ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Welcome – Announcements, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Affirmation of Faith – Affirmation from Romans 8:35, 37-39
- Scripture Readings – John 17:6-19 (CEB), Luke 24:44-53 (CEB) – Rev. Ohle
- Message – Ascension & The State of the Communion – Rev. Ohle
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Invitation – Rev. Ohle
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Welcome! It’s good to see you all. Thank you for joining us today!
Today is Sunday, May 16, the 7th and final Sunday of Eastertide. For those just joining us, Eastertide is the 50 days of the church year from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday which happens this year on May 23rd. For the first 40 of those 50 days, the risen Christ continued to walk among the disciples, eating with them and continuing to teach them about God’s Kingdom. They could touch and embrace him. Best of all, they could simply continue to be with him in spite of the actions of the religious authorities that had orchestrated his death. Then came Day 40, the Day of Ascension. We’re going to talk about that and about the State of the Communion in today’s message.
There is some housekeeping before we begin. In your bulletins on the back of the insert page you’ll find a Connection Card on the top portion of the page. The Connection Card is a very important part of our COVID-19 safety protocol, so please fill that out and leave it in the box in the Narthex labeled “Forms”. If you filled one out last week, the only thing I need this week is your name on the form.
If you have not done so yet please consider filling out the Manna Campaign Form on the bottom portion of that same page. The Purpose of the Manna Campaign is to show our commitment to support this church’s ability to remain open. Our goal amount of $15,000.00 is just enough to cover the absolute necessities; the utility costs, insurance, property taxes on the parsonage, groundskeeping, etc. To provide you with full transparency, I am posting our budget on our website. It requires creating some new pages, so it will take me a bit, but I should have it up for you by next week.
Two of the new virtual small groups have already started. You’ll find information on them in the bulletin along with the links you need to join them. The links are the same each week. The third virtual group – Pray and Study – will begin Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. We’ll spend the first 10-15 minutes in prayer, then begin Bible Study. Our opening study is “What Does It Mean to be Chosen?” I think you’ll enjoy it.
By the way, next Wednesday, May 19, will be our last live prayer gathering on Facebook as the new Zoom Pray and Study will replace it. That was a hard decision, but Zoom actually lets more people participate as you no longer have to have Facebook to join in. Also, please note: the link included in today’s bulletin will continue to work indefinitely, however there is now a second link that’s a little bit easier. It is tinyurl.com/prayandstudy and will replace the current link in next week’s bulletin.
Online worshippers since you are watching from various locations across the country, please note, all times given for the small groups are in Eastern Time. In other words, 7 pm Eastern is 6 pm Central, 5 pm Mountain, and 4 pm Pacific. You’re invited and encouraged to participate in the small groups and Wednesday Pray and Study, too!
I think that’s everything for this week’s announcements. If you would, please join me in our Call to Worship which you’ll find in your bulletin.
Call to Worship
L: Jesus Christ has ascended into the heavens and sits at your right hand while we are down here laboring doing the best that we can to survive.
P: God help us!
L: We are keeping our heads above water, but (God forgive us) sometimes drowning seems to be an answer.
P: God help us!
L: We keep our faith and trust in you in spite of how we are being treated.
P: God help us!
L: We are abused, misused, and accused. For this reason, we understand more and more hat this world is not our home, and we are just strangers passing through the night.
P: God help us!
A: God, we are your children, and we need you to help us so that our feet won’t slip and our faith won’t waiver. We believe in you and trust in your Holy Word. Do it God! Do it today! God help us!
Lord, we gather today under the banner of one testimony. We believe in your Son, Jesus Christ. He is the one you sent through many generations to bring us back into communion with you. It is because of him that we are able to cry out “Abba, Father!” We have access to you and that access is life giving. We have eternal life through Jesus Christ all because we believe. So, Lord, receive our worship; receive our praise. Find pleasure in our offerings, for we will bless you always.
God, we thank you for the call to lead. We thank you for setting us apart for your service. We understand that every day is not going to be Sunday and that we shall face some cloudy days. So, Lord, we come asking for your grace. Give us your grace, so that we can face the hardships and not be overtaken but stand secure knowing that you are with us. Give us the favor of David and the wisdom of Solomon. Let our decisions be favorable in your sight and your people be blessed. It’s in Jesus’ name, we pray.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Affirmation from Romans 8:35, 37-39 (UMH 887)
L: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword?
In all things we are more than conquerors through the One who loved us.
We are sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanks be to God!
Open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, gracious Lord, as we turn to your scripture. We long to know you, to understand life, and to be changed. Examine us, Lord, by the floodlight of your truth.
Our scriptures this morning are taken from the Common English Bible.
