I totally should have named this sermon, #nailedit.
This is the sermon I preached at the end of Homeless Awareness Weekend. It’s a shorter one, because our kids get up and talk about their experiences, which is really the sermon everyone needs to hear that day anyway. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 11, 2018
Letting Go Of Our Traditions And Expectations
Do you ever have one of those weekends where nothing goes according to plan?
That was this weekend.
And here’s the thing – it wasn’t for lack of trying on the parts of organizers. We really were doing the best we could. But it seemed like there was just always something getting in our way as we tried to plan this year’s Homeless Awareness Weekend.
And here’s the thing – when you are doing something for the 12thtime, you usually have a little bit of history behind you, traditions that you want to uphold. And so I found myself, every time something popped up that prevented us from doing something that we wanted to do this weekend – weather, numbers, time, available volunteers – I had that pesky church lady thought in the back of my head:
But we’ve always done it this way.
Two of our biggest obstacles this year were weather and participation. Now the weather, as most of you could probably attest to, was wet and stormy on Friday night; we ended up bringing everyone inside to their churches so no one got soaked and the boxes didn’t get destroyed. The participation was lower this year, simply because we have kind of a gap in our high school age range right now (although, you will hear in a minute that this year’s group was small, but mighty!).
And while I know it’s not all about the numbers, there was part of me that thought, “But we’ve always stayed out both nights, but we’ve always had a huge group at the field, but we’ve always had multiple pan handling sites all around Rehoboth.”
On Friday night after our opening worship service, about 20 of us from RCC and Memorial Baptist Church walked from the church to Mason Field in the pouring rain. The other churches left directly from the church and didn’t make the walk. It kind of felt like a let down; we always have such a big group making this walk, I thought to myself. I have walked with 100 people before.
The next morning I was driving to the field and I came around the corner at route 152 in Attleboro where the cemetery is. I saw the ECC panhandlers manning their islands. There are usually about a dozen; yesterday morning there were four. That bummed out feeling started to creep back into my head. That’s so sad, I thought. He’s all by himself. He must be miserable.
My light was red, so I pulled up next to one of the panhandlers and rolled down my window, “How goes the pan handling?” I asked. His face lit up when he realized it was me and he said, “My first donation was $100! Isn’t that amazing? The woman says she donates to us every year!”
And that was the moment I realized that it is not about what we always do or certain numbers that we want to reach or finding a way to always be better than the year before; it is about God showing up in this moment and opening our eyes to the good things that are happening in this world right now.
This morning’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark comes from chapter 7, verses 1-23. It talks about traditions, about the way things have always been done. Jesus said, in verse 8, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold fast to human tradition.”
And that was exactly what I was doing. I was trying to make the weekend exactly what I thought it was supposed to be, holding fast to human traditions, instead of opening myself up to what God was actually doing in our midst.
And God did some really cool things this weekend.
The adults and I had this running joke that every time something went wrong we would try to laugh off the defeat and say, “Nailed it!” But last night, around the fire, we invited the students to share some of what they learned this weekend. It was the absolute best. When we finally let go of our desire to get all of the traditional pieces of the weekend lined up, we realized God was piecing together something even better.
Our kids learned a lot this weekend; they raised a lot of money for the size of group that we had, they helped the adults when they needed help, they never complained and they spoke thoughtfully and respectfully about their experiences.
And I realize I should probably work on my humility a little bit, but I left that fireside chat thinking, “No, we totally nailed it.”
I learned this weekend that sometimes it is okay to let go of our expectations and our traditions – because those are the moments when we really see the depth of what God can do.
Thanks be to God!