You are the Gardner who plants us.
You dug deep into the soil.
And brought a vine out of Egypt.
As a Master gardener, you cleared the ground,
planted us deep in faith and tradition.
Our roots nourished by your love and grace.
Mountains were covered by our shade.
We sent branches out to every nation.
Today, we stand weary.
Burned by fire. Flooded by tears. Devoured by despair.
Revive us, O Lord,
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts.
Let your face shine, that we may be saved.
(C)2017 Worship’s Wake, Nathan Decker
Great and Holy Auditor of the Way we spend our time and gift:
We have been selfish in our generosity
and break the budget of 24 hours daily
cramming fruitless and self-serving endeavors.
We borrow from Peter to pay Paul, Mary, Josephine, and more…
We have no intention of settling debts.
We rob you of time with us.
We ignore your advice and whispers of love.
We owe love.
We owe humanity more respect.
We owe each other a second chance.
Our line of credit is bankrupt, our love has filed chapter 11.
Our lack of love embarrasses you, your church, your message.
Our apathy grows in our portfolio of abuse ensuring our own safety and self-preservation at other’s expense.
Forgive our interest and lack of faith principle.
Free us from greed and complacency.
Elevate us beyond market values into Kingdom values through your deposit on the Cross of Christ Jesus.
Hear the Good News! Christ collected our debt and paid it all. God’s love loosens the belt and gives us grace. We are free. We are loved. We are forgiven. Share peace and forgiveness as you have received in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Photo Credit to Robert Lentz “Christ of Maryknoll”
There once was a man who sought the answers to his life’s questions. The Western life pursuit of Success didn’t satisfy his longing. Traditional practice of worship sitting in a pew left him cold. He cashed in his 401k and went searching. He followed gurus in India in “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion. He spent time cross legged with Monks in Thailand humming “Om.” He even climbed a mountain and spent a year in solitude. Everything helped, but it was as if this itch wouldn’t go away no matter how much he scratched, it all seemed like it was just the surface. He wanted to go deeper. He wanted his spirituality to be real, felt, whole.
Finally, the man heard of an old wise man who lived in Mexico City. The man was immediately skeptical. Weren’t the holy men supposed to live life in monasteries, temples or impeccably high cliffs? The address that he had been given led him to a busy corner in a rough part of the city. He arrived in the late morning. He looked around, surrounded by abandoned buildings where squatters were just waking up and beginning to gather at the only business in sight – a 7 Eleven. He watched as the homeless entered the establishment, each got a cup of coffee, and then came back out into the parking lot where they gathered in a circle. Together they seemed to be sharing personal issues and struggles. He then watched as they held hands in prayer, sang a song, and then with a collective “amen” they parted.
The man saw what was happening. “This must be the group the man leads.”
He chose one of the homeless men that he assumed was the leader and began following him. This man went two blocks down the street to a dilapidated apartment complex. Walking into one of the apartments as if he owned it, he began working on the plumbing using tools he pulled from his pockets. All the while a small group of children and a mother holding a baby watched on. They all smiled at the man who had followed the homeless plumber into their abode. They even offered him something to eat and drink.
After many hours work, when the plumber was finished, he looked at the man. “What are you doing here?”
“Are you the wise one I seek?” The man asked.
The plumber stood up smiling. “I am not the one you seek, but I know him.”
“Will you take me to him?”
“Come tomorrow morning, get a coffee at the 7 Eleven, and he may show up for you.”
The man did exactly that. He arrived, followed the homeless men into the 7 Eleven, got his cup of coffee, and joined them in the circle. Again, they shared from their hearts about the struggles they were going through. They shared tools of their trades so that each had what everyone needed that day. Every time for each instance, those gathered offered support and encouragement. Again, they prayed, sang a song. And again, they parted to go off to work.
Confused, the man followed a different man, one he felt sure was the leader. This one turned out to be a carpenter working on a nursery for a day care. The next day he followed another – who was a retired teacher who volunteered time at the local school as a tutor.
He followed each of them. The lawyer who did pro bono. The elderly man who read books at the library all day to kids who gathered. The brick mason who was re-pointing the bricks at the post office. There were all kinds of workers, each using what he had in his pockets to help the community around them.
After he had followed each of them, none of which admitted to being the leader, he grew frustrated. “Exactly who in God’s name is the leader here!” He exclaimed.
The plumber, the first man he had followed, walked over to him and frowned. Then he slapped the man in the face. The man was shocked. “God is our leader. Everything we do is in his name. After all this time, if you don’t see, you can’t possibly be shown.”
Though no one told him to leave, the man left the circle. He went to one of the abandoned buildings and wept. The next morning, the sun beamed through the windows and warmed his face, awakening him. He got up, went into the 7 Eleven, and gathered as if he always had in the circle. There, he expressed his love for God. There he sang his heart out to God. There he said Amen. And then he left, to find need in the community that he could provide for.
God called us to be Holy as God is Holy. Like today, the early church struggled with what it meant to be holy. Did it mean avoiding sin? Did it mean spending time in prayer, meditation, worship? What about good deeds? In the conversation of grace, where do good deeds come into play? A conservative branch of the church has always emphasized God’s forgiveness as and repentance as all that is necessary for salvation. A liberal branch of the church has always emphasized social action, missions to help save not just the soul, but the physical body as necessary for salvation. In the early Church, the book of James already answered the question. Both are required.
I can’t do good on my own… I’m just a vessel for God’s love to flow to the world.
Personal Holiness is showing our Love for God. More precisely, it’s sharing the love of God with God.
- Worship and prayer – not just asking but spending time with God!