John 17:6-19 (CEB)
“I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
“I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. When I was with them, I watched over them in your name, the name you gave to me, and I kept them safe. None of them were lost, except the one who was destined for destruction, so that scripture would be fulfilled. Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy. I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.
Luke 24:44-53 (CEB)
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”
He led them out as far as Bethany, where he lifted his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem overwhelmed with joy. And they were continuously in the temple praising God.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Ascension & The State of the Communion
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of the Risen Christ, the day he ascended to sit at the right hand of God, and it is an important event to celebrate for all the reasons I mentioned earlier: For forty days, Jesus the risen Christ continued to walk among the disciples, eating with them … even cooking them supper … and continuing to teach them about God’s kingdom. He was alive … not a spirit or a ghost … but living … and offered them proof a number of times and ways. They could touch him. They could embrace him. Best of all, they could simply continue to be with him in spite of the actions of the religious authorities who had orchestrated his death.
But, on the Day of Ascension, all that would change. Jesus would tell the disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” We heard Luke’s initial version of what happened that day in our scripture reading. When Luke wrote about that day again in what would become the book of Acts, he wrote: “Beloved friends of God, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
After his Ascension, they would be left staring into the sky wondering what to do next with all kinds of unanswered.
The passage from John 17 was what Jesus prayed for the night of the Last Supper after they’d eaten and before they left to go to the Garden. In that prayer, we hear Jesus speaking directly to God about the disciples and, if you listen closely, about us.
“I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you.”
This … one of the final prayers of Jesus … was specific to his disciples and to those who would ultimately believe in him because of what those disciples or, if you will, Apostles, would do and say in his name by the authority he gave them to carry out the commission he gave them: To go forth to every corner of the world, every nation, and make disciples … to make us.
While the words, “All mine are yours and yours are mine and I have been glorified in them” say more about who Jesus is than it does about us, those same words also speak deeply of relationship and of community. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, translates the last part of the verse like this: “my life is on display in them.”
How we live and love in this world is the presentation of Christ to those who don’t know him yet. How we share and give does not just reflect on us, but it reflects on Jesus. How we treat one another, how we honor one another, how we celebrate one another and the commitments we have made are parts of our faith. And Christ is glorified … or shamed … by the way we live in community. Whether he’s glorified or shamed is not only up to us, but also on us … our responsibility.
Which leads us to the State of the Communion. You see, communion isn’t just that thing we do with the bread and the juice. Not that Communion of that sort isn’t important … it’s vital. But this is another type of communion … communion with a little or lowercase C. Vocabulary.com explains it like this: “When you connect in a meaningful way with something, or intimately share your feelings with someone, you experience a communion. The word implies a deep connection, particularly a spiritual one. The Latin root of communion is communionem, meaning “fellowship, mutual participation, or sharing…” and the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, “a close relationship with someone in which feelings and thoughts are exchanged, a group of people who are united by the same, especially religious, beliefs.”
When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we profess belief in the “communion of saints,” referring to the whole community of faithful followers of Christ, living and dead, past, present and future.
Rev. Katie Shockley explains, “When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion [big C], we feast with past, present, and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.”
Jesus prayed in John 17, “Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.” Just as Jesus and God are one, we are to be one, to be in communion … with God, with him, with the Holy Spirit, and especially with one another as we carry out the commission he gave us.
On a global, national, state, and even local level or for that matter a denominational level or a church level, we’re not doing that very well these days are we.
Nations are pitted against nations, some in traditional forms of conflict such as the ongoing wars in the Middle East, others in invisible wars waged to undermine the economies of their adversaries, and yet others waging misinformation, disinformation, and worse to try to undermine the governments that have perpetually stood between them and global domination.
Focusing closer to home, political, ideological, and even theological differences, many of them instigated and encouraged by the misinformation coming from outside sources, seem to be at an all-time high and are creating divides within families at a rate I would hazard a guess is even higher than the issues that divided us during the Civil War.
Even within denominations … not just ours, by the way … division is wreaking havoc, causing a decline in membership, and putting smaller churches like ours at risk of being forever shuttered. We disagree on doctrine, on church policies, on who’s allowed in the pulpit, on who’s allowed in the pews. Our younger generations are tired of our antics, tired of “programs” over faith formation, and turning away from what they see as “the church” to seek what we’ve always told them the church was but fail to show them by the way we behave.
The State of the Communion is, in essence, on the verge of total destruction and hanging together by a strand.
Fortunately, that strand has a name: The Holy Trinity … God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, intertwined, three in One and One in three. An unbreakable cord.
