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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Jan. 6, 2019 | Epiphany of the Lord

    Star Guides
    Matthew 2:1–12

     T HE WISE MEN TRAVELED great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ child. The star was ordinary to the untrained eye, but a gift to those trained in reading the heavens. Something about that star told them a king was born. They left their academics, their families, their lives and set out. Guided by the star. First they received God’s gift of a star and a child, then they offered their gifts to God.

    Today is Epiphany Sunday. Every Jan. 6 the church universal celebrates the wise men coming to the infant Jesus. A star plays an important role in Epiphany, as you heard in our Bible reading.

     † † † 

    AS WE CELEBRATE TODAY the arrival of the wise men and remember their offerings, we delight in a paper reminder symbolizing God’s generosity in our lives.

    Today each of you will receive a “star gift.” Don’t know what is a “star gift”? It is simply a star-shaped piece of paper with a word written on it. But it can be more than that. It can be a gift from God for you this year. Later this morning you will receive this gift.

    Reflect on the word written on that star. Think about what significance the word might have in your life. Ponder on how God might be speaking to you through that simple message. Do it day after day. Claim that word as a gift to you for this year.

     † † † 

    SOME OF YOU might remember you received a star word from Pastor Jody Beth two years ago. In some congregations people look forward to this day with great anticipation. I’d like for this to be an annual tradition. But only if you find it valuable.

    Brenda Dombrowski notified me earlier this week that she still remembers her star word — knowledge.

     † † † 

    SOME STORIES from others:

    ■ A woman received the star word joy. Her middle name is Joy. She admits, though, that she had lost her joy, forgotten how to live with joy. The star word reminded her throughout the year about the gift of joy in all circumstances of life; a joy that comes from the simple affirmation that we belong to God.

    ■ Bill received courage. He was in the midst of cancer treatments when this word was given to him. He took that paper star with to every doctor’s appointment.

    ■ Kristin, the pastor at our daughter’s church in Michigan, wrote a few years ago that when she first offered star gifts to her congregation, she didn’t realize the impact these simple paper stars with words would have on her life and the life of people in her church.

    Her word was restraint. She wanted to throw it back and get a better word.

    She writes, “Restraint made me think about being held back or being bound. These words were supposed to be a gift, but this did not feel like one to me. And yet, over time the word continued to work on my heart and mind.”

    Kristin started practicing restraint at church coffee hours and forgoing doughnuts. She used restraint to stop from getting second helpings at potlucks. Restraint gave her permission to look at how unhealthy she had become and do something about it. When she began to see restraint as a gift instead of a curse, it freed her to change eating habits, to leave work earlier to exercise and to focus not just on spiritual health but physical health.

    She lost 90 pounds over the course of that year. What a gift!

    Now, Kristin writes, “I take a star word as a gift and keep my eyes open. The stars have allowed me to see God in unexpected ways and places. They’ve been challenging, life-giving and transformative.” https://pres-outlook.org/…/star-words-a-spiritual-practice…/

     † † † 

    WHY WOULD SUCH A SIMPLE GIFT take on such deep meaning? What is it about receiving a word on a piece of paper that touches people? I don’t know. I’ve never done this before. What I understand is that people yearn for tangible, clear signs of God’s presence.

    The church is filled with people like you who spend hours baking for sales, cooking meals for shut-ins, writing cards to the sick, calling on people in hospitals and nursing homes, praying for those in need, and giving generously what you can.

    We’re good at being busy and “doing” for God. Star words offer us the opportunity, if we use them, to “be still” in the presence of God and to receive God’s gifts. God is abundant in his generosity to us.

     † † † 

    HERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS that I’m going to follow. You might want to also.

    ■ Take your word home. Look up the word in a dictionary so that you are clear on its meaning. It might be that the second or third definition is what strikes you. If you need to, write the definition on the star. Don’t just assume you know the meaning of a word like grace. Parents, help your children with this.

    ■ Put it where you are sure to see it every day. It may be on your bathroom mirror, or next to your computer screen, on the refrigerator or by the door where you will see it as you come and go. Maybe hang it over your car mirror or tape it to your dashboard. Place it inside your lunchbox.

    ■ Throughout the year, share some thoughts about your star gifts. Maybe at the beginning of a Sunday school class or Bible study someone can be offered the opportunity to talk about how their star has been significant. Maybe take turns at home around the meal table. At the beginning of a meeting share your reflections on the God who continually gives us joy, courage and restraint. Perhaps that is the value of star gifts — they are a gift that keeps on giving, to borrow from our Christmas Eve service.
    https://www.reformedworship.org/a…/september-2009/star-gifts

     † † † 

    HERE’S HOW this is going to work to receive your star. The star gifts are going to be passed around using the same offering plates that we use later on in worship to gather up the tithes and offerings. Help yourself to a star gift (without looking — just reach in and grab!).

    In this moment you are not asked to give to an offering; you are invited to receive an offering, a gift. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s realm — God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.

    (Those reading this online can receive a star word by requesting in the comments on Facebook.)

     † † † 

    SPEND TIME RIGHT NOW reflecting on the word. Claiming the word. Hearing God’s initial Word for you through this star gift.


    Giving God, thank you for the gift of words.
    May these words have value in our lives, increase our faith, and light our way this year. Amen


    — Keith Cardwell   

    «Star words offer us the opportunity, if we use them, to ‘be still’
    in the presence of God and to receive God’s gifts. God is abundant
    in his generosity to us.»


    Matthew 2:1–12
    Holy Bible, New International Version


    The Magi Visit the Messiah
    1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

    3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

    6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
        are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler
        who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

    7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

    8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

    9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

    — This is the Word of the LORD.
    — Thanks be to God.


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