Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sermon: "2020 Star Words", Matthew 2:1-12 (January 3, 2021)


Merry Tenth Day of Christmas! Personally, I have yet to see a single lord a-leaping, but the day is still young. Although we technically have two days of Christmas left before Epiphany this year, we generally observe the celebration of the Magi on the Sunday preceding January 6, since midweek worship isn’t too common these days. However, as Epiphany represents the “revealing” of Christ to the larger world beyond the Jewish people, it’s fitting that we use this transitional Sunday, the first one of the new calendar year, to reflect on what’s been revealed to us since the last time we celebrated Epiphany.

For the past two years, Boone Church has followed the tradition of choosing “Star Words” to guide our focus in the coming year. The idea is, just as the Magi followed a star to find God, we follow a word, wherever it leads us, to find God’s presence in our lives over the next 12 months. We’re continuing the tradition this year: Each of you physically in the sanctuary have picked your word from the pile in your pew; those of you at home can either ask me (via email) to pick one for you, or you can use the “Word of the Year Generator”[1] that I’ll share later—or if you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can do both!

Now I should warn you, the trickiest part of the “Star Words” tradition tends to be the moment immediately after you pick your word. Since you’re supposed to choose your word without looking, many people wind up with one that’s confusing or disappointing to them. It’s happened to me more than once—in fact, it happened to me this year (more on that later). But the challenge is to allow the word, however you feel about it, to help direct your attention in whatever way God is calling you. And often, that takes time.

2020 has been a STRANGE year, to say the least, both seeming to drag on indefinitely yet somehow moving from one major event to another with alarming speed. This year, more than ever, I was curious to hear how your Star Words helped center and guide you over these past twelve months—or at least, what it means to you now, in retrospect. As an inspiration for those of you who are new to this tradition or who are (or will be) struggling with your word for 2021, I asked several members of our church family if they’d be willing to share their experiences with you all. Their accounts demonstrate how God can always speak to us through these seemingly random words, if we only take the time to listen. I’ve edited some of their responses for length or clarity, but I’ve tried to preserve the spirit of their reflections as I understood them. Here are their stories:

Howard Van Slyke chose the word “Discipleship” last January. “Discipleship,” he says, “has seemed to be a pretty straight forward concept to me. In simple terms, [it’s] believing, following and trying to model my life for others in Christ-like behaviors, attitudes, values and beliefs. [This practice] has always been a ‘tough row to hoe’ even in ‘normal’ times…This past year, however, it’s been especially difficult. [In the past,] I’ve been lucky to have old friends that I have considered to be team players in this [discipleship] journey, but I’ve [recently] found myself frustrated by attitudes, actions, statements and values from many of these old friends that I thought shared my values and core beliefs. Judging these old friends is not where I want to be but I have found myself being verbally at odds with these folks. I don't like it!”

Sometimes, our Star Word can force us to sit in discomfort with the fact that figuring out how to best follow Jesus isn’t as easy or simple as we might have previously thought.

Teresa Taylor says, “My star word last year was ‘intercession.’” (Intercession is the act of saying a prayer or intervening on behalf of another. She continues:) “Without really thinking about why I was doing it, throughout the year I found myself praying for people and situations outside my…family and close friends’ concerns…that usually make up the majority of my prayers. I felt the need to reach out further into the community, country, and world to try and meditate with God about what we were all dealing with and try to find ways to get through our situation with God’s help. I was comforted by…doing something that I felt could really make a difference in the world situation in two respects [that I’d previously felt helpless about]. These are in regards to…this pandemic, and getting our country back where it needs to be with [leaders] who…can be admired for the work they’re doing [both] for our own country…[and] for the sake of our planet.”

Sometimes, our Star Word can remind us that our relationship with God is about more than just ourselves.

Sharon Fletcher shares, “My star word for 2020 was ‘endurance’; little did I know on Epiphany Sunday how much I needed the gift of this star! I endured the fear of a looming world pandemic; [lockdown-related separation] from friends and neighbors; [the challenge of adjusting] to a [simpler] way of living; the barrage of daily horrifying news of racism, riots and division in our country. And the list [of things that required endurance] went on and seemed endless. What I learned from this star gift was that I could endure more than I thought possible or could even imagine, by knowing the Presence was always with me.”

