We Are All In This Together

We continued our five-week journey through 1 Corinthians this week by looking at the fourth chapter in its entirety.  One of the things I love about doing scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to theme-based, which is what we did in Advent and over the summer) is that I really don’t know, from week to week, where my sermon is going to go.  Sometimes it is dictated by what is going on throughout the week and, in the case of this sermon, that was what happened.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 26, 2020

1 Corinthians 4

We Are All In This Together

One of the best things that I have every done to, kind of, deal with my “control issues” (which, for the record, I would call “attention to detail” but I can see where others draw a different conclusion) is to have a child.  And I am not just talking about the parenting side of things, either, I am talking about the work-balance side of things, as well.

The truth is, I was never really good at stepping away from my role at the church.  Even when I was on vacation, I would take phone calls and respond to text messages and occasionally scroll through my email and not let myself completely disconnect.

And I don’t say this as a way to humble brag or make myself a martyr for the cause, either.  While I do think part of this has to do with my “control issues,” an even bigger part of also has to do with the fact that I love this church so much; I love the community, I love the people and it does not always seem so much as a job for me as it is a way of life – for me and for my family.

Last week when we looked at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we talked about just how clear it is in his salutation how much Paul loves this church.  In this conversation, I could really resonate with Paul’s sentiments because they are similar to mine when I talk about our ministry here, at the church.  So I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to found these churches and to work so closely with them and then have to leave to travel to a new place.

All this is to say, I have thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as I worked to secure my maternity leave coverage.

Here’s the thing – I will be away for ten weeks; and while I likely will have the best of intentions to touch base and try to stay connected because I really do love you all, there is a very good chance I will get distracted and not always follow through on those intentions.

And so it is important to me that, as a community, we are ready for me to step back in April.  The difference between now and when I went on maternity leave with Harrison is that our church has grown a little bit, we have more going on and I will be gone primarily during the program year and not just during the summer.

But, like my father always says, the show must go on.  I was thrilled to share with the Executive Board this week that a very good friend and colleague of mine has agreed to step in for me while I am away; she and I were part of the same clergy community of practice for eight years and she is very much looking forward to sharing in ministry with you all.  She will be filling in part time, so, to some extent, we will have to prioritize what we need from her.

On the one hand, it feels kind of strange to be stepping away, even if it is only for a short amount of time, but, on the other hand, I am actually a little excited to watch what this church does together, as a community, in my absence.

Like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of weeks, because not only have I been working out the details of my maternity leave coverage, but we are also now looking at 1 Corinthians, which is a letter Paul wrote to the church a Corinth, a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote the letter.  On top of that, in bible study we are reading 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, which are also letters Paul wrote to a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote them.

This theme of what does it mean to serve a church and then to step away keeps popping back up to the surface around here.  For all I know, it is a total God thing getting me ready to be away for a little bit, but I also think it is really cool to envision (there’s my star word – vision) what a church can do and be when it is about its people and not necessarily its pastor.

The difference between us and the Corinthians, of course, is that, from the tone of this letter and the fact that Paul says he is hearing reports about conflict and quarrels, it appears that when Paul left Corinth, chaos ensued.  Now, I fully expect – and actually hope – that a certain level of blessed and holy chaos ensues when I go on maternity leave.  But certainly not exactly what was going on in Corinth.  So clearly this is certainly not an even comparison; however I do not think a church has to be actively experiencing turmoil and conflict to benefit from Paul’s words here.

A majority of this particular chapter reads as a defense; a defense of Paul and the people he is in ministry with, who helped him found this church.  The problem is, when Paul founded the church, the Corinthians all looked to him in leadership; but when he left, people still felt like they needed a leader and so they started splitting off into various groups and forming allegiances to different people.

Here, Paul is saying, however, that they are all, in fact, equal in Christ; that he is equal with the other Apostles and with the members of the Corinthian church and that the members of the Corinthian church are all equal with one another.

Paul writes:

So that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.[1]

In other words, we are all on the same team.  This is our church – and we have a shared mission.  We have to work together and view everyone’s role as equally important.

Let’s look at verses 8-13.

It is easy to take these verses out of context.  Paul speaks highly of the Corinthians, calling them kings who are wise and strong and seemingly speaks lowly of himself and the apostles, calling them fools for the sake of Christ who are weak.  If you just read these verses, it might seem like Paul is conceding to the church, but when you look at the tone of the rest of the letter, however, it is apparent, in fact, that Paul is being somewhat tongue and cheek in his writing here.  He is making these sarcastic paradoxes as a way of pointing out to the church that is somewhat ridiculous and not at all productive for the sake of the Gospel to think of yourself as anything other than equal with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because, again, we are all in this together.

And, again, Paul is writing this with love.  He goes on in verse 14 to say, “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”  He loves this church, he believes in this church and he, too, is envisioning what this church can do and be.

