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.

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