Tag Archives: Christ

Love is the only Torch We carry

Love is the only Torch we carry

By Nathan Decker

O, Virginia… watching the events of this weekend in Charlottesville brought me pain.   To see torches again used as beacons of hatred in my lifetime, Lord, have mercy on us.  When a group of white nationalists with anti-immigrant beliefs rapes the torch of Lady Liberty, the irony should not be lost.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has once again been trampled on by members of the Know-Nothing party of the 1800’s.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the light.  The flame of torches usually represents people coming together.  In the past, I have proudly watched the torch represent efforts for peace at the Olympics, hope for new discovery in Education, and the eternal flame of Wisdom guiding us.  Shame on us for making it symbol of division and fear!

Much of what transpired this weekend was based in fear and grief.  The city of Chartlottesville’s decision to take down a statue ripped off the band-aid on the surgical wound our nation has been dealing with ever since the Constitution told African-Americans they were 3/5 human.  Our nation’s history is complex and up for interpretation and retelling.  Each generation takes up the momentous task of looking back with guilt and pride in an effort to plow a new path into the future.  There are always attempts at shouting the loudest to diminish the voices of others.

As we stand up against the evil of white supremacy, we have to acknowledge the grief that is being expressed.  The way history is told in this nation has mostly been from a white perspective as if whites were the only leaders and contributors.  In recent years this wrong is being righted.  Those who were silenced and oppressed have had the opportunity to add their story to the history of our nation.  White nationalists and supremacists see this as diminishing white history.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Adding missing slices to the pie only makes the pie more full and does not require us to make other slices smaller.  Yet, this is the fear I see in the eyes of those carrying torches of darkness and yelling hate.  They believe they are losing their part of the story.

We can bravely shine brighter than the faces of fear.  We can learn to build relationships with those carrying torches of hate so that we might show them light, love, and the Christ who welcomes all tribes and nations together.  We can, as friends of mine did in Charlottesville, have peaceful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  We can listen to their concerns as well as make our concerns heard.  Through the conversations that lead to relationships, we can admit that all lives matter to Christ, we are one nation made up of many, and love shines brighter.  Love is the only torch we are called to carry into the dark night of hatred and apathy.  We shall overcome by letting peace on earth begin with each of us lifting up love.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Goodness is stronger than evil;

                Love is stronger than hate;

                Light is stronger than darkness;

                Life is stronger than death;

                Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

                                -Bp. Desmond Tutu

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Needs four readers, one off-stage, three on.  One has luggage, one has a hammer, and one has a camera.

Voice off stage:                                As you Go-

Reader 1:                             “Yes!  We’re going on a trip!  I wonder where God is sending us.  I can’t wait!”

Reader 2:                             “I hope it’s exotic!  I’ve always wanted to travel overseas!”

Reader 3:                             “I’ll bring my camera and some dough, you know souvenirs will be so cheap there!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat until they listen>  As you are going, Make-

R2:                                          “YES!  It’s a construction trip!  I wonder what God will have us build!

R1:                                          “I bet it’s a church or a school or maybe even a hospital!”

R3:                                          “I’ll bring my old shirts from college!  We can hand them out to the poor children!  We can even get the kids in church to collect happy meal toys to hand out!  Those kids will be so blessed by our presence!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat again>  As you are going, make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I’ve taught you.

R3:                                          “What’s that mean?”

R2:                                          “Disciples?  How do you build those?”

R1:                                          “All nations… including this one?  Does that mean we’re not going anywhere?”

Voice:                                   As you go about your life where ever you happen to be, share what you have been given.  Invite people to see my love in you.  Bring them to me to experience my love in the baptismal waters.  Teach them to follow the my path of peace.

R1:                                          “This isn’t going to be easy.”

R2:                                          “Yeah, I mean, folks around here already know me.”

R3:                                          “But they don’t all know Jesus.”

R1:                                          “Do you think we can share Christ here, in our homes and at our jobs?

R2:                                          “Do you think they will see Jesus in me?”

R3:                                          “Do you think I can still get a souvenir?”

Voice:                                   You don’t have to go anywhere to share the Gospel.  God has already placed you where you are an expert on the culture, language, and people.

Make disciples, immerse them in Christ’s love, and teach them the way of peace.  Amen.

Collect for a Small Group

Great Whirlwind, Burning Bush, Still Quiet Voice, LORD;

who hovered over the chaos of creation,

who breathed inspiring spring life into all creation,

who walks among us still in this fragile and tattered garden.

Challenge us to learn from one another,

so that we may recall your Spirit speaks through all creatures,

so that we may experience your presence and light in one another,

so that your voice will be in the tones of our conversation.