I understand where Paul is coming from because, again, I share these same sentiments.  Our church is in a really exciting place right now.  And, to be quite honest, while this does make the prospect of stepping away for maternity leave a little scarier this time around, it also gives me so much hope when I envision what you all, as a church, are going to accomplish while I am away.

This scripture reminds us that we are all equal partners in our ministry together, which I think is a really important message for us to hear, in our own church, today.  Because whether you have been a part of this church for your entire life or, perhaps, you have only just walked through the doors for the first time today, we are all in this together.  We are all sharing in this ministry together.

And what a beautiful and blessed and holy ministry it is.

The really cool thing about our church is that we have a bottom-up structure; we govern ourselves and the work we do is done by all of us – together.  And so I would encourage you, as we all continue to dream about this new year, to really think about what God is calling you to do in this moment.  Because whether it seems like we, as individuals, are doing something seemingly big or small, significant or insignificant, Paul’s words remind us that we are all doing this together.

There are so many different ways to get involved at the church right now.  Like I said in my epistle note on Friday, don’t feel like you have to get involved in everything!  This is why we have a village.  Know that whatever you are doing, your work matters and you are making a difference in this church.  Remember that together we create the church and that together we are the Body of Christ and that together we will share the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love to a world that so desperately needs to hear it and that together, we will be servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 4:6, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

United To Tell This Story

Hi friends!

We started a sermon series on Sunday looking at pieces of 1 Corinthians.  It’s not my ideal – I really love looking at scripture in a linear and continual way – but we have five weeks before the Transfiguration and beginning of Lent and I figured it would be too choppy to get through the whole thing with breaks for Mardi Gras, Palm Sunday, Easter, etc.  So hopefully this will give everyone a flavor!  I say this in my sermon, but I would encourage you to fill in the gaps that we miss so you can read the letter in its entirety over the next five weeks!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 19, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

United To Tell This Story

One of the things that has been nice, in wandering away from the lectionary over the past two years and settling into longer sermon series in worship, is that we have the opportunity to look at larger pieces of scripture in a continual and linear way.  This not only allows us to see scripture more as a whole, but it really gives us a better context for what we are reading.  We know what type of literature it is, when it was written, who wrote it, who it was being written to, in some cases why it was being written and what the entire book says and not just one isolated passage.

Which brings me to the sermon series we are kicking off today.  The Greatest of These is Love: a look at 1 Corinthians came out of a recurring theme I noticed in 2019 at RCC – love.

Love God.  Love people.

Love wins.

Love each other.

Love.  Love.  Love.

Earlier in the year, during our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the Greatest Commandment, where the Pharisees ask Jesus what the most important law is and Jesus says to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and then to love your neighbor as yourself.  From there, this call to love – and the practical ways we can live out that call – really leapt to the forefront of our community and our identity as a church.  We lived out this call to love in ways that were both big and small, both inside our community and outside, but all that made a difference in people’s lives.

I started to think about some of the other scripture that talk about love – and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient [and] love is kind”) was one of the first I thought about.

Most people have heard this particular scripture read at weddings, though, ironically (and we will talk about this more in a couple of weeks when we look at it), it is not about a couple getting married.  It is, in fact, about a group of people; about a church that Paul founded that was experiencing conflict, that have a hard time being in community together.  When Paul talks about love in that scripture, he is not talking to two individuals in a relationship with one another, he is talking to a church; to a group of people committed to working together to live out their faith and share the Gospel with the world.

And so I thought it would be fun to look at more of this letter than we usually hear read at weddings.  After all, we are a church; we are a group of people committed to working together to live out our faith and share the Gospel with the world.

Is it always easy?  Of course not!  But this is precisely why this scripture speaks to us so poignantly today.

A little bit of housekeeping before I talk about the scripture, itself.  We are not reading the entire letter, we are only looking at five sections.  This is not ideal, because there is stuff we are going to miss.  The problem is, there are 16 chapters in this scripture and, even if we looked at one chapter a week and spent the next four months going through it all, we are going to get interrupted by the Transfiguration, Mardi Gras, Palm Sunday, Easter, etc. and so it made more sense to me to wrap up our discussion before Lent begins so then we can really focus on that.

That being said, I would strongly encourage you to fill in the gaps throughout the week.  The schedule will be printed in the bulletin, so if you get a chance throughout the week, get yourself caught up to where will pick up the following Sunday.  This is more for your own curiosity; if I reference anything we’ve missed from week to week, obviously I will explain what I am talking about.  Reading during the week and filling in the gaps just gives you an accessible way to read scripture and follow along with something we are already doing.

Okay – so let’s talk about 1 Corinthians!

