I just spent the last two hours watching my confirmation class act out Genesis and my stomach hurts from laughing so hard! These Sundays can get long, but goodness gracious I love my job.
Enjoy my sermon from this morning! I really wanted to do an elaborate “turning over the tables” altar but we had new carpet installed this week and there was a baptism and we had memorial flowers and it didn’t seem like the right time. I’m loving looking at everyone else’s photos, though!
I’m always looking for feedback on my sermons, so feel free to comment or share through email or Facebook. Feel free to leave prayer requests in the comments as well – I would love to hold you in prayer!
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! xoxo
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 8, 2015
Defining Why We Are Here
One afternoon this week, the guys who are installing our new carpets were cleaning up for the day and one of them came into my office and said with a smirk on his face, “Man, I have never spent so much time on my knees in a church.”
So what do we spend our time doing at the church? Why do we come to church?
Do we come to church to sing, to worship or to pray? Do we come to church to fall on our knees, to stand up in praise or to sit and let ourselves unclench? Do we come to church to be with other people or to be with God? Do we come to church to serve God or to serve others? Do we come to church yearning to serve or needing to be served? Do we come to church to strengthen our faith or to feel a strong sense of community? Do we come to church for religious reasons or to deepen our sense of faith? Do we come to church to care for our building, to care for our community or to care for our souls? Do we come to church because our families have come here for almost 300 years or because we were searching for something and bravely walked through the front doors of this church?
This is not a standardized test; there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Faith and religion are very personal things. We will all answer these questions in different ways; in fact, throughout our lives, I expect our own answers to these questions will change as well.
But I do believe that there are a few constants that we all must agree on when we think about entering into and continuing to be engaged in a community of faith.
First of all, as a community of faith, we have to hold God at the center of all of it. We have to hold God at the center of all that we are, all that we say, all that do and all of the ways that we act.
And even more than that, as a community of faith we have to keep intentionally turning ourselves back towards that center and prayerfully discerning why God is calling us to be here and what God is calling us to do.
In this morning’s reading from the gospel of John, the Passover was near and Jesus had gone to Jerusalem. When he got to the temple he found that it had been turned into something of a marketplace. Instead of preparing for the Passover, people were selling cattle, sheep and doves. There were moneychangers – people who converted foreign currently into coins – sitting at tables.
This type of activity was something that typically took place outside of the temple, in an area where non-Jews were allowed. This was not something that should have been going on in the temple, let alone during the Passover.
When Jesus discovered what was happening, he was very upset and became angry. He made a whip out of a bundle of cords and he drove the animals out of the temple. He dumped the moneychanger’s coins everywhere and overturned their tables. He yelled at the people who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Fathers’ house a marketplace!”
I can see why Jesus got upset. He was trying to enter a place of worship for a holy time and essentially found himself in the midst of a bunch of fundraisers and salesmen. Anyone who has ever been to church in the middle of a poorly executed stewardship season can understand how he felt that day.
It would be easy for us to read this story, to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes and to wholeheartedly be on Jesus’ side. It would be easy for us to point out the wrongdoings of those in the temple and to cry out for what we believe is right in the name of God. It would be easy for us to pat ourselves on the back and rejoice that – 2,000 years later – we spend our time doing the right thing in our church.
But here is the tricky part of this story: The people that Jesus was angry with were people of faith. They were not kings from other nations who were calling out for war. They were people, encouraged by the temple authorities, who had studied God’s words and were active participants in the temple. They were members of a community of faith, just like we all are members of this church.
So here is a challenging question for all of us to think about today: How different are we really from the people in the temple? What would Jesus say if he came into our sanctuary and into our church building today?
I know, I know. Jesus would love the new carpets and would totally agree that the color emphasizes the beauty of the stained glass windows.
But – Jesus would also gently (or perhaps not so gently) remind us that in the midst of all that we are doing – from worship to teaching to programs all the way to building renovations – we must always remember why we gather in the first place.
I highly doubt – and many commentaries agree with me – that the moneychangers and the people who were selling in the temple were bad people and were intentionally exploiting God’s name. More than likely, these were ordinary people of faith who were trying to build up a religious institution and got slightly sidetracked along the way.
It can happen – it happens – to all of us.
This is not just about money; this is about the things in our religious institutions that distract us and cause us to – consciously or unconsciously – turn away from God.
This story tells us a lot about the nature of who we are as human beings – and also of who we are as (usually well-intentioned) church people. It is easy for us to get settled into the comfort of our routines and forget that sometimes God is calling us to do something a little bit different. It is easy for us to get caught up in the busyness of the church – the bylaws, the finances, the programs, the calendars and the conflicts – that we forget that we are here to serve God. It is easy for us to get settled into what is comfortable to us and what is easy for us that we do not even realize we are so far off the beaten path from where God wants us to be and is calling us to be that it snowed again and the path is gone.
And this is why need to keep turning back to God; that is why we need to always be prayerfully discerning where God is calling us to be now and what God is calling us to do now. We cannot get so caught up in the pieces of our religious institution that we forget the very reason that we come together in the first place.
The irony is not lost on me that I preach this sermon the same week that we are celebrating recent renovations in the sanctuary and are also in the midst of advertising for an upcoming spring bazaar that we hope will raise money for our operating budget.
And these are not bad things – we should be doing things! We should be celebrating all that we do as a community of faith!
But these are also precisely the reasons why we need to be intentional about continually turning ourselves back to God.
My four-year anniversary with the Rehoboth Congregational Church is less than a month away. Over the past four years, we have experiences ups and downs; we have experienced highs and lows, we have experienced tears and laughter, we have experienced anger and joy, we have experienced growth and decline and we have experienced change and preservation. We are on a journey together – this church and its community is a piece of our story and we are a piece of its story.
But we always have to remember that God is the one that should be writing these stories. No matter what is going on around us, no matter how comfortable we may be with where we are and no matter how right we feel we are, we need to be letting God write these stories.
Just as God led the people out of Egypt, so, too, God leads us along our journeys.
The Ten Commandments were not just a gift to Moses and his people, they were – and are – also a gift to us. They are a gift reminding us that we are all God’s children; united in covenant, grounded in a strong foundation and so momentously loved by our creator who wants to be part of the lives that we are leading today and the ministries that he is calling us into.
So here is a challenge for all of us today: Let us let God lead the next part of our journey. Whether we are embarking on renovations to our building, nurturing or growing our programs, tending to the financial matters of our organization, leading worship services or exploring ways to renew and grow our church, let us turn to God and see where God might lead us next. Let us stand in covenant both with God and with one another. Let us be gentle with one another, remembering even in the midst of our differences – and there WILL be differences – that we are all blessed children of God, called to do something special and unique in our lives AND in this church.
And as we continue to define and redefine who we are in this time and in this place, let us always be faithful to who God is calling us to be.
Let us be inspired. Let us be led. Let us be called – by God.
Thanks be to God!