Tag Archives: Gospel

“Traditions that won’t die – Shopping for the perfect Gift” from John 1:1-14

There are some traditions that won’t die. If you were like most Americans – you’ve been searching for the perfect gift. Maybe you started your search this week: gravy still dripping down your chin, turkey still digesting in your stomach as you leapt through crowds and dodged quicker than any running back to get to that last one, limited time, Black Friday sale.

Maybe you’re more savvy than that…Back when Halloween costumes and Christmas Trees came out together, you saw the signs of the times.  You read between the lines when the minions came knocking at your door saying “Trick or Treat.”  You knew what they were really saying was “Trick or Treat – only 55 days left till Christmas – buy me a gift!”

Whether you do it online or in person, whether you prepare all year for it or let it sneak up on you with a bite of mistletoe – Brace yourself – Christmas is coming.  If you are like most – you’ve begun searching for the perfect gift for that person who is impossible to shop for.

There are some traditions that won’t die – and finding the perfect gift is one of them.  We all know what it’s not.  It’s not the ugly sweater from Aunt Cathy.  It’s not the yellow polka dotted suspenders I sent my dad this year.  Nor is it the gift basket of soaps and bathing oils – what are your relatives trying to say by giving you things to make you smell better?

And we know how to start fights about gifts.  Recently on Facebook a man posted this:

One year, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a Christmas gift. The next year I didn’t buy her a gift.  When she asked me why, I replied, “Well, you still haven’t used the gift I bought you last year!”  And that’s how the fight started.

In trying to find the perfect gift we drown in consumerism and hunger for meaning.  When we purchase more and find ourselves emptier than our wallets.  When we give till it hurts only to find the hurt is credit card debt.  When we realize we’re worried about schedules, menus, and forget to realize with the Grinch that Christmas is something that can’t be bought after all.

Finding the perfect gift is a lot like trying to decide which of the Seven Wonders of the World is the most wonderful.  A teacher assigned a class to write down a list of what they thought were the current Seven Wonders of the World.  Most of the students came back the pretty much the same list:

    • Egypt’s pyramids
    • Taj Mahal
    • The Grand Canyon
    • Panama Canal
    • Empire State Building
    • Peter’s Basilica
    • The Great Wall of China

One little girl had a difficult time with the assignment.  The teacher asked her, “are you having trouble with the assignment.”  “Yes,” she promptly said, “there are so many that it is hard to choose which should be number one.”  The teacher said, “Well, why don’t you share your list with the class and we’ll help you decide.”

“I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:

    • To see
    • To hear
    • To touch
    • To taste
    • To feel
    • To laugh
    • And to love.

The perfect gift is not made, manufactured, sold, and shipped through Amazon.com.  The perfect gift is not something you can charge on your credit card, save up for through your piggy bank, or earn through hard work.  If you are like most people – you are searching for the perfect gift.  

The perfect gift is what we look for during the Advent Season.  It was there in the very first moment of creation.  “In the Beginning was the Word.”  It wasn’t bought or sold, but instead was given freely as a self-sacrifice.  “The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  It was the perfect gift for us in our darkest hour.  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it.”

The perfect gift we long for, the perfect gift we search for, the perfect gift we need more than ever this year – is Jesus.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

 This time of year the days grow short and it seems both in nature and in our spirits that the darkness is trying to overcome the light.  Evil is trying to beat goodness.  Commercialism, not secularism, is trying to kill Christmas.  

Perhaps that is why we celebrate Advent during this time of year.  To remember our need.  To remember his love.  To remember God’s gift.

Perhaps that is why we need candles lit in front of us each Sunday.  To give us light in dark times, to give us hope in the midst of grief and despair. for hope that the light of day will end night.

Funny thing about this gift God gives.  We have to be ready to receive it.   Advent calls us to get ready for Christ’s coming.  Be ready.  We have to open the gift.  Be ready to have our debt of sin paid in full. Be ready Jesus to shape and change our lives. Be ready to experience an amazing grace and a wonderful presence. Be ready to receive the perfect gift.

 A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer’s showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted.

As Graduation Day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and how much he loved him. He handed him a beautifully wrapped gift box.  Curious, but somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with his name embossed in gold. Angrily, he raised his voice to his father and said, “With all your money and power you give me a Bible?  I wanted a car!” He stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible behind.

Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and wonderful family, but realized his father was very old. He thought perhaps he should go to him. He had not seen him since that graduation day. But before he could make arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to him. He needed to come home immediately to take care of things.

When he arrived at his father’s house, sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father’s important documents and saw the Bible, new, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. His father had carefully underlined a verse,

Matt 7:11-  “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him”

As he read those words, a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer’s name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation, and the words…PAID IN FULL.

There are some traditions that won’t die.  Advent is one of them.  This Advent Season, let’s get ready to receive the perfect gift.

