The Hard Work Of Imitating Christ

Hi friends!

Where in the world did September go?  I feel like we where just preparing for our first ever Drive-Thru Communion and now here we are, at the end of the month.  It’s crazy to me how, even during covid, this is still a really busy time at church!  We are gearing up for stewardship season, some kind of virtual bazaar (which is happening in different pieces/ways), a Candy Crawl in lieu of Trunk or Treat and an adapted Homeless Awareness Weekend.  Check out our website for more information!

We continued in Philippians this morning.  A wonderful letter of love and hope!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 27, 2020

Philippians 2:1-13

The Hard Work Of Imitating Christ

Do y’all remember – I think it was around 25 years ago – there was a movement that, I believe, started with cloth bracelets and eventually was branded on everything:  WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?  The movement started in a very grassroots way, but took off and was really popular, at one point; it was a way to remind the wearer of the bracelet that they should act in a way that personifies Jesus (throughout the day and when faced with a situation, ask yourself the question, “What would Jesus do?”)

Out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research on the origins of the WWJD movement this week and, as it turns out, this phrase was first used in the 1890s by a Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon.  In a sermon in 1891, he repeatedly used this phrase, “What would Jesus do?” in quotation marks.  However, this concept apparently goes back even further than this, because in this sermon, Charles Spurgeon was referencing a book written in the 1400s by Thomas á Kempis.  The book was written in Latin; it was called Imitatio Christi, which means, “the imitation of Christ.”

And the reason I went down a giant rabbit hole of research about a movement from the 90s this week is because this week’s scripture reading talks about imitating Christ, which is, ultimately, where this movement came from.

I like this movement for several reasons.  First of all, it is simple, it is easy to remember and so it is great for kids and it is just something that can always be in the back of your head.  Second of all, it started (at least the 90s version of it) as something people wore; and so it was literally something people were putting on their bodies as both a reminder to themselves throughout the day of how they wanted to live, but also a declaration to others that they were seeking to imitate Christ and demonstrate the Gospel in their own lives.  It is kind of like wearing a cross; it is a visual representation of your faith.  Finally, I love what this movement represents – a very simple and apostolic way of being Christian.

Because this is exactly what Paul is talking about in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

We know from last week’s introduction to the Book of Philippians that Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia; Paul founded a church there and regarded the members of this church with great love and affection.  He was writing this letter from prison; and so, in a way, his words carry so much more meaning because he was not writing from a position of freedom and power, but from a position of struggle and imprisonment.  Paul’s faith was the problem in the world he was living in; preaching the Gospel was what put him in prison in the first place.  Imitating Christ was not necessarily something that came easy in the position he was in; in fact, it created more difficulties for him.

Granted, we are not living in a time where we are persecuted for our faith, but we are living through challenging times; there are many struggles to be had right now.  And so I think it is important to remember that when Paul talks about imitating Christ, he is not saying it is going to be easy.  In fact, he knows it is going to be really, really hard.

And so we know today that imitating Christ – that answering that question, “what would Jesus do?” is not easy.

It requires a lot of us.

Paul says at the beginning of this chapter:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.[1]

Friends, these are words that need to be embodied and emboldened now.  These are words that we need to take personally and seriously as we seek to live the way that Christ lived, as we seek to share the Gospel and bring light and love to a world that is hurting.  These are words that challenge us to see a world beyond the one that we are living in; to humble ourselves at the cross and to realize that this is not just about us.  These are words that force us to look in the mirror and see not only the reflection staring back at us, but also how that reflection is different from the person God is calling us to be, how that reflection is different from the person we would be if we truly sought to imitate Christ in our lives.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.[2]

In other words, think about others before you think about yourself.  Put the needs of others before your own.  Do not be selfish in what you take from others, but generous in what you give to others.

But in humility regard others as better than yourselves.[3]

Humility is a really hard thing.  It is something that causes us to think about and admit the times when we are wrong and when we fall short.  It is something that exposes our human imperfections.  It is something that pushes us outside of our comfort zones.  It is something that sends us crashing off of the pedestals we work so hard to climb up on.

