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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Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

Hi Friends!

We finished up our Advent sermon series on spiritual practices this week by looking at evangelism through the story of the shepherds and the angels.  This is my last Advent sermon – our Christmas pageant is this Sunday.  I will be back a few days after Christmas to post my Christmas sermon.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 15, 2019

Luke 2:8-20

Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love

I have to admit, I had a different plan for my sermon earlier this week than where I finally landed by the time I started writing.

Okay, so perhaps not so much different, as a whole, but as I was putting some of the pieces together, I came across a commentary that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion in the end.

But I will get to that in a little bit.

This is the third and final week of our mini Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices highlighted in the Christmas story.  We have already looked at service and hospitality; the topic for this morning is evangelism.

First of all, I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by admitting that I have a complicated relationship with the word evangelism.

To some extent, I used to be kind of scared of it.  When I was in high school and college and thought about the term “evangelical” I thought about a very specific stereotype of Christian; the type of Christian that was more on the extreme side of things and, for lack of a better way to describe it, shoved religion down people’s throats.

I hate to even say this, because I really don’t like feeding stereotypes like this, but I do think that for a long time, there was this line drawn in Protestantism where you were either evangelical or you weren’t.  Unfortunately, the way I understood evangelism was in a negative context; the thought never crossed my mind that I would even have something in common with evangelical Christians, let alone consider myself one.

And yet here I am, years later, and that is exactly what I would consider myself.

In fact, that is what we should all consider ourselves.

The word “evangelize” means to preach the Christian gospel.  And, as Christians, this is something that we are all called to do, regardless if we realize it is what we are doing.  We are all called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – in both word and action.  We are all called to preach of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, a love that triumphs over evil, hatred and death.  We are all called to preach a message where redemption is real and possible and holy.  We are all called to preach the hope that comes from not being defined by our brokenness, but our wholeness in God.

This call to evangelize is something very different from what I used to understand it to be.  But this, in fact, is the scriptural call to evangelize; this is the call from Jesus, himself, to go and make disciples, to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it, to shine light into the darkness of the world.

Our 9th and 10th graders are currently going through Confirmation.  Last month during our meeting, we were talking about the history of Christianity.  One of the things I said in our conversation is that I think it is more important to understand Christianity as an experiential religion and not just memorize dates and other facts about it.  Because, at its foundation, Christianity is about an experience; it is about individuals experiencing God’s love and then sharing that experience with others.

The ironic thing is that I usually use the resurrection as an example when I talk about this.  The women who discovered the empty tomb told others what they had seen; they experienced God’s love through the resurrection of Jesus and then shared that love with others.  But if you think about it, this is also exactly what happens in the part of the Christmas story we just heard with the angels and the shepherds.  An angel appears to the shepherds and tells them that God’s love has come into this world through the birth of Jesus.  They then run to see for themselves and when they return they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”

They experienced God’s love through the birth of Jesus and then they shared that love with others.

One of the miraculous parts of this story is that people were sharing the Gospel long before Jesus even them to.  They knew they had seen and experienced something that was going to change the world and so they shared that something – that Good News – with the world.

This is evangelism.

And that, my friends, is not scary.  It does not feed into negative stereotypes.  It does not shove religion down people’s throats.  Instead it promotes the hope, peace, joy and love of this season.  It points people not only to Jesus, but to the Gospel he lived and calls us to live.  It shines light into the darkness of the world and assures people that redemption is always possible; that, even when the moments of our lives seem bleak, God is not finished writing our stories.

This is what the Christmas story calls us to do – to tell people about this kind of love, to share our stories and to invite them to be part of this narrative.

And this is where I discovered something this week that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion.  The thing is, what I have come to learn about evangelism is that it is something that we all are called to do – even those of us who might not always be comfortable talking about our faith.  We are all called to share our faith, to talk about our faith in a way that brings comfort and hope to our world.

But how do we do this?  How do we do this in a way that feels comfortable to us?  How do we do this in a way that others will listen to and understand?  How do we do this when there are so many competing voices around us, especially at Christmastime when the commercialized narrative of presents and parties and other holiday chaos is so loud?

Listen to what I came across in one of my commentaries:

As elsewhere in these narratives, the word of God come through an angel, a divine messenger.  Luke speaks of angels as easily as he speaks of human beings.  In fact, when a sign is offered as proof of the good news, it is not what moderns might regard as a sign; i.e., something as extraordinary as a heavenly host.  Rather, the sign is as common as a baby to be found in poor circumstances, lying in a feeding trough. (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Jame L. Mays, General Editor with the Society of Biblical Literature, page 931-932)

For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, 2,000 years after this story unfolded, we know that this was just not an ordinary baby lying in a feeding trough, but a savior who will not only one day proclaim the Gospel, but also live, die and be resurrected to new life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would all have a place in God’s eternal home.

But they did not know that at the time.  At the times they just saw a baby.

And yet this was their sign.  This was their sign that a miracle had just happened.  This was their sign that God’s love had broken into our world.  This was their sign that was hope was real and that redemption was possible.  This was their sign that there was Good News happening in this world that was worth sharing.

It did not come through pomp and circumstances and other extravagant things.  It came through the simple image of a newborn baby lying in a manger.

Here’s the thing – sharing God’s love does not have to be complicated and over the top.  It can be as simple as a conversation with a family member or friend about what this season means to you.  It can be a moment where you share a tangible sign of peace with someone else.  It can be sending someone a card, bringing them a meal or surprising them with decorations if their house seems dark.  It can be inviting them to church on Christmas Eve and grabbing their hand if the songs make them cry.  It can be welcoming them into your home if they don’t have family close by to celebrate with.

I think sometimes we are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism because we overcomplicate it.  We think we have to do something grandiose and over the top.  We think that our voices have to be louder than everyone else’s.  What we do not realize is that evangelism can and will happen in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of our lives.

People do not need huge and overwhelming signs to believe in God’s love, they need signs that are accessible and real and easily connect them to this story.

So if there is one thing that you remember from this particular part of this story, may it be this – you, too, can proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth.  You, too, can join the angeltude of voices singing about the birth of Christ.  You, too, can tell the world that God’s love is real and here.  You, too, can help others bear witness to the signs around them – however ordinary they might seem – that will open their eyes to God’s love.

So go, therefore and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to a world that needs to see grace in the ordinary and hope in the mundane.  Share God’s love with others this holiday season.  Sing with the angels.  And may your voices be heard and your signs be recognized.

And may the world be forever changed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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