Tag Archives: table

“Traditions that won’t die – Christmas Trees” from Luke 1:76-80

There are some traditions that just won’t die – like decorating the Christmas Tree.  Some of my favorite Christmas memories revolve around the Christmas tree.  I’d watch impatiently as my father cussed and fussed with the artificial tree we had growing up. He’d be kneeling on the floor in front of the beaten up box that still had the Sears Roebucks sticker on the side.  He looked like he was paying homage to a giant green monster that was about to devour him in one colossal bite.  In the dim light he’d look for colors that had long worn off on the ends of branches, trying to decipher them like an archaeologist staring at the Rosetta stone. Reds and oranges looked like twins as did blacks and grays.

Meanwhile, mom would be sitting in the couch entrapped by miles of lights. She’d go light by light checking to make each strand work and blink at just the right rhythm.  Replacing bulbs and fuses in monotonous fashion.  She would giggle at my father’s frustration, humming songs about Rudolph, St. Nick, and Frosty.  Finally, when the tree was up and all the lights were on it. Mom would look at it once more.  She’d go up to each bubble light and encourage it with a tap.  She’d bend branches and add green fluffs to places where time had taken toll.  Then she’d turn my sister and I loose.

To say that we decorated the tree was to say that two midgets had the ability to slam dunk on the basketball court.  We decorated the tree from about midway down.  We were little after all.  With Burl Ives singing about mistletoe kisses in the background, we decorated the tree with those shiny balls (breaking two or three in the process).  We decorated the tree with arts and crafts that we had made at school and at church. Mom would smile when we hung our clothespin reindeer, our paper Santa with cotton ball beards, and of course our latest arts and crafts projects from school.  Then she’d politely ask, “Do we have to put your clay Freddie Kruegar on the Christmas tree?” Yes, even though I had never seen the movies, I had made a clay man with a claw for a hand and painted him bright bloody red.  “Mom, Freddie needs Christmas too!”

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

Christmas Trees are so much a part of our Christmas these days.  It’s no surprise I think that Christmas trees weren’t always a part of the Christmas holiday.  While people have been gathering around trees and decorating them for centuries, the first record of a decorated Christmas tree is not in Bethlehem. It happened in Riga, Latvia, in 1510.

Christmas Trees give life.  An acre of Christmas Trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people daily.

Christmas trees are a part of our nation’s story.  Christmas trees have been a part of the American Experience for a long time. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce was the first to place a Christmas Tree on the White House Lawn.  This tradition has been carried out since then with the exception of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, who banned the National Christmas tree for religious and environmental reasons.

Christmas trees are a part of our faith story.  I can still remember sitting in the dark with my mother, watching the bubble lights glow and the twinkling reflections.  In the darkness, in the waiting, in the cold and bitter winter, Christmas trees remind us of God’s eternal love and the Light of Christ’s birth.  As Luke states, “God’s deep compassion, the dawn of heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”

Times are dark.  Most of the trees have lost their leaves.  The world of nature is stark with dying colors – Fall’s parade of reds, yellows, and orange have given to bland browns.  Our community weeps as Suntrust bank closes down in town.  Life in winter struggles and slows down.  Sometimes the cold infects our hearts and our behaviors reflect selfish desires and sinful intent rather than generous giving or self-sacrifice.

Into this picture, Luke’s gospel introduces John  the Baptizer.  His Father, Zechariah, preaches in song about his life.  (Remember Zechariah, the old guy whose old wife suddenly has a baby?)  Now as a proud father, he preaches in song about his Son, John.  “You child will be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”  For Zechariah, John’s message is one of hope, love, peace, and joy.  John brings a message that the light is coming.  John brings a message that forgiveness is coming.  John opens the gate to the way, the truth, and the life in Christ Jesus.  In this Gospel he wears his faith for all the world to see, and it is more than long hair and camel skin!

In a winter season, John is the Christmas Tree getting decorated for Christ’s birth.  He reminds us of God’s eternal love.  He shows us the way to Christ’s light being born in the darkness.  What’s more is that we are called to be like John.

We are called to be the Christmas Trees in the world today.  Like John, we are to remind the world that there is still life in these branches of green.  Like John, we are to point to the Christ light being born in the darkness.  Like John, we are called to come and prepare the way. Like my mother and father, God is trusting us with decorating the tree.