And yet, when we do this – when we, “in humility regard others as better than [our]selves,” we begin the work of reconciliation that this world so desperately needs.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.[4]

This one is so hard, because – especially now – it is so tempting to look inward and make sure you have what you need before you start helping others.  But I think it is important to point out that this is not an either/or thing.  There is actually really good manuscript evidence that the original text of this letter includes the word that we would translate in English to mean, “also”.  Going off of this evidence, this means this verse – let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others – actually says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Because we can help others without sacrificing ourselves.  We can make sure people have what they need and are valued the way they should be without it taking away from our basic needs.  This is not an either/or, this is an all of us together, as the Body of Christ, taking care of one another because this is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus called his followers to do, as well.

This is not easy.  Because, in the end, we are human.  We are imperfect.  We have a tendency to think we are right about things.  We have a hard time accepting the way someone else sees the world and therefore things like gender, race and sexuality are stumbling blocks for us.  It is hard for us to imitate Christ because, let’s face it, he set a really good example.

The second part of this passage is a song of Christ; it is a beautiful expression of who Jesus was, both human and divine, a man who walked this earth, but also was exalted in heaven, who took the form of a slave, but was highly exalted by God.

And so we know, of course, that we will not be able to replicate Christ; that’s not the point.  The point is that we are called to imitate him.  To live our lives in a way that is a reflection of his life and this Gospel he so boldly proclaimed.

And this is hard; this is really, really hard.  On the one hand, our world does not really lend itself to easily imitate Christ.  But on the other hand, this is when the imitation of Christ is needed the most.

Friends, it is time.  It is time to be encouraged by the Gospel to come together with the same love and let our lives – both our individual lives and our life as a community and a church family – be a true and radical and bold reflection of Christ.  It is time to imitate Jesus in our lives in a way that humbles us and helps us meet the needs of others.  It is time to let go of some of our own selfish desires – as hard as that is to do during these tumultuous times – and find ways to ensure that the interests of all people are met – ours, but also others.

There has never been a time like this in our lifetime where it has been more necessary to heed the words of Paul, where it has been more critical to imitate Christ; to constantly be asking ourselves this question, “What would Jesus do?”

And so I encourage you all this morning to challenge yourself.  To live your life as a reflection of the Gospel.  To honor one another as children of God.  To shine God’s light into the world so that others will see the glory of God’s grace and the lifechanging truth that God’s love always wins.

To imitate Christ so that we can continue to tell this story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV
[2] Philippians 2:3, NRSV
[3] Philippians 3:4, NRSV
[4] Philippians 2:4, NRSV

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Living With Hope

Hi friends!

It’s ironic that I talked about my “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” mantra in my sermon this morning because I forgot to put my phone on “do not disturb” for worship and I GOT A PHONE CALL THAT INTERRUPTED THE LIVESTREAM during my sermon.

It’s fine.

I’m fine.

Everything is fine.

So worship does get interrupted for a few seconds during my sermon, but not for long!  Just don’t think it’s your device or connection – all me.

Anyway, I hope you all are well!  It’s funny how, even during covid, things are busy at church right now!  It’s nice to put stuff on the calendar, though.  We’re celebrating the small victories and embracing what we are able to do.

Here is my sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 20, 2020

Philippians 1:21-30

Living With Hope

This week was a big one for our students, parents, teachers and administrators.  For most of them, it marked the official start of school.  After spending the entire summer trying to do the impossible – putting pieces of different puzzles together to create one picture – both physical and virtual doors opened and learning began.

I watched this process unfold largely as an outsider.  I do not have school-aged children and therefore, ultimately, the specific plans of our district did not necessarily affect me.  However, on Friday morning, for posterity sake, I did take “First Day of School” photos.  I put my 5-month-old in a bow, bribed my 3-year-old with Swedish Fish (at 7:30 in the morning) and put them in front of a sign that read:

