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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May We Magnify God’s Love

Hello friends!  It is the third Sunday of Advent and we are gearing up for Christmas at the church.  We are doing both a prerecorded and livestream service.  We are prerecording a lessons and carols that will go up at noon and then offering a livestream in the evening.

Here is this morning’s sermon on the magnificat – the text of the sermon and the video from worship.

Enjoy!

***

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

Luke 1:46b-55

May We Magnify God’s Love

Let us pretend, for a moment, that a pandemic has not turned the world upside down; and that we are not broadcasting this worship service into your homes this morning.

Let us pretend that I am not standing in an empty sanctuary talking to a camera; but that the sanctuary is full of everyone in our church family – young and old – surrounded by our beautiful Christmas decorations, the holiday spirit palpable as we light the candles on our Advent wreath and sing our favorite Advent and Christmas hymns.

Let us pretend that I have closed out the time of silent confession and that we have sung the Gloria Patri and scattered around the room passing the peace with one another (oh, how I miss hugging you all during the passing of the peace!).

Let us pretend that I am now standing behind the pulpit, wondering how I am going to regain control of this situation; but also kind of hoping that I do not, because what is coming next always leads to chaos.

The children’s sermon.

Admittedly children’s sermons are not one of my stronger suits when it comes to worship leading, but every now and then I find myself reflecting on a passage of scripture that has a really nice visual that could be used to talk about the passage in a way that both kids and adults could understand.  This is one of those passages.

So let us, again, pretend for a moment, that I am looking out over a congregation that is not quite ready to sit back down; and I smile, take a deep breath and say, “Well, Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me,’ kids, come on down,” and, after a few moments, am surrounded on the chancel step by our beautiful RCC children, holding up a magnifying glass saying, “Does anyone know what this is?”

You all, of course, might be thinking to yourself, “I wonder where she even knows where she is going with this.”

This is a magnifying glass; it is used to, well, magnify things; it is used to take something small and make it bigger, to enhance something so you can get a better look at it or see some of the details on it or maybe even work on it in a way that you could not without it being magnified.

This morning’s scripture reading talks about magnifying something.  It is a song; it is a song sung by Mary, who is Baby Jesus’ mom.  The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary and told her she was going to give birth to Jesus; when the angel left Mary, Mary traveled from Nazareth to a Judean town in the hill country to meet her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.  Elizabeth affirmed to Mary that the child in Mary’s womb was, indeed, our Lord and that Mary had believed and responded to God’s call in fulfilment of the promise.

Mary then sang these words that we just heard; this canticle, this song and passage of scripture, is called The Magnificat.

“Magnificat” is a Latin word meaning, “Magnifies,” which points to the first line of this canticle, where Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

While The Magnificat is often referred to as, “The Song of Mary” or “The Canticle of Mary” or “The Prayer of Mary” it is really not about Mary, at all.  It is about God; and it is about what God is doing, not only in Mary’s life, but also in the lives of others and throughout our broken, but also hope-filled world.  Mary is not necessarily the one doing these great works that she is singing about – showing mercy and strength, bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things – she is merely magnifying the work that God is doing.

She is making it bigger.

She is enhancing it so that people can see it better or look at the details in a new way.

She is magnifying it so that others can also be part of this work in a way that they might not have been able to before with it being magnified.

“My soul magnifies the Lord; and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

One of the amazing things about Mary is the fact that she plays a pretty critical role in this story and yet, here she is saying – singing! proclaiming! – “World, this is not about me, this is about God.”

And so she is magnifying the work that God is doing.  She is making it bigger so that people can see the details.  She is enhancing it so that others can jump in and get to work.

We should all be magnifying God in our lives.  We should all be magnifying the work God is doing in our lives and in the world.  We should all be magnifying the ways God is breaking through the cracks of our brokenness and making us whole again.  We should all be magnifying the ways that God is fulfilling the promise of hope that it is real and that it is always worth holding onto.

Friends, it was with deep sadness that I logged onto prayers on Friday evening and shared the news that Sally Knox, a woman who I have often call the matriarch of our church, had passed away this week.

