Tag Archives: God

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.

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

“Traditions that won’t die – Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve” from Luke 2:1-20

There are some Christmas Traditions that won’t die – like going to church on Christmas Eve.  The tradition I grew up in didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass sounded too Catholic for them.  Instead, my family’s tradition was to open our gifts from ma and pa on Christmas Eve knowing on Christmas Day we would go to the extended family Christmas. The one where you got all these gifts you didn’t want from Aunts and Uncles you wouldn’t see again until the next family gathering.

The irony is the first Christmas Eve service I ever went to was in a Catholic Church.  I was at college in Danville.  Two of my good friends were Catholic, so when they invited me, I went.  The priest was very open and joyful. He didn’t care that I wasn’t Catholic.  So when the time came for me to receive communion, I went forward with everyone else.  And that’s when I encountered the wafer.

I’m not sure what brand of dissolvable cardboard the priest gave me, but it wasn’t bread.  Bread has flavor.  Bread has texture.  Bread travels down to your stomach with a sensation that is real, sensual, and gratifying.  Not so with the wafer.  It had no flavor.  It had no texture save the distinct realization by my tongue something had been placed on it with a micro-measure of weight.  And after it dissolved in my mouth, I’m not sure any remnant made it any further down the pipe.

I’m not trying to poke fun at our Catholic sisters and brothers.  I respect their understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet it occurs to me that many times that wafer represents my own experience in spirituality.  It lacks flavor. There are times that I can’t tell you the last time I tasted the joy of the Lord’s presence.  It lacks texture. There are long places in my own life where I don’t feel as if God is with me; quite the opposite of Emmanuel.  It leaves me hungry.

At the first church I served as pastor, I was reminded of this by a 4 year old boy named Cody.  It was an ordinary Sunday with ordinary hymns.  You might say we were going through the motions.  I’m sure it was the first Sunday of the month, because we were having communion.  Folks were coming up to the rail in groups as was tradition. They knelt and received a torn bit of bread which they were invited to dip into the cup.  But the ordinary disappeared when little Cody received his bread.

“Is that all I get?”  He had said it as any 4 year old would have said it.  Quiet enough that the entire congregation heard him.  Loud enough to embarrass his mother and father.  But what struck me was his honesty about the hunger.  He didn’t come here for wafers or crumbs.  Cody wanted the flavor, the texture, the fulfillment.  Cody wanted the feast, all that God would give him.  Cody wanted to experience God at the table.

You may be asking what does this have to do with Jesus, the Stable, the Manger, etc.  God didn’t offer us fast food solutions, but instead offered us a full multi-course feast in this babe, in this birth, in this life, in this death, and in this resurrection.  He could have been born in a palace, yet he chose a stable.  He could have had Angels announcing his coming to all humanity, yet he chose shepherds in a field.  He could have picked any town – Rome, New York, Washington DC, yet he chose Bethlehem, a Hebrew word that translates as “House of Bread.”  He could have had the best Tempurpedic, double down, plush bed for his crib, yet mother Mary laid him in a manger – fancy word for a “feeding trough” for animals.

We didn’t come here for a little snack or a bit of fast food.  We came here for the whole experience of who Jesus is.  Tonight we celebrate his coming to us.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a little child laid in a manger.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a candle light dinner of a little bread and a little wine.  Thank God some traditions won’t die.  Amen.

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?

Blessing of the Backpacks

God who teaches us every day how to make Earth a little more like Heaven, we lift to you today, these students.

Give them your patience to understand the problems on paper and in the hallways.

Help them commit themselves to study and learning in the school year ahead.

Bless each of them.

Lord, put your hands on these backpacks.   Fill them with school work and reminders of the love and care of this church.  Surround them each school day with your Spirit.

Look after the teachers and workers in our schools. Sustain them with your peace, patience and perseverance. Help them know how appreciated they are and that this congregation embraces their call to teaching and learning and surrounds them with love and care as well.

We pray in the name of Jesus who we seek to follow day by day. Amen.

 

adapted from http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-blessing-of-the-backpacks-and-the-school-year

God Calls Us to Fish

God calls us to fish.

But I don’t know how!

God calls us to fish.

But I don’t have any bait,

How am I supposed to talk to a stranger?

God calls us to fish.

My life is like a rat nest of fishing line.

Choose someone else.

God calls us to fish.

God calls us to fish.

“So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.”

-(C)2016, Nathan Decker, Worshipswake.wordpress.com

Love is Particular

 

Jesus never said “Love everybody.”  I’ve checked.  It’s not in the Bible.  Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out.  I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody.  I can’t.  It’s not humanly possible.  Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross.  Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.”  I’m glad he said it this way.  Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes.  Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way.  At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way?  Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others?  The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle?  The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult?  That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?

And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power?  We are a global economy.  Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life.  The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts?  The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear?  And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide.  God, this is difficult!

Loving everyone actually might be simpler.  Why not reword the command into the golden rule?  Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”?  Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc.  Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected.  God is smart.  Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love.  This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.

God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you.  All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos.  You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular.  I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love.  I love my two children.  I do not love them equally.  They know it, too.  They’ve asked.  I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer.  I love them as much as they need me to love them.  I love them equitably.  I love them particularly.  The Lord’s love is enough.  God doesn’t love one more or less than the other.  God loves us as much as we need to be loved.

Jesus taught us to love like he loved.  When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors.  We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us.  Love is particular.  Don’t try to love everybody.  You’ll fail.  Instead of going global, go local.  Love your neighbor.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.

Call to Worship for a better reading of Scripture

Lord, Call the Wise:
show us our foolishness.
Lord, Call the Knowledgeable:
show us that we do not have all the answers.
Lord, Call the Bumper-Sticker Theologians,
those of us with quick, quaint sayings for every occasion:
show us how shallow we are when we speak easy
without you in our heart, mind, and soul.
Lord, Call us to Unlearn our way
Show us Your Way
Lead us Your Way
Teach us You are the Way.

An Offering Prayer

Lord,

Because you are you and we are your children

Because you created and we were created

Because you died and rose again and we yearn to follow you

Because you whisper within our hearts still today:

Lord, we give.

We give you ourselves.

We give you tithes and offerings, symbols of a spiritual practice of denying ourselves.

We give in hope of sharing not just funds, but faith in Christ Jesus.

Lord,

Because you are you and we are your children –

Take these gifts we give you.

Bless this sharing.

Break open our hearts and

Give us to the world as your church.  Amen.

Call to Worship based on 1 Corinthians 13 adapted from The Message

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.

Pursue love.