• Prelude – Softly and Tenderly, The Emmanuel Quartet
  • Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
  • Call to Worship – When the Church of Jesus (UMH 592), The Emmanuel Quartet
  • Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
  • Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:1-10 (MSG), Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV), John 1:1-18 (NRSV)
  • Message – Fishing In the Dark – Rev. Ohle
  • Closing Anthem – Lord, Who Dost Give to Thy Church, The Emmanuel Quartet
  • Benediction – Rev. Ohle
  • Postlude – We Have This Hope, The Emmanuel Quartet


Hello! I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville and I want to welcome you to this morning’s worship service.

Doesn’t it seem like just about the time we feel like we can see the ends meet, someone comes along and moves the ends? Or like the batteries in our flashlights are weak and we’re all out here fishing in the dark? That’s our topic for today … Fishing in the dark. I promise to reveal the best fishing hole I know and not tell too many fish tales, so stay with me.

Before we begin this week’s journey, though … two things: first, thank you for indulging me last week. I hope you enjoyed hearing from Rev. Mike Sluder and the folks at Concord UMC, and I appreciate the opportunity to recover. I’m feeling much better.  Second, if you’re financially able, please consider returning to the practice of making weekly or regular offerings.

Offerings can be made online through a secure service provided by Holston Conference or you can mail them in. The information needed to do either is available on our website, at the end of this video, and in our weekly worship bulletins sent through our email list.

Let’s begin today with a prayer:

You call us, wanderer of seashores and sidewalks, inviting us to sail out of our smug harbors into the uncharted waters of faith to wander off from our predictable paths to follow You into the unpredictable footsteps of the kingdom; to leave the comfort of our homes and accompany You into the uncomfortable neighborhoods we usually avoid.

As we wait, in our simple, sometimes crazy, constantly uncertain lives, speak to us, Spirit of Grace: of that hope which is our anchor; of that peace which is our rock; of that grace which is our refuge.



This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praises, and our petitions. To protect the privacy of those we pray for, we do not say any names. Please know that I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There may be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may also be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud.  Just watch the screen and if words appear in front of me, say them with me.

Now, please join me in prayer:

Lord, we praise you and thank you for the gifts and blessings you bestow on us, especially your gifts of grace and peace.

We lift up to you all those who are in need of your healing touch for their body, mind, and spirit, those who are worried, those who are anxious, those who are fearful, those who are simply exhausted.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift to you all those who are mourning losses of family, home, or income, who are struggling to see tomorrow for the darkness of today.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift to you all those who suffer from rejection, exclusion, oppression, and isolation, who have been pushed out, told their unworthy, feel they’ve been abandoned, made to feel less.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you those who have been misled, who have worshipped or continue to worship a false messiah, following false prophets, who have been existing in a false reality. Forgive them and help us to forgive them. Clear their minds and hearts and lead us to show them the way to your son, the true and only Messiah. Help us to live in a way that lets them see him in us.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you our church, the universal church, all church leaders, our nation and its leaders, and the nations of the world that you would move us and them to serve you by serving all the people, especially the least among us, that you would cleanse them of all aspirations of personal power or profit or political gain, that you would route out the demons of racism, nationalism, and nativism, and that you would guide their footsteps and ours to follow your way and your will for the good of all your children.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

Though often misunderstood, often held captive by our fabricated realities, our souls long for peace.

O God, we long for your presence; we long for peace.

We run without a destination, surrounded by highways of turbulent noise. We are tired, worn, and battered, and our souls long for joy.

O God, we long for your presence; we long for joy.

One: Through it all; in it all; and around all of it – choose to love the astounding teachings of the Messiah. Look to experience peace and joy – even in the midst of disappointment, war, injustice, or poverty. Allow your soul to become acquainted with the One who changes hard challenges into opportunities for transformation and growth.

Peace and Joy are possible in the presence of the Savior.

In spite of the world’s challenges, we choose peace; we choose joy; we choose to follow YOU, Lord!

Hear us now, as we pray this prayer with one voice…

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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.”



O God, most holy and praised: As Your Son gathered disciples to himself to teach them your ways, so your Spirit has gathered us in this time and place. Make us alert and attentive as we read and reflect on Your scriptures; help us take them to heart and live into them so that your will is truly done on earth as in heaven. We pray in the name of our true Teacher, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jonah 3:1-10 (MSG)

Next, God spoke to Jonah a second time: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”

This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.

Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.

Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk, and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

The people of Nineveh listened and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.

