NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*Scriptures this morning come from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.
MESSAGE – New Beginnings
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Before we begin, let us take a moment to honor and remember the life of Lauri Carleton, an ally to the LGBTQIA and all marginalized and oppressed peoples. Lauri was a California shop owner, community leader, and mother of nine children, and was killed on August 18 by a man who objected to her flying a Pride flag outside her clothing store.
Lauri, age 66, and her husband, Bort, had been married 28 years, and had a blended family of nine children, the youngest of whom are identical twin girls. Carleton had worked in fashion since her early teens, first at a family shoe business and then at the famed department store Joseph Magnin Century City and as an executive at Kenneth Cole before opening Mag.Pi.
She was also a founding member of the local Mountain Provisions Cooperative, who stated that she was “a pillar in our community, an immovable force in her values for equality, love, and justice.” She and her husband Bort “were pivotal in organizing our Free Store which provided free food and supplies for 4 months after the blizzard. Lauri put her whole heart into keeping it going as long as we could. … If you knew Lauri you know she loved hard, laughed often, and nurtured and protected those she cared about. She was a force, she loved to crack jokes and wanted to live as joyful of a life as possible.”
Lauri Carleton, may you rest in peace and in power, and may we serve to honor your name, your vision, and your mission through our own words and actions.
In Jesus name and arms, amen.
I don’t want to preach today. And all God’s children said … Amen!
Instead, I just want to talk for a bit. If you caught last month’s Second Sunday, you know I closed with God doing new things. A lot has happened in the days since then. The death of Lauri Carleton, the doubling down of forces who believe oppression and even eradication of any group they fear … and it is truly fear that causes them to do what they do … and now the threats of exchanging ballots for bullets if “their side doesn’t win” …
Couple all that with some long and much needed listening sessions on my part … listening to so many who have suffered at the hands of clergy, church leadership, and church doctrine … suffered physically, mentally, spiritually … suffered so badly and become so frustrated they left the source of that pain and frustration only to be accused of abandoning God. The more I listened, the more I knew God … the God I know and worship … wasn’t present in the buildings that people walked out of and Christ wasn’t within the people who either did the harm or ignored the harm being done.
I’m a) a Christian, a follower of Christ. I don’t make any secrets about that, b) a Protestant – Methodist to be specific, and c) pretty sure I’m not your stereotypical Christian … or Methodist. I’m not good at evangelizing, struggle to preach a sermon based on a singular verse, and you think you have questions and doubts about all of this? Brothers and sisters, crawl into my head once! There is a cage match going on with everything from WWE to Mixed Martial Arts to Sumo to Fight Club happening … I blame my occasional headaches on the Fight Club folks.
But in those listening sessions, in watching the news, in seeing with my own eyes, and even … in a much lesser degree than those among the marginalized … being targeted by those who condemn … I’ve spent some time rethinking this gathering.
This Second Sunday service was never meant to be an attempt to save anyone’s soul from hell and damnation by convincing those souls to conform to a narrow, binary, melanin-challenged image of a false, judgmental god who checks IDs at the door. It was never meant to be exclusively Methodist. Second Sunday was supposed to be about providing a place where the outcasts, the unwanted, the rejected, the victims of all that self-righteous judgment and condemnation by too many “Christians” could gather in faith and fellowship and, most importantly, as your authentic selves … the self you are in your soul, not the one society demands you be.
Which led to a decision this week to change the name of this gathering from “Second Sunday Community Church” to “Second Sunday Community of Faith” and to revamp this to be a place where people of all faith traditions or none at all, people of every sexuality, gender identity, race, and background, can come together and fellowship. Where a variety of voices and beliefs can be heard, where questions and doubts and frustrations can be shared and wrestled with, and where the ONLY doctrine is LOVE … the one doctrine that is shared across ALL people religious or non-religious.
Right this moment, I’m imagining my District Superintended and Bishop – should they ever see the video of this service or be watching the live-stream – giving me a MAJOR side-eye, but let me explain by sharing a bit from the message I gave at this morning’s worship service for Union Grove:
“I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t want us to compartmentalize our lives into church and non-church. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wants us to live every day as though we were in the presence of God – because we are. And that we live every day as though we are loving our neighbor as ourselves – because we are.”
There’s something else I’m pretty sure about, and that is that … while “God” is the name I use to refer to the divine, the divine has many other names used by many other people from all over the world. Even in my own faith tradition, I lose track of the number of names for both God and for Jesus. What the divine I call God expects and my teacher – Jesus – taught is love … loving one another … caring for one another, especially those who are struggling to care for themselves.
So, then, why Second Sunday Community of Faith? Why have this gathering at all? Isn’t this really still just church? Why do people need the church?
Did you know Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the word,” church.” And it appears in only two passages—in chapter 18, and then in chapter 16 where he tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. As a Christian, it’s pretty significant that the word appears, and Christians ought to pay attention. On the other hand, the word “church” appears seventy-two times in the epistles (if you count Revelation as an epistle – and all the occurrences of the word are in the first three chapters, which are the letters to the seven churches. Oh, and the book of Acts, which is the companion piece to the letters – or the acting out of the conversations in the letters). That means that Paul and the other letter writers are very concerned with helping Christians be the church that Christians are called to be. So, there were lots of choices there.
