ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn: Love Divine (CWH 22)
- Opening Prayer – Congregation
- Responsive Reading – The Love of God (CWH 302)
- Gloria Patri (CWH 1)
- Peace Prayer – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Message: Heard It In a Love Song – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Fairest Lord Jesus (CWH 170)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Communion Hymn
- Service of Holy Communion
- 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.
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 come from the New Revised Standard Version which is the bible you will find in the pews, from The Message by Eugene Peterson, and from the English Standard Version. I encourage you to follow all passages in your pew bibles.
Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV) – Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Deuteronomy 7:9 (MSG) – God wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. God stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.
Ephesians 2:10 (MSG) – Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG) – My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
1 John 4:9-11 (ESV) – In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love … not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
L: The scriptures of God for the people of God.
A: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Heard It In a Love Song
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.
Isaiah’s got a rather pessimistic view of what constitutes a love song, doesn’t he? It’s hard to find any love in this passage where, once again, we hear God through Isaiah mourning the way His chosen children have, yet again, strayed away from Him into the arms of idolatry, injustice, violence, and worse.
The passage from Isaiah is an allegory, a story that when interpreted reveals a hidden meaning. In this passage, the “beloved” is God, the vineyard is Israel, specifically the kingdoms of Jerusalem and Judah, and the steps He took to prepare for, plant, and care for the vineyard are all those things God had done for Israel throughout their history to that point.
The “owner” in the story, God, has made every possible preparation for a fruitful harvest. He’s picked a good site, prepared the land, chosen the best plants, arranged for protection and for processing the grapes. But what he got was “wild grapes,” or more literally, “stinking things” (verses 2, 4). All those things He’s done hoping for a good harvest, and all for naught, because His vineyard was yielding rotten fruit. The portrayal of God here is significant. In particular, what God “expected” or “hoped for” does not happen; in short, God does not guarantee the results.
We need to remember something important here. Both Israel before, during, and since the time of Isaiah as well as WE have been given the freedom to respond to God faithfully … or not. Such freedom is absolutely necessary for a true relationship with God — that is, love (remember, the passage begins as a “love-song”) — to exist. But it is precisely because of their freedom that things go wrong for Israel, and they do. All of this has important implications for understanding the tone of judgment in Isaiah 5:1-7 and the prophets in general — that is that judgment is not to be understood as God’s need to punish or to get even with the sinful people. Rather, judgment is the set of destructive consequences that result from the people’s own choices.
How does that saying go? You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices.
The good, fruitful harvest that God “expected” or “hoped for” was that his people would stand on the side of “justice” and “righteousness.” The people of Israel, however, chose poorly. Instead of the “justice” (mishpat) that God “expected,” God sees “bloodshed” (mispach). And instead of “righteousness” (tsedaqah), God hears “a cry” (tse’aqah). Instead of the goodness that God expects the people to enact and embody, there is violence that leads the victims to cry out for help. Instead of using their freedom to respond faithfully, they fell into the worship of power and the idolatry of wealth, taking violent actions against one another.
That cry from the victims may have been the proverbial end of the rope on God’s patience with Israel this time. When God’s people were being victimized by Pharaoh in Egypt, their response was to cry to God for help. Yet here were the descendants of those same people joining “house to house” and adding “field to field” which displaced poor farmers from their land and only source of livelihood, resulting in both homelessness and hunger (verse 13). Excess, greed, and conspicuous consumption were supported by corruption and manipulation of the legal system. The deplorable situation was a result of rejecting God’s “instruction” and “word”. While the poor were being directly victimized, everyone stood to lose by not enacting justice and embodying righteousness.
Violence, victimization, hunger, homelessness, greed, conspicuous consumption, corruption — these are realities today that seem to be increasing at alarming rates! Somewhere in our world, a child dies every four seconds from causes related to hunger and malnutrition. In the United States, 51% of our people will have lived in poverty at some point in their lives by the time they reach age 65. Tens of millions of people in the United States still have no health insurance. All the while, corporate executives make 419 times more money than the average worker, and then there are the incredible quarterly profit reports we’re hearing from the Oil Industry and others. As Mary Pipher concludes, “We have cared more about selling things to our neighbors than we’ve cared for our neighbors. The deck is stacked all wrong and ultimately we will all lose.”
We can do better. We should do better. God expects us to do better. But tragically, instead of justice, God sees violence; and instead of righteousness, God hears the cries of victims yet again.
To quote a song recorded by the Black Eyed Peas,
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach?
Or would you turn the other cheek?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love? Why can’t we just snap our fingers, pray our prayer and “poof” God delivers a super dose of love? It’s like he’s not hearing us or something. It’s like he just doesn’t care and he’s decided, yet again, to let us face the consequences of our choices. And sometimes we just want to scream, “If you’re not going to help me, if you’re not going to fix this, then just … leave … me … alone!”
In his book, Limping With God (Chapt. 27, pp. 178-179), Chad Bird writes: “We live in an “Amazon Prime” world, where we can tap a button on our phone and, Voila!, running shoes or coffee filters or a new book lands on our doorstep within 24 hours or less. In many ways, that’s fine and a very cool thing. But it has a tragic side effect: we become acclimated to acceleration. Schooled into thinking all of life could, or at least should, work that way. Our souls do not. Mourning cannot be microwaved. The healing of the soul—from grief, from shame, from loss, from despair, from the razored shards of broken dreams—may take months, years, or even decades. Who knows how long? And almost all of the time, those wounds will leave scars as iconic reminders of dark days that cannot be unlived.
So, what are we to do? Let’s first learn to be comfortable with being mad at or disappointed with God. We all have been, are, or certainly will be. If you think that’s wrong, put this book down immediately and go read Job. All of it. And note God’s decree at the end, where he says that, unlike Job’s friends, the sufferer who shouted chapter after chapter at heaven, had “spoken of [God] what is right” (42:7). Then, go read the Psalms. All of them. Then we can talk. Disciples don’t sit around campfires all the time, strumming guitars and praising sweet Jesus. Sometimes we cry out, “Why? Where are you? How long? Leave me alone!” from the ashes of despair.
Second—and this is going to sound weird but hear me out—wait for the past. Something has already happened to which we, in our darkest days, are totally oblivious. Jesus has tracked us down, where we’re curled up in fetal position in our dark and dank alleys of hopelessness, and he’s picked us up to hold us there. Now all we still smell is the stench of garbage. Now all we still feel is unforgiving concrete. Eventually, however, ever so slightly, things will begin to change. The past—the past action of Jesus, his gentle and healing embrace of us before we were ever aware of it—will become more palpable. One day we’ll open our eyes and the first thing on our minds will not be the death of our child, five years, four months, two weeks, six days, and one hour ago. Halfway through our morning coffee, yes, we will remember. But progress is progress. Healing is healing. And we will sense, with a growing awareness, that our refusal to be comforted has slipped ever so slightly.
Christ is doing what Christ does: healing and helping. No, more than that. He is working within us, with all our brokenness and fear and hurt, to show us that he has always been there. As close as our wounds. As near as our scars. And his past presence, for which we have waited, will arrive from yesterday into the today of our lives to show us that, in him, tomorrow’s hope always dawns.”
In him, tomorrow’s hope always dawns. There is blessed mercy in that, isn’t there? That in Christ, tomorrow’s hope always dawns.
Howard Zinn wrote, “TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Think, for a moment of the passage from Deuteronomy. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.
What was that greatest commandment that Christ gave us? To love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength?
Or the passages from Ephesians: “Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” and “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”
The extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love might be the greatest understatement of all time. God comes to us in human form, lives among us, teaches us who we are and why we are and how we are to be and the Way we need to follow to be who we’re meant to be, and then he suffers and dies for us because of us but not before forgiving us, then rises from the dead and continues to teach for another 40 days before he returns to heaven from where he sends the Holy Spirit to continue in his stead? That’s not extravagant. That’s indescribable!
And all he really asks of us is that second greatest commandment: “to love one another as I have loved you.” 1 John reminds us that, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love … not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
To love God, to love one another. I know it’s harder than it sounds, but it’s not rocket science. So let’s work at it. Let’s make it our life’s mission. Let’s plan on leaving here today and making every effort to act in love and kindness, to enact justice and embody righteousness. Let’s let our behavior, our words if we must speak, and our lives be living examples of God, Christ, and the Spirit in whose image we created, whose image we bear. Let’s do whatever it takes to make sure we choose to be faithful, to not let the consequences of our choices separate us from God.
God … God the father, mother, creator, source … is Love.
Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, God With Us, Messiah, Savior, Christ the King … is Love.
Holy Spirit, Teacher, Helper, Advocate, and Guide … is Love.
For us, Love starts here … at the foot of this cross. And it is here that you can always count on finding it again and again.
- All works cited within the text above.
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