Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

Hi friends!  We have finally come to the end of 2020 – we made it!  We did our annual tradition of floating our hopes and sinking our fears.  We left worship packets outside for people to pick up and they could participate at home.

Here is the video of the service and the text of my sermon. Happy New Year!

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

Psalm 51

Floating Our Hopes And Sinking Our Fears

Four years ago, the calendar was such that Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on Sundays.  In the weeks leading up to the end of the year, we spent a lot of time brainstorming about what those Sundays would look like.  We decided that Christmas would be a simple Christmas carol sing in the sanctuary with cinnamon rolls to follow and that New Year’s would be a worship brunch in Fellowship Hall where we would have an interactive worship service while we were eating.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that there was a food element to both of our solutions.

Christmas Day worship was pretty straightforward, but New Year’s provided a bit more of a conundrum.  I wanted to encourage conversation and fellowship, but I also wanted it to be meaningful; it was, after, still our weekly worship service.

And so, on a whim, I decided to integrate a ritual that I had taken part in with my clergy community of practice that year.  We had gathered around a table with a big bowl of water and individual bowls of cranberries and rocks.  We took the rocks and, naming fears that we wanted to let go of, dropped them in the bowl and let them sink to the bottom.  Then we took the cranberries and, naming the hopes that we wanted to hold onto, dropped them in the bowl and let them float to the top.

For worship brunch I put bowls of water on each table with smaller bowls of cranberries and rocks.  We sunk the things we wanted to let go of from the previous year and floated the hopes that we had for the year ahead.  I dropped a candle in each bowl, as a reminder that God’s light shines and guides the journey ahead.

At the end of the service that year, more than one person came up to me and said, “We have to do this again next year!”  For a while I assumed everyone had been talking about the brunch, itself (after all, we do love to eat around here), but as we got closer to New Year’s Worship Brunch the following year, people specifically began to ask about whether or not we were going to float our hopes and sink our fears.

And so, as it goes in a church, a tradition was born.

And nothing – not even a global pandemic – was going to stop us this year from floating our hopes and sinking our fears.

Because, I don’t know about you all, but I’ve got some stuff to sink this year.

But I also have a lot of hope to float.

A few weeks ago, Bruce was running errands and he sent me a picture of a huge display of cranberries and asked if I wanted him to get me some for the altar.  Jodi Durette was putting together our worship packets for everyone, but I wanted to have a nice big display for our livestream.  I texted back, “Nah; I’ll grab them when it gets closer to New Years,” and he joked about not waiting too long because I wouldn’t want hope to sell out” and wouldn’t you know that last week I found myself in a panic because I had gone to a few different stores and there was nary a package in cranberries in sight.

And I mean, it would happen in 2020, right?  That all of the cranberries in Massachusetts would be sold out and I would have no hope to float?

My plan B was to raid the worship packets (which I really did not want to do, because who wants to be the pastor who takes away everyone else’s hope?) but thankfully I finally found a vsmall display of them and I grabbed three bags; which might have been overkill, but, like I said, I have a lot of hope to float this year.

We are going to give you all at home plenty of time to float your hopes and sink your fears in just a moment.  But before we get to that, I do want to, as a community who has gathered for worship today, do this together for a moment.

Together I want to sink the sadness of everything we missed out on this year – the suppers, the community events, the worship services, the fellowship, the Christmas pageant and more.  I want to sink the sadness I feel about not being able to gather, as a church, for the funeral services of David, Sally and Ecky.  I want to sink the emptiness I feel when I walk into our building, knowing that it is supposed to be filled with people.  I want to sink the fear we have all felt this year – fear for our health and safety, but also fear for what they world looks like and what it might look like in the years to come.  I want to sink the frustration I have sometimes felt as I have tried to re-imagine our beloved traditions and it is not as much fun or meaningful or special.  I want to sink the times when we fell short and we were unable to reach everyone.  I want to sink all of the technological snafus and internet outages.  I want to sink the tumultuous political season and the many ways we, as a country, have fallen short this year.  I want to sink everyone’s anxiety, depression, sadness, anger and despondence.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Psalms, Psalm 51.  It is a Psalm of David, a prayer for forgiveness.  The psalmist talks about the guilt-prone nature of humanity and then asks God to cleanse them.  “Purge me with hyssop … wash me … blot out all my iniquities … create in me a clean heart … restore me to the joy of your salvation.”

It is through this cleansing that the psalmist then looks forward with hope: “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

And so now, together as we have let go of the negative things that have been holding us back this year, we too, look forward with hope.