Jesus, Emmanuel, Wisdom Come Down in the Flesh, Amen.

Temptations

Lord, we hunger.
“Turn the stones into bread”
Lord, we want easy answers.
“Isn’t it written…”
Lord, we want power.
“I will give you all of this if you bow down to me…”
God calls us to care for creation
not to reshape it for our own purpose.
God calls us to follow Christ
even when we don’t understand everything.
God calls us to lay down our desire for power
and take up the Cross.
 
Then we will be filled.
No more hunger.
Then we will find peace.
No more searching.
Then we will bow before the one true God.  Amen.
Nathan Decker, Worshipswake.wordpress.com

When will We Shine?

from Isaiah 60:1-6

Harry was terrified of the light.  It wasn’t the light itself, but rather what if the lamp went out.  Harry worked in an old lighthouse, the kind that ran on oil.  The great light came from an Argand Lamp.  The oil was put in the reservoir at the top, and then it came down through a sleeve to the wick in the glass cylinder.  That meant to light it you had to lift up the glass.  All the fumes from the oil mixed with the air.  When you lit it, “WHOSH,” it came alive with light reflected through the lens and out to sea.

Harry’s job was to keep the light lit. To keep the light lit, you had to refill the reservoir every four to five hours.   Harry rarely missed a refill, in fact, he was usually early.  He hated relighting the lamp.  The whosh always scared him.  Harry was scared of the light.

A lot of us are scared of the light.  We don’t mind basking in it, feeling the warmth and the comfort.  But don’t ask us to reflect it into the world.  Don’t ask us to allow the light to shine in the dark places in our lives.  Don’t ask us to have the light shine bright enough that we stand out.  And many of us are afraid of sharing the light with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.   

In our passage from Isaiah, that was the issue with the city of Jerusalem.  She had been so long in the darkness that she was now afraid of the light.  She had seen good times.  Remember back in King David’s and Solomon’s day the city had been a jewel for all Judah.  The temple had been built alongside the palace.  Trade was booming, everyone was filled with good feelings

She had seen bad times.  She had seen times without gold and frankincense.  Times that were as dark as they had ever been.  Exiled from their land, the temple had been destroyed, and the dynasty of King David had come to a disastrous end.

She had seen ugly times of darkness.  It felt as though God’s light no longer shined.  Adrift at sea.  Alone.  I don’t have to tell you, in today’s world, the darkness is real.  In the midst of all of this, God commands Jerusalem to reflect his light, his glory, his grace.

God created us to reflect God’s light into the world of darkness.  That means we feel the warmth and the comfort of Emmanuel.  But that also means we have to “Arise or Get Up and Shine.”   It means we have to allow the darkness within our own lives to be found out by the light.  It means we have to be brave enough to stand out in our spirituality.  It means we shine the light for others.   

Harry was terrified of the light.  One night during a storm, Harry found himself snuggled so deep in sleep that he slept through the time to refuel the lamp.  He awoke with a start to the sound of a ship’s bell.  Over the waves, the wind carried it’s clanging sound.  As Harry ran up the spiral staircase, he could almost hear the worried yelling of the captain to his men on board the ship.  “Find the light! Search the horizon!  The shore must be near!”

Harry shook and quivered as he quickly refilled the reservoir.  He took the glass cylinder off of the wick. The smell of oil mixed into the air. Harry looked beyond the lens out into the darkness. There was a world of darkness counting on him to share his light.  Counting on him to be brave, to have courage.   What was it the preacher had told him when he confessed of his fear. “There is a world of darkness out there, arise and shine!  You will see and you will be radiant, filled with joy!”

Harry lit the light. Whosh!  He carefully put the cylinder back onto the wick.  He bravely walked out onto the catwalk from where he could see the light piercing the darkness and reaching out to warn the ship of the shore rocks.  In spite of the cold rain and chill of the wind, Harry found himself warm and comforted. The light was shining.  The boat was safe.   

Arise and Shine is God’s call on us.  God shines light upon us all, just as the Star of Bethlehem shined upon all humanity.  Bringing together the multitudes, bringing together the diversity that is our nation and people.  It would be so easy to bask in the warmth of that light and continue about our business as usual.

The Wisemen did no such thing. They saw the light.  They reflected it back into the world through their actions.  They couldn’t remain where they were (they had to find the Christ child).  The light caused them to worship and the light caused them to share (they brought gifts, offerings, generosity).

Church, it is too easy to be a dim wit Christian or a low watt disciple.  When we lay down on the beach of our spirituality and simply absorb all the rays of sunshine God is sending us, we are not fulfilling our calling.  God called us to be mirrors: to reflect his love, to reflect his grace, to reflect God’s light to the world in darkness.

