Tag Archives: love

Benediction for December 10, 2017

People of God,

The Lord of Love opens wide his arms to you today.

We are the biggest stumbling block in our relationship with God.

Let us get out of our own way.

Let us see God in the love born this Christmas.

Go with Love birthed in your hearts.

Go with the Christ-Child, Amen.

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Advent Candles Lighting 2017

LIGHTING THE HOPE CANDLE

 

This year has been devastating…

Wildfires, hurricanes, shootings, turmoil

It would be so easy to give in to apathy,

to let our hearts grow dark with despair.

But there is a light shining in the darkness.

(the candle is lit)

A single candle, a small voice, a still reminder…

Hope.

Hope in the Word proclaimed by the prophets.

Hope.

Hope in the Promise of Emmanuel.

Hope.

Hope in the birth of our Savior.

Hope.

 

LIGHTING THE LOVE CANDLE

 

She places a hand on her belly to feel the kicking from within as they journey down the road toward Bethlehem…

a Babe will be born, a Savior will arrive, Love will come down.

The lost world pushes on drudgingly, slaves to a never ending care-less-ness.

It would be so easy to give in to apathy,

But there is a light shining in the cold winter.

(the candles are lit)

A simple hope, a wonderful gift…

Love.

Love nurtured by a Mother’s embrace…

Love.

Love shared from the Father’s strength…

Love.

Love in the birth of our Savior.

Love.

 

LIGHTING THE JOY CANDLE

 

Cheerless faces marching in the land of misery…

Chained to our desires, held captive by our regrets, slaves to our brokenness.

It would be so easy to give in to apathy,

to let our hearts grow deaf, our open lips mute with pain.

But there is a song shining in the silence.

(the candles are lit)

A simple hope, the gift of love, a song of joy…

Joy.

Joy brought the Angel’s song to the shepherds.

Joy.

Joy inspired the Wise to follow their starry dreams.

Joy.

Joy in the birth of our Savior.

Joy.

 

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE

 

War affects more than those who are fighting.

Men, women, children, babies, refugees.

Turning a blind eye, pretending it isn’t our problem,

It would be so easy to give in to apathy.

But there is a light shining in the night.

(the candles are lit)

A simple hope, the gifts of love, a song of joy, the peace of Christ…

Peace.

Peace born in a prince lain in a manger.

Peace.

Peace waging in our hearts, seeking justice, offering mercy.

Peace.

Peace in the birth of our Savior.

Peace.

 

LIGHTING THE CHRIST CANDLE

 

(all the advent candles are lit)

She gives him a nod; he realizes it is time,

There is no room in the inn.

It would be so easy to give in to the apathy that surrounds them,

Yet they don’t give up, pressing on to the stable.

Light is born in the darkness.  A child is born unto you.

(the Christ candle is lit)

A simple hope, the gift of love, a song of joy, the peace of Christ…

His name is Jesus.

Wonderful, Counselor,

He is Emmanuel – God with us.

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,

He is the Christ child.

Amen.

Pastoral Prayer “Do Not Be Afraid”

Wellspring of Hope, Whisperer of Wisdom, ceaseless Winds of Change:

You, Lord, have spoken everything into being in love,

You have weathered the storms and shifting sands of culture,

You have conquered depression and death.

We are so thankful as your people today.

 

Mighty God, we need your strength today.

Defend us when we are attacked by cancer, illness, and disease.

Reach into the pits of despair and pull us out of our darkness.

Hold us, Lord, as we grieve the loss of loved ones.

 

There is so much to fear today – yet your Kingdom is not a Kingdom of Fear,

But one of Love.

Send your courageous Spirit into our hearts

Send your resurrected Church into the world

Send us as we pray, Amen.

Prayer for the Shootings to Stop

Prince of Peace, Comforter, Creator –

while we placing offerings in the plate,

a shooter was putting a bullet in the chamber;

while we were counting attendance,

he was sizing up ammunition;

while we came to pray, giving thanks for life,

he came to kill.

The people gathered in the sanctuary,

yet evil ripped through hymnals, pews, and people.

God have mercy.

Comfort your people’s pain.

Help us lay down our fears and weapons of massacre.

Aid us as we unload our anger and guilt.

Wipe the tears from our eyes so that our aim might be as true as your aim.

Gently trigger us into a holy conversation about peace

so that we might lead through this tragedy,

so that we might prevent another from occurring.

All in the name of the innocent crucified Savior, Jesus, Amen.

