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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Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

In addition to it being the First Sunday of Advent, we kicked off our 300th Anniversary celebration on Sunday, complete with confetti and the Fire Department hanging a “300 Years” banner across the top of the building.  The video from the livestream isn’t the best – we had all sorts of internet problems on Sunday, but we did the best we could!

A couple of videos this week – the regular worship video, a pre-recorded Hanging of the Greens that we put together and some footage of the fire department hanging our banner.

Peace be with you, friends!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 29, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Kicking Off Our 300th Anniversary Celebration

I have to admit, I had a little bit of a hard time psyching myself up for this Sunday.

The thing is, I have tried to have a pretty good attitude about missing out on things this year because of the pandemic; but so much of Christmas is – and has always been – wrapped up in church for me.  And so it was hard to imagine not kicking off the Advent season by piling into the church building, singing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and parading all of the greens into the sanctuary for our beloved Hanging of the Greens worship service.

But two things happened this week that gave me some perspective.

The first is that I started to plan and piece together our virtual Hanging of the Greens worship service, which was prerecorded and is scheduled to post at 10:30 this morning, at the conclusion of our livestream.  And it is so good; it is not necessarily the same as it has been in year’s past, but it came together in such a simple, yet powerful way.

Working on this service and seeing the final product come together proved to me, yet again, that God is just never finished; and that we can create beautiful and meaningful things, despite this time of distancing.

The second is the fact that, while today is the first Sunday of Advent, it is also the birthday of the Rehoboth Congregational Church.  On this day, 299 years ago, the Rehoboth Congregational Church was incorporated. Today we officially kick off our 300th anniversary celebration.  Members of the 300th Anniversary Committee are in attendance this morning to reveal the 300th Anniversary logo.

And here’s the thing – our work continues.  Despite this pandemic and the chaos it has caused, our work continues.  Our work to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ continues.  Our work to shine God’s light into the world continues.  Our work to love people the way Christ loves us continues.  Our work to wait for the arrival of the Christ child continues.  Our work to believe that our cries for Emmanuel will be heard continues.  Our work to do church here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, continues.

Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth that “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  These are words that we so desperately need to hear today.  We need to be reminded that God is faithful.  We need to be reminded that by God we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.

And we need to rise up to this call, especially right now when the world so desperately needs to know what the fellowship of Jesus Christ is and how it can transform their lives.

Remember that Paul is writing to a Corinthian community that is deeply divided.  But he believes in the power of the Gospel.  He believes the Gospel can and will bring healing and wholeness amidst the turmoil this community is facing.  He believes the Gospel will move mountains and transform hearts.

I think the people who founded this church had those same hopes and dreams for this congregation.  I think they knew that this church could be the foundation that the Rehoboth community needed; that this church would be the foundation where faith, hope, outreach and love blossomed.  They knew that this church could conquer anything – even a global pandemic – and still refuse to let anything else but love win.

Paul says that not only has Jesus enriched the Corinthians, but that the testimony of Jesus is strengthened because of the Corinthians.  Isn’t that amazing to think about?  That not only can Jesus enrich us – that our lives can be strengthened by our relationship with Jesus – but that we, too can strengthen the testimony of Jesus.

Friends, we have as much of a role to play in sharing and strengthening the Gospel as Jesus’ disciples did; as the Corinthians did when Paul wrote them this letter; and as the founding members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ did on November 29, 1721.

And so we are ready.  We are ready to kick off this Advent season and begin our journey towards the manger, but we are also ready to kick off our 300th anniversary celebration so that we can celebrate the ways this congregation has strengthened the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the past 300 years and dream about the ways that we can continue to strengthen it in the future.  We are ready to showcase our congregation to the community, not as a way to boast about who we are, but as a way to boast about who God is.

The 300th celebration might not look like what we initially envisioned when we started meeting last year, but God is faithful.  And God is good.

So, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – our beloved Church in the Village – together, we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.  We give thanks for those who have come before us and we give thanks this moment in time – as strange as it is – where we can celebrate our deep history and wait with wonder to see what God has in store for us for the future.

Suffice it to say, I am psyched up now – and I hope you are too.  Friends, let us – together – begin our 300thAnniversary celebration on this first Sunday of Advent, in the year of the Lord, 2020.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.