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

I don’t understand why God would trust us with sharing the news about Jesus.  God knows we’re going to break some of the commandments and be called hypocrites.  God knows we can’t reach heaven on our own let alone bring God’s kingdom here through our efforts.  After we’ve made a mess and failed, God is going to have to rework all the bad to recreate this world new, resurrected, reformed.  And yet, the Lord invites us to participate here, at this table, in this sacred moment, remembering, observing, creating new and experiencing love.  

There are some traditions that won’t die.  God’s love is one of them.

Rising above Terror from Daniel 7:1-7, 15-18 (Sermon for All Saints Sunday 2016)

Rising above Terror from Daniel 7:1-7, 15-18

When I grew up, the dinner table was a sacred place.  If dad was not working, my sister and I knew that meant we would be eating at the table.  No TV trays.  No watching Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.  No musical background to jam our food into our mouths to.  If my Pa were home, we’d be sitting around the table and no one was allowed to leave until everyone was finished eating.

And it was a good thing, it was a great thing, it was a family event that made it sacred time.  Around the table I learned about family connections.  I heard stories about my parents’ days and lives.  But every now and then the sacred would become scary.

Every four years an outside force would come in and the conversations around the table became about these strange creatures called candidates and this process called an election.  My parents are independents.  My parents for most of my life have always seemed to vote for opposing candidates.  And yet, no matter how heated the discussion got, no matter how disgusted they became with one another, they never left the table until everyone was done eating.

In any election year, our nation gets divided; to the winners go the spoils, etc.   What if we looked at it a little differently?  What if we looked at today through the eyes of the Saints who are already fully in God’s kingdom?

 

In today’s lectionary scripture reading (as in I didn’t pick this out just for today), Daniel has a dream or as the message translates it, a Nightmare Vision.  Daniel was known for his dreams and his ability to interpret them.  In this vision he sees the whole world in a storm of chaos.  Wind from all four directions is coming at the same time.    And four beasts rise up from the sea doing ungodly things to the people of earth, devouring, raping, and stomping on them.

Daniel and the Jewish nation in captivity grieve the realization that their political situation is not going to improve.

When looking at the Biblical Imagery it is often helpful to consult scholars and historians. Scholars tell us this portion of scripture was written in the middle of the second century before Jesus during a Jewish revolt against the descendants of the Greek King Antiochus.  In other words, the community that wrote this was in a political pickle.  Historians help us see there are nations and kingdoms attached to these four beasts that rise from the ocean.  The four beasts are meant to be representations of four kingdoms that will rise and fall in succession.

The lion with eagles wings is Babylon.

The bear with ribs is Media.

The leopard with four wings and four heads in Persia.

And the beast with iron teeth is Alexander the Great and his Greek-Macedonians empire that eventually becomes King Antiochus.

 

 Daniel and the Jewish nation in captivity long for the Kingdom of God.  They desire a return to the Promised Land.  They desire a return to the way things were.  Daniel weeps because his vision doesn’t show the best options.  Daniel weeps because his dream offers little choices.  Daniel weeps because he doesn’t see God’s kingdom on earth.

And then he consults with “one of those standing beside the throne.”  He asks:  “What does this mean?  Where is God in all of this?”  And there Daniel is given the word of hope.

In the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever.

Church, every four years we’re given anxiety by an outside force – earthly politics – and perhaps this year is worse than previous.  There will be calls for prayers for God to help pick the right one or the best one or at the very least, the least crooked one, the least racist one.  There will be promises to be the Christian candidate, the pro-life candidate, the pro-middle class candidate, I’m sure there is even a pro-Methodist candidate.  What they really are about is power and influence.  What the candidates really want is power and influence.

Church, I know that makes you weep…

  • Because we don’t see the best options
  • Because we seem to be offered very little in the way of choices
  • Because no matter what, this doesn’t seem like God’s Kingdom on Earth

 Church, I know that makes us all feel like Daniel – captive and hopeless – but remember that’s not the end of the Scripture

 Remember there is Good News!

If we look today through the eyes of the Saints who are already fully in God’s Kingdom…

If we, like Daniel, consult with those “standing beside the throne…”

If we really take a breath, and allow the Holy Spirit of Peace in our hearts…

 We realize that we are first and foremost not of this world.

We’re the holy ones… God’s people… Citizens of the Kingdom of God!  Holy here doesn’t mean perfect.  Holy in this text translates as “other” or “set apart.”