Advertisements

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

“Let Nothing Go to Waste” from John 6:1-15

Preached at High Street UMC in Franklin, Virginia on July 26, 2015

John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.

Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip,“Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary[a] worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.

14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.

 

He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box.  What had began as a conversation about paying a light bill had changed into a conversation about freedom.  His lunch box was full.  It was filled to the top with bills, collection letters, records, debt.  He had a payday loan.  He was paying the minimum.  The minimum payment was his maximum payment.  Most credit cards today will show you in a box on the bill: if you pay the minimum payment it will take you 32 years to pay off this debt.  When the pastor and the banker he had called in to the office figured it out, the man would be paying the minimum payment for 300 years unless something changed.  Realizing his drowning situation, the man wept.  He put his head in his hands and wept, unsure of how to get free from these chains.

“We’re not going to pay your light bill.”  The Pastor said.

When Christ came into the world, he did so to bring salvation.  Salvation from death to eternal life, Salvation from sin to a resurrection life, salvation from all those things that hold us back from being who God intended us to be.  Salvation from self-pity, self-doubt, and anything that holds us back from being fully human, our true selves within the deliverance of Christ.

Debt is a sin.  Debt holds us back from generosity.  Debt holds us back from giving ourselves fully to God.  Where debt causes death, Jesus saves.

They were in a desert place the Bible tells us.  We all know what it is like to be in the wastelands of life.  Whether we have walked in them or by them, we’ve seen the hurts that society has left along the byways, highways, and sidewalks.  Often, we ignore the poor.  Our apathy is our defense against becoming too involved, crossing boundaries, being infected.

When I was in college, we took a trip to NYC.  One of the young women named Sarah had never left the small town in which she grew up.  We were partnered up two by two and sent out to offer PB and J sandwiches to the homeless, sit down, listen to their stories.  It was a dramatic experience for all of us.  When we got back, all of us were sharing how we had encountered God in the homeless.  Everyone except Sarah.  “I didn’t see any homeless.”  Her partner quickly quipped, “That’s because you were too busy looking up at the buildings.”

So often we are busy looking at the grandness of our society without seeing who it has hurt.

God has a way of pointing out the needs that are right in front of us.  Jesus says, “Where will WE buy bread to feed these people?”  You can debate whether the government or corporations should be involved with helping people, but when it comes to us, the church:  Jesus says it’s our job.  It’s our job to feed the hungry.  It’s our job to give salvation to those starving for real living.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we’re called to help the least of these.

Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by poverty.  We, like Phillip, want to point out that there is just too many, too much.  “Half a year’s salary couldn’t dent this debt.”  Five thousand people doesn’t sound like a lot.  Let’s use global figures.  According to the UN, last night 10,000 people died of hunger.  Tonight 10,000 more will die.  Yet, God doesn’t call us to end world hunger.  We could do it.  Statistically, the US alone could feed the whole world for three years without planting another crop.  We produce and waste that much food.  God doesn’t call us to end world hunger; God calls us to end our neighbor’s hunger.  

Neighbors include the people we live among.  Neighbors include the folks on our street, the child in Bangladesh that works in the sweatshop to sew our Sunday best, the migrant worker in Mexico who picked the watermelon we’ll eat for dessert tonight.  Neighbors are everyone we interact with in this life.  Neighbors is a big call.  But don’t get overwhelmed.

Globalization isn’t the answer in ministry.  Get Global isn’t our call.  When Jesus walked the earth, people died of hunger.  People will dangerous diseases died while Jesus walked the earth.  He didn’t heal everyone.  He healed those he was among.  Get local.  God calls our ministry to be local.  Get local.  God calls us to see people not hunger.  God calls us to see the person not the problem.  Jesus provided for those needs that he could where he was.

Remember the story of the little boy saving the starfish?  He threw them into the ocean to save them one by one.  An old man stopped him.  “You can’t save them all, what you’re doing doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to this one.”  The little boy said picking up a starfish and returning it to the ocean.

If we give God what we can, miracles do happen.  One of the things about his passage that really amazes me is the size of the gift that was given.  This youngsters mama had packed one whopper of a lunch.  Five loaves of bread!  Two fish!  Well, the fish might have been small, but this youth’s mama expected him to go on a long journey with Jesus and to need provisions for the journey.  This child isn’t coming from poverty, yet is willing to share all of it.  This child doesn’t get overwhelmed by the masses, she is willing to give all that she has for Jesus.

If we give God our nothing, an abundance will be provided.  The Disciples say they have nothing to give, but they can serve.  A child gives up lunch – and a miracle happens.  The miracle could be one of multiplication.  Jesus could have made the bread suddenly become more and more as the folks ate to their fill.  The miracle is no less surprising if it is one of sharing.