For a mirror to do what it’s intended to do… it has to let the light shine on all of it – no dark hiding places.  It has to let the light be reflected – it doesn’t keep it for itself.  The mirror has to be willing to be a bright spot in a crowd of dark spaces.

For us as Disciples of Jesus Christ, it is very much the same.  We have to be willing for the light to shine on our own darkness.  We have to be willing to let the light be reflected.  We have to be willing to stand out in the crowd.  We have to be willing to welcome the multitudes.

We’re called to be like the Wise Men… to see God’s light, to be changed by God’s light (we can’t stay where we are), to worship and share God’s light.  Don’t be afraid of the light.  “Arise, Shine!” Isaiah says.  “God’s light is on you.  See it and be radiant!”  Amen.

Advent Candle Readings (intended for a single service)

Advent Candle Readings

Note:  I’ll be using these at my Midnight Mass service for 2016.  They could be used in separate services, however, for future years.  Please feel free to edit the places of conflict mentioned under the Candle of Peace.  

 

We light this candle in hope.

Hope for salvation from apathy and hatred.

Hope for change in our hearts and minds.

Hope for holding hands instead of holding wounds.

Hope to warm us in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle for peace.

Peace for hearts shell-shocked with grief.

Peace for places like Aleppo, Mosel, and Yemen.

Peace for Police and Protester.

Peace to shine in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle for joy.

Joy for a family finding a place for the birth.

Joy for a baby born in a stable.

Joy for shepherds sharing good news.

Joy to comfort in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle in love.

Love for Emmanuel, God with us.

Love for Jesus, Savior born this night.

Love from God; Love come down.

Love to bring light in the dark of night.

 

 

 

Light this candle for Christ.

Christ, the Child who gives us Hope.

Christ, the Promised Prince of Peace.

Christ to whom the Angels sing – “Joy unspeakable!”

Christ, God’s Love.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

Jesus, Love divine that came down from heaven.

Jesus, Joy that awakens each heart this night.

Jesus, Peace to quell the fears and wars of humanity.

Jesus, Hope in this darkness.

God lights this Candle for you and me.

God lights this Candle giving us the best gift possible.

God lights this candle to comfort us in the warmth of hope and joy.

God lights this candle to shine peace and guide us to love in the dark of night.

God light this Candle for Christmas, and may its flame never extinguish.

Amen.

 

(CC) 2016.  Worship’s Wake, Nathan Decker

“Traditions that won’t die – Christmas Trees” from Luke 1:76-80

There are some traditions that just won’t die – like decorating the Christmas Tree.  Some of my favorite Christmas memories revolve around the Christmas tree.  I’d watch impatiently as my father cussed and fussed with the artificial tree we had growing up. He’d be kneeling on the floor in front of the beaten up box that still had the Sears Roebucks sticker on the side.  He looked like he was paying homage to a giant green monster that was about to devour him in one colossal bite.  In the dim light he’d look for colors that had long worn off on the ends of branches, trying to decipher them like an archaeologist staring at the Rosetta stone. Reds and oranges looked like twins as did blacks and grays.

Meanwhile, mom would be sitting in the couch entrapped by miles of lights. She’d go light by light checking to make each strand work and blink at just the right rhythm.  Replacing bulbs and fuses in monotonous fashion.  She would giggle at my father’s frustration, humming songs about Rudolph, St. Nick, and Frosty.  Finally, when the tree was up and all the lights were on it. Mom would look at it once more.  She’d go up to each bubble light and encourage it with a tap.  She’d bend branches and add green fluffs to places where time had taken toll.  Then she’d turn my sister and I loose.

To say that we decorated the tree was to say that two midgets had the ability to slam dunk on the basketball court.  We decorated the tree from about midway down.  We were little after all.  With Burl Ives singing about mistletoe kisses in the background, we decorated the tree with those shiny balls (breaking two or three in the process).  We decorated the tree with arts and crafts that we had made at school and at church. Mom would smile when we hung our clothespin reindeer, our paper Santa with cotton ball beards, and of course our latest arts and crafts projects from school.  Then she’d politely ask, “Do we have to put your clay Freddie Kruegar on the Christmas tree?” Yes, even though I had never seen the movies, I had made a clay man with a claw for a hand and painted him bright bloody red.  “Mom, Freddie needs Christmas too!”

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

Christmas Trees are so much a part of our Christmas these days.  It’s no surprise I think that Christmas trees weren’t always a part of the Christmas holiday.  While people have been gathering around trees and decorating them for centuries, the first record of a decorated Christmas tree is not in Bethlehem. It happened in Riga, Latvia, in 1510.