1 Corinthians is in the New Testament; it is a letter (they are called Epistles).  It was written by the Apostle Paul to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it was very diverse, ethnically, culturally and religiously.  The church, itself, was predominantly Gentile – so this whole narrative was all very new to them and they were not used to Jewish laws and customs.  Paul wrote this letter in response to reports of disputes in the congregation – of people rivaling for control and disagreeing about proper etiquette.

You know … church stuff.

The passage we are looking at this morning is the very beginning of the letter – and Paul does not beat around the bush.  He says in verse 11, “For it has been reported to me … that there are quarrels among you.”  This is essentially his way of saying, “I’ve hear you’ve been spatting and now we’re gonna talk about it.”

The thing that I love so much about this salutation is how clear it is just how much Paul loves this church.  He says in verse 4, “I give thanks to my God always for you.”  This is a church that Paul not only founded, but that he still loves very much.  In fact, this statement almost bears witness to Jesus’ commandment to love God and love people, because he is demonstrating in his leadership what this kind of love looks like.  Despite the fact that he might be frustrated with the church in Corinth because of their behavior, he still loves them and believes in them.

I think this is helpful for us to remember as we read the entire letter; even if we get to a point where Paul might be criticizing the church or calling their behavior into question, he is doing so out of love, not out of anger.

One of the issues Paul addresses here, at the beginning of the letter, is the fact that his apostolic authority is being called into question – that is to say, people are questioning whether or not he is an apostle of Jesus and what, in fact, that means.  Paul responds to these “allegations” by immediately reminding the Corinthians that following Christ does not mean we have to divide our allegiances to people or churches; our allegiance is to Christ.  We are all baptized in Christ’s name and called to proclaim the Gospel, no matter how different we may be or where our faith journeys may take us.

The last verse of this passage is one that I think packs the biggest punch.  Paul writes:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. [1 Corinthians 1:17, NRSV]

So that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

I say this all the time, but it is worth repeating:  The work we do here matters.  This story – this narrative of love and redemption is one that changes people’s lives.  Through Jesus – through his life, death and resurrection – God has given us this gift and this opportunity and it is not one that we should take lightly.

It is important.

It is important, not only that we live out our own faith, but also that we share this faith with others so that their lives might be changed, so that the world might be made whole again.

Are we all always going to agree on what this looks like or how it should be done?  Of course not.  But, like Paul says in verse 10, we are united in the same mind and purpose.

We are united in Christ.

The beginning of this letter kind of reads like a sports pep talk that a coach might give his team when they are down.  Because the game is not over, right?  And, in this case, the story of the church in Corinth is not over yet, either.  Christ’s story – a story of love and redemption – is not over yet.  It is still being written.  It is still being written by the Corinthians Paul is writing to.

And it is still being written by us, today, as we seek to do the hard work that is required to nurture our community of faith and share the Gospel.

So think about this scripture as a pep talk to us – as we stand at the dawn of a new year, inspired by this theme of love that permeated our identity last year.  Remember that, just like the church in Corinth, we, too, are loved and cherished.  We are not perfect, but we are united.  We are united because we believe that Jesus’ story is one that is still worth telling, we believe that it is a story that can and will change lives, starting with our own.  We are united because we are the Body of Christ, the church in the village.  We are united because we have seen the tangible expression of love lived out in this community and we know the difference it can make.  We are united because we are ready for the new year, ready to listen to God calling us to do church and to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  We are united because, like Paul says in verse 9, “God is faithful; by him [we are] called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul says that he gives thanks to God for the church in Corinth.  Today I offer this same sentiment – I give thanks to God for you, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – the church in the village.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

Last year I had some major FOMO when all my friends were preaching Baptism of Christ and doing amazing remembrance of baptism liturgies and I was on the Year of Mark and didn’t get to join in on the fun.  It didn’t work out this year that I was able to do a big baptism remembrance (which honestly, I’m not sure how you do logistically that with 160 people in church anyway!) but we did do a liturgy in between concerns and celebrations where I offered a blessing from the font and then that led into the pastoral prayer.  It was lovely!  And, after receiving a lot of positive feedback, it reminded me that sometimes less is more and simple things really can make a difference in people’s lives.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 12, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17

Remembering That We Are All Worthy

In the church year, the second Sunday of January is typically the Sunday where we remember Jesus’ baptism.  The year begins with the Advent season, then moves to Christmas and Epiphany, which we celebrated last week on Star Sunday.  Jesus’ baptism kicks off the season after Epiphany – or, “Ordinary Time” – before Lent eventually starts and begins our journey to Easter.

The thing about this particular Sunday, however, is that it is not so much officially part of the church calendar as it is a staple in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Now, for those of you who do not know, the Revised Common Lectionary is a preaching calendar that a lot of preachers and churches follow, myself included for many years.  I wandered away from it in 2018 and started taking a sermon series approach to worship planning and preaching and to be quite honest, have not really looked back.