Love is the only Torch We carry

Love is the only Torch we carry

By Nathan Decker

O, Virginia… watching the events of this weekend in Charlottesville brought me pain.   To see torches again used as beacons of hatred in my lifetime, Lord, have mercy on us.  When a group of white nationalists with anti-immigrant beliefs rapes the torch of Lady Liberty, the irony should not be lost.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has once again been trampled on by members of the Know-Nothing party of the 1800’s.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the light.  The flame of torches usually represents people coming together.  In the past, I have proudly watched the torch represent efforts for peace at the Olympics, hope for new discovery in Education, and the eternal flame of Wisdom guiding us.  Shame on us for making it symbol of division and fear!

Much of what transpired this weekend was based in fear and grief.  The city of Chartlottesville’s decision to take down a statue ripped off the band-aid on the surgical wound our nation has been dealing with ever since the Constitution told African-Americans they were 3/5 human.  Our nation’s history is complex and up for interpretation and retelling.  Each generation takes up the momentous task of looking back with guilt and pride in an effort to plow a new path into the future.  There are always attempts at shouting the loudest to diminish the voices of others.

As we stand up against the evil of white supremacy, we have to acknowledge the grief that is being expressed.  The way history is told in this nation has mostly been from a white perspective as if whites were the only leaders and contributors.  In recent years this wrong is being righted.  Those who were silenced and oppressed have had the opportunity to add their story to the history of our nation.  White nationalists and supremacists see this as diminishing white history.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Adding missing slices to the pie only makes the pie more full and does not require us to make other slices smaller.  Yet, this is the fear I see in the eyes of those carrying torches of darkness and yelling hate.  They believe they are losing their part of the story.

We can bravely shine brighter than the faces of fear.  We can learn to build relationships with those carrying torches of hate so that we might show them light, love, and the Christ who welcomes all tribes and nations together.  We can, as friends of mine did in Charlottesville, have peaceful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  We can listen to their concerns as well as make our concerns heard.  Through the conversations that lead to relationships, we can admit that all lives matter to Christ, we are one nation made up of many, and love shines brighter.  Love is the only torch we are called to carry into the dark night of hatred and apathy.  We shall overcome by letting peace on earth begin with each of us lifting up love.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Goodness is stronger than evil;

                Love is stronger than hate;

                Light is stronger than darkness;

                Life is stronger than death;

                Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

                                -Bp. Desmond Tutu

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.

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

I can’t do Good on my Own from James 2:8-17

Photo Credit to Robert Lentz “Christ of Maryknoll”

There once was a man who sought the answers to his life’s questions.  The Western life pursuit of Success didn’t satisfy his longing.  Traditional practice of worship sitting in a pew left him cold.  He cashed in his 401k and went searching.  He followed gurus in India in “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion.  He spent time cross legged with Monks in Thailand humming “Om.”  He even climbed a mountain and spent a year in solitude.  Everything helped, but it was as if this itch wouldn’t go away no matter how much he scratched, it all seemed like it was just the surface.  He wanted to go deeper.  He wanted his spirituality to be real, felt, whole.

 

Finally, the man heard of an old wise man who lived in Mexico City.  The man was immediately skeptical.  Weren’t the holy men supposed to live life in monasteries, temples or impeccably high cliffs?  The address that he had been given led him to a busy corner in a rough part of the city.  He arrived in the late morning.  He looked around, surrounded by abandoned buildings where squatters were just waking up and beginning to gather at the only business in sight – a 7 Eleven.  He watched as the homeless entered the establishment, each got a cup of coffee, and then came back out into the parking lot where they gathered in a circle.  Together they seemed to be sharing personal issues and struggles.  He then watched as they held hands in prayer, sang a song, and then with a collective “amen” they parted.

 

The man saw what was happening.  “This must be the group the man leads.”

He chose one of the homeless men that he assumed was the leader and began following him.  This man went two blocks down the street to a dilapidated apartment complex.  Walking into one of the apartments as if he owned it, he began working on the plumbing using tools he pulled from his pockets.  All the while a small group of children and a mother holding a baby watched on.  They all smiled at the man who had followed the homeless plumber into their abode.  They even offered him something to eat and drink.

 

After many hours work, when the plumber was finished, he looked at the man.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“Are you the wise one I seek?”  The man asked.

 

The plumber stood up smiling.  “I am not the one you seek, but I know him.”

 

“Will you take me to him?”

 

“Come tomorrow morning, get a coffee at the 7 Eleven, and he may show up for you.”

