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 from the NRSV.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. As for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me, do them, and the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need, for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
L: The scriptures of God for the people of God.
A: Thanks be to God.
Message – Giving Thanks*
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, I need to do something …
Did you ever wonder why this place, this church, is called Union Grove? I did. I’ve wondered that since I was first appointed here. When cleaning out the music room with Mike Blair and Nancy Lampe a week ago, Mike discovered something … a small stack of programs from Union Grove’s Centennial Camp Meeting in 1986, and I want to share briefly some information it revealed:
As we look at the history of the Union Grove Community, we find these words as recorded by one of its earliest settlers, John Moore.
“We move[d] to B[l]ount County and settled at the head waters of Galleher’s Creek. (This is where the renter house now stands on the Raymond Loveday farm). Soon a famous structure was erected ‘hardby’ for the purpose of educating the youth of the land. Thither did they gather with hunting shirts and tow pants (the products of feminine labor) to spell, read, write and cipher, graduating at the double rule of three. Soon the log hut used for a school was gone and a more commodious building was built. This building was used for school and preaching. This was known as Union Grove.”
As long ago as 1868 … 155 years … this church was already being yearned for as the community here, then called Union Grove, sent delegates to the Lay Meeting of Holston Conference. Based on the information in the program, I think Mr. Moore’s record is probably around 1873 … 150 years ago … when a parcel of land was deeded to a committee, then consisting of William Jones, Josiah Henderson, P.H. Lane, G.R. Curtis, and W.H. Clark. The deed stated that it was for the purpose of Union School and Meeting House. On this land a frame building was erected and might have been the one mentioned by Mr. Moore as the “commodious building”. This building was approximately where the community building [former Union Grove School, now Union Grove UMC Fellowship Hall] is today. During this time interest was being manifested in building and founding a church. There was quite a dispute among the people as to whether it would be a Southern or Northern Methodist Episcopal Church. And though no exact date of this founding is known, it evidently was during the early 1880s, and it was founded a Northern Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1885 or 1886 the sanctuary of the present church was constructed in a rustic form. The kerosene lamps and pot-bellied stove were replaced in 1942. The basement and block foundation were added in 1950, the parsonage built in 1954, and the education wing added in 1963.
You can read the rest of the history of Union Grove Community on our website. My point in sharing this with you is to honor the legacy of faith here at Union Grove. In essence, you are continuing a 155 year old tradition called the Union Grove Community – a community that has always wanted to grow their faith and serve their community. I am honored to be your pastor, humbled by your commitment, and so very thankful to be here with you now.
One more little thing … you beautifully grand old girl, we’re back, we’re home, and we will never leave you again! You are loved, you’ve been missed, and we are grateful for your sheltering and peaceful presence here in this thin place called Union Grove!
Speaking of being grateful, this is Thanksgiving week, so it is an appropriate time to reflect on the pervasiveness of the life of gratitude that the gospel suggests. What can we sing with a light heart today? What prayers can we offer that might tap into the sense of interconnectedness and belonging? How can we celebrate the community that we are and the community that we are becoming?
Those are questions I asked myself in preparing today’s message, but there were some other questions that vied for equal attention … great ponderous questions … like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” “Why don’t Brussels sprouts make you fat?” You know—all the big questions that you ponder when you’re supposed to be studying scripture and writing sermons.
And then a new question … an even tougher, even more weighty question came zinging in, scattering every other thought to the four directions! “If you are a Christian, should it show?”
“What?” my conscious mind asks.
“You know, should people be able to tell by looking at you that you are a Christian?”
“By looking at me? Huh? Do you mean I should be wearing a name tag or something, like, ‘Hi, I’m a Christian!’”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” the voice sighs back at me with no small amount of frustration in its tone. Leave it to me to tick off the voice in my head, right?
I decided to try again. “OK, so you mean we should wear prayer caps, or shawls, or special shoes or something, right?”
“Special shoes?” Now the voice is really getting flustered. “No, I mean, ‘Should it show?’”
It’s a good question, really. Should it show? Our faith, I mean. Should passersby be able to look at us and know that we are followers of Jesus? Should it show?