Knowing the cord is unbreakable, though, doesn’t let us off the hook. It doesn’t let us sit back and wait things out until Jesus comes back again. Remember what he said: “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
No one knows when he’s coming back, and we are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. You can’t witness to anyone if your focus is only inward and on your own salvation. Who would you witness to? Yourself? You can’t witness to anyone if your message is anything but love.
We know that God is Love and that nothing is stronger than God. We learned that just last week. We’ve spent the last several months learning what The Way to be in communion with one another that Jesus taught us is, and we’re fortunate in that, where the Disciples had to wait for God to deliver to them the power of the Holy Spirit, we already know that power. We have two thousand years of history to look back on to see the movement of the Holy Spirit. And we have that same two thousand years of history to see those points where we as a people let the ways of the world overpower our faith to the detriment of others.
Looking back at those two thousand years, looking back at our own lives, looking back at what we’ve learned in the past several months, and knowing that next Sunday we will celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit, we have a choice. We can choose to repeat the mistakes of the past … or we can choose to learn from them. We can continue to grow apart, or we can learn to accept one another as we each are … each a child of God created in God’s own image … known by God right down to the number of hairs on our head. We can continue to let earthly powers and principalities distract us or we can say what we said last week … we can say NO! God is stronger! And we will bear witness and we will persevere in spite of the world, we will walk humbly with our God, have mercy, and do no harm. We will work to build God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and we will start right now, no turning back!
Esther “Etty” Hillesum (15 January 1914–30 November 1943) was the Dutch author of confessional letters and diaries which describe both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amsterdam during the German occupation. In 1943 she was deported and killed in Auschwitz concentration camp. She wrote, “If I have a duty in this time it is to bear witness.” We are to bear witness to the goodness of God, to the saving power of Christ.
Stephen Paul Kliewer of Dancing Faith wrote:
in times of darkness, there is a need for the light
when we are blinded by the light, there is a need for shadow
it is so easy to become overwhelmed
and allow the steady drumroll of chaos and fear
to occupy our minds
to allow the steady drip of hate and greed
to eat away at our souls
like acid rain
assailed we want
to burrow and hide
to close our eyes and our ears
to barricade our hearts
our silent scream
“Please, make it all go away”
and our prayers become wishful thinking
we want to lash out
spraying vitriol wherever we go
attacking, minimizing, demeaning, dehumanizing
the hardest thing in the world
is to stand firmly
on the rock that is Love
and bear witness
without hiding or without flailing
to stand with our fear and our anger both
and allow Love to transform them
so that we become
agents of reconciliation
we bear witness when we see past our own anger
and the anger of “the other”
and see the wounds
we bear witness when we see the lies
those we carry and those that are flung at us
and hold fast to the truth
we bear witness when we let go of our desire to win
and embrace service
moving beyond our own toxic individualism
to work for the common good
we bear witness when we transform our anger and forgive,
let go of our need for power and serve,
reject the worship of wealth and give,
refuse to exclude and welcome.
these are indeed times that try our souls
the forces of evil are strong
the people of the lie ascendant
if we have a duty in this time
it is to bear witness
It is our duty to bear witness. We bear witness when others, seeing us, seeing how we are, see Christ. And if we truly want others to see Christ in us, we need to see Christ in them and in each other. We need to work to restore the communion.
I want to share one more writing with you today. It is not an official statement, however it was written by a number of members of the Council of Bishops from around the world and it is, to me, a good place to begin the process of restoration. The Bishops wrote:
United Methodists all over the globe are liturgical, contemporary, charismatic, social activists, urban, suburban, small town, rural and much more. We are children, youth, young adults, senior adults, new Christians, and mature Christians. We are present on four continents, in more than 45 countries, and we comprise an unknown number of cultures and languages. We are a holy communion of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and perspectives united by the Holy Spirit, driven by the mission of Christ, and bearing the good news of an unmerited grace that changes lives and transforms communities.
Christ’s prayer for our unity and command to gather all to the table, to make space for one another, appreciate one another, and look for Christ in each other, prohibit us from creating individual tables only for those who think, act, look, and perceive the world like we do. We cannot be a Republican church or a Democratic church. We cannot be a traditional church or a progressive church or a centrist church. We cannot be a gay or straight church. Our churches must be more than echo chambers made in our own image arguing with each other while neglecting our central purpose. This is the way of the world.
Instead, we must be one people, rooted in scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love and united in the essentials. It is hard work. It is sacred work. It is the ministry of reconciliation that Christ gave to each of us. Our best witness is to love each other as Christ loves us, to show the world the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to bind us together despite our differences. This is living out the gospel.