 

The man did exactly that.  He arrived, followed the homeless men into the 7 Eleven, got his cup of coffee, and joined them in the circle.   Again, they shared from their hearts about the struggles they were going through.  They shared tools of their trades so that each had what everyone needed that day.  Every time for each instance, those gathered offered support and encouragement.  Again, they prayed, sang a song.  And again, they parted to go off to work.

 

Confused, the man followed a different man, one he felt sure was the leader.  This one turned out to be a carpenter working on a nursery for a day care.  The next day he followed another – who was a retired teacher who volunteered time at the local school as a tutor.

 

He followed each of them.  The lawyer who did pro bono.  The elderly man who read books at the library all day to kids who gathered.  The brick mason who was re-pointing the bricks at the post office.  There were all kinds of workers, each using what he had in his pockets to help the community around them.

 

After he had followed each of them, none of which admitted to being the leader, he grew frustrated.  “Exactly who in God’s name is the leader here!”  He exclaimed. 

The plumber, the first man he had followed, walked over to him and frowned.  Then he slapped the man in the face.  The man was shocked.  “God is our leader.  Everything we do is in his name.  After all this time, if you don’t see, you can’t possibly be shown.”

 

Though no one told him to leave, the man left the circle.  He went to one of the abandoned buildings and wept.  The next morning, the sun beamed through the windows and warmed his face, awakening him.  He got up, went into the 7 Eleven, and gathered as if he always had in the circle.  There, he expressed his love for God.  There he sang his heart out to God.  There he said Amen.  And then he left, to find need in the community that he could provide for.

 

God called us to be Holy as God is Holy.  Like today, the early church struggled with what it meant to be holy.  Did it mean avoiding sin?  Did it mean spending time in prayer, meditation, worship?  What about good deeds?  In the conversation of grace, where do good deeds come into play?  A conservative branch of the church has always emphasized God’s forgiveness as and repentance as all that is necessary for salvation.  A liberal branch of the church has always emphasized social action, missions to help save not just the soul, but the physical body as necessary for salvation.  In the early Church, the book of James already answered the question.  Both are required.

 

I can’t do good on my own… I’m just a vessel for God’s love to flow to the world. 

 

Personal Holiness is showing our Love for God.  More precisely, it’s sharing the love of God with God.

  • Worship and prayer – not just asking but spending time with God!
  • Forgiving yourself
  • Devotions and Fasting – limiting actions so that what you do matters more
  • Not posting that obnoxious post on Facebook that you know is going to be controversial just to be controversial
  • Giving money to support the ministry
  • Reading the Bible
  • In general, not being a jerk about faith, but enjoying the compassion and love that Christ pours out upon us all freely.

 

Social Holiness is showing our Love for Neighbor, sharing the love of God with others. 

  • Sharing mercy in missions
    • backpack ministry to feed kids in poverty on the weekend
    • Mission Garden to provide fresh veggies
    • Impact 757 and going to Waverly on UMVIM trips
    • forgiving others especially when they don’t deserve it
    • visiting or writing notes to someone who’s world has shrunk to the size of their home
  • Sharing God’s vision of justice and kingdom in a broken world
    • Does God desire freedom for those enslaved to drugs, debt, or a system that is broken? Yes!
    • Does God want us concerned for refugees and immigrants? Yes!

 

In the Super Bowl of life, God has a bias, it is always for the underdog.  To be holy as God is holy requires us not just to have faith, but to do faith.  Our faith must have action attached to it.

 

Here’s the thing, though, “No Social Holiness, No Personal Holiness.”  James, “Someone might claim, you have faith and I have action.  But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?”  Truly loving God causes God to love through us to our neighbors.  Truly loving our neighbors causes us to truly love God.  If all we do is get our cup of coffee and join the circle for songs and prayers – we have personal holiness.  If all we do is go out into the world and be good people helping others – we have social holiness.  Faith without Works is dead.  Works without Faith is turning grace into a merit badge or a brownie point. 

 

Be holy as God is holy.  Love God.  Love neighbor.  This is the Gospel.  Amen.

Here I am…forever yours

Vows for a Wedding


Here I stand. 

I stand behind you in support.

I stand beside you in the toughest moments you will ever face. 

I stand in front of you to defend you from harm. 

Here I sit. 

I sit by the phone waiting for you to call. 

I sit at the table sharing a meal and sharing life. 

I sit in your cheering section, with your family grieving, and at hospital bedside, waiting. 

Here I kneel. 

I kneel to pick you up when you fall down. 

I kneel to pray in your behalf to God.

I kneel to ask you to marry me.

Here I am… forever yours.