Together, I want to float the hope of gathering in person again this year.  I want to float the hope of being able to baptize and officially welcome into our church family the beautiful babies that were born this year.  I want to float the hope of singing together again, of hearing the choir produce beautiful harmonies that echo throughout the sanctuary.  I want to float the hope of suppers hosted inside Fellowship Hall, with everyone gathered around tables laughing and fellowshipping together.  I want to float the hope that I will, this year, be able to hug each and every one of you.  I want to float the hope that some of the financial tightness that we felt at the end of this year will loosen up a bit as we are able to welcome people into the sanctuary for worship again.  I want to float the hope I have for all of the technological advances we were kind of forced to make this year, but will, ultimately make us stronger and more accessible as a church community.  I want to float the hope that I will, once again, be able to call the children of our congregation to the chancel steps for a children’s sermon.  I want to float the hope that some of the isolation and the anxiety and the fear that we all are feeling right now will slowly start to fade away.  I want to float the hope that, as a congregation, we will have hard, but necessary conversations about racial reconciliation and also what it means to be an inclusive church.  I want to float the hope that we will humble ourselves before the cross and allow God to take the pieces of us that are broken and make us whole again.

Friends, our faith gives us a promise – a promise of resurrection, of reconciliation and of redemption.  Our faith gives us second chances and the reassurance that, even in our darkest moments, God is not finished.  Our faith allows us to cleanse ourselves of what was and look forward to what can be.  Our faith creates space to sink our fears and float our hopes and know that God’s light is shining through it all.

So now I invite you all at home to take a few moments to float your hopes and sink your fears.  Name them outload or meditate on them quietly.  Take a deep breath as the rocks hit the bottom of the bowl and as the cranberries bounce back up to the top.

And then I invite you to light your candle and let God’s light shine within your hopes and your fears.  This is a light that is more powerful than darkness itself, more powerful than a year that knocked us over, but will not keep us down.  As you light this candle, know that God is faithful – and that it is through our faith in God through Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrates two days ago that we are made whole.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

A Story About People Making It Work

Good morning!

I have two sermons to post this morning – the first is my Christmas Eve sermon.  We pre-recorded a lessons and carols service and then had a livestream at 8PM.  The sermon is from the livestream.  Both services are linked below!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 24, 2020

Luke 2:1-20

A Story About People Making It Work

A couple of weeks ago I was preaching out of the Book of Joshua and I talked about the fact that the story of God is a story about people.  In the case of that scripture and sermon,  I was talking about the fact that the story of God is a story about those people making choices; the choice to follow God, the choice between right and wrong, etc.

That phrase – “the story of God is a story about people” – is one that has really stuck with me this year, particularly as I have borne witness to the ways in which members of this congregation have stepped up and been the church throughout this pandemic.  A closed building has meant absolutely nothing to a group of people who refused to let anything but God’s love win this year.

A group of people who sent cards and thoughtful care packages.

Who made phone calls and socially distanced outdoor visits.

Who sewed masks and surgical caps.

Who offered drive-thru meals and hosted an entire auction and bazaar marketplace online.

Who suited up in as much PPE as Amazon Prime could deliver during Homeless Awareness “Day” so it would be possible to panhandle safely and still raise money for local organizations working with marginalized people in our community.

Who distributed 150 “peace be with you” lawn signs to people in our town and surrounding towns.

Who stood in front of the church in both warm sunshine and cold rain to serve the sacrament of Holy Communion to people from the safety of their cars.

Who gathered every single evening at 9PM for a time for a time of prayer.

Who recorded some of the most beautiful and moving music in their homes for our weekly gathering music and special services.

Who made videos and assembled craft kits so our children could still participate in Church School.

Who logged into Zoom meetings in order to conduct church business even on those days when they were really kind of over the whole Zoom thing.

Who participated in our reimagined trunk-or-treat-turned-candy-crawl so our kiddos could trick or treat safely.

Who kept worship simple, yet accessible.

Who proudly watched the Rehoboth Fire Department hang a banner high above the doors to our building which reads, “300 Years” – knowing that while we are celebrating our history this year, we are also writing a pretty significant chapter of it.

The story of God is a story about people.  And it is a story about those people making it work with whatever they’ve got, despite the seemingly impossible circumstances that surround them.

Tonight we gather in this virtual space to tell one of the greatest stories that has ever been told.  It is a story about hope, peace, joy and love.  It is a story about light – that perfect light – that bursts forth into the darkness.  It is a story about the revelation of our incarnational God – Emmanuel, God with us.  It is a story about grace being found in the most unexpected ways and places, like in an innocent child, born in a humble manger.

