Tag Archives: hope

“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.

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

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.

Prayer for Firefighters, EMS, and First Responders May 2016

Lord of Wind and Flame,

You who call us to put on the armor of God

You who call us to wait patiently for your guidance

You who call us to care for strangers made neighbors at each encounter:

Bless these Firefighters, EMS, and First Responders.

As they put on their gear

Breathe upon them your Spirit of Peace.

As they wait for instructions and directions

Breathe upon them your Spirit of Wholeness.

As they go forth into houses and highways of despair

Breathe upon them your Spirit of Hope.

Burn in their hearts as love while they put out flames of disaster.

Beat within their hearts while they resuscitate travelers on the way.

Blow gently ahead of them so that at each incident and accident your presence is felt comforting and bringing peace.

All this we ask in the name of the Savior

who responded to our call, our need, our desperation, Jesus Christ.  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.

Liturgy for Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve

This may be used all together or spread out within the service among the carols, prayers, scripture, sermon, and communion.

LIGHT THE FIRST CANDLE

The countdown began long ago
from within our darkness we heard a sound… Hope.
Hope is being born in the world!
LIGHT THE SECOND CANDLE
War has raped our world of lives, memories, and resources.
We’ve left everything behind to follow the angel’s song… Peace.
Peace is being born in the world!
 
LIGHT THE THIRD CANDLE
Emptiness and Death have stolen life’s creation.
Yet, the pregnant promise reveals a purpose… Joy.
Joy is being born in the world!
 
LIGHT THE FOURTH CANDLE
Apathy and Hatred have ruled to long.
This light calls us to a new rule… Love.
Love is being born in the world!
 
LIGHTING OF THE CHRIST CANDLE
This is no ordinary night.
This is not just the birth of a baby boy.
This is God with us.
This is God within us.
This is God refusing to let darkness rule!
Among the abuse of power,
In the midst of pain and suffering,
Hope has conceived.
Peace has given a birth cry.
Joy blinks his eyes out on the world.
Love has come down this Christmas.
Christ is being born in the world!

God is in the Connections (Newsletter Article September 2015)

Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture,

the people right in front of us.
– Regina Brett,

 

“I don’t know how people do it without church.”  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard this.  I heard it as a child growing up in a community where we thought everyone went to church (they didn’t).  I heard it as an adult struggling to find a path for my life.  I heard it as a parent looking far off at my children’s future and my prayers that they will be people of faith.  I’ve heard it as a pastor at the grave with a family who lost a child.

What I hear us saying is that we need to be connected.  God designed us to be with each other.  And people do survive without being disciples in a church.  They survive by creating pseudo-churches within friends at work, family, social networking, and sometimes going to a bar like Cheers where everybody knows your name.  I say pseudo-church because it isn’t the same.  Sure people ask about one another, look out for each other.  Yes, there is a connection, but this connection is limited to space and time and the physical world.

Church, when we’re not just going to church but being Church, is getting connected to God and being connected to one another through the love of God in a deep and vulnerable way.  You’ve heard it said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right?  In our broken world, each of us is the weakest link.  But through Jesus, through this amazing experience of forgiveness, resurrection, and recreation – we become connected, and we become the strong chain of change the world needs.  Without worshipping God weekly, without being with God’s people often, without living in prayer: our lives tend to fall apart.  The Spirit keeps us connected to the Divine and to one another.

I don’t know how people live life without church.  I do know how people live life with church.  We live it fully.  We live it connected to our Creator.  We live it connected to one another in a fellowship that the world doesn’t understand.  We live it with purpose, and meaning in our lives and hope for future generations.  We live life connected.  God is in the Connections.

 

But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light,

we have spiritual connection with each other,

and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.

  • 1 John 1:7

Prayer for the 75th Anniversary of Alexandria District (2015)

O God, our help in ages past:

We gather in time to celebrate your ripening Kingdom.

Thank you for your steadfast love

Upon, within, without, and through our ministry as the people called United Methodist around Alexandria District.*

Thank you for dancing here with us who lived here first,

who planted not only corn but also roots of a deep spirituality.

Thank you for your abiding with us on the long journey across the ocean;

Both Settler and Slave found new beginnings and freedom on this soil.

Thank you for guiding us to grow more diverse

So that we truly reflect the many hues of your love.

You are our Hope for Years to Come:

Our hope when the Nation was born and Circuit Riders spread the Good News.

Our hope when the Nation was torn and Church spires helped point the way to Heaven.

Our hope when rural pastures became suburbs and the Body of Christ became our family and

home away from home.

Our hope in the coming days when revitalization and resurrection reign!

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come

Be our Guide, our Shepherd, our New Beginning and our Eternal Home.  Amen.

 

By Nathan Decker, adapted from Isaac Watts

Special thanks to Keiko Foster for inviting me to write for this event.  *Please feel free to edit the underlined portion to use for you own celebration of ministry.  