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
DIGHTON-REHOBOTH
2020-2021

IT’S FINE
I’M FINE
EVERYTHING
IS FINE

Like so many others, this expression – “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” – has become my mantra this year.  It has been my mantra for dealing with the more frivolous things – like when I cut my own hair or put in an online grocery pickup order for pancake syrup and the shopper substituted it for a bottle of syrup made out of rice.  It has been my mantra for dealing with work-related conundrums – like when I yammered on for ten minutes last week before worship without turning on my microphone or wrote a policy for baptisms during covid which states that the parents will pour water over their children instead of me.  It has also been my mantra for dealing with the bigger things – like having a baby during the first wave covid surge in New England.  This mantra has been tested at times – like last week when I heard word that the senior center was burning down and certainly on Friday evening when the news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

It’s fine.  I’m fine.  Everything is fine.  This mantra reminds me that 1. it is okay if every now and then I have to adjust my expectations and 2. big picture, it is going to be okay, even if it is really hard right now.  This mantra has, at times over the past seven months, been a battle cry; a declaration of my refusal to let this pandemic beat me.  It has been a constant affirmation (and there is my star word from last year) that my faith and my faith alone will carry me through the hard times we are experiencing right now; that if I continue to chart the course – to lean into my faith and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – that I will journey safely to the other side of these uncharted waters.

In many ways, this is very similar to what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia.  According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul had traveled to Philippi and founded a church.  The members of this church were predominantly gentile; and Paul loved them very much.  The tone of this letter shows that Paul regarded the Philippians with great affection and deep longing; he had a lot of hope for this church that he had planted.

I know hope is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now, so it is important to point out that hope was not necessarily something that came easy for Paul at the time of writing this letter; in fact, he wrote it from prison.  The Philippians, knowing Paul was in prison, sent a member of their church, a man named Epaphroditus, to bring him gifts.  Epaphroditus became ill when he arrived and, once he recovered, Paul decided Epaphroditus should go back to Philippi.  Paul sent him back with this letter.

One of the main focuses of this letter is that we need to distinguish the things that truly matter from the things that don’t.  I could see where, being in prison, Paul would have the opportunity to reflect on this.  The word “joy” appears five times in this letter and the verbs “rejoice” and “be glad” appear 11 times.  Despite the fact that Paul was living through a hard and arduous season in his own life, he was refusing to let that win; he was determined to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to live in Christ and, as he says in this morning’s scripture, live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Again, I think joy is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now.  And so it is, again, important to think about the fact that Paul’s focus on joy comes from a place of deep pain and sorrow.

And yet he continued to live with hope.

This particular passage has some darker undertones.  He starts off by saying, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  The expression, “living is Christ” is one that does not have a great translation into English, but essentially what Paul is saying is that he does not want to live his life apart from his obligations to Christ.  When he says, “dying is gain” he is insinuating that death might be a better option – that his desire to be with Christ is more than his desire to be in the flesh.

I do think we have to be really careful with this passage, because there is this underlying insinuation of suicidal notions with the statement that Paul would rather be dead and with Christ than alive.  But for me the more important part is the shift where Paul talks about it being more necessary for him to remain in the flesh.  And then he talks about why.  And then he talks about how.

The thing is, Paul is experiencing what, seven months ago, I would have called an unimaginable suffering that most of us would never comprehend in our lifetime.  But this year has just kind of beaten us up in a way that no one ever saw coming.  And so Paul’s words – his suffering – are so much more real to me now.

I would imagine they are to a lot of you who are watching this morning, as well.

But this is not where it ends.  Because as real as Paul’s suffering is to me right now – this makes his faith and his desire to stand in the flesh and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ all the more convicting, as well.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, we not only lost a Supreme Court Justice, but we also lost a champion of equality and an inspiration to so many who believe that a better world is possible.  She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”  These words are so poignant at this moment in our history.  Because we do have to fight for the things we care about; in this moment of chaos in our history, they do not necessarily come easily.

And so we fight.  We fight for hope.  We fight for the Gospel; for the truth that love will always win and that, even in the darkest of moments, light will shine.  We fight for justice to prevail – and for the least of these to be cared for.  We fight for our church to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in the midst of it and to do what God is calling us to do in this moment.  We fight to find ways for our community – our village – to give back and to care for one another.  We fight to keep our faith – and to trust that God will lead us safely to the other side of this pandemic.

And we fight in a way that will lead others to join us.  We fight in a way that is compelling and hospitable and inspiring.  We fight in a way that demonstrates a deep longing and affection for others, like Paul so clearly felt about the Philippians.  We fight in a way that will change people’s lives, that will bring about a better world.

