Tag Archives: hope

Let’s be Honest, some folks aren’t going to make it!

From Matthew 13:1-9

Mrs. Smith was one helluva teacher sent from Heaven.  I know because I had her for English.  I know because I watched her put up with Ed.  Ed didn’t want to be in school, Ed didn’t want to learn the puns of Shakespeare or the alliteration of Blake, and Ed didn’t want to be told what to do.

Through it all, Mrs. Smith never gave up.  She’d offer extra time on tests he had no intention of completing.  She’d push him to enter rap lyrics into a poetry contest, but Ed didn’t do extra work.  She’d encourage him to redo the homework he turned in before she graded it, but all this was casting pearls before swine.  Ed didn’t care.  His apathy, a black hole, sucked the energy and impetus around him.  Ed didn’t care.  But Mrs. Smith cared, and she never gave up on him.

Today’s world has joined what some psychologists call the ‘cult of self.’  At the expense of self-awareness and self-limitations, we boost self-esteem eclipsing reality in exaggerated egocentric effigies of us.  We know the education system is failing, yet more students get A’s and Honors than ever before.  If a C is the average, how come so few kids get them?  Ivy League Students were surveyed and 80% of them claimed to be in the top 5% of their class.  And everyone gets a trophy.

But it’s not just kids… Social Media enables us to tell the world about us and to live in a world that revolves around us.  We Instagram what we’re eating, tweet the songs we’re singing, and post “Best Vacation Ever” every time we slip away.  Narcissism rises as we can literally count how many likes, shares, comments, friends, and followers we have.  We create monsters who no longer can be told they are incorrect and will not admit that they made a mistake all in the name of the god called self-esteem.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us a parable about farming.  We show up clutching to our report cards, trophies, awards and affirmations; Jesus ruins it.  God loves us, but some of us just aren’t going to get it.  The parable of the sower casting out his seeds is pretty familiar to all of us.  We know about the different types of soils: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and of course the good soil.  And each time we hear this parable, we tell ourselves the same things:  “I’m so glad I’m the good soil,” or “I used to be like that soil, but now I’m the good soil,” or “here’s a list of things I have to do to make sure I’m the good soil.”  We are so focused on ME! ME! ME! we’ve retitled this parable.  No longer is it the parable of the sower but the parable of the soil.

Jesus tells us about God.  Jesus lets us know God doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus is tells us about God’s wasteful generosity.  A farmer goes out to plant.  How many farmers do you know cast seed out on Highway 58?  How many farmers do you know throw seed on rocks or among thorns on purpose?  How many farmers do you know who are tighter than spandex on an 800 lbs gorilla?  Farmers I know count their fingers after they shake your hand.

God is not your average farmer.  Our Lord is so generous every soil gets seed.  God loves the road.  God loves us when we are hard and mean as asphalt.  God loves the rocky soil.  God loves us when we are shallow, undisciplined, and unwilling to let his love affect us deeply.  God loves the soil with thorns and thistles.  God loves us when we let money, worry, friends, and family come before what really matters.  God loves the good soil.  God loves us when we are ready to receive his Word, take it into our lives, and bear fruit.

This is not a story about us.  This is a story about God’s wasteful generosity.  God is willing to love even when there is little chance the love will be returned.  Our part in the story is to love like God loves.

Jesus sat down by the sea and told us a story about God: the most generous, loving, wasteful farmer the world has ever known.  Let’s be honest, some folks are just not going to get it, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them.  It shouldn’t stop us from loving as well.  God gives so much grace in the world that some of the grace is going to waste.  Some folks just aren’t going to follow Jesus.  Yet, God doesn’t give up on them… and neither should we.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Advertisements

“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