Can you see it?  Jesus stands and points out to the crowd the generosity of this little child willing to share what’s in her lunch box.  Suddenly everyone checks their bags.  Some were prepared, others were not.  They sit down on the grass and begin sharing, sharing so much that twelve baskets full of bread are left-over.  The sign of the child’s generosity caused others to be generous.

God provides enough for everyone.  Sometimes what others need is in my pocket.  Sometimes God gave me extra so that I could live out the gift of generosity to someone else.

The real problem is that we’re waiting for Superman to save the day.  We’re looking for a king or president or leader to elect to solve our problems.  But Jesus the Cook is looking for waiters to serve solutions.  In our American culture we love the idea of one hero rising up and solving everyone’s problems.  The reluctant diamond in the rough messiah who will make it all right.  John Wayne comes riding tall in the saddle.  James Bond shows up as the lone spy against the bad guys.  The story of a situation so horrible and so bad yet only one guy has the answer.

Let’s be honest.  One person can make a difference, but one person isn’t going to solve everything if elected.  It takes all of us together.  The reality is that even Jesus, the Savior of the world, asked for help.  “Where will WE buy food to feed these people?”  The disciples bring the boy to Jesus.  The disciples distribute the food.  The disciples pick up the leftovers because Jesus says “Let nothing go to Waste.”  Have we given God our nothing?  Will we be disciples?  St. Augustine said, “God who saved us in spite of us will not save the world without us.”

He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box.  He was in debt so deep he couldn’t tread water.  But for two hours the pastor, a church member who was a banker, and he went through income, bills, expenses, budgets, debts.  The man sat there, wept, head in hands.  The pastor said, “We’re not going to pay your light bill.  We’re going to give you an opportunity at jubilee, a chance at freedom.”

The pastor then began telling the man a story.  There had been a young man in the congregation who had made similar bad decisions.  Too embarrassed to ask for help, too ashamed to face his family, the man took the only thing he thought he had left… his life.

His mother was tormented by this for years.  So she went to the pastor.  They prayed to God.  God gave them hope.  After praying, they felt God leading them to set up a fund to help those who came to the church with debt.  They called it a “Jubilee Fund” after the Old Testament idea of restoration and renewal.  She was not a wealthy woman.  She promised the pastor not to cut back her giving, but to give what she could each week.  She decided she didn’t need to go out to eat each Sunday after Church.  So she gave the money that usually paid for her lunch.  $7.  Each Sunday, $7 went into the plate.  Her lunch money.  Others heard what she was doing, and they contributed their lunch money until the fund was an amount able to help.

The pastor and the banker smiled at the man drowning in debt.  “We’re not going to pay your light bill.  We’re going to give you an opportunity at Jubilee.  A zero-interest loan to help get you back on your feet.”

The terms were agreed to.  Financial counseling, strict budget living, hard work, monthly payments.  The man experienced grace, hope, a new beginning.  He took the opportunity at jubilee.

Jesus is still on that mountain.  Jesus is still asking his disciples.  He is still calling our attention to the needs in front of us, our community, our neighbors, starfish we can save, people not problems.  We don’t have to be overwhelmed.  God has provided all that we need.  If we give God what’s in our lunch box who knows what will happen?  If we give God our nothing, God will provide a miracle.  If we stop trying to elect Jesus as King and experience him as the cook calling waiters, then maybe, just maybe, a miracle will happen again.  Amen.  

Love (Call to Worship from Matthew 22:34-40)

Love.

A small word, should be easy to be and do.

Love God.

Oh, that’s easy.  I’ll pray to you to ask you what I need.

I may even show up once in a while in Church to worship you.

Love.

You keep saying that, am I getting it wrong?

Love Neighbor.

I love all my neighbors. 

We get along great as long as we all stay within our property lines.

Love.

I don’t think that is such a small word.

Not easy to be.  Not easy to do.

Love God.

I’m trying Lord, forgive my distractions and idols.

Love Neighbor.

Help me see the invisible, those in pain, those in need.

Love.

Love with all our Heart and Soul and Mind.

Love.

Love.  Amen.

-©2014 Nathan Decker, www.worshipswake.wordpress.com

Giving God Our Nothing (Call To Worship August 2014)

                   Once, Jesus and his disciples were in the world, doing ministry:

 

Lord, send this crowd away.  It is getting late.  We’re all tired.

Blessed are those who have set their priority on the Kingdom.

                   But Lord, they’re starting to get hungry,

and we have nothing to feed them.

Nothing?

                   Nothing?

Well we do have two fish and some loaves of bread.

                   That’s nothing when you give it to this crowd!

                   Give me your nothing.

Why?  What will it amount to in this world of pain and misery?

                   Give me your nothing.

Are you sure you want to get involved with the needy? 

                   You know they’ll just come back for more, following the bread crumbs.

                   Give me your nothing.

Jesus, if we give up our lunch, then what will we eat in retirement?

                   Give me your nothing.

Yes, Lord.

                   If we give God our Nothing, then Something Kingdom will happen.