Sometimes, our Star Word reminds us that God gives us the strength that we need when we most need it and bears our burdens with us.

Laddene Korhonen wrote, “[My Star] word was ‘helping’…I puzzled over the word and wondered if helping was something I was specifically supposed to do or [if I would be] on the receiving end of someone else helping me? As it turns out, helping and 2020 have gone hand-in-hand [both] where I’ve been the helper and others have helped me. From a receiving point-of-view, I was helped by many people. With two separate surgeries this year, the medical teams offered a helping hand throughout the entire process. My church family offered help by praying for a good outcome and recovery.” (I’ll interject here to comment on how God may have enjoyed watching the overlap between Teresa and Laddene’s Star Words!) “God gave me a wonderful husband who is a helpmate and has been with me through it all.

“From the perspective of helping others…I hope I’ve been a good friend, sister, mother, and spouse when listening to those who just needed a listening ear or wanted to express a point-of-view. It has been a trying time [for so many people]…I have several friends who are now widows and are in various stages of the grieving process and…I have made a special effort to call each of them regularly. The conversations generally end up with a great deal of laughter on both ends of the phone and a promise for us to see each other after the vaccine is distributed.” (Laddene then goes on to describe the many times this year has presented her with the opportunity to help others with her resources, with her actions, and with her prayers. She continues:)

“…Who would have known when we selected our Star words that the word ‘helping’ would have such an impact on us all….Mr. Rogers was right [in saying], ‘When something is scary, always look to the helpers’: doctors, nurses, janitors, administrative personnel, teachers, and the list goes on. The global scale of ‘helping’ for 2020 has been incredible.”

Sometimes, our Star Word reminds us to remember that what we do for the least of these, we do for Christ, and that Christ’s hands and feet are working all around us.

As for me, my Star Word was “faith”. I fell into the “disappointed” camp: what’s more boring than a pastor getting “faith” for a Star Word? But over the course of the year, I relearned that faith isn’t an immutable characteristic; it’s a resource that grows and shifts and changes as we grow and shift and change. When I began serving as your pastor here in 2018, I needed a whole lot of faith—both in myself and in God—to convince me that I had the skills and talents that I needed to serve this community. In 2019, faith for me looked like reassurance of what was already there. But 2020 proved to me that my faith could change and become stronger in the face of “unprecedented adversity”. As the pandemic hit, I found that I no longer had the expertise that I needed to do this job. It suddenly required an entirely new skillset that no one could have anticipated. But I found my faith shifting along with the circumstances—from confidence in what already was to trust that, with God’s guidance, we’d figure out the new challenges together.

I’d never streamed a worship service before. I’d never moderated a virtual Session meeting. I’d never discerned when to close down the church building and when to open it back up in light of a global pandemic. I had no idea what Easter and Christmas Eve would look like when we couldn’t gather in the sanctuary together. But I learned. I experimented. I leaned on your support, and together, we created—and are still creating—a brand new way to be the Church in Caldwell, Idaho. I trusted that, just as I could have faith when the only thing standing in my way was doubt, my faith would endure and even transform when the challenges were much greater and much more uncertain. And I found that, through it all, God is faithful.

When you get home with your Star Word for 2021, take a minute to reflect on what you think it will mean for you in 2021. Maybe write it down and put it somewhere that you’ll remember next Epiphany. Then, put your word somewhere that you’ll see it every day: the bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car, by your computer, at the dinner table. Even when it’s not on the top of your mind, keep it in your heart. You may be surprised by what God reveals to you through your word, the epiphanies that you’ll have in the coming months. Just as the magi followed the star to find Jesus, follow your star to find where Christ is leading you. It doesn’t take an astronomer, a theologian, or a prophet to figure it out. All it takes is you, your heart, and your willingness to hear Christ’s voice. Thanks be to God. Amen.



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