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 are included in the message.
Giving God Praise in the Storm, Doxology Verse 2
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.
Praise life that makes us change and grow … Praise love that makes compassion flow … Praise peace that ends all strife and fear … Praise hands that work for justice here.
You’ll recognize that as the second verse of our doxology and the first verse of Kurt Struckmeyer’s Doxology for Humanity. It’s also the focus of today’s message and scriptures.
For those of you who may be joining us for the first time, we’re online only for the foreseeable future due to damage to a part of our building suffered when the storm Friday blew a very large tree onto one end of the education wing attached to the back of our sanctuary. We are fortunate in that we have insurance for things like this and are raising money toward any related expenses insurance won’t cover. We are fortunate that there were no guests in our Bruno Mission at this time and that our on-site volunteer was not present when the tree came down. We are fortunate that she is able to arrange temporary accommodation with friends while we arrange to get the damage – most of which was done to her room – repaired.
Immediately after the damage was discovered, it was hard to see all that good fortune. Seeing it in daylight yesterday, it seemed even worse. The tree was much bigger than it had looked in the pictures and videos I received the evening before, and it became clear removal was going to require professionals with bigger equipment than the kind of chainsaw one might keep in the garage for use around the hard. And there was substantially more large parts of the tree on the roof than it had appeared the evening before, bringing a new worry of structural damage to the roof trusses and rafters, and leading to the decision to not use the building until the tree is removed and the full extent of the damage can be assessed and repaired. We all left the church yesterday praying for miracles like not having to wait very long on all the people and services needed to get the tree down and holes at least temporarily patched … or on the insurance adjustor … or on being able to get inside at least long and safely enough to get the volunteers things out of the damaged room and into a room on the other end of that wing … and I think everyone was praying it doesn’t rain until the roof can be patched enough to prevent leaks. And at least two people present yesterday were praying the pastor didn’t have a total meltdown.
On top of all that, videos were made and posted to social media explaining what had happened and beginning the request for donations toward the out-of-pocket expenses.
I have to tell you, from Friday night until yesterday evening, I was struggling to see God in this particular storm, and getting more and more discouraged. The social media posts were getting lots of the equivalent of “thoughts and prayers,” but no signs of offers of help from the “pros” we need or donations toward those expected expenses.
Just to add more excitement to everything, having a tree fall on your building does not in any way bring everything the church is doing to a screeching halt. Our other projects and plans had to be managed and continued as well. So by yesterday evening, I was ready to have one of those good old fashioned ugly cries in the privacy of my room.
Three things changed it and the blessings started to reveal themselves. First, a phone call from one of our previous guests that we had grown so fond of we declared to her she was our girl, we were her family, and we were now her “home.” She called just to let us know she was OK and doing well.
The second was a comment on one of the social media posts from a kind gentleman on the East Coast who was letting us know he’d made a donation through our account with Tithely.
The third was a reminder from our admin council chair that this was probably a blessing in disguise as we were going to begin expanding and improving the facilities for the Bruno Mission anyway and this could actually be working in our favor.
Praise life that makes us change and grow … perhaps it should say, “praise life that BRINGS us change and growth.” It’s often the dark times, the struggles, which bring about changes both in us and in our circumstances that ultimately lead to forward progress and better results than expected. It’s almost always the dark times that make us the strongest. Proof of that? If you’re hearing this message, you have survived 100% of the darkest times of your life so far.
Praise love that makes compassion flow. Although I have an even greater empathy for victims of violent crimes and natural disasters that get a plethora of “thoughts and prayers” from those with the authority to render justice, reparation, and restoration, I know personally or through frequent dialogue and interaction those who are sending us prayers through their comments on our social media posts and they all come from genuine and sincere love and compassion as does the gentleman’s donation. And that means a lot to our tiny congregation.
Praise peace that ends all strife and fear. That’s a tall order, and harder to see or realize. I count the church property itself as a blessing in this respect. Even after all that happened in this storm, Union Grove remains the most peaceful “thin place” I’ve ever been. When you’re there, you feel both the Spirit and peace. Worries still exist, but for the most part they set themselves aside and allow one to simply breathe and mentally rest. Oh that we could bottle that feeling and spread it all over the earth!
