My Affirmation Journey

Hi friends and Happy New Year!

Like so many other churches, we have adopted the “star word” tradition at RCC to coincide with Epiphany.  This is the 4th year we have done it, so my sermon is brief, as we invite people from the congregation to stand up and share their “star stories” from the year before.  Last year my word was affirmation, so I talked a little bit about that and also about star words in general.  If you didn’t get a star word and would like one, please let me know!  I’m happy to draw and send you one.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 5, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

My Affirmation Journey

I have an important update.

Two years ago, I stood up here on Star Sunday and began my star story about my star word, responsibility, by saying the following:

12 months ago, I thought I would stand up on Star Sunday in 2018 and tell you all of the responsible things I did in 2017.  I thought I would tell you that I revolutionized the way I organized my house and office (which I tried to do); I thought I would tell you that I finally figured out a good system for dealing with my taxes (which I mostly did); and I thought I would tell you that I finally made a long-overdue dentist appointment (which I did not).

Well.

Three years later, I am happy to report that – mostly because of the encouragement of Jen Healy (thank you, Jen!) I finally made that dentist appointment this year.

And I even went six months after that!

Which is my way of saying that you do not have to give up your star word just because the year is over.  The lessons that you have learned this year or the goals you have set or the inspiration that you have, perhaps, found – all of this you can carry with you into the new year as you receive your new star word.

Three years ago, we introduced star words for the first time at RCC.  For those of you who are new to Star Sunday, we celebrate it the Sunday closest to Epiphany, which is the Christian feast commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger.  Epiphany is January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas.  We receive paper stars with words written on them.  Then, like the wise men who followed a star to bring gifts to Jesus, we let the words on our stars guide us throughout the year.

Sometimes the words turn into our intentions and goals for the year.  Sometimes the words teach us lessons.  Sometimes the words give us a different perspective on things.  Sometimes the words frustrate us.  Sometimes the words confuse us all year and bring us back to Star Sunday saying, “I think maybe I did something wrong.”

But the cool part is that there is no right or wrong way to “do” star words.  And we see this, year after year, as people from our congregation share their own star stories from the year before.  Not only are everyone’s words different – but their perspectives about them are different, as well.

This year my word was affirmation.  I have to be honest, this word perplexed me from the very beginning.  I am not even sure I really knew what it meant, although as soon as I drew it, it was sort of like when you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere – I started hearing the word all the time.

The first time I heard the word affirmation was a few days after Star Sunday on a podcast; the host and her guest were talking about setting goals and intentions and how it is important to say them out loud, to put them out into the universe as a way, not only of holding yourself accountable, but also of believing in yourself and what you are capable of.

They referred to this process of vocalizing goals and intentions as daily affirmations.  Instantly I was intrigued, because this is something I have never been good at.  I have always been hesitant to set goals (or, at least, say them out loud) because I have been afraid of what happens if I do not actually reach those goals.  But I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and affirm, over and over and over again, what I thought what we, as a church, were capable of.  I raised my expectations and set goals where I used to just say, “well let’s see what happens.”

I have talked about this, off and on, throughout the year; I think my most exciting moment of affirmation came as we approached the Hillside Takeover and, despite having to overcome multiple obstacles to get to the Tiki Bar, I bravely set a fundraising goal of $5,000 and was overwhelmed when we far exceeded that goal.

But my poignant moment came the morning after Giving Tuesday.  We had set a fundraising goal of $2,019, one that, as the day went on, I was not sure we were going to reach.  I went to sleep that night and we were still well under the $2,000 mark; I actually had a moment of regret where I was mad at myself for setting an unreachable goal.  For the first time that year, my star word frustrated me more than anything.

The next morning, I logged into our PayPal account and saw that a few new donations came in; those donations, combined with the checks we had received in the office, totaled $2,019.65.

Now, in full disclosure, we had a few more donations come in over the next few day and, in the end, we ended up exceeding (I think) $2,200; however, in that moment, I was equally 1) relieved that we reached our goal and 2) needing to figure out what happens when you set an affirmation that you do not meet.

Right before the new year, I was listening to a personal finance blogger talk about the fact that she had not met her 2019 goal of maxing out her IRA contributions.  She used it as an example of how sometimes we just do not meet the expectations of our own affirmations and why not reaching our goals should not deter us from setting them again (or, in the spirit of Star Sunday, from reaching for the stars!).  Because we learn just as much from stating those affirmations and the journey to try to reach them as we do once we get there.

And, I would add, God is faithful as we take that journey.

And so I think I have taken two things out of my star word this year.  First of all, I am excited now to continue to integrate affirmations into my life, both here at the church and also at home. But second of all, I think I need to be okay with giving myself the grace I need to potentially fall short.  Because it is not about a destination, it is about the journey; and along the journey, God is faithful.

May you all see God’s faithfulness in the star words you choose this year; and may the light from that star illuminate your journey ahead.

May you find hope, wisdom and strength.

May you be inspired.

May you be frustrated at times.

And may your star word illuminate your year.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Star Sunday Star Installation

A few years ago, RCC jumped on the Star Word bandwagon.  If you are unfamiliar with it, essentially what happens is, on Epiphany, everyone receives a star with a word on it.  You blindly choose the star, so you do not get to pick your own word.  This word – your Star Word – is meant to guide your year.  Sometimes it is a word that seems fitting, sometimes it is a word that will challenge you and sometimes it is a word that might not make sense for you, but might also teach you a lot about yourself.  Here is my sermon the first year we did it.

