Tag Archives: Justice

“But I don’t want to take a Bath!”

from Isaiah 42:1-9

The little boy and girl were as close to heaven as they were to the earth.  Jessica and Jerome: fraternal and inseparable twins they were.  At age seven, they looked at the world through double lenses of reality and fantasy.  It didn’t take much in their eyes to turn a play house into a castle or a tree with low hanging branches into an attacking dragon, and behind the castle, a puddle of mud into a swimming pool.

They each took turns cannonballing into the mud and the muck.  She first noticed that you could turn it into a slip and slide if you ran first.  He figured out that you could ball up the mud and throw it (even at her).  They were in the ecstatic giggles and youthful joy when mother’s voice called them to dinner.  “Lord have mercy, how did you two get so dirty? You both will have to have a bath before dinner.”

That’s when the buts showed up.   “But mom, we don’t want to.”  “But mom, do we have to?”  “But mom, we look alright to each other.”  And in a tone that warned her that teenage years were approaching far too quickly, “Mother!”

And we understand these feelings all too well in our spiritual journey.  As Christians we see the word through double lenses.  We see the world as it is.  We see the racism that persists in our nation from generation to generation.  We weep at the funerals of police officers that have been ambushed while striving to serve and protect.  The greedy horde while the poor starve.  Nations are shutting doors to immigrants and refugees in irrational fears based on the same nationalism and prejudice that fueled the Nazi party almost 100 years ago.  The world seems to be playing its own version of Hunger games and we are all in the arena.

But as Christians, we also see the world as God believes it could and should be.  Love that sees difference of culture and skin tone not as a bad thing but as an a reflection of God’s own diverse love and color.  Righteous anger at those who abuse power, manipulate crowds with fear, and use tragedy as a means to fuel their own agendas.  Compassion for moms and dads who just want a safe place from war, rape, and unrest for their children to grow up and have it better than they did.

And in all of this God asks us to take a bath.  Our Lord invites us to awaken within our baptismal waters and be transformed by them.  Jesus wants us to be changed by his Grace, to be transformed in his Compassion, to use these waters shared with us as a gift.  God invites us to be more than a people who worship in wishes?  God invites us to be love in action.  God calls us to raise our voice for the voiceless, give our strength to the weak, and lift up those who have been pushed down.   

And that’s when the buts show up.  “But God, we don’t want to.”  “But God, do we have to?”  “But God, we look alright to each other.”  And in a tone that warns of our tendency to rebellion, “Father!”   

Isaiah preaching to the people about the Messiah speaks of who God is.  “He will bring justice to the nations.”  Our Savior brings peace and wholeness to the world.  “He won’t cry out or shout.”  Our Lord doesn’t call attention to himself. God doesn’t have an ego or need all eyes on him.  “He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice.”  He won’t brush aside those who are bruised and hurt. The smallest and most insignificant light is still precious in his eyes.  The weak will be made strong, the poor will be rich: this is God’s Kingdom, a revolution through spiritual practice.

Isaiah, preaching, gives a word from God about who we are.  God is an all-powerful God who has chosen to share that power with us.  “I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason… I’m giving you as a promise to the people, as a light to the nations.”  The Lord who created the heavens, the one who stretched the sky from east to west and north to south, the one who breathed life into your lips wants you to be the change.  God calls us to be the life in this world of death.  God calls us to be the hope in this despair.  God calls us to be the new beginning in the end of endings.

We are the folks who have taken a bath.  Jessica and Jerome didn’t want to take a bath.  So their mother gave them a different option.  A little liquid soap up into water balloons, a two water guns, and mom with the hose and bath time was no longer a chore but had become a transformed moment of joy, love, and memory.

We are the folks who have taken a bath.  We’ve been given a gift in our baptismal waters.  We are God’s promise to the nations.  We are God’s lights of joy, love, and testimony.  As we remember our Baptism today, let’s not just be wishful worshippers.  Let’s be the changed, the transformed, the renewed, those who have been washed in God’s love.  Amen.

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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.

Call to worship for Christmas season 2016

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles
And warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

This year let us be more focused on Christmas; Focused on Jesus instead of our wish list.
The gift of God blooms brighter than spring

Let Christmas time be our favorite thing.

 

When the poor come,

Let us feed them!

Give of what we have!

And then we’ll remember just why we sing

Christmas day is glad!

Blessing of Men and Women in Law Enforcement

Blessing of Law Enforcement April 2016

Beloved Jesus,

You came down to serve, to protect, and to give your life to save another.

You served humanity, showing us love and sharing what we could be when shaped by that love.

You protected the weak, the abused, the outcasts, and those society have given up on – walking with the least and the worst.

You gave your live for the cause of those who didn’t deserve it, and we are eternally grateful for your gift.

Before us now are men and women who seek

to follow you

to serve and protect

and who daily place their lives in danger on behalf of our community.

Bless them, Savior.

Provide mercy and justice in each call they answer.

Protect them with the Armor of God in addition to body armor.

In those moments when quick decisions can change and save lives, Spirit, give that peace and practiced discernment of choosing right over wrong, love to conquer hate, and restrained force to rein in unrestrained behavior.

Lord, these men and women, especially today, endure such judgment and difficulty in completing the work set before them

give them patience, perseverance, and understanding

and let them know your presence in the patrol car, in the dispatch room, in the day and in the night.  You are the Lord who said you would always be with us, to the end of the age, Jesus.  Amen.

Invitation to New Life based on Luke 19

 

Christ our Lord invites himself to our Table

Calls us out of the sycamore tree, inspires us to charity.

Christ our Lord invites us to see the world differently.

Generously giving half of what we own,

Providing a path for the poor.

Christ our Lord invites us to live in peace with one another.

If we have cheated anyone, let us repay them four times!

We seek a life lived through justice.

We seek relationships filled with wholeness and peace.

Christ our Lord invites us to salvation,

to seek and save the lost.

Let us come down and dine with Christ!

Confession from Jeremiah 5:1-8

We run from You, great forgiver and lover.

We run through the streets terrified because we know

You seek truth, You seek justice, You seek humble hearts

so that You can forgive them.

but We have refused to live forgiven lives.

We have made our faces harder than rock

and We have no excuse. 

We are not the poor.

and yet, We are not truly rich.

We have all broken the yoke that was easy.

We have all torn the bonds that gave us freedom.

 

forgive us, we pray.

You can protect us from the Lion in the roaming in our forest,

those dark voices roaring in our minds.

You can lift us from the Leopard seeking to rip us to pieces,

those evils of self-indulgence and self-gratification.

You alone can feed our hungry spirits and heal our hurting souls.

 

Sisters and Brothers, the Great Forgiver calls us.

Because of God’s Love, the Living Bread descended to us in the desert.

Our cry of “Lord, help my unbelief” has been heard!

Here is the only proof we ever need.  God’s Love!

 

In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven!

In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven!

Hallelujah!  Amen!

Cain’s Morning Prayer

Cain’s Morning Prayer
Great Judge and Lord of Justice:
you are righteous, we are unjust,
you are merciful, we are judgmental,
you offer the grace we need
and so often reject.
Move our hearts to your presence.
Forgive our unforgiving of others and ourselves.
Remind us that you have marked us
so we may recognize you, 
live forgiven lives,
and share our mark of mercy and grace,
through the one whose blood cleans and chooses us,
Amen.

Call to Worship with Superheroes (From Ephesians 6:10-20)

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!

“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.