With the exception of the second Sunday in January last year.

It was on this Sunday when it seemed like all of my friends were not only preaching Jesus’ baptism, but also doing really cool remembrance of baptism liturgies with their congregations and I was just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday.  To make worse, it was, of course, the Sunday after Star Sunday, so I was not only just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday, but I was doing so in an empty sanctuary without the 150 three-dimensional paper stars that had suspended from the ceiling the week before.

That night I logged into Facebook and a friend of mine had posted photos of the children in his church running around the sanctuary during worship with tiny spray bottles spritzing everyone so they could remember their own baptisms and it was at that point that I decided I did not care what were in the middle of the next year, we would pause and reflect on Jesus’ baptism.

Now thankfully for you all, the fact that we had an actual baptism this morning put a moratorium on the whole spray bottle thing.

However, God’s timing is a funny thing, because little did I know last year when I promised myself I would take a Sunday and reflect on baptism this year that, in that same week I was planning on doing so, we would also have a baptism is worship.  And, more than that, in the week leading up to that Sunday, I would not only schedule three more baptisms for the upcoming weeks, but I would also begin to have a conversation at a Deacons meeting about creating an official baptism policy at RCC that talks about what the sacrament means to us at church, as well as outlines our process and answers frequently asked questions.

Suffice is to say, I have thought about baptism a lot this week.

The story of Jesus’ baptism appears, in some way, in all four of the Gospels.  The stories are similar in all four accounts:  Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  The heavens open when Jesus is baptized and the spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The intriguing thing to me about the account we just heard, from the Gospel of Matthew, is that John the Baptist actually tries to prevent Jesus from having John baptize him.  John essentially says, no wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you.  But Jesus says, no, it’s okay; this is how it is supposed to happen – and then John baptizes Jesus.

I have been thinking about this exchange between John and Jesus this week, because it is one of those moments where the Body of Christ is called into being and we are reminded that we are all worthy of God’s grace.  John says to Jesus, I can’t baptize you, you need to baptize me and Jesus says, no I need this, too and you are worthy of baptizing me.

In doing this, I think Jesus sets the stage for what baptism now looks like in the 21st century.  Like so many other parts of our faith, everyone does it a little bit differently and it means a little something different to everyone, as well.

And that’s okay.

Some parents bring their children to be baptized as infants and small children and some choose to wait until their children are older and can decide for themselves that they would like to be baptized.  Some churches have infant dedications and then practice believers’ baptism.  Some churches invite godparents to stand with the candidate for baptism and others invite sponsors.  Some churches require godparents to be members of their church and others do not.  Some churches allow parents to choose if they even want godparents or not.  Some baptisms take place around a font or basin where water is splashed or poured on the candidate and some take place in a larger body of water where candidates are submerged.

My point is this – I do not think there is a right or wrong way to baptize.  Do we have our way of doing it here, at RCC?  Of course we do.  But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all worthy, both to be baptized and to baptize.  And, as the Body of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone to the font so that they can feel the redemptive powers of those living waters, so that they, too can be claimed as God’s children and called beloved.

Like I said, I have been thinking a lot about baptism this week, particularly as I began to work with the Deacons to prepare a policy for RCC that outlines not only our own process for baptizing, but also what we believe baptism means.  And I want to close out my sermon this morning by sharing something I wrote as an introductory.

Baptism is one of the two sacraments we recognize at the Rehoboth Congregational Church (the other is Holy Communion).  We believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God.  It both God’s gift and our response to that gift.  It is a tangible act where we use water to symbolize the cleansing of our sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ.  It is a sacred moment where we not only welcome an individual into our church and community of faith, but we also where bear witness to the life-changing truth that, just like when Jesus was baptized and the spirit of God descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” we are all claimed as God’s own children when the waters of baptism touch us and that God loves each and every one of us.

In baptism we make a promise to the one being baptized – and, in the case of infants and young children, their parents – that we will create a space for them here, at this church to learn and grow in their faith and love and support them on their journeys.

When we remember Jesus’ baptism, we are also invited to remember our own.  And so this morning, before our time of prayer, I will bring us through a brief remembrance of baptism liturgy.  Have no fear, there will not be any spray bottles involved!  But instead I will offer a blessing from the baptismal font and invite you to use this time as you need it today …

… to remember your own baptism.

… to remember another baptism in your life that was special to you.

… to think about what it means to be baptized in the same way Christ was.

… to know that you are claimed as God’s own child and that you are beloved.

… to feel connected with the people you are sitting with in worship today.

… to feel welcomed to gather around the font, even if you have not yet been baptized yourself.

May you remember that you are worthy, that you are claimed as God’s child and that you are beloved – and that you are loved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork