Welcoming From Within

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

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

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

***

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

Romans 14:1-12

Welcoming From Within

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

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

Long pause.

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

Long pause.

No I really don’t care.

Long pause.

Sigh …

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WELCOME those who are weak in faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul writes in this letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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

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