Sally dedicated her life not only to the work of our church, but to the work of magnifying God’s love within the church and the community.  She believed that God was good, that God’s love was real and lifechanging; she served on boards and committees that helped her magnify God’s love through collaboration with others.

Sally was the Sunday School Superintendent many years ago, magnifying God’s love in a way that children could see and understand and learn about.  She started our Prayer Shawl Ministry, magnifying God’s love in a way that it could be shared with people in their deepest moments of need.  She was an enthusiastic participant and advocate of our Lay Shepherds program, caring for the vulnerable in our congregation through visitation, phone calls and sending cards.  She faithfully attended worship, bible study and various suppers and community events, magnifying God’s love by showing up and demonstrating the ministry of presence.

One of our calls, as Christians, is not only to believe in God and live out the Gospel, but also to show others what it means to believe in God and live out the Gospel.  It is our call to magnify the work of God in our lives and throughout the world so that people will know what it means to put our trust in God and follow Jesus.  Sally did this in her life; I do not think there was a single person in the town of Rehoboth who did not know that she was a member of this church and a woman of deep faith and conviction in Christ.

It should be our hope and our desire that others would feel the same way about us, as well.  And not so they know about us; but so they so they know about God.

The Magnificat not only teaches us about the honorable and faithful work of Mary, it also teaches us about a God that is bringing healing and wholeness to a broken world.  It is about the responsibility that we all have to magnify the work of God in our lives.  This is not just a canticle of Mary; this should be a canticle of all the faithful.

So friends, let us magnify the work of God in our lives.  Let us make that work bigger so that others can see it.  Let us enhance it so they can see the details of God’s work and understand how it can transform their lives and create a better world for all of us.  Let us, like Mary, proclaim the fulfillment of God’s promise.

God’s promise of hope.

God’s promise of peace.

God’s promise of joy.

God’s promise of love.

God’s promise of Christ – Emmanuel – God with us.

Friends, as we continue to journey through an Advent and Christmas season that feels strange and unfamiliar at times, may our souls magnify the Lord in a way that is familiar so that when love bursts forth on that Christmas morning with the arrival of the Christ child, we will be able to magnify God’s love in a way that others might see and know and be changed by God.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Hi friends!  Happy Reign of Christ Sunday!  It is hard to believe that Advent begins NEXT WEEK!  We are working on a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens service, in addition to our livestream.  Stay tuned for all of that next week!

In the meantime, here is today’s sermon. Peace be with you all – Happy Thanksgiving!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 22, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ’s Reign In Our Whole Lives

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday; the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent – the first Sunday of a new liturgical year.  If you had told me back in March when we “suspended in person worship for three weeks” and I thought to myself, “how crazy would it be if we are not back in person by Easter” that, eight months later, we would be planning Advent and Christmas in our virtual worship space, I would have thought you were crazy.

But here we are.

And it’s fine.

And not fine in a 2020-sense of the word, “fine” (you know, “it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine” when it’s really not).  It’s fine because we have learned over the past eight months that we can do this; that we can come together and worship God and support one another and grow in our faith without physically coming together.  We have learned that church is not about a building, but about people; in fact, we have learned that, despite the absence of our building, we can still do an awful lot of church.

And so, as we close out this year – a year that unfolded in a way that we never saw coming when Advent began last year – we do so with the realization and the assurance that we are so much stronger than we ever thought possible.  We look ahead to the new beginning of the Advent season with a renewed sense of hope in Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the beginning and then end.

Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us of the infinite sense of Christ; that Christ is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-being.  This year, however, I have been thinking about the fact that we have a role to play in this, as well.  Christ has done his part – and continues to do his part – in our lives.  We are the ones that now have to live into this promise of what it means to follow Jesus and to lean into the wholeness of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our Savior; he is not one thing, he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  He can, if we let him, be a part of all of the pieces of our lives, not just the one piece that comes out in this building on a Sunday morning.