Christmas Trees give life.  An acre of Christmas Trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people daily.

Christmas trees are a part of our nation’s story.  Christmas trees have been a part of the American Experience for a long time. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce was the first to place a Christmas Tree on the White House Lawn.  This tradition has been carried out since then with the exception of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, who banned the National Christmas tree for religious and environmental reasons.

Christmas trees are a part of our faith story.  I can still remember sitting in the dark with my mother, watching the bubble lights glow and the twinkling reflections.  In the darkness, in the waiting, in the cold and bitter winter, Christmas trees remind us of God’s eternal love and the Light of Christ’s birth.  As Luke states, “God’s deep compassion, the dawn of heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”

Times are dark.  Most of the trees have lost their leaves.  The world of nature is stark with dying colors – Fall’s parade of reds, yellows, and orange have given to bland browns.  Our community weeps as Suntrust bank closes down in town.  Life in winter struggles and slows down.  Sometimes the cold infects our hearts and our behaviors reflect selfish desires and sinful intent rather than generous giving or self-sacrifice.

Into this picture, Luke’s gospel introduces John  the Baptizer.  His Father, Zechariah, preaches in song about his life.  (Remember Zechariah, the old guy whose old wife suddenly has a baby?)  Now as a proud father, he preaches in song about his Son, John.  “You child will be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”  For Zechariah, John’s message is one of hope, love, peace, and joy.  John brings a message that the light is coming.  John brings a message that forgiveness is coming.  John opens the gate to the way, the truth, and the life in Christ Jesus.  In this Gospel he wears his faith for all the world to see, and it is more than long hair and camel skin!

In a winter season, John is the Christmas Tree getting decorated for Christ’s birth.  He reminds us of God’s eternal love.  He shows us the way to Christ’s light being born in the darkness.  What’s more is that we are called to be like John.

We are called to be the Christmas Trees in the world today.  Like John, we are to remind the world that there is still life in these branches of green.  Like John, we are to point to the Christ light being born in the darkness.  Like John, we are called to come and prepare the way. Like my mother and father, God is trusting us with decorating the tree.

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

I don’t understand why God would trust us with sharing the news about Jesus.  God knows we’re going to break some of the commandments and be called hypocrites.  God knows we can’t reach heaven on our own let alone bring God’s kingdom here through our efforts.  After we’ve made a mess and failed, God is going to have to rework all the bad to recreate this world new, resurrected, reformed.  And yet, the Lord invites us to participate here, at this table, in this sacred moment, remembering, observing, creating new and experiencing love.  

There are some traditions that won’t die.  God’s love is one of them.

Call to Worship for Advent 2016

As a church family we gather round the tree.
Lord, we need your hope, joy, peace and love.
The green branches remind us that your love never fails.
Summer and Winter, your love doesn’t change.
Lord, remind us of your love.
The lights on the tree remind us of your gift of hope.
Hope shines through the darkness.
Lord, remind us of your hope.
The ornaments remind us of the joy you share.
Giggles of children placing them there.
Lord, remind us of your joy.
The star on the top shines for peace.
Peace through justice and acceptance of diversity.
Lord, remind us of your peace.
As a church family we gather round the tree.
Jesus, this Advent, we wait for thee.

Call to worship for Christmas season 2016

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles
And warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

This year let us be more focused on Christmas; Focused on Jesus instead of our wish list.
The gift of God blooms brighter than spring

Let Christmas time be our favorite thing.

 

When the poor come,

Let us feed them!

Give of what we have!

And then we’ll remember just why we sing

Christmas day is glad!

I want to see God from Colossians 1:11-20

I was sitting in the dentist chair when I found him.  I don’t really like going to the Dentist.  I have a fear of anything that spins or twists going into my mouth.  The high pitched mechanical sound makes me want to bolt out of the chair and run to the ice cream shoppe.  Even the fancy toothbrush makes me squirm in my seat, foaming at the mouth as the dental hygienist stops to ask, “Mr. Decker are you ok?”

“No, I’m not ok!  Yes, my fears are not rational.  I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned.”

This last time I went to the Dentist the hygienist pointed out that they had posters on the ceiling to help me focus on something other than the “pain” or “even though you’re not really in pain but you feel like you’re in pain, pay attention to the posters please so I can do my job.”

So, I tried it.  The first poster was this beautiful beach scene.   Surf.  Sand.  Sun.  The whining mechanical high speed tooth brush that sounds like a drill coming at my incisors.  Images of my gums bleeding as she flosses my teeth.  Focus, come on now, look at the other poster.