Truth be told, I’m not really sure how the words, themselves, are chosen.  Some clergy choose their own words when they make the stars, but there are also several Star Word documents floating around online that people use.  When we started Star Words in 2017, a friend of mine graciously forwarded the document they used.  It has 120 stars with different words on them.  We print out two copies on card stock (we’ve done a different color every year so people can keep track of their stars) so we have 240 stars to hand out and then cut them out.

Last year one of my church members came to church after the New Year and she told me about something her home church in New Jersey had done for Christmas – they had suspended paper stars (using fishing line strung from the balcony).  She told me she immediately thought of me and told me we should try it one Christmas.  My first thought was – Star Sunday!  She emailed me some photos and this year I enlisted a few people to make it happen.  It was whimsical!

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Our pile of stars! We made 130 in different sizes following this tutorial.  Make sure you punch a hole in the stars before you start gluing them together!  It makes it so much easier to hang.

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Since we don’t have a wrap-around balcony (the church we got the idea from did and they just strung the fishing line from one side of the balcony to another) we strung them from the lights, instead.  Once we got those up, we strung more from the lights on the sides to the windowsills, so it looked like it filled the entire sanctuary.

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Once we started to get them suspended from the ceiling, we used the rest to fill in the rest of the sanctuary – on the altar, in the windows, etc. They were everywhere!

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The glass bowls on the altar had the star words in them.

The pictures didn’t even do it justice.  You just had to experience it!

It was so much fun to stand in the narthex and watch people walk into the sanctuary that Sunday!

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One of my Deacons told me that as she was driving to church, she was kind of bummed because she knew the decorations would be down and the sanctuary would be empty and then she walked in and saw this!  It was definitely an amazing way to kick off the year.

Before we were even finished hanging them, we started talking about next year.  Do we want to do them again?  Yes!  We’ve got some ideas to bring in other kinds of stars.  We let people take the stars that were loose around the church so we will have to make some more next year, but making 50 or so won’t be as bad, considering we made 130 this year!

This was easy, it just required a little bit of help!  Get a group together and give it a shot at your church next year for Epiphany! ⭐️

 

Star Sunday And My Star Story {Cheerfulness}

And with this sermon, I am officially caught up on posting my sermons I missed last year when my computer crashed!  If you missed it, our Star Sunday installation was INCREDIBLE and already has people talking about next year.

If you are not familiar with Star Sunday, here is my sermon from the first year we did it and then my star story from last year.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 6, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Star Sunday and My Star Story {Cheerfulness}

In the church year, the Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi to the Christ Child and the physical manifestation (or incarnation) of God through Jesus. On this day, churches celebrate the giving of gifts, a God that calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things and guidance that can come from a single star.

Two years ago, we tried something new on Epiphany. Borrowing the idea from a colleague’s church, we introduced Star Sunday, where we celebrated Epiphany by receiving paper stars that had words written on them.  The idea was that this word – this star word – would guide our year.

Now here’s the thing about star words – unlike resolutions or words of the year, we do not get to choose them ourselves. Sometimes they are ironic (like the first year when I drew the word “responsibility” two days after I announced I was pregnant with Harrison), sometimes they seem impossible (like this past year when, in the middle of a home renovation with a toddler, I asked Bruce how his star word, “serenity” was going).  Sometimes these words are exactly what we think we need.  And sometimes these words are exactly what God knows we need.

This year, my star word was, “cheerfulness.” And I have to be honest, I was not really sure what to do with that word at first.  In 2017, when my word was, “responsibility,” it felt like something I could live into; I could make choices and decisions that reflected my responsibilities and also my desire to be a more responsible person and pastor and wife and soon-to-be mother.

But cheerfulness?  How do you live into that?

It will come as a surprise to no one when I say that 2018 was kind of a challenging year, particularly for pastoral care at the church.  We lost a lot of wonderful people, people that I miss very much.  Beyond those losses, all around, people just kind of had a lot of stuff going on; an on a personal level, my family has had some of their own stuff going on, as well.

And yet, I do not look back at 2018 and think it was a bad year.  And I have in the past; I have looked back at certain years and, on New Year’s Eve, all but slammed the door in its face on my way out.

But not this year.  Every time I thought about this year, I thought that, while things might have been hard at times, there was still so much joy.  Yes, there were tears and stressful moments and exhausting days and nights, but there was also love and laughter and moments of grace that just made me forget everything else that was going on.

For most of the year, I attributed my more positive and upbeat attitude to Harrison and having a different perspective on things now that I am a mom.  But I was sitting in my office a few weeks ago talking to a friend of mine about 2018 and I glanced over at my bulletin board, where my star word was hanging.

“Cheerfulness.”

And it was in that moment that I realized that “cheerfulness” is not something that I lived into this year; it is something that lived into me.  In the midst of sadness, uncertainty and stress, God infused this cheerful spirit within me, allowing me to find happiness, experience the joy of laughter and uncover grace, over and over and over again.

This morning we will hear star stories from several people in the congregation; testimonies about how their star words – words that they did not choose for themselves – impacted them this year. And then we will all receive star words for the upcoming year.

The stars we receive today will remind us of the journey that the Magi took to meet Jesus for the very first time.  They, too, followed a star, not of their own choosing, but of God’s choosing.  They, too, were left with unanswered questions about how that star might guide them – and yet they were still obedient to God’s call.  They, too, wrote their own chapter in the narrative of this Christian story that is still being revealed to us, today.  They, too, lived into God’s promise of love, light and grace.

And this year, we will seek to do the same.

O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.