But it is also a story about people.  And it is a story about those people making it work with whatever they had, despite the seemingly impossible circumstances that surrounded them.

And so as I was reading the Christmas story this week, there was one verse that really brought me back to this idea that the story of God is a story about people making it work with whatever they’ve got.

And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“Wrapped him in bands of cloth.”

When he came into this world, the Prince of Peace was not wrapped in the finest linens and laid in a cradle that had been hand-carved out of rare and lavish wood.  No; he was wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger.

It was what they had.

And it was enough.

The Christmas story is a story about people.  And it is a story about those people making it work with whatever they had.

And it was enough.

It was enough to bring Jesus into this world.  It was enough to proclaim to the world that God’s light would overcome the darkness.  It was enough to be a harbinger of redemption and healing.  It was enough to hold with care a broken world as the angels said, “Do not be afraid.”

It has been one heck of a year.  Our world has been turned upside down and then dropped on its side and then left to kind of roll around and around and around and we are all kind of collectively waiting for it to settle back on its axis.

But here is the absolutely remarkable thing about this church – about these people who are telling God’s story right now.  When the world was in absolute chaos and we were lysoling our groceries and searching for toilet paper and trying to figure out how to live our lives and do our jobs and educate our children in a world that was – and, in many ways, still is – completely foreign to us, this church did not stop.  This church – the people that make up this beloved community – used what they had to respond to God’s call.  They made it work.  You allhave made it work this year.

And it has been more than enough.

The story of God is a story about you.  And it is a story about y’all making it work with whatever you have, despite the seemingly impossible circumstances that surround you right now.

When things first shut down back in March, there was a really strong mindset and narrative surrounding what we were missing and what we could not do.  And while that is still there (I really miss hugs!), I also think that, at some point this year, our mindset changed from what we could not do to what we very much still had the ability to do.  Our narrative shifted from what we were missing to what we still had available to us.

The story of God is a story about people making it work with whatever they had; and at some point this year we just started to make it work with whatever we had, whether it was an iPhone streaming Easter worship to 300 people or a simple card in the mail to let someone know they were being thought of.

And we did a lot with what we had.  In so many ways, as a congregation we moved mountains this year and we illuminated the glory of God’s light, love and grace in ways that really made a difference in people’s lives.

There is a lot about Christmas this year that I am having a hard time with; like so many of you, I am sure, it has not been easy for me to get into the spirit this year.  Despite the decorations and the music and the snow and the significant number of cookies I have consumed (thank you to everyone who has dropped them off), it just has not really felt like Christmas.

And yet I am more inspired by this story than I think I ever have been before.  I am inspired by the way that it did not take much to bring Jesus into this world.  I am inspired by the way Mary used what she had under very humble and somewhat trying circumstances to care for Jesus.  I am inspired thinking about the ways that we, as a community have lived out this very same thing this year – using what we have under very humble and somewhat trying circumstances to serve God and to love and care for one another.

And so on this Christmas Eve in the year of our Lord, 2020, I invite you, too, to be inspired.  Be inspired by Mary and Joseph and the ways in which they used what they had to bring Jesus into this world.  Be inspired by the ways this story teaches us that a lot of really good and lifechanging ministry can be done with actually very little.  Be inspired by the ways in which we, as a community, have used what we have to continue to do church and to love one another and to serve God.  And be inspired by the ways in which God is continuing to call us to use what we have to proclaim the Good News.

Because it is enough.

When the angel of the Lord appeared before the shepherds, they said:

‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’

It was not much.

But it was enough.

And it continues to be enough today.

So friends, may we have the ingenuity and the creativity of Mary and Joseph as they welcomed their son into this world by wrapping him in bands of cloth.  May we, too, continue to look for opportunities to serve in simple and humble ways.  May we remember that the story of God is a story about us and about what we are doing with what we have.

And may we trust that what we have is enough.

Any may those around us, like the shepherds who ran with haste to the manger to see for themselves what God had done, see what God is doing in our lives and in our church.  And may they glorify and praise God for all they see and hear.

Merry Christmas, friends.  Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!  God is with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

It Is Okay To Hesitate

I cannot believe we have made it to the 4th Sunday of Advent.  I am not used to preaching so far into Advent – worship is usually filled with the cantata and Christmas pageant … this year it was just Nathan and me telling the story with words and music. Not a bad thing. <3

Here is my sermon, as well as the video of worship.  My sermon begins at the 21:30 mark.