Because we have learned this year that there is so much more to our faith and to our hope in Christ than who we are when we walk into this building one day a week.

We are Christians; we believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end and we believe that Jesus is part of our whole lives.

Our whole lives.

And this is amazing, right?  That we can be fully Christian all the time; that our faith does not start and stop based on where we are and what day of the week it is.

But my goodness, if this is not a challenge, as well.

Because it is not easy to be fully Christian all the time; it is not easy to walk this walk and talk this talk, both when you know people are watching, but also when you think they are not.

It is not easy to carry God’s light when you are in a race with other shoppers for the last package of toilet paper.  It is not easy to share God’s love when you are debating politics on Facebook.  It is not easy to uncover God’s grace when the part of you that is concerned for everyone’s health and safety is telling you to stay home, but the part of you that desperately needs to see and hug your people is telling you that you just cannot do distance anymore.

I think being Christian – and doing church – was a whole lot easier when we could just do it when we walked through the doors of our building and knew people were watching.

But now we are doing it all the time, quite often without the structure and the support of our physical gatherings.

And it is a little bit harder, right?

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew and it has always been one of my favorites.  But, if I am being honest, I think I understand it in a completely different way right now.  We are in the 25th chapter of the Gospel; Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and his death is quickly approaching.  Jesus knows what is about to happen; and so there is a sense of urgency to his words.  He is speaking to his disciples and to the crowd that has gathered; he needs them to understand that he is not always going to be there to tell them what to do or how to live or hold them accountable for their actions and their faith.

Think about it this way:  As important as it was – and continues to be in our lives and our faith – Jesus’ time on earth was still such a small piece of the story.  What really mattered – and continues to matter in our world today – is what happened next and what continues to happen; what really matters now is how we write our own chapters.  What makes the Gospel even more powerful than it already is are the billions of people who have decided to, despite the absence of him physically on earth, follow Jesus and share his message.  The reason Christianity continues to change lives and open minds and transform hearts is because people live out their faith regardless of whether or not they think someone is watching.

As Christians, we need to live our lives in such a way so that when we meet Jesus in heaven he will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

My friends, this scripture is a call – it is a call to us to live our lives in accordance to the grace that has been given to us, regardless of who we are with or who we think may we watching.  It is a call to feed the hungry, to take care of the sick and to reach out to the marginalized.  It is a call not only to serve Christ, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was a call to do so both when Christ was physically present among the disciples and the crowds who had gathered to hear him teach, but also looking ahead to when Christ would reign in heaven.

Today we celebrate that reign of Christ; and we, too, live out this call.

I believe in the world we are living in today, this is a call to do things like wear a mask when we are out in public and stay home as much as possible so we can try to keep our own community and our families and friends safe.  I believe it is a call to find new and distanced ways to take care of one another, even if we are not necessarily going to get recognized by our community in our building for doing so.  I believe it is a call to keep up our giving to the church, despite the fact that we are not in the church to physically to put money in the offering plate.  I believe it is a call to attend and participate in worship, even if we are not able to physically “count” you.  I believe it is a call to continue to participate in the life of our church, even though, in many ways, it is more complicated.

I have been amazed this year at the ways in which this church has risen up and done the work we are being called to do, despite the fact that it is happening in kind of a nontraditional way.  Thank you.  Thank you for your participation, for your support, for your creativity, for your flexibility and for your grace.  Thank you for doing the work when you think no one is watching and for stepping up to serve when you might not necessarily get credit for doing so.  Thank you for not only celebrating the reign of Christ, but also demonstrating the reign of Christ in your own life; removing the boundaries between who you are at church and who you are in your life and just being Christian and following Christ in all aspects of your being.

I know you all are tired; I am, too.  It has been a long eight months and we still have a little ways to go before it gets better – before we can “come back” and do church the way we want to be doing it.

But there is a lot of work to do in the meantime.  And I am grateful and honored to be doing this work “with” you.

I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  I look forward to beginning a new year with you all next week where we can continue to see and know and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

May Christ reign in your life – your whole life – now and forever.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.