We realize that we are not of this world, but we are called to participate in the salvation of this world through Jesus Christ.

“Kings and Kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name.”

 God calls us to have a Kingdom vision for this world.  Christ’s Kingdom will not come about through elections, nations, and power struggles.  Christ’s Kingdom will come through the lives we’ve touched by handing out candy at a parking lot and inviting them to experience God’s love.  Christ’s Kingdom will come through our raising up our voices to make sure our community has the best possible school system that offers hope and opportunity to those in poverty.  Christ’s Kingdom will come as we gather at the table, talk through our conflicts, and refuse to leave until everyone has been fed.  Christ’s Kingdom will come through serving, loving, and showing the light that cannot be extinguished by the darkness.

Someone will win this election.  Some laws will change or stay the same.  Yet, God’s Kingdom will continue marching on…  Christ’s salvation will continue to break open hearts and change lives…  The Spirit of God will continue to guide…

Today is All Saints Sunday.  Allow the light of these candles to glow within your living for Jesus.

God is still God.  And Grace will still be God’s gift to the world on the day after the election.  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!

Celebration of a New Appointment 2015

As I was talking with the leaders at my new appointment, I got the feeling that they felt this service needed a face lift.  Here is my attempt at making something old new again.  One of the things I am trying to emphasize is the aspect of the Word in ministry and Local Missions.  Feedback would be appreciated greatly!

 

Service of Installation for 2015

 

By leader: 

Friends, today we welcome Pastor ________________.

Through prayerful discernment Bishop _____________ has sent him/her to serve, lead, and love in Christ as our Pastor.

_______, you have been called by God and sent by the Church

to live among us as an example of the Word,

to preach and teach the Word in mercy and grace,

and to offer the Word at Table, at Font,

in Mission and in Service.

 

You are sent to love, lead, and with us make disciples for the transformation of the world.

 

By Pastor:

I have been called and sent, and with God’s grace and help

I will love, lead, and with you make disciples for the transformation of the world.

 

By leader:

Friends in Christ, let us celebrate this new beginning!

 

Congregation:

God is with us.  God is with you.

You will pray for us – We will pray for you.

You will be with us in joy and in grief.

We will be with you in celebration and sorrow.

You will give your gifts to God among us.

We will share God’s blessings to us with you.

Together we will serve and witness to Christ’s Kingdom

in our community and to our neighbors.

 

By leader or volunteers with symbolic items given or lifted up:

Preach the Word (Bible)

Baptize new Disciples (Water)

and Offer Christ constantly (Bread and Wine)

as you Lead us to be Servants of all (Towel and Basin)

in Mission in our Community.  (Something that represents the local community)

 

By leader:

This stole reminds us that you have been set apart for the ministry of an Elder. (Stole)

 

Congregation:       

 Shepherd us as our Pastor.

                                   

Pastor:

 This yoke is laid upon me, I take it willingly.

 

All:

Lord, bless the ministries of our church.

Live among us as your Living Word.

Preach your Word through our words and actions.

Give us grace to share with one another and the world

as we seek to be Disciples who make Disciples

in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Moving to a Stop (Call to Worship)

We are very busy.

We are in a hurry to get things done.

   And yet, there is no finish in sight.

Each task’s end is the beginning of a new chore.

   We are getting no where.

All our hectic pace is running in place!

   We are no closer to the finish line than when we first began.

Burning rubber, but moving not an inch.

So we gather here:

at God’s house,

                                      at the Lord’s table,

                                          at the Spirit’s beckon,

   To slow down until we stop.  <silent pause>

                

Only when we stop do we truly begin to move.

Only when our pace is Christ’s pace are we getting somewhere.

   Amen.

   –©2014 Nathan Decker www.worshipswake.wordpress.com

Radical Invitation for Communion (October 4 2009)

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

Who is this us?  All of us?

            The poor, the blind, the lame, the outcasts?

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

            The old, the young, the divorced, the married, the single?

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

The migrants, the homeless, the troubled, the unknowns?

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists?

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

The abused, the abusers, homosexuals, AIDS patients?

Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

            Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table

                        to learn to live in peace together,

                        to learn to live repentant lives together,

                        to learn to love God and neighbor together.

            Christ, our Lord, invites us to his table.

                        – Nathan Decker (CC) 2009