The other one actually got me going. It was obviously for children.  It was a poster of “Where’s Waldo.”  Waldo – glasses, stocking cap, trademark red and white shirt – I was going to find that bugger.

Where’s Waldo?  Is he there in the car? No, that’s just a sweater on a dog.  Is he over there in the bushes, no, that’s the oddest colors for a mushroom I’ve ever seen.  Maybe over there by the ice cream truck?   Those have to be the weirdest flavors of ice cream I’ve ever seen.

When I finally did find him, it was as if a bell had gone off and I had awoken from some surreal pseudo sleep in the dentist chair.  “There, Mr. Decker, all done. That wasn’t so bad was it?”  I wanted to say yes, but something dawned on me.  With all of my concentration focused on looking for Waldo, I didn’t realize the peace he had given me while I was seeking him out.  With all our concentration focused on looking for God, we don’t realize the peace he has given us while we are seeking him out.

 Our world often asks where is God in all of this?  He can’t stand the fighting any more. He goes to his room and shuts the door, cause somewhere a father and a mother talk about divorce again.  She’s been missing since last May. She would have turned thirteen today.  And somewhere a father prays for his missing little girl.  Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and the hurt?  Why isn’t God at work in the world?  Doesn’t God care?

Maybe God’s at church?

Recently a Marketing Expert was hired by a church to find out why their attendance, participation, and offering where consistently going down each year.  He came to their church worship services.  He got involved in their Bible Studies and mission programs.  He studied their figures from years and years of stewardship campaigns and budgets.  He did surveys in the community asking about the church, asking about the reputation, asking about what the community knew about the church ministries.  He came back to the pastor and the church with some bad news.

“You all have really got it going on. You have the best show in town.  You offer education and volunteer opportunities better than anyone else.  You even have done your research on non-profits and how to best present giving and offering plans.  But you are guilty of false advertisement. Your sign says you are a church, a house of God, a place where folks can experience God.   I’ve been with you all month, and I haven’t seen God show up at all.”

Paul, writing to the Church at Colossae must have had the same marketing expert show up.  Here was a group of people who have great hope.  They worship God.  They study about God.  They volunteer for God.  They give of themselves.  And they ask, “Where are you, God?”

As Christians, it is important for us to experience Christ as what Paul calls the “image of the invisible God.”  Chrisitanity isn’t the study of God; it is the relational experience with God.  In Worship, we are called to experience God’s Word and Love.  It’s not enough to come to church, we have to be church.  In Study, we should experience God’s grace and guidance deeper.  It’s not enough to know about God, we have to know God.  In missions, we should feel the power of God working and flowing through us.  It’s not enough to be good people helping others, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in action.  In giving, we should feel the joy of self-sacrifice, joining Christ in becoming a part of something larger than we will ever catch a glimpse.  It’s not our sacrifice but Christ’s giving though us.

Where’s Waldo?  Where’s Jesus?  Christ is in you.  God is at work in our world through you.  We are the Body of Christ.  On social media recently I saw a “Coffee with Jesus” Comic.  In the comic, humanity asks, “Jesus, why do you allow all this injustice, hurt, and suffering go on and on?”

Jesus answers, “It’s great that you bring that up, I was going to ask you the same question.”

When we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary…

When we look for the supernatural among the natural…

When we find the Spirit among the Flesh…

That’s where God is – the image of the invisible God – Jesus Christ.

  • When God’s people gather for prayer – God is here.
  • When God’s people gather for study – God is here.
  • When we feed the hungry,
  • When we provide hugs and a kind heart listening to those in despair,
  • When we reach out to those that everyone else has given up on,
  • God is here.

God gives us a choice in life.  We can see the negative or the positive. 

Fred Craddock tells a story from his home town.  “There was this kid in my hometown who would believe anything.  Tell him the school burned down. “Really, no school tomorrow!  Awesome!”  Tell him they were handing out free watermelon downtown. Off he would run.  Tell him the President of the US was coming to give a speech. “Really!  Whoopee!”  Funny thing is that one summer an evangelist came to town. He told that kid, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.”  And do you know what, that kid believed.  He actually believes it.”

We are called to believe and because of our belief, to be Christians.  Christ is the image of the “invisible God” according to Colossians.  We are the image of the invisible God.  We are the helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 – Fred Rogers

 We can see God in and through what we see in Christ.  When we do, the journey of seeking Christ makes the rest of life come into clearer focus. By looking for God, we find ourselves – our true selves.  With all of our essence focused on looking for God, we realize the peace Jesus has given us while we were seeking him out.  

 Where have we seen God lately?