 

The First Christians were Who?

“It is Difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
– Robert H. Schuller

 

“Who were the first Christians?”  I remember Dr. Richard Vinson asking this in the middle of class one day.  I was thinking, how silly.  This isn’t profound.  That should be an easy answer, but it’s not.

At first some of us raised our hands and said “Jesus” as if we were in Sunday School.  The teacher politely told us good try and reminded us that Jesus lived and died as a follower of the Jewish faith.  Others got creative and began talking about Mary and Joseph and the Christmas story.  Still others went after Fishermen and Tax Collectors – Peter, Andrew, Matthew.  One person even brought Doubting Thomas into the conversation, while another felt that maybe Judas Iscariot was the first one to really understand Jesus and the plan.

Eventually an debate began about what exactly would be the definition of a Christian.  That’s when the teacher brought us all back together and congratulated us for finally getting to the point.  While he never answered the question, he gave us a short list of characteristics for the first Christians.

 

They are a people who follow the teachings of Jesus.

They saw or believe in the empty tomb.

They shared this good news of resurrection and salvation with others.

 

We follow the teachings of Jesus.  Yes, Christians care called to do weird stuff.  Instead of being all about revenge and “my individual rights,” we turn the other cheek.  When someone asks us to walk a mile with them, we go two.  We love our God and everyone we encounter in our lives – even those we can’t stand and consider enemies.  We forgive even when it isn’t deserved.  To be a Christian is to follow Jesus.

We saw or believe in the empty tomb.  One of the things I love about taking our confirmation class up to the Greek Orthodox church in Richmond is that they get to see a replica of the empty tomb.  As Christians, we believe that God did the impossible.  God brought a man back from the dead.  No, Jesus wasn’t sleeping.  No, Jesus wasn’t half-dead.  Jesus was dead-dead and rose from the grave as someone who had the answers to life’s problems, brokenness, and hurts.  To be a Christian is to believe in an empty grave.

We share this good news of resurrection and salvation with others.  I think this is the hardest part for us in the United States.  We’ve become so scared of rejection, of offending, and ashamed.  It’s easy to see Christians in places like Iraq because they are being beheaded, but here in the comfortable USA, we are hard to find because we don’t let folks know we are doing what we do because of Jesus.  To be a Christian is to share that you do something good because of what Jesus has done for you.  To be a Christian is to share the good life of resurrection and hope.

So, have you figured out who were the first Christians?  It might surprise you.  Like my professor, I’m not going to tell you the answer, but the verse below will point you in the right direction.

 

“When they found the tomb empty, they returned and reported all these things to the eleven and all the others.”

Luke 24:9

God is in the Herd (Newsletter Article November 2014)

God is in Herd

Cows are my passion.

What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm,

and live entirely surrounded by cows – and china.”  – Charles Dickens

 

I can relate to Charles Dickens in one way.  There is peace inside the herd.  Herd animals have been taught by life’s experiences that things are better when you flock together.  For animals this means that only those on the edges and those who wander off are vulnerable to predators.  Being in the herd means strength in numbers.  Being in the herd means there are more than just your eyes looking out to protect you.  Being in the herd means protection against the coldest winter wind and help finding the water hole during the scorch of summer’s sun.  Sure, you have to put up with the smells and crazy mooing of others, but for most animals let’s be honest.  Being in the herd means life.

This is especially true for us as Christians.  We as Christians have been taught by our experiences with God in this life that things are better when we grow together.  I have found that I’m a better Christian when I gather together with other people on the path of salvation.  I have found that I usually find myself in spiritual (and sometimes mental, emotional, and physical) danger when I wander off too far from God’s people.  The edge is a place we all go to in our lives.  And hopefully while we are there, we are bringing new folks into the flock, but it is not safe to always be on the fringe.  Being in the Church means strength in the number of prayers being lifted up.  Being in the Church means there are more than just your eyes looking out for you, loving you, helping you raise your children, helping you care for your parents.  Being in the church means protection against the loneliest winters of our souls and help in returning to the font and table of our faith to find nourishment.  Yes, we do have to put up with hypocrites, bad smells, loud mooing and the occasional crazy rants, but let’s be honest with ourselves.  Being in Church means life.

Recently, at Charge Conference, Rev. Dr. Rob Colwell, quoting Adam Hamilton, asked our church leaders three questions.  “Why Jesus, Why Church, Why Our Church?”  I was so proud of our answers.  We saw Jesus as Salvation: a place of refuge, a different future, hope and love, the one who can tell us who we truly are.  We saw church as the people and place where we focus on the Kingdom and experience Jesus.  We saw our Church as more than just a growing family.  “Small enough to be a part of it, but big enough to be a group,” one person said.  That sounds to me like a herd.  Life is in the herd.  God is in the herd.

 

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.” 

  • Acts 2:42-47