When the message reached the king of Nineveh, he got up off his throne, threw down his royal robes, dressed in burlap, and sat down in the dirt. Then he issued a public proclamation throughout Nineveh, authorized by him and his leaders: “Not one drop of water, not one bite of food for man, woman, or animal, including your herds and flocks! Dress them all, both people and animals, in burlap, and send up a cry for help to God. Everyone must turn around, turn back from an evil life and the violent ways that stain their hands. Who knows? Maybe God will turn around and change his mind about us, quit being angry with us, and let us live!”

God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do.

Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE – Fishing In the Dark

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

Most of us know the story of Jonah. Our passage this morning starts after his famous fishing trip. There are some key points in the portion of his story we heard today. First point: The people of Nineveh were messing up so bad, God was ready to do a Sodom and Gomorrah level takedown of them. Second point: That threat was enough to get the peoples’ collective attention and they immediately addressed the problems. Third point: Everyone in the city of Nineveh got on board with making the life changes needed … everyone … from the ruler right down to the poorest of the poor. Fourth point: God gives second chances. Fifth: If God calls you, He’s going to keep calling you until you answer, so do yourself a favor and answer the first time so you don’t have to spend three days in the belly of a fish.

There’s also an important part of this story we don’t hear in today’s passage. It’s the Sixth point: What you think God should do and what God does are not necessarily going to be the same thing. The part we’re not hearing this morning is that, after God took pity on Nineveh because they changed their ways and spared them, Jonah, who’d been some distance outside of town watching expectantly for the lightning bolts and fire to start raining down from heaven … well, Jonah got mad when it didn’t happen. He literally pouted about it. In fact, he had an absolute temper tantrum about it.

The city of Nineveh was in a dark place in its history when God sent Jonah to shine a light on it … granted … a rather glaring and dismal light … hello, Nineveh, in forty days God’s going to smite you into nonexistence.  But here’s the thing.  Nineveh “saw the light,” begged God’s forgiveness and, more importantly, showed their repentance and God forgave them and spared them.

Jonah was in the dark multiple times, especially when he was running away from God and, while he finally saw the light and did what God sent him to do in the first place, Jonah retreated back to the dark when he got mad at God for not doing what God told him he was going to do.

The seventh point in the Jonah story? Once you see the light, stay with it. Don’t go dragging yourself back into the dark.

In our second passage, we meet fishermen instead of … no offense to Jonah … but instead of fish bait.  Simon, Andrew, Zebedee, and his sons, James and John, all make their living by fishing in the sea of Galilee.

Let’s build this story out a little by using our imagination because the scripture doesn’t give us much in the way of details.  I’m going to describe it the way the screenwriters for the series, The Chosen, depicted it … they’ve also used their imaginations and a great deal of research into what life was like at the time to stage the story.

Imagine that these fishermen have all been out on their boats all night … in the dark … trying to catch fish. And remember. These are the “commercial” fishermen of first-century Judea. They weren’t sitting in their bass boats, casting out fancy fishing lures from expensive fiberglass rods and throwing back beers.  These gentlemen were throwing out large, heavy, wet nets that then had to be pulled back in … over and over and over again … all night long.

Also, keep in mind that they have to catch enough fish to pay their taxes to Rome which were excessive and to hopefully provide some modicum of support for their families.

So imagine, if you will, that they come in from this long night of fishing empty-handed. No fish, no tax money, no rent, no groceries … you get the idea.

And there stands Jesus, trying to teach a small group of people on the shore over the noise of the wind and waves … or at least trying to.

Andrew has already met Jesus through John the Baptist, so Andrew recognizes him. Andrew’s already told his brother, Simon, about Jesus, but Simon is frustrated because … again … they came in empty-handed. Simon is worried about how he’s going to pay his taxes and take care of his family. Simon and the others are in a dark place. The Romans were not kind to the folks who couldn’t pay their taxes.

The fishermen reach the shore and Jesus says, “Excuse me.  May I borrow your boat to stand in so these people can hear me better?”

Simon just wants to go home. He’s tired. He’s frustrated, but there’s something about this man … this rabbi … about Jesus … so he says, “sure … whatever you need.”

Jesus steps up onto the boat and finishes his lesson for the crowd gathered on the shore, sends those folks on their way, then turns to Simon and Andrew and says, “Put that down for a catch …” … referring to the net … “… a little further out.”

Simon comments that they’re too tired and just want to go home … but there’s something about Jesus … so he and Andrew cast the net out one more time …

And … well, here … let me show you …

Something clearly came into that net to jerk that boat sideways, didn’t it?

As the scene continues, Simon and Andrew couldn’t pull the net in themselves because it was so full. They had to holler for help, James, John, and Zebedee came running, and the five of them barely got the net full of fish back in the boat.

Simon was overwhelmed and fell to his knees, telling Jesus thank you and that whatever Jesus asked of him, he would do.

