ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn: Joyful, Joyful (UMH 89)
- Opening Prayer – Congregation
- Creed: World Methodist Social Affirmation (UMH 886)
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral & Peace Prayers – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn: If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Message: Can We Build It? – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Be Thou My Vision (UMH 451)
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95/Song Sheet)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
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 scripture readings and the message. The majority of the other content (minus the message) is available through our weekly digital/email bulletin (you can sign up on our Contact Us page). Union Grove UMC began celebrating Holy Communion weekly as part of our regular worship service on July 17, 2022. 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.
Open the eyes of our understanding and prepare our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, that we may receive Your scriptures with much joy and rejoicing and may leave today having a deeper understanding of who You are and who You would have us to be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*All scriptures today are from the NRSV.
Psalm 67 – May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Acts 16:9-15 – During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
John 14:23-29 – Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Can We Build It?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
I borrowed the title of today’s message from an educational kids’ program called Bob the Builder. Bob the Builder and his friends have a saying when they face something tough. “Can we build it? Yes we can!” We’ll get back to Bob and building things in a bit, but first I want to talk to you about today’s scriptures.
Visions and dreams are a recurring theme as we work our way through the book of Acts, aren’t they? The word “vision” is used eleven times in Acts – more times than it’s used in the entire Book of Revelation. When you think about it, though, it makes sense since Acts is the story of the beginning of the church we know, and it is God’s vision as it was relayed to the church through individuals that is being revealed.
Prior to today’s passage, Paul and his companions have been traveling around what we know today as Turkey going where the Spirit both leads and allows them to go, meeting people, delivering the good news, teaching people how to become a church, and growing the faith, and it’s on the Turkey side of the sea that Paul has his dream of a Macedonian standing on the far shore and calling, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” It’s from this dream that Paul understands what they must do, so they got to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. They knew now for sure that God had called them to preach the good news to the Europeans.
It’s because they trusted where the Spirit was leading them that they crossed over to an area called Macedonia that was then considered part of Greece and met Lydia. Lydia is regarded as the first documented case of a European converting to Christianity.
Lydia, who was from Thyatira, was living at Philippi at the time she met Paul. She was independent, most likely widowed, and made a good income selling articles dyed purple, a prized color made from certain mollusks—a respectable and lucrative trade. She had a spacious home that could accommodate many guests and servants to meet their needs. This had to be a rare achievement in her day.
Philippi was a Romanized city. The Romans had specifically designated that spot where Lydia and her friends were gathered that day as a place where Jewish people or Gentile people who leaned toward the Jewish faith and worshiped the God of the Jews could gather for prayer and worship. The passage doesn’t say whether anyone else present there that day converted, but we know Lydia did. Once she believed, she made a confession of her faith to her whole world through baptism, and then she assembled her entire household, told them what had happened to her, and asked them to believe. After her entire household accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized, Lydia invited Paul and Silas to stay in her home (Acts 16:15). Later, when Paul and Silas were thrown into a Philippian prison which is a whole other story, Lydia visited them and attended to their needs. Her house became the meeting place of the first European church.
So where is all this leading? All these visions and conversions and pushing and pulling of the Holy Spirit and such? And what does any of this have to do with our celebration today, our story?
Both the stories in Acts and our story have the same beginning. The coming of the Messiah was told over two millennia ago. Two thousand and twenty-two years ago, the Messiah arrived. When he was about thirty, he began ministering to the people, teaching them a better way, the way God had intended for them from the start, the way they were unable to see. He gave them a new vision, a new understanding of who God is. That was the beginning for their story, and it is also the beginning for ours.
It was from the visions of Peter and Paul that the church was formed. Not the temple hierarchy of old, but a church that followed the way that Jesus had taught them. It was their faith, their persistence, their willingness to listen to and heed God’s voice and the Spirit, their willingness to live in community, and their commitment to all that Jesus taught them and to carry out his commandments – to love God, love one another, and to go forth and spread the Good News – that laid the foundation for the faith we follow today.
Union Grove also began with people who shared a vision of building a beloved community of faithful people. The first documentation of a Methodist presence here in Union Grove is recorded in the journal of the 1868 Holston Conference Lay Meeting. In 1873, a deed was made to a committee consisting of locals for the purpose of a Union School House and Meeting House, and on this plot a frame building was constructed to be used both as a school and church.
During the time the meetings were still being held in the old building, interest was manifested in building a new church. Blount County Centennial History mentions a struggle of sorts occurring somewhere between 1880 and 1891. The Baptists were holding informal brush arbor camp meetings on the present church grounds while Methodists met in the schoolhouse. Mrs. Lydia Williams offered a compromise proposal – she would donate adjacent land to whichever group was first to have building materials on site. By daylight the following morning, the Methodists had their materials on the ground, thereby winning the building site.
Official pastoral appointments here at Union Grove span one hundred and forty-two years beginning with Rev. Pleasant Henry in 1880. By the way, Rev. John Roberson wins the prize for the longest term as pastor at 10 years from 1987 to 1997. He should know that, with your blessing and support, I intend to shatter his record. Just saying. But it was the Rev. Sam Varnell, here from 1948 to 1955, who set the bar for all pastors that would follow him. During his seven year tenure, he baptized 57 individuals, most of whom were then received as church members on profession of faith.
A deed was not made to the property where our present church stands until 1890. Later, a plot of ground behind the church was deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church by Laura Alford. In the year 1893, the present cemetery grounds were deeded to church.
There’s a lot of history between 1893 and today. For instance, the parsonage was constructed on the church property in 1954, and if I understood the papers that are laying up here on the altar correctly, we actually acquired Union School House in about 1956. The brick educational building was added to the frame sanctuary and dedicated on Sunday, February 20, 1963. Then District Superintendent, Dr. E.A. Eldridge, delivered the message for that dedication service.