We are a church:
- Confident in what God has done in Christ Jesus for all humankind
- Committed to personal and social salvation/transformation
- Courageous in dismantling the powers of racism
All of our members, clergy, local churches and annual conferences will continue to have a home in the “Future United Methodist Church”, whether they consider themselves liberal, evangelical, progressive, traditionalist, middle of the road, conservative, centrist or something else. We hold on to our Wesleyan heritage that “the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason”.
We are longing for a United Methodist Church that will move towards new forms of being a connectional church, a General Conference focused on global essentials, and an empowerment of regions for contextually relevant forms of living our common mission mandate.
Deeply rooted in the Doctrinal Standards of the UMC, we pledge to exercise our episcopal role in ways that enable as many United Methodists, lay and clergy, as are willing to remain in the UMC and – together – to continue in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We are committed to strengthening every local church, where the word is preached and Christ is offered, and where the table is set before all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, confident in the prayer we have learned to say and share:
Make us one with Christ—this is faithfulness.
Make us one with each other—this is unity.
Make us one in ministry to all the world—this is fruitfulness.
This is the United Methodist Church we love and serve.
Portions of Pastoral Prayer & Pardon: Rev. Gord, Worship Offerings
Please join me as we lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. Because this service is being recorded for online worship, I won’t be saying any names out loud during the prayer in order to protect their privacy. When you hear me say, Lord, in your mercy …, please respond with “hear our prayer.”
Lord, you know our hearts and you know before we could even speak their names all those in need of your healing, your comfort, your peace, your strength. Be with them God. Restore their health where it is your will, give them understanding and comfort where your healing comes in the form of release from earthly illness and pain.
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
Too often, God, we let the world sneak in and steal our attention away from you. Strengthen us, Lord. Make us instruments of your peace. Let Spirit descend and fill us, guide us, and strengthen us so that we can bear witness to your grace, your goodness, your love. Give us courage and lead us to those who need to know you.
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
Help us build your church here at Union Grove. Help us reach those who have become discouraged and disgusted by us when we lost focus on you. Help us restore the communion of believers here and among all your children.
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
God of Grace, you call us to be different from the world, but the world is seductive, and so we come here to your house to be strengthened.
God of Vision, you hold before us an alternate way of life, different priorities, different loyalties, different values.
But we know that the world is not only seductive but powerful, and so we are drawn in to following its priorities, accepting its values, showing loyalty to its gods.
God who blesses the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, forgive us when we lose sight of these qualities, when we misunderstand their role in the world.
We ask these things in your name, Lord, and pray the words you taught us:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”
Friends, hear the Good News: Rejoice and be glad! God is gracious and God offers blessings. God calls us to life in the world, God offers us the chance to explore how to live out God’s vision. We are called, we are forgiven, we are blessed.
A quick reminder that your offerings should be placed in the round container on the table in the Narthex on your way into worship or as you leave or, if you are worshipping online with us, there is information below on how to make them. Let’s pray:
Loving God of both comfort and challenge; we have been blessed to know the feeling of being surrounded in your loving arms like a child. Yet we also know that is not a place we can stay. You send us to be part of the world – with all its ugliness, anger, hate, deceit, and betrayals – but not of the world. You call us to give, so that love, compassion, and hope might be set loose. We are not giving as those who are of the world – expecting to receive in the transaction. We give instead out of gratitude for your loving heart, made known to us in Christ. Use us in this way, we pray in the blessed name of Christ, who by your love overcame death. Amen.
Do you have something on your mind or heart this morning that a still small voice is telling you to say to God? The altar is open and waiting for you. You are invited to come forward and bring whatever is on your heart or mind to Him now.
Thank you for being with us today. I pray you’ll join us again next Sunday at 11:00 am. Don’t forget to wear something red next week as we celebrate Pentecost. We’ll also be receiving Communion (big C), and receiving new members.
Now hear this benediction:
Go forth into the new seasons of your lives, into growing and changing and living. Go forth with caring awareness for the world and all that is in it. Go forth in a concerted effort to discover the needs and opportunities around you. Go forth in peace and be led out in joy. Go in God’s continuing presence, with the power to love and the strength to serve.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, dare to dance again, and begin restoring the communion. Start in your homes and work out from there. Who knows. Maybe it will “go viral.” God be with you. Go forth to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ. Amen.
Call to Worship & Opening Prayer – Curry F. Butler, Easter Liturgical Resources from Africana Writers, edited by Safiya Fosua
Portions of Pastoral Prayer & Pardon – Rev. Gord, Worship Offerings
Benediction – Mary Ann Neevil, Bread for the Journey
Copyright Disclaimer: Under §107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended. All rights belong to their respective owners.
Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!