Blessings, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 18, 2020

Luke 1:26-38

It Is Okay To Hesitate

I went down a little bit of a rabbit hole this week when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service.  When I read this passage out of Luke – the call of Mary – it made me think about this song from a musical I remember from the early 2000’s.  The musical is called, Child Of The Promise – A Musical Celebrating The Birth Of Christ; it is, as you can probably presume from the title, a musical dramatization of the Christmas story.  It never really took off; my rabbit hole did bring me to a, shall we say, lackluster review of a live performance, which might explain why there are not a whole lot of traces of it on the internet.

There is one song, however, that I have always loved, that was sung by Mary.  The song is called, Let it Be to Me, which is, of course, a nod to the words of this scripture, where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will conceive a child and name him Jesus, and that he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.  Mary initially responds by asking the angel how this is possible – and the angel explains to her that nothing is impossible with God.  Then Mary responds with these powerfully humble and obedient words:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

My rabbit hole then took me to a live performance of this song where the singer offered a reflection on Mary before she began to sing.  She talked about these words and about Mary’s willingness to follow God, despite the gravity of what God was asking her to do.  The singer wondered if she, too, would respond with such trust and conviction.

To be fair, I have often thought the same thing; if an angel came to me and said, “God needs you to do ‘insert something as significant as giving birth to the Messiah’ here,” how would I respond?  Would my response mirror Mary’s obedience?  Or would I fumble with words before finally spitting out, “I think you meant to call someone else,” and walk away?

I’m tempted to think it might look something closer to the latter.

But here is the fascinating thing about Mary’s call story, something I think we often overlook.  At first she hesitated; she questioned how it was all going to work out.  When the angel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus,” her first response was, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Mary had some questions.  Mary had some doubts.  Mary wanted to know how it was all going to work out; she needed some reassurance.  It was not until the angel Gabriel explained to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that her child would be holy and that nothing is impossible with God that Mary said those words that penetrate so deeply within this story and our reason for the season, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

You all know that I have a strong affinity for Mary; so what I am about to say takes nothing away from the deep reverence I have for her and for what she did for our faith and for our world.

But Mary hesitated at first.  She had this very human and inquisitive response to the angel’s call.  She had legitimate questions about how it was all going to play out and what was going to happen next and do you know what?  The angel did not fault her for asking those questions; Gabriel answered those questions and then Mary said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

I think it is okay if sometimes we hesitate.  I think it is okay if sometimes we have questions.  I think it is okay if we need reassurance that things are going to work out.  I think it is okay if we need an explanation about how those things are going to work out.  This does not make us less faithful, it just makes us human.

And real.

And broken.

And needing the hope and the promise of Christmas now, more than ever.

We have been asked to do some really hard things this year; some of these things are hopefully temporary – some might be more permanent.  And we have all tried to be strong and faithful and obedient.

But we have all had our moments.  We have all had our moments of anger and frustration, of doubt and confusion, of longing and desperation.  We have all had our moments where we have demanded answers, even if we have not gotten them yet.  We have all had our moments where we were not sure that we could keep moving forward.  We have all had our moments where we needed to know a little bit more of the story, because from our vantage point, there were a whole lot of gaps that needed to be filled in.

And so I think we can all take comfort in Mary’s initial response to the angel.  I think we can all be reassured that it is okay to hesitate.  I think it is good for us to be reminded that asking questions will not take away from our humble obedience to God and what God is asking us to do.  I think it is okay if we want to know what is going to happen next or how it is going to happen.

We are all doing the very best that we can right now.  And while I do think the Christmas story reminds us that the story of God is a story about ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things, additionally I think it is also a story about those people looking around at seemingly impossible circumstances and wondering what the heck God is up to.

Believe me; right now I, too, am wondering.

It is okay if you have questions or doubts.  It is okay if you need reassurance or explanations.  Christianity is not an all or nothing thing.  We are not judged by our first impressions or the questions we might ask before we say; the point of resurrection and redemption and reconciliation is that we keep going and that we keep working at it and that we try again if we do not get it right the first time.

I know we are all tired and weary and wondering when – and how – things will start to get better.

It is okay if we ask those questions.  Asking those questions will not make us less faithful; it will just make us more ready to eventually say, “Okay God, I am in.”  A little bit of hesitation might give us the courage and strength to eventually say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Like I said, we have been asked to do some really hard things this year; and even with the joyous and hope-filled vaccine distributions that began this week, we all know that we still have something of an uphill climb before we find ourselves on the other side of this.

And we are ready; I know we can do it.

But it is also okay if we have a little bit of hesitation first.

So may we, in addition to her humble obedience, also have the questions and the inquisitiveness of Mary.  And may we find answers to those questions in the most unexpected ways and places – perhaps even a manger on Christmas morning – as we seek to live out God’s call for us in our lives and throughout the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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