Over those years, people came, and people went – not a phenomenon by any means. That’s normal in almost any church. What stands out here at Union Grove, though, is its ability to continue despite all that. As most of you know, when I came to Union Grove, the congregation had shrunk to zero. On July 5th of 2020, this church and I were in the dark with no idea of where this was all going to go. All this grand little lady and I could do was pray and trust … and hope.
Ann Lamott wrote, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” And in his book, Ladder to the Light, Rt. Bishop Steven Charleston wrote, “When you are in the darkness, even a small candle can seem like a great light…” This beautiful little church and I kept praying and trusting and hoping, and then … one by one, I began to see each of your candles. Today looking at a sanctuary full of candles and not one of you is small.
Today, there is not just life here. There is new life. This is not just a Sunday only church, this has now become a ‘round the clock Sunday through Saturday church, a church where everyone does whatever needs doing. This is not a church where people say, “But we’ve always done it this way.” This is a church where people say, “We’ll find a way.” This is not a church where we say, “We’ll love you if or but.” This is a church where we very simply say, “God loves you and so do we. Come on in.” This is not a church where we lock people out. This is a church where we invite them in. This is a church that really and truly walks its talk and lives into that decades old Methodist Motto, “Open hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” Literally.
And honestly? To live into that motto here, in the heart of the Bible Belt, with the prevailing winds of theocracy we have in this state? I’m not sure miraculous is a strong enough word.
Rev. Eric Johnson, a friend of mine on Facebook, wrote just yesterday, “If you think that the culture has turned people away from the Church, I understand where you are coming from.
As our society has become more secular and pluralistic…
As our lives are filled with more demands and obligations….
As our country has become more divided across political, racial, and socioeconomic lines…
It’s easy to think that these forces are drawing people away from meaningful engagement in a faith community.
Except that isn’t really what’s happening.
There was a time where the Church was at the center of the culture.
And now it finds itself at the edge.
Culture hasn’t turned people away from the Church.
The way the Church has responded to the culture has turned people away from the Church.
Over the last 30-40 years, the Church has either cast judgement on or tried to be like the culture.
Neither has worked.
But there is a path forward – a third way.
The Church can provide an alternative to the culture.
One that engages people where they are, answers their questions, and meets their real and felt needs.
And then allow whatever takes shape from there to become the Church.
The culture is not the Boogeyman to blame or the Model to emulate.
It just exists and will do what it will do.
But Jesus presents an alternative to it – one where there is true freedom from ego, from striving, from shame, and from fear.
He called it life, and life to the full.
His words, works, and ways tell us what this life looks like.
His death and resurrection makes this life possible.
The Church can be a place where this life can be offered, experienced, and multiplied into the culture.
It can shape the culture in all the ways previous efforts failed.
But first, the Church has to repent of its previous responses to the culture.
Unfortunately, most church institutions are not set up for this.
As a result, many will not survive another generation.
But this life that Jesus presents will always attract those who know they were made for more than anything the culture has to offer.
Because of that, there will always be the Church – even if it isn’t the one you would recognize.”
Adrienne Marie Brown wrote, “We need movements rooted in love right now, movements powered not by difference and exclusion and punishment, but by common ground, compassion, humility, healthy boundaries, patience and healing.” You all may not see it in what we have here, but I do. Union Grove UMC … what all of you have started here … is a movement. A movement born of faith in and love for God carried out in the footsteps of Christ as directed by the Spirit. A movement working to make a difference in the broader community.
OK, bear with me just a bit longer and remember … your patience will be rewarded with cake and punch … because there is a point I want to make about the title of this message, “Can we build it?”.
I’m pretty sure that by now, you’ve all heard of the Great Replacement Theory. It and all other theories like it are false theories that are designed with one purpose and one purpose only – to initiate fear that turns into hate that divides and foments violence that then allows the promoters of those theories to pass laws to reduce rights and freedoms, wage wars, and force their religious theocracy on everyone.
I think Bishop Charleston and I are on the same wavelength this week. A few days ago, he wrote, “This tired and troubled old world needs a change. All around the world people are living in days of struggle, sorrow, and uncertainty. Their light grows dim. Their energy diminishes. Hope flickers on the windowpane, like a candle near the end of its brightness, a pale light left to stand alone against the coming of the night. This old world needs a rescue, a rebirth, a renewal. It needs a new way of thinking and of being. It needs more than a candle. Lift up the torch of what you believe. Hold it high for others to see. Tell them change is coming. Tell them a new light is coming into this world. Tell them to look up and see how brightly countless torches shine in the night, all waiting for the dawn.” And he wrote, “Every day I know there is something I can do to help, something great or small: showing up, being counted, attending the meeting, making my contribution, saying my prayers… Something I can do to spread the word, great or small: make some ripples, open hearts and minds, change the world for the better…”
Well, Jesus has always had a replacement for the Replacement Theory and theories like it. Jesus theory is called love, and here’s the thing. Jesus’ theory has been proven time and again and will always be proven no matter what. Love wins.
James Baldwin wrote, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘Love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
One hundred and fifty-two years ago, a handful of people had a vision to come together as a Methodist church here in the Grove. Just over a year ago, a handful of people walked into this building with a new vision, hope blossomed, and love began to grow out from this church in leaps and bounds. So, in answer to the original question I posed in the title of this message, “Can we build it?” You bet we can, we are, and we will continue.”
Here’s to another 152 years, Union Grove. May you continue to shelter and nurture His light in the hearts of all who enter your doors.
- All works cited within the text above.
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