And Jesus knelt down, looked at Simon, and said, “Follow me. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

And they followed … Simon and Andrew, and then James and John.

While this passage might seem like it was one of Jesus’ many miracles resulting in a massive catch of fish, truth told, it was Jesus that went fishing and those unsuspecting fishermen who were the catch that day.

Like the previous passage, there are some key points here.  Point one: Jesus doesn’t call you based on your skills or your abilities or your role or place in the structure of society or your resume of previous successes. Jesus calls you even if your nets are empty.

Point two: If you cast your net where Jesus directs you, you won’t come back empty-handed. You just have to trust him.

Point three may not be immediately obvious until we add in the passage from John.

That passage (one of my favorites, by the way), says, “In the beginning was the Word” … with a capital w … “and the Word” … capital w … was with God and the Word” … capital w …  “was God.”

The message from that passage in John is that the Word … capital w … has always existed, became flesh to walk among us mortals, and that the Word … capital w … that the Word … capital w …  is God, and that the Word … capital w … is known to us as Jesus.

Point three? God is the ultimate fisherman and He cast his net for all of us long before He walked the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the human form we know as Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And God has always had a plan.

So how do we put all this together and what is the message in these passages for us on this cold last day of January 2021?

We’re to answer his call and to follow him.  We’re to be fishers of people. We’re to continue to cast our nets as often as we can … even when it feels like we’re fishing in the dark.

It may not be in our comfort zones, it may not be within our personal skill sets, but through prayer, petition, and with faith, the Spirit will provide the skills we need as we need them regardless of what our resumes say.

Brothers and sisters, there is a world of people out here that are confused, are hurting, that have been sold a bill of lies, that have worshipped idols and pledged fealty to false messiahs.  Granted, they are wandering in a wilderness of their own making, but they are still children of God and they are unwitting prey for exploiters, false prophets, and the enemy.

They need guidance, they need, hope, they need the restoring and transformational grace of God, and it’s going to take all of us to reach out to them, to spread the Good News of the true savior, and to pull in the nets that bring those folks home.

It’s time to rise up, Church. It’s time to reach out. It’s time to do as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 28:19-20 … “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Being the church is about more than just taking care of those of us who gather around this video today. Being the church is about more than just watching these videos each week.

Being the church is about how we live and carry ourselves out in the world day-to-day. Being the church is about how we interact and care for others. It’s about doing no harm. About seeing justice carried out, about loving and being kind, and about walking humbly with our God.

Being the church is about casting the net again and again because he instructed us to.

Being the church is being disciples and making more disciples.

Let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, The one and only Christ, You called many people from many walks of life – to leave their own ways and follow you; to be your disciples; and to prize people as something to seek, find and restore.

Lord Jesus, the one true leader of every church, we choose to stand as one church – your church – and to lift our focus from our differences and divides.

We will leave our own ways and follow you together; support each other as we seek to be your disciples; and work together to focus on fishing once more.

For we must act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly together before you – and each other.

For the sake of our worship of you, our love for each other, and the future and freedom of all those still living in poverty.

Lord Jesus, we ask for your Spirit’s help with this for we are quick to focus on ourselves, our labels, and our differences rather than the same nets in our hands, and the same leader before us.

Christ have mercy – in your precious name which unites us all.

God… you call us… and sometimes … we duck under the table … hoping you didn’t notice us when you walked into the room.

You call us…and sometimes…we grab a stapler and a stack of papers… trying to look too busy to be bothered at the moment.

You call us…and sometimes we just say, “No!”

We know that we aren’t expected to do everything… but we often forget that you call us to be ourselves in the places where our very self is what is most needed.

So give us the grace to say “Yes” to your call… even now…as we offer our silent confessions…

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.



Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. Again, if you can, please consider making your weekly offering just as if we were meeting in person. The information for doing so will be on your screen in just a moment.

Now hear this benediction:

Go now, follow where Christ calls you and proclaim the message God gives you. Wait in hope for God. Avoid becoming bound up in the business of the world, but live in readiness for the in-breaking of the Kingdom.

May God be your haven and your glory; May Christ Jesus give you courage for his mission; And may the Spirit embrace your soul in God’s silence.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, really truly love your neighbors … even the ones you’d rather not … remember we are never alone. Cast your nets. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

……..In the name of Christ. Amen.


  • All music from TheEmmanuel Quartet
  • Opening Prayer from a worship order prepared by Rev. Bob Gibson for the London Conference of the United Church of Canada
  • Portions of Pastoral Prayer, Carolyn W. Dandridge
  • Closing Prayer from prayes by Christian Aid & Rev. Scott Cervas
  • Benediction by Nathan Nettleton

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
Holston Conference
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!