Praise hands that work for justice here … I see those hands in the congregation of Union Grove and more and more frequently in the communities that are currently being scapegoated, demonized, oppressed, and worse, and in those who stand with them as allies. I see more and more voices joining in unison to speak truth to power, to speak up for those who are being systematically silenced, and to stand in that space between the endangered and those who seek to do the harm. And each time they speak, their voices shake less and grow stronger and clearer.
It is becoming a beautifully amazing choir, too. The diversity of those voice! People of all races, all nationalities, all lifestyles. People of all faiths joining with each other and with atheists and agnostics. People who’ve left the church because the church had hurt them joining with church people. Seeing it, you get a sense of what the combined communion of saints and heavenly host must sound like!
And there’s more … Those who are still in the church are learning from those who’ve been hurt by and left the church about the harm the church had done and are responding to it … not with the proverbial “not my church” or “not me” or “well that was my ancestors, I didn’t do it,” but with apologies and not just promises of atonement and change but visible, verifiable acts of atonement and change.
While there is still a long way to go, white people are actually listening to people of color and are asking for guidance and help in enacting change, men are listening to women about the abuse and misogyny and harm of patriarchy, and are schooling one another on how to do better, and interdenominational and interfaith conversations are taking place not as debates over doctrine, theology, or sacred texts, but as opportunities to learn from one another, compare notes, and realize we’re all more alike than we are different.
People are using their gifts and talents to do so many things. When Florida eliminated all those minority histories from their schools, the contemporary justice warriors went to work and they’re still working with lesson after lesson offered up for free on the Internet … and for all ages from children right up through adult. Ban the books? Levar Burton’s Reading Rainbow on steroids is happening on the Internet, again for all ages as young and old alike read or educate about the books being banned.
Unsolved crimes are being solved literally through crowdsourcing by those with skills in sleuthing and verifying information.
Social justice actions such as protests, counter-protests, and both finding and organizing people who can provide testimony at legislative and other government hearings are being coordinated.
No one is fighting for justice alone anymore. Not only that, but everyone works to keep each other motivated to not give up but to get louder while still acknowledging the need for and practicing self-care.
Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama … today even though Tennessee and others have enacted hateful genocidal legislation targeting the LGBTQ community, Florida has eliminated nearly all rights of its citizens and is working on taking away the rights of an entire political party, and Mississippi has reinstated Jim Crow laws … today, even though it feels like everything fought for on Bloody Sunday has been lost … it is possible to see not just a single distant candle, but a growing line of campfires as all those hands working for justice join one another.
And, while all that may sound like politics from the pulpit, we should remember who God and Christ are and what the scriptures tell us about them. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, what we call the old Testament, God consistently leads the people to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.” Throughout the New Testament, Christ … God in the Flesh, God With Us … not only reinforces that, he models it, demonstrates it, teaches us how to do what he does. He expands on it each time he says, “You have heard it said, but I say…,” and he shows us the length and breadth and depth of God’s grace when, from the cross, he asks God in Heaven to forgive us.
All those things I just talked about are people … all people involved whether they are believers being the hands of Christ as we strive for justice that rolls on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream! All those people are not speculating on what Jesus would do, but doing what Jesus did.
God is here, present, in the storm of struggle that makes us change and grow … God of mercy and grace from which we know love and our compassion for one another flow.
God in the Flesh is here, present, calming the wind and the waves, gifting us with his peace and reminding us he is with us always and not to worry and fear.
God the Spirit is here, filling all of us with the needed gifts to be the hands of Christ in the work of justice here.
Praise They from whom all blessings flow! Praise Them all creatures here below. Praise Them above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
As I pray Psalm 23 and for the gifts we have received, please lift up any joys or concerns you may have for family, friends, neighbors, our church, and for those in harm’s way, those who seek to harm them, and those who hold seats of power and authority:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
God of unwavering love, you have held nothing back in your love for us, not even your Son. How we marvel at that kind of love, and how we long to reflect a portion of that devotion back to you. As we dedicate our offerings to you, lead us away from our tendency to hold back and worry that there will not be enough. Help us to live as the people of love and abundance you have called us to be. In Christ we pray.
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