Matthew 18:15-20, one of those two passages where the word “church” is used, says, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong. Do this when you are alone with them. If they listen to you, then you have helped them to be your brother or sister again. But if they refuse to listen, go to them again and take one or two people with you. Then there will be two or three people who will be able to tell all that happened. If they refuse to listen to them, tell the church. And if they refuse to listen to the church, treat them as you would treat someone who does not know God or who is a tax collector.
I can assure you that when you speak judgment here on earth, it will be God’s judgment. And when you promise forgiveness here on earth, it will be God’s forgiveness. To say it another way, if two of you on earth agree on anything you pray for, my Father in heaven will do what you ask. Yes, if two or three people are together believing in me, I am there with them.” (ERV)
How many times have you suffered “rebuking” by someone for what that someone or those someones consider your “sin”? I’m betting probably as recently as the period leading into last week’s PRIDE festival. Only these days, there’s no going to a person. There’s just the safety and often anonymity of sanctimoniously calling out entire groups of people on some kind of media, preferably in a way that gains clicks, views, and even votes. And I am truly sorry those doing the rebuking have missed the point of the passage entirely.
In this passage in the Gospel, it is the function of the church to be a force for reconciliation. You could argue that, from a gospel perspective, it is the only function of the church – the Body of Christ. We are in the business of putting things together, of healing the breaches between people, of overcoming that which keeps us apart. It is about making sure that no one feels like an outsider.
“Wait a minute”, you might say, “there is a call to ‘outsider-ness’ in this passage.” We have been taught to believe that we are to give reconciliation our best shot, to be sure, but that if it doesn’t work, then we can boot folks out. That is what verse 17 is saying, isn’t it? Is it? Verse 17 says that if the one who has caused the offense refuses to be reconciled, then treat the person “as a Gentile and a tax collector.” “Boo, hiss,” we say, “toss them out.” Which is the part of the passage that those who rebuke you love best. If you don’t come around, if you don’t conform to their beliefs about who you should be, who you should love, how you should identify, what your place in their society should be, you’re dismissible. Their phobic condemnation of you is now fully justified.
They don’t stop to consider how Jesus treated tax collectors. For my God’s sake, he put one on his team! Matthew was a tax collector! An employee of the Empire used to collect and squeeze every penny out of the Jewish people! They forget how Jesus treated Gentiles, too. He preached to them; he invited them. Yes, there was an incident or two where he seems to be a bit harsh to a Gentile, but then after a reminder, he turns and welcomes.
In other words, despite centuries of church history, these words aren’t giving permission to cut anyone off or out or to pass some phobic judgment or condemnation on them. Instead, we are to treat them with love and invitation. We are always, always trying to heal what is broken or, more accurately, what has been damaged and harmed. We have to change not just our tactics, but our attitudes in dealing with one another both inside and outside our own beliefs, our own circles, our own networks, our own communities. Jesus treated those inside his community much differently from those outside. He was harder on and had higher expectations for those within his community, always ready to call them out and point out their failings. The outsider on the other hand, was encouraged and invited, challenged to be sure, but with love and gentleness.
So, when Jesus says to treat them like outsiders, he wasn’t saying to turn one’s back on them. He was telling his followers to change their attitudes, their behaviors.
The other part of it all was that he was saying we ought to be doing this together. This reconciliation thing is a team effort, not an individual exercise. It is what we are about. As the scripture said, “To say it another way, if two of you on earth agree on anything you pray for, my Father in heaven will do what you ask. Yes, if two or three people are together believing in me, I am there with them.” I don’t think that passage is saying Divine won’t hear you if you pray alone. I don’t think that is saying that those who don’t have a community of like-minded believers are just out of luck, unseen and unheard. The Divine, Jesus, the Spirit are always with us, alone or together. I think it’s saying that being in agreement when in fellowship, in community, strengthens any prayer or petition or lament we make to the Divine. Kind of like being in Neyland Stadium with the other 101,914 people. Which is louder? One person yelling “Go Vols,” or 101,915 people yelling “Go Vols?”
Now, I know understanding the message in that passage that those who would condemn you missed is in no way, shape, or form adequate reparation for the hurt, the trauma, the pain, or the PTSD that so many have suffered. I’m not sure there is anything that humanity can offer to atone for the level of harm already done. And that’s why I’ve spent the last week or more rethinking what this gathering, this space, this time together should be. That’s why the decision was made to reshape this from a “church” service to a gathering for a community of faith, a fellowship of humans trying to navigate a hostile part of the greater society that seems hell bent on having its own way at any cost, even selling its soul to the darkness of hating, condemning, and oppressing others. Actions which are, by the way, completely antithetical to God, to Christ, and to the Spirit.
And so, we move forward into a new way of being together. A new way of sharing space – safe space, loving space, welcoming space, affirming space, mutually respectful space. To new ways of acknowledging the things we have in common, learning about and respecting the things on which we differ, and celebrating one another with love, light, and joy. A space where we can feel safe enough to reach out when we need help, to share resources, and where we are moved to grasp the hand of those who are reaching and share the resources to which we have access.
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