- Forgiving yourself
- Devotions and Fasting – limiting actions so that what you do matters more
- Not posting that obnoxious post on Facebook that you know is going to be controversial just to be controversial
- Giving money to support the ministry
- Reading the Bible
- In general, not being a jerk about faith, but enjoying the compassion and love that Christ pours out upon us all freely.
Social Holiness is showing our Love for Neighbor, sharing the love of God with others.
- Sharing mercy in missions
- backpack ministry to feed kids in poverty on the weekend
- Mission Garden to provide fresh veggies
- Impact 757 and going to Waverly on UMVIM trips
- forgiving others especially when they don’t deserve it
- visiting or writing notes to someone who’s world has shrunk to the size of their home
- Sharing God’s vision of justice and kingdom in a broken world
- Does God desire freedom for those enslaved to drugs, debt, or a system that is broken? Yes!
- Does God want us concerned for refugees and immigrants? Yes!
In the Super Bowl of life, God has a bias, it is always for the underdog. To be holy as God is holy requires us not just to have faith, but to do faith. Our faith must have action attached to it.
Here’s the thing, though, “No Social Holiness, No Personal Holiness.” James, “Someone might claim, you have faith and I have action. But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?” Truly loving God causes God to love through us to our neighbors. Truly loving our neighbors causes us to truly love God. If all we do is get our cup of coffee and join the circle for songs and prayers – we have personal holiness. If all we do is go out into the world and be good people helping others – we have social holiness. Faith without Works is dead. Works without Faith is turning grace into a merit badge or a brownie point.
Be holy as God is holy. Love God. Love neighbor. This is the Gospel. Amen.
Christians should disagree. Churches should have conflict. Being of one Spirit does not mean we are called to all think, act, give, vote, and look the same when we gather to worship our Lord. Because of who God is and who the Lord created, we shouldn’t be surprised about this. But we are.
I’m not used to being surprised when I do yard work. Recently, I was clearing out some overgrown brush and trimming some trees. As I was working on one tree, a startling revelation occurred. It wasn’t one tree. Sure the roots were one, and even the base was one. But four distinct trunks were growing out of the base. The pairs were different in bark, leaf, and density (remember I was cutting some of them). Somehow, long before I lived here, two trees grew out of the same spot and self-grafted into one another.
The spectacle caused me to share it with my neighbor who was also doing yard work. We talked about the struggle that these trees must have endured together. We marveled at how nature finds a way for life to survive in even the most unusual places. At first we talked about cutting one tree away from the other, but determining which was the original tree was now impossible. So I trimmed back the dead branches, pruned back the ones that were not going to grow, and left the two trees growing together.
Christianity is a faith that calls us to grow in unusual places. Faith should surprise us even when we’re not used to it doing so anymore. In a world that seeks to have manicured monoculture lawns, nature reminds us that diversity is the norm with dandelions and crab grass. Romans 11:17 gives us the image of a wild olive shoot being grafted into the stump of Jesse. Paul is using this image to support the reality of his day; Christianity was spreading to Jews and Gentiles ~ to those who expected to be included and those who didn’t even get an invite.
The spectacle of the early church was not how uniform it was but how utterly diverse they were. Rich and poor broke bread together. The ethnic backgrounds represented three continents. People of power were washing their slaves feet. Former prostitutes were sitting with the wives of Senators. They struggled and endured together. At first there was talk of trying to cut them away from one another, but in the end the various branches grew together as community. No wonder the neighbors gawked.
Christians should disagree – on lifestyles, on politics, on economic development, and even on theology. Churches should have conflict. Living things are always in flux and chemically unbalanced. They do, however, reach a point when all is at homeostasis and there is no more conflict: it’s when they die. The Living Spirit calls us not to be of one opinion or one vote. Our faith is a faith of multiple branches growing from the same stump. Sure, there are times when we’d like to cut away from one another, but our job isn’t to cut or to prune. We’re supposed to leave that to the Master. Sure there are easy places to grow, but that’s not where we were planted. Our calling is to grow together in mutual love and respect for one another’s differences in belief, background, and practice. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
Originally published in the Tidewater News, August 2016.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Love is never “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Love takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Love always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
We are waiting to unite fully with the one great love, until then
We have faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
Lord, we need a Savior.
Where are the superheroes?
Where can we find Superman or Batman?
Where are the Avengers or the X-men?
Listen to the screams, Lord, creation is broken!
Not just floods and earthquakes, but hunger and neglect.
The arch-nemesis of all things good wages war and pain.
Lord, have mercy! Where are the superheroes?
Friends, find strength in the Lord, he shares his power with you!
Put on the Armor.
Make a stand against the enemy – apathy, hate, war, greed.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
You are armed with truth, justice, the good news of peace.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
Carry the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit.
Wear your Salvation for everyone to see.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
We are Heroes in God’s Kingdom. Our Super Power is God’s Love.
Lord, have mercy! We are the superheroes with Christ!
Because of the Darkness
We can see the Light.
Because of the Doubting
We begin to Believe.
Because of the Pain and Suffering
We become Your Hands.
Because of the Injustice and Broken Systems
We rise up with Voice.
Because of Your Selfless Life and Sacrifice
We can overcome Sin and Death.
Because of Who You Are
We know Who We Can Be.
Because of What You’ve Done
We can Be Free.
-(C)2015, Nathan Decker, Worship’s Wake
We call you Teacher and Rabbi
for you suggest wisdom in our paths
and show us life lessons in our mistakes;
You invite us to the table, hungry for answers,
but do not fill us completely, encouraging us to return daily.
You spark within us knowledge and understanding
and the more we see, the more we seek.
And You provide those special people –
Sunday School Teachers, Mentors, Elders
who suggest wisdom in our paths
and show us life lessons in our mistakes.
For these and so much more we humbly give our thanks,
Teacher, Rabbi, Jesus. Amen.