On the one hand, of course, it’s more than a little nonsensical. Only God is able to see into the heart to know what is true and what is a facade. That’s why Jesus warns us over and over not to be so judgmental. We are so quick to decide who is in and who is out, and we can so often make a mistake because we don’t have God’s vision, God’s ability to see a person’s true soul. We don’t know what core beliefs or defining experiences have shaped this person we are attempting to judge. So, that … judging … is a task better left to God, and we need to stick with the business of invitation, inclusion, and instruction. We learn and grow together as though everyone is welcome—because they are.
But, on the other hand, we all know that our faith is not simply a head thing. It is not just a set of beliefs that we hold to be true. Faith is instead a way of living, a way of being in the world. So, as much as our question is nonsensical on the one hand, it’s not so nonsensical on the other. Should it show? Yes! It should definitely show. Our faith should be shown in what we do and say; it should be shown in the choices we make and the priorities we set. It should be shown in our habits and in our participation and presence here in the beloved community we have been building through fellowship, through friendship, and through corporate worship.
All of that is true. But I think there is something more—something more that should show because of our faith; something more that should be in us and come out from us, so that everyone around us sees that something. That something is gratitude. We are the ones who live thankfully, who live aware of what others have done and are doing for us. We acknowledge a debt, a relationship, a “being with” that others might not recognize. Gratitude is what should show to the rest of the world, as we live and move and have our being—not, however, a begrudging gratitude or a thankfulness pulled out of us by a stern parent leaning down to ask us, “Now, what do you say?” Ours is exuberant gratitude that reflects our wonder at being alive in this interwoven world. And when you read Paul, at times, it seems that he gets gratitude mixed up with joy.
In Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit, joy is second after love. Or joy is first if you believe, as I do, that the fruit is love and that the other eight are aspects, or definitions, of that love. The fruit of the Spirit, says Paul, is love that is joy-filled. Yes, it is also peaceful and patient and kind and generous and faithful and gentle and self-controlled; but first, it is Joyful.
Paul was big on joy. It keeps coming up in his writing. Probably the most well-known passage is the reading we chose for this week. Most biblical scholars say that this passage is a conglomeration of a number of different sayings. Maybe, they argue, it was all written down at one time, but most likely this passage bears the hand of at least one and maybe many different editors, adding in bits and pieces to fill out the list of exhortations. Or maybe it was all Paul, just running down his checklist without regard to the content or narrative flow. This is like a shopping list or a menu from a Chinese restaurant, one from column a, and one from column b.
I’m not so sure. Maybe it is my imagination, but I see coherence here. I think Paul is trying to define joy in these verses. This is a recipe for the joy entree. That might explain why it feels disjointed; but in fact, it all comes together to produce something whole and satisfying and delicious, to boot!
Joy, says Paul, is revealed in gentleness, in how we treat those around us, in how we respond to slights against us, and in how we reach out to those who are hurt. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” says Paul. Let it show. Joy is found in the knowledge and experience of the nearness of God (The Lord is near), a nearness that diminishes anxiety and brings out a willingness to connect with God with gratitude and with hope (in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God). Joy is found in that communion, that peaceful confidence that comes from living in Christ.
So, how do we get it? How do we live in this joy? By filling ourselves with the good things of God’s creation – “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (verse 8). “Think about these things,” he writes; live in these things; fill yourself up with these things. And, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, he writes. There it is – joy blends into gratitude. Joy is the face of a grateful heart. Joy is the center of grateful living.
Then, he says, live in community; that’s where we find joy. It is a corporate experience, not an individual one. Find a mentor, someone who can show you the faith at work, someone who walks the walk. (Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, v9). Engage in acts of kindness; give, serve, love. Also, be content where you are; bloom where you are planted instead of always wishing things were different. And finally, take risks. Step out in faith, knowing that as long as you walk with God, you cannot fail. (I can do all things through him who strengthens me, v.13).
Paul says he has learned the secret to this joy, and it must be that joy is powered by gratitude. Grateful joy, then is dynamic, the result of an ongoing relationship and way of living that keeps us engaged with God and with people. And it leaks out as we engage with others; it shapes our language and our vision. In short, it shows. In everything we do, in who we are, in the attitudes we present, in the face we offer to the world, it shows. So, let it show.
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
- *Adapted in part from “In Everything” Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Series, November 19, 2023.
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