Paul says twe have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; in a manner worthy of the sacrifice that Christ made, of the grace and forgiveness and reconciliation bestowed upon us.  Paul says that this matters; that our lives in the flesh matter and that they have meaning and they give people the kind of hope they need to believe in.

Now more than ever, the way we live our lives matters.  We cannot afford to be silent or complacent.  There is too much at stake.  Our world is in chaos and people are starting to lose hope.

And the thing is – we have hope.  At its core, Christianity is about hope.  At its core, Christianity is about the fact that there is always hope, even when, from the outside, it looks like death, itself, has won.

And so right now we have to show people what it means to believe in this kind hope; this death-defying, life-inspiring hope. Right now, we have to not only proclaim our faith in Christ, but also show people what, exactly, it means.  We have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, showing people that hope is real and it is alive and it is worth holding onto.  We cannot give up – or give in.

And is this fun or easy to amidst a global pandemic and a year that has already taken away so much from us?  Heck no.  But Paul never thought it was going to be easy; in fact, for Paul it was really, really hard.

But he believed it was possible.  And that’s the really cool part.  When faced with imprisonment and the possibility of death, himself, Paul still had hope and he still thought the way he lived his life mattered.

So let us go live our lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, holding onto a hope that will transform our minds, our hearts and our lives.

And may we do so in a way that will lead others to join us.

And then may we all proclaim this hope that will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Stretch Out Your Hands

Hi friends!  It is Rally Day at RCC and even though we have not yet re-gathered in person, we are very much excited to kick off the program year!  Our worship began with some really special gathering music – our choir recorded an anthem in their homes and then Nathan compiled it together. There are also images from our first ever Drive Thru Communion, which we hosted last week, included at the end of the music – and a welcome from my family!

We ventured into the Old Testament this morning – one of my favorite stories from Exodus.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 13, 2020

Exodus 14:19-31

Stretch Out Your Hands

We are going to do something a little bit different today; we are going to hang out in the Old Testament.  We have spent a lot of time in the New Testament lately; in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans.  These two books of the bible have been so good for us as we have been reminded about God’s goodness, the promises of hope and grace and also the realness of love.  They have also commissioned and challenged us as a church, about what we can do during this time of uncertainty.

However this week, I felt drawn to the Old Testament, particularly to this passage of scripture, from the 14thchapter of Exodus.

I have to be honest; one of the reasons I love this story so much is because I associate it with a really good memory.  When I was a first-year seminary student, an animated movie version of the Ten Commandments came out and it was in theaters when my seminary friends and I were studying Exodus – which is where the story of the Ten Commandments is – in our Old Testament class.

I mean, what were the odds?

So – like the really cool biblical scholars that we were, a group of us decided to go out one Friday night to see it – and, of course, critique its biblical accuracy.

Now before you say, “Oh Sarah, but you probably ruined all the other movie-goers experience by critiquing the entire movie,” have no fear – we were the only ones in the theater.

Apparently that is not how the rest of Atlanta wanted to spend their Friday night.

Anyway, the movie was terrible; the animation felt about as good as the animation for Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, both of which came out in the 60’s.  But there was actually something very endearing about how they played out this particular scene, the parting of the Red Sea (or the “Sea of Reeds” as it actually translated too, which we so obnoxiously pointed out that day in the theater).

It’s not that the animation was any better when Moses parted the seas; it actually felt like the Israelites were walking through the big exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium.  But there was this sense of safety and amazement when the seas parted and the Israelites began to journey through it.  It is almost like they knew they were going to be okay; that they were going to make it to the other side and that the Egyptian army following them would be stopped.

In the movie, there was a sweet moment where a little girl got separated from her parents because she stopped and stuck her face into the water to see the fish.  Moses then scooped her up and carried her to her parents, who, at this point, were frantically looking for her; Moses was laughing and said, “She wanted to see the fish!” (quite frankly sounding more like what I think Santa Claus sounds like and less like Moses).

