For the past two years I have used the verse of the year, as determined by a very popular Bible app, YouVersion, for the sermon on the last Sunday of the year. This year I asked our church family to send in what would be their pick for verse or passage of the year. Below you will read their picks, which not only help us reflect on 2020, they point out four ways to handle 2021. So let us read them and reflect on four strategies for handling 2021:
Why do you say, O Jacob,Isaiah 40:27-31 NRSV
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
There are wonderful truths about God and wonderful promises here, but we don’t want to gloss over the pain that is also represented in this passage. This passage was originally written to a people who would feel beaten down, that God was distant. Perhaps you feel that way too?
The first way of handling 2021 is to be honest about the pain.
Likewise, we have this passage from the Psalms:
But I trust in you, O LORD;Psalm 31:14,15 NRSV
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors
In context, the Psalm is about facing death because of enemies. Perhaps we live in the kind of society where we cannot name a single person we could think would want to take our lives. We are fortunate. But there are diseases and infections that we can think of. We can be honest with God about our anxiety over the things that threaten and impact our lives.
We do well to be honest, even vulnerable, in our relationship with God, but sometimes with trusted people as well. Lament has a place in the Bible. Does it have a place in our lives, in our prayers, in our relationships, and in our churches?
Let us move on:
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7 NRSV
Come, behold the works of the LORD;Psalm 46:8-11 NRSV
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,Psalm 91:1-6 NRSV
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:13 NRSV
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV
What do these all have in common? Trust in God.
The second way of handling 2021 is to nurture trust in God.
We can put our hope in God’s love and power. God is, God is for us, and God is able. A couple of the passages sent to me further define it as trust in God, rather than ourselves:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,Proverbs 3:5,6 NRSV
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way.Proverbs 20:24 NLT
Are we okay with not having all the answers? Can we trust God, even when we are in a deep fog?
The next few passages may seem quite different from one another, but there is a common thread:
. . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7 NRSV
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:28-31 NRSV
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NRSV
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
do not fear, for I am with you,Isaiah 41:10 NRSV
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
What is the common thread that holds these passages together? Rise to the challenge.
The third way of handling 2021 is to rise to the challenge of living out life as Christ followers, whatever the circumstances may be.
We continue thinking, meditating, praying, loving, doing, and facing fears. These are all activities that we do. Yes, there are things we cannot change. But yes, there are things we can. We don’t just let 2021 happen to us, we give shape to it as it unfolds. We are active, not passive.
Here is the last verse shared with me as someone’s pick for “verse of the year 2020.”
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—Ephesians 2:8 NRSV
However our circumstances might affect our choice of verse for the year, there is a circumstance that affects us all; separation from God because of sin and the need for grace. We can get flustered by situations we may be in, but if we have not been reconciled to God, then whatever dire circumstance we face pales in comparison to this much bigger problem. It is not a problem we can fix. It is a problem, however, that God fixes for us, in Jesus. When we look at the big picture, we see God’s love for us.
The fourth way of handling 2021 is to look at the big picture.
2020 was a hard year. How might we capture 2020 in a painting? We might use a lot of dark colours for one thing. 2021 may be a challenging year. How might we capture 2021 in a painting as we look forward? Perhaps a lot of grey tones, painting a foggy scene ahead. Now how might we capture our relationship with God in a painting? Our relationship with God is something that will never fade into history. Let us remember that 2020 and 2021 will both someday fade into history. Our relationship with God is something we enjoy now, and every day in the future. We may want a much larger canvas to paint on to reflect the fact that this is a big picture. As we reflect on God’s love we may want to use bright colours, painting a much more joyful scene.
As we face 2021, let us be honest about our pain, nurture our trust in God, rise to the challenge of the Christian life, and look at the big picture.
Many thanks to those who read these “Shrunk Sermons” over the year. May you have a Happy New Year!