when that happens.

And more importantly – we give our money to this church. We give our money to this church because we believe in it. We give our money to this church because of the way that this church enables us to worship, serve and learn in ways that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to us. We give our money to this church because this church is changing lives. We give our money to this church because we believe that we are “RCC Strong.”

Stewardship Packets have been mailed out; most of you should have received them by now and (if you have not, I would be happy to hand deliver one!). I – along with members of the Stewardship Committee and the Board of Trustees – are inviting you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2015 year and return your pledge card – either in worship or to the office.

Do not give because you think we are broke; do not give because you are afraid that programs or services might be cut; do not give because you are tired of hearing me yammer on about money.

Give because Jesus is calling you to serve. Give because God has opened your eyes and your ears and your mind and your heart to this church; and you want to be part of the ministry that is unfolding here. Give because giving is where grace begins.

Give because of the abundant blessings that you receive as the living waters of baptism are washed over you. Give because you are always welcomed at the table and invited to drink from the cup overflowing with salvation.

Give because you are and will always be RCC Strong.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.