It is Star Sunday! Even though we are having virtual worship, we still decorated the sanctuary for Star Sunday and it was beautiful.
Since we wouldn’t be able to hand out Star Words in person this year, we put them on the front lawn of the church …
… and we installed a star above the doors so it can be lit up at night!
Our Star Stories are included in this morning’s Gathering Music, so I would strongly encourage you to watch that at the beginning of the worship video. They were amazing!
Here is my sermon from this morning. Peace be with you, friends!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 3, 2021
The Was Not My Vision
“This was not my vision.”
A friend of mine suggested that I go back on all of our worship and prayer services and mash together all the clips of me saying this sentence over the past year.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
When I received my Star Word back in January, I smiled and got a little giddy.
My word was vision.
And while I loved the suggestion from someone that my Star Word was actually a declaration that everyone around me had to acquiesce to my vision, I actually thought that this word was going to be the culmination of years of discernment that I have done at this church.
You see, I believe in this church; I believe in what we are doing and also what we have the capacity to do in the future. When I started at the church in 2011, I did not really have a plan. Some pastors come into new calls much more organized and strategic than I did; but it was never my intention to make changes based on some greater vision that I had. Maybe I should not admit this, but I did not actually have a vision for this church. I always said that, when I looked towards the future, I could see the vision God had cast out for RCC, but that it was still blurry and so we just had to keep doing the hard work of listening to God speak to us and wait for that vision to clear.
When I first laid eyes on my 2020 Star Word – vision – I thought that this year would be the culmination of all of this discernment that we have done. Knowing that the year would end with the kickoff to our 300thanniversary celebration and shortly thereafter I would mark my ten-year anniversary at the church, it seemed too good to be true. I figured God’s vision for us would clear at the same time we were getting ready to celebrate these milestones and when this all came together we would be stronger than we ever were before.
Cue covid, stage right. All of a sudden all of the plans we had made for this year – all of the hopes and dreams, yes, even visions, were lost in a sea of public health recommendations and safety precautions. Like all of us, I had to let go of and adjust my expectations of what the year was going to look like.
And yet, in the midst of the chaos of last year, grace appeared in the most unexpected ways and places. Virtual worship, nightly prayer services, drive-thru dinners, emails meetings, peace be with you signs and cards and care packages sent in the mail, to name a few. We did church, even though we had to do it in a way that was different than any of us were accustomed to. And so what I realized throughout the year was that this was, of course, not at all about my vision – but it was still about the vision that God has cast for us, the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
You see, under the most unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, we proved to be the church – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to refuse to let anything but love win. We did this in the midst of quarantine and social distancing and constantly-changing safety rules and recommendations.
What I realized this year is that it is not about my vision; it is about the vision God casts upon us to be the church in the midst of what is going on around us.
And we did it.
So perhaps this word and this year were not the culmination of years of discernment like I thought a year ago; but I still think – in ways that I never could have imagined – we lived into God’s vision for us this year. And despite the fact that we have not gathered in person in nearly ten months, I still believe we are stronger than we ever have been before.
I was thinking about the beatings that our Star Words took last year and how our endurance and our perseverance to see them through to the end of the year actually mirrors the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus. You see, King Herod, knowing that Jesus had been born and that people were calling him the king of the Jews, sensed a disturbance in his own power. He sent the wise men to find Jesus, not so that he could eventually go and pay Jesus homage, as he said to the wise men in this passage, but so that he could eventually go find the one that was going to threaten his power and deal with that problem himself. I do not often preach on the passage that follows the visit of the wise men, but after they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod was infuriated and issued an order that all children in and around Bethlehem two years or younger be killed. Herod, of course, assumed Jesus would be part of that massacre; but at that point Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt, ensuring Jesus’ safety.
My point is this: We often romanticize the wise men’s journey to visit Jesus. But the reality is that it was actually a harrowing one; it was one that was filled with great fear and uncertainty – much like the year we just had.
And yet there was that star – that perfect light, as the hymn so beautifully says – that guided the wise men on their journey. It was strong and bright and steadfast.
For many of us, our Star Words were that same perfect light – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder of God’s presence in our lives.
And so it is time, now, to turn our attention to our Star Words for 2021. Many of us have picked them already; I have not opened mine yet, I was waiting until today to do that. If you have not picked a Star Word yet, I would encourage to come to the church to get one; they are hanging on the front lawn. Grab one when you come for Drive-Thru Communion this afternoon or anytime this week – they will be there until Friday. If you are not able to come to the church, head to our website – rehobothcongregational.org/starwords – to fill out a request form and we will mail one to your house.
This year I am going to try something new with my Star Word. I got the idea when I was listening to Debby Jarocki offer her Star Story; she said she kept a notebook and wrote down a sentence or two every day about where she saw, heard or felt her word at work in her life that day. I am going to try this myself and encourage you all to, as well. I think we all really need the fresh start of a new year and the hope and the promise of a new beginning.
Friends, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to use this time of musical reflection following the sermon to open your Star Word. It is my prayer that the word that chooses you will not only guide you, but inspire you throughout the year. May it be that perfect light that you need – that strong, bright and steadfast reminder that God is with you.
Thanks be to God!