To be clear, I do not think this is actually how this all happened.  But there is something really comforting about a story that reminds us that even when we are faced with an enormous obstacle in front of us – like a body of water – God can intervene and lead us to safety.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Exodus, which can be found in the Old Testament – it is the second book in the bible.  There are two narratives in this book – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (and, of course, the instructions and laws that follow).

The name, Exodus, is derived from Greek; and it refers to that first narrative – the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, which can be found in chapters 1-15.  The passage we are looking at today – 14:19-31 – is at the end of this narrative.

You can look at the Book of Exodus in two ways:  The first as a continuation of the story of Jacob and his clan in Egypt, which began in Genesis and the second as a distinct account of Israel’s formation and the ensuing covenant God makes with them.[1]  Either is fine; I think for our purpose of trying to see how these words and this story apply to us today, it is helpful to look at Exodus as this distinct account; to think about God’s covenant with Israel then and therefore God’s covenant with us, today.

We pick up the story today as the Israelites are approaching the Red Sea.  Now, these Old Testament stories do tend to get a little long, which is why we are not looking at more of this narrative, but I do think it is important to at least remind ourselves of what happened immediately prior to this passage.

So Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt; the journey was long and arduous and the Egyptian army was actually following them and starting to starting to close in on them as they approached this, seemingly, impassable sea.  And so the Israelites started to question Moses, which you do not necessarily blame them for.  But then God told Moses to lift up his staff, to stretch his hand over the sea and then to divide the sea so the Israelites could travel through it on dry land.[2]

And he did.

And they did.

And once they were through then God told Moses to, again, stretch out his hand over the sea to bring the waters back down so the Egyptians would not be able to pass through and the Israelites would be able to continue their journey safely.

What I love about this story is not that it reminds me of the Georgia Aquarium (although that was one of my favorite places to go when I lived there), but that it proves that no obstacle is too big for God to intervene.

This story reminds us that God can do the impossible; it shows us that nothing, not even an impassible body of water, is too big for God to intercede with a solution that we never could have come up with on our own.

In so many ways right now, it feels as though every day we are approaching a new sea that needs to be parted.  And some of this is covid-related, but some of it is not, because even without the pandemic, life is hard.  We are constantly faced with obstacles that we have to figure out how to get over, around, under or through and so often we stand in front of them and think to ourselves, it is not humanely possible to do this.

And you know what?  You’re right.  It is not humanely possible.

But that is where God comes in.

We are up against some really big obstacles right now – in our personal lives, in our life at church, within our community and certainly throughout our country.  And many, if not most, of them, I do not have solutions for; I do not necessarily even have good ideas, either.

However – isn’t that where faith comes in?  Are these not the moments where we have to stretch out our hands and put our faith and our trust in God that the seas will part and that we, too, will be delivered to safety?  Are these not the moments where we have to believe that it is not by our own human flesh, but there but by the grace of God that we will find ways over, around, under and through these obstacles.

Last week we hosted our first-ever Drive-Thru Communion.  We had never done this before; there was no tradition or precedent for us to follow.  We wanted to honor the sacredness of the sacrament, but also needed to ensure we were complying with state regulations and public health recommendations.  Truth be told, a few weeks ago we had no idea what we were doing.  It seemed like we had come up against an impossible obstacle.

But we put our faith in God, stood in front of that sea and stretched our hands over it.

And it parted.

And we stepped forward onto dry ground.

And it was good.  And it was holy.  And 55 people were able to come to this table we created in our driveway and receive grace in abundance as they shared in the meal.

Friends, I know the obstacles in front of us seem large and impassable right now – reopening schools, putting out wildfires, bridging political divides, reconciling systemic racism and inequality and putting an end to this pandemic.  This does not, of course, include the obstacles that we, as individuals and families face in our personal lives.  A lot of things feel impossible right now.

But God is in the business of the impossible – the impassable.  God parted those seas and brought the Israelites to safety and we have to believe that the same will happen to us, today.

So let us, like Moses, put our faith and our trust in God.  Let us approach obstacles not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and hope.  Let us stretch out our hands and believe that God is going to part those waters and bring us safely to the other side.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] The HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised Edition. Copyright © 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers. Page 83.
[2] Exodus 14:10-16

 

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