ORDER OF WORSHIP
* The Order of Worship is changing for the Afterfaith series. We appreciate your indulgence of this change to the routine.
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Holy Troublemaker Biography
- Hymn: O God in Heaven (UMH 119)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Hymn: O God, Our Help in Ages Past (UMH 117, V 1, 3, 6)
- Message: Wholehearted – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy (UMH 340)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Welcome to all present here and all those worshipping online with us. Just a couple of very quick announcements:
Please plan on staying after church next Sunday for a brief meeting.
Also, some plans are beginning to solidify for the Holy Week services. The Maundy Thursday Service will be a joint service with Sycamore Tree UMC, will combine both communion and foot washing, and will be held at the park next to the Old Courthouse in Maryville. The reason for choosing that particular park is that it receives significant traffic from Maryville’s homeless population. It’s also near Maryville College and downtown Maryville where there are numerous businesses whose employees can be invited to participate. Kathi Parkins of A Place to Stay will help us get the details to the homeless community through another organization in Blount County. Rev. Dr. Don Jones, pastor at Sycamore Tree, will be working with me to plan the service.
Folks, I’m excited about the Maundy Thursday service. First in that it will serve a population that is often underserved, second that it reaches outside the walls of this building, and third that it partners us with a sister church.
Call to Worship
L: We have come together as one.
P: One people, gathered in the name of the one God.
L: We will worship together as one.
P: One community, giving praise and honor to the Righteous One.
L: We are being empowered as one by One.
P: One body and one Spirit, called to the hope of one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all.
L: Now, in the name of the Three-in-One, we act as one.
P: One people, giving witness to the power of One.
L: Let us worship the God who gathers us! Let us pray in his name together:
Perfect Light of revelation, as you shone in the life of Jesus, whose epiphany we celebrate, so shine in us and through us,
that we may become beacons of truth and compassion, enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy.
Holy Troublemaker – Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019)
Columnist, Blogger, Author, Holy Troublemaker
Adapted from Akers, Daneen. Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints. Watchfire Media, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
“On a hot summer night in 1991, a 10-year old girl lies in bed, trying to get to sleep. Everyone else in the house is already sleeping, but for young Rachel Held Evans, nighttime is often miserable. She has a skin allergy called eczema, which means she often has patches of red, itchy skin on her body. At night, with nothing else to distract her, the itching and stinging feel so intense she can’t relax or fall asleep. Often her eczema sores ooze drops of blood, making her skin even more uncomfortable and her bed sheets a mess. Daytime brings its own challenges—Rachel feels different from other kids. Often she can’t participate in P.E. class due to her rashes—the ones on the back of her knees especially bother her if she gets sweaty. But nighttime is the worst. Some nights, her parents make her take a bath in vinegar because doctors say it’s supposed to help, but Rachel is left with an overwhelming smell of vinegar all over her body that turns her stomach.”
Rachel’s father would come in to check on her that night and she would tearfully ask him the big question … the one that kept rolling over and over in her head: “Dad, why did Jesus let this happen to me?” To which her father honestly answered, “Honey, I don’t know, but I do know God loves you.”
Her father’s answer stunned her. He was a learned man who had studied at seminary, a pastor, and a religion teacher. How could he not know?!
Growing up in Alabama and Tennessee in what is called the Bible Belt, she had always been taught that God loved her and care for her and everything about God was good, but here she was at age 10 suffering from a painful and potentially deadly condition … why would a good God do that to her?
Later in her life, she would look back on that night and realize what a beautiful gift her father had given her in that had been. He helped her learn that it’s okay to question God. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
Rachel would eventually become well known for her questions about God and faith. Growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, where the famed Scopes Monkey Trial took place, her first book (originally titled Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, and then republished four years later as Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions) was about her journey to learn more about science and evolution. She wrote numerous magazine articles and blog posts in addition to four books talking honestly about her faith, especially questions about God that she didn’t have easy answers for. One of her favorite Bible stories was the one about Jacob wrestling through a long night with a stranger who later turned out to be God. “It’s okay to wrestle with God,” she said. “God is truly okay with that. … My dad taught me that night that I don’t have to have God all figured out to have a relationship with God. You can wrestle with the Divine. … At the same time, my dad also gave me a solid foundation in which to wrestle. What he did know for sure was that God loves me.”
Rachel’s honest writing about her own doubts and questions have become beacons of light for many others who find themselves with the same questions.
For many, myself included, Rachel Held Evans led the way and even strengthened us to be able to look honestly at our own beliefs and begin the process of sorting them into those three baskets of “keep,” “discern,” and “throw away.” She became a comforting presence to others, saying, “I don’t know all the answers. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to be angry even. But I do know that the essence of the Divine is love. In the midst of your questions, you are fully loved right now, just as you are.”
She didn’t stop there, though. She also spoke up about unfair policies in the church, despite knowing that speaking and writing the truth often upset powerful people. She kept on telling the truth and assuring people that no matter what pastors and church officials might say, God always loves each and every person.
She was especially passionate when people were being treated in a way that she knew didn’t measure up to the life and teachings of Jesus. She became a vocal advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in church, as well as for women who were serving in senior positions in the church, despite the protests of more conservative voices who thought only men could have authority in the church. She publicly reminded Christian leaders that Jesus always would have chosen to go home to dinner with the very people the church was forgetting or rejecting. “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
In May of 2019, Rachel died unexpectedly after a short illness. She was only 37 years old, a wife, a mother of two small children, and prophetess to people from all over the world and, as an observer, it is my opinion that she empowered a number of others to begin to publicly speak out and reach out to so many others who were wrestling in the dark, bringing a light of hope to all.
Although she would undoubtedly deny the prophetess part, my personal assessment of her is that she was indeed a modern day prophet. She taught … and through her books continues to teach us how to maintain a wholehearted faith in spite of our doubts and questions. She used her voice to call out those actions that were antithetical to the Way that Christ taught us.
Despite all her doubts and questions, Rachel never stopped believing in God or in Jesus. Her core faith became her Afterfaith. “I am a Christian because the story of Jesus is the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about,” she once said. Me, too, Rachel, me too.
(Prayers of the people)
Dearest Lord, whatever else You see that we need—whatever is for the good of our neighbor and redounds to Your glory—we pray that You would grant to us, Your children. We ask it Jesus’ name who taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be 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, the power, and the glory forever.
Open the eyes of our understanding and prepare our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, that we may receive Your scriptures with much joy and rejoicing and may leave today having a deeper understanding of who You are and who You would have us to be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Genesis 45:3-11, 15 – Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer.
He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there–since there are five more years of famine to come–so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’
And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 – Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 – But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Luke 6:27-38 – “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Wholehearted
Citations are included in the transcript.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
I want to go back to Lego Land for just a moment and share something that Ashton Greer, a member of a deconstruction discussion group I’m in, shared a couple of weeks ago. “This week I was trying to explain what deconstruction felt like for me to a Christian friend. I told him that to everyone else it looks like I impulsively took a wrecking ball to my faith and my life and thoughtlessly knocked it all down and now my life is a mess, but that it’s actually quite the opposite.
I lovingly and carefully took apart the cage that I have been in. Brick by brick I deconstructed, thoughtfully examining every brick while chipping away at the mortar. It was hard work. Painful and deliberate.
Now I’m “free”, but I was inside of the cage for so long I don’t really understand how to function without it. It is like being a prisoner for years and then being let loose into an evolved society. The adjustment feels impossible. Freedom feels crippling.
So I’m here now, staring at piles of bricks. I’m afraid to leave them because they’re the only home I’ve really known, although these bricks confined me. They’re still covered with chipped and uneven mortar, representing the resentment and hostility that is connected to each belief that restrained me. I know I can’t walk away from the bricks until I pick each one up, clean, scrub and polish away the hurt as I journey through healing.
I’m dreaming of the day when they’re clean. When I’m no longer angry at the bricks. When I can sort them into piles: to keep and not to keep. I can decide what I’m holding on to, and I can choose which bricks don’t get to be a part of my new home anymore. I can rebuild a beautiful cottage with windows and doors and freedom to go out and explore. I’ll keep the tools I have gained to continue to renovate my home, and my favorite parts will be the original pieces, transformed from confinement to beauty, peace, and freedom.
But that’s so much work. It is so tempting to abandon the soot and mortar covered piles of bricks and leave it all behind. Pretend I was never oppressed, caged and conformed. But I can’t do that because the bricks will still be dirty and the hostility, anger, resentment and bitterness still cling to them. I know that to live the most meaningful life I have to sit with the bricks and one by one, chip away at the emotions that coat them, costing me my peace.
This journey is not trendy, sexy, or appealing. It is simply put the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I often wish I could rewind and go back to my binary worldview as narrow as it made my sight and curiosity – it was peaceful – but I must journey on to learn the most important lessons. My soul requires it, and so I’ll sit with these bricks until I regain some of the strength that I lost while tearing it apart. Without shelter, I will feel the bitterness of the extreme weather and life’s storms in the most intense way. And I will become tough enough to begin reconstructing a home. Until then, I’m out in the wilderness with my pile of bricks.”
This is where we left off last week … with piles of bricks, at least some of which require cleaning.
Some who find themselves at this point ultimately walk away … for awhile … but remember … God is faithful, and He never stops calling them … and us … back. But for the rest of us sitting here wondering which brick to start with, we need to set a goal. We need to not only clean our bricks, but use them to build a new and better faith … a wholehearted Afterfaith.
Quoting Rachel Held Evans, “Humans are fickle, faith can be fragile, and the church – that rambunctious collection of the fickle and the fragile – is a broken and complