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.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.
And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.”
Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” and instantly the woman was made well.
When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
And the report of this spread throughout that district.
MESSAGE – Three In One, One In Three
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.
We’re talking this summer about “Keeping the Fire of Pentecost Burning.” You see, things didn’t just suddenly return to normal after Pentecost … Pentecost was just the beginning of life without Jesus in the flesh, life with the Spirit …
Followers of The Way, of the Risen Christ, were now called not just to follow God With Us in the flesh. Nope. Their calling just went from follow to a dual role … follow and lead others to follow as well. For those disciples who had answered His call to follow Him, travel with Him, learn from Him as he carried out the three years of his earthly ministry … the fire of Pentecost was now an eternal flame, and it was their job to make sure that flame stayed lit and burned brightly.
What is a call? What does it mean to be called? What does it feel like or sound like? And is it really something we want?
A call isn’t always easy to carry. It sometimes sends us to places where we might not want to go—or at least to places we aren’t too sure about. There are too many unanswered questions in responding to a call—even a call that comes from the one we call Lord. The difficult thing is that those questions never quite go away. We might be years into following this call, and suddenly the questions come back. “What am I doing?” “What have I gotten myself into?” “If this really is a call from God, why isn’t it working out better?” These are only some of the questions that come to us. You might have your own that you want to share. Or not share. Just wrestle.
The other thing that is important to keep reminding folks is that hearing a call from God is not something reserved for the clergy. It comes to us all—to all who want to follow this path; to all who want to become disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It might be a call to a place, to a task, or to a way of living. But in all of it, there is a call to a relationship. What you’re doing, preacher, is premarital (for those just starting out) or marriage counseling (for those who’ve been at this for a while). To consider our call is to consider life—a new life, a new start, a destination unknown to a degree.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber likens that unknown destination to a wedding scenario. He writes, “During the sessions before the wedding, as pastor and couple, we try and figure it out. We sit and talk about what married life might be like. Sometimes, I got the impression that I was speaking an alien language to the young couple seated on my couch in the office. They’d smile and nod and try to keep their brows unknit. It’s hard, I know that. It’s hard to imagine that there might be occasions when they wonder if this marriage thing is a good idea after all. It’s hard to imagine that there will be moments when the one over whom they are all googly-eyed now might become the source of their greatest frustration one day. So, they would sit politely while I set some ground rules or lay some foundation that someday just might be a lifeline if they remember them. I’ve often wondered what sorts of conversations take place when couples leave my office as we prepared for their wedding. “Can you believe that?” “Like, yeah, as if we would ever disagree on anything!”
It is hard to imagine your destination during momentous occasions like a wedding. Oh, we do, or we try to imagine. But our imaginations are too limited or too slanted or too twisted by a culture that depicts loving relationships in too few ways (for my liking anyway). I have often said that my purpose during premarital counseling is to try to talk them out of it. OK, I’m pretty subtle about it, but that is in the back of my mind when we talk. Because if I can talk them out of it, then they probably shouldn’t be getting married in the first place.
Most of the time, I can’t talk them out of it. Most of the time, they go through with it, even though their vision is limited concerning where they are heading. They launch off into this new way of being without much clue about what they are doing or where they are going. Some folks talk a lot about the number of marriages that fail. I’m amazed by the ones that succeed. Most of the couples I talk to are woefully unprepared for what might be ahead of them. Yet, we celebrate the launch of this new life with tears and with joy. And then we wave goodbye as they set off to a new life, a new land without so much as a MapQuest printout. They just heard the call, and they went.”
Newlyweds are like Matthew in the Gospel text. Matthew was just minding his own business, as messy as that business was. And some guy walked by and said, “Let’s go.” And Matthew went. What? Really. Yeah, he went. He just up and left the booth. There were folks standing in line waiting to pay their taxes, and Matthew just left. How long did they stand there waiting for him to come back? I mean, you don’t skip paying taxes because the taxman wandered off, do you?
We don’t get much of Matthew’s story here. Just a verse before Jesus is off at dinner again, hanging with an unsavory crowd and trying to get his point across to the less unsavory people. We don’t know what Matthew was thinking or why he was such an easy mark. We don’t know if he was thinking about his job, tired of the abuse he suffered at those who didn’t want to pay their taxes – and who does want to pay their taxes? Maybe he was upset by what he forced people with little means to do in order to keep right with the law of the oppressor. Or maybe he didn’t think that at all. Maybe he thought he was good at his job, moving up in the messy corporate world. Maybe he was used to following orders to get ahead and Jesus used that tone of voice that his bosses used, that certainty, that authority. And he was halfway down the street after the guy before he started to think, “Wait, what am I doing?” He heard the call, and he went.
It was much like that for Abram as well. Bet you were wondering what that scripture had to do with this, weren’t you? That maybe I’d wandered off the original path of the scriptures I’d chosen? Gotten lost?
Getting lost seems to be a part of the job; part of the calling that we people of God have. At least the potential is always there to veer wildly off track. Abram is a case in point.
This is the beginning, of course, of the saga of the patriarch we know as Abraham. But he doesn’t get that name until later. For now, he is just Abram. He is the son of Terah, who just died in Haran, which wasn’t really home. Terah was from Ur, further south and east, almost to the Persian Gulf. But now we’re in what would become Turkey, a long way from home. Yet it became the new home. But it was the home Abram was asked to leave. He was asked to complete the journey his father started. Chapter 11, verse 31 says Terah set off for Canaan, but only made it to Haran.
You know what that’s like. You had a dream; you were going places; you were going to accomplish things; you had worlds to conquer and dragons to slay, so you set off. But somewhere along the way, you settled in Haran. You didn’t accomplish all that you had imagined, but you did well. You didn’t conquer worlds, but you helped make a home for yourself and your family, and that was enough. What seemed so clear and so compelling some years ago now seems like a dream you begin to lose when you wake up. You remember that it was wonderful, heart-pounding stuff, but the details slip away like the morning mist as you suit up to face the day.
Did Abram hear those dreams from his father as they sat around the fire in the evenings? Did the lure of that original, unknown destination work its way into his soul as he tended the flocks? Genesis twelve says God called. What did it sound like? Was there a deep rumbling voice that formed words in Abram’s soul but was thunder to everyone else? Was there, as there so often was in the Bible, a dream that refused to fade in the morning dawn? Or did God sound like Terah, talking of Canaan as though he had been there and was hoping to get back some day?
How do you know? That’s the question we ask so many times. How do you know it is God and not the secret desires of your own heart? We want to know; we want to be certain. They always sound so certain in the Bible. Or do they? “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Does that sound like certainty? Oh, sure the narration says, “Now the Lord said to Abram…” But what is said? Go! And there is more about what is being left behind than there is about the destination. “To a land that I will show you.” “Will show you,” not “am showing you,” not that I’ve written out here in these directions, no printout map with a line drawn from where you are to where you’ll end up.
God doesn’t seem to ask for certainty. We don’t have Abram’s inner dialog in this story; we don’t have the questions he must have asked, at least in his own head and heart. All we have is his action – “So Abram went…” That’s it. He went, and he believed. He went as the Lord had told him. And his uncertainty got him into trouble in just a few verses. He took the wrong steps at least as much as he took the right ones. But he went. And that is what God wanted, apparently.
God doesn’t want us to wait until we are certain. God doesn’t want us to figure it all out first, to download the maps and chart our course; he wants us to move. “Move where?” we ask. Anywhere. Somewhere. As the Lord has told us. We don’t know everything, but we know some things. We know God asks us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. We know that Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers and that when you do it to the least of these, you do it to him. Maybe that isn’t enough to build a life on, but it is a start.
And we need to remember … always remember … that the opposite of faith isn’t fear … it’s rigorous certainty. God doesn’t want us to wait until we’re “certain.” He wants us to step out on faith.
And along the way is a blessing. Not just at the end. There is blessing in the going, blessing in the following, blessing in the unseen destination. A wedding is not the only task I have tomorrow. I am also helping another couple renew their vows. It has been five years of marriage, and they want to claim one another again. Maybe they can see a little bit further and want to recapture the promises that held them for so long. Or maybe they want to reorient themselves again to make sure they are still on the path that leads to blessing.
Or maybe they heard that voice again, that voice that might be God or it might be their love for each other or some mysterious mixture of the two – maybe they heard that voice and want to follow.
We have to same type of dual calling today … to both FOLLOW the Way Christ taught us, and to LEAD others to that Way … not be force, not be commandment and legislation … not be threats of judgment, wrath, and the fiery pits of hell if people don’t conform … but by LOVE. By leading by example of the unconditional grace, mercy, and love of They who created us in their nature and image, They who knew who we would be throughout the entirety of our being in this earthly life, They who knew and designed who we were to be.
We have an advantage over those original disciples and that crowd present during Pentecost … we have the tradition, the experience, the knowledge they and so many others gave us over the nearly 2000 years since that day. More importantly, we have history to look back on, to know when we as followers failed and to know when we’re repeating our mistakes of the past. The ability to recognize that we as humans created in their nature and image didn’t go into freeze frame mode in 33 AD, that the context of what those first disciples and those ancient people of our scriptures knew was vastly different than what we know today in a world that, over the ages, grew first larger and then more connected, and now is relatively small.
We have an advantage in that we KNOWINGLY begin in the presence of the holy Trinity, the triune God, God who created us, God who walked among us, and God who dwells with us in Spirit. Three in One. One in thee.
We knowingly begin with them and they with us. And so, we choose to answer their call and to keep the fire of Pentecost burning brightly now and forever. Amen.
God who loves us and calls us,
We confess that we are not always open to receiving your call on our lives. We make excuses. We choose not to listen. We believe that others would do it better than we can.
Forgive us for all the times we say no–or nothing at all—to your call.
We confess that we value the false certainty of our own path over the uncertainty of journeying with you and one another on the path of discipleship.
Forgive us for all the ways we choose what we think we know over joining you in the holy unknown.
We confess that we value the calls of some over others, putting the paths of some up on pedestals while not recognizing the many who answer your call as quiet, behind-the-scenes disciples.
Forgive us for neglecting the beautiful and varied calls you place on each of our lives.
Forgive us, God, and free us to joyfully bear the weight of your call on our lives as members together of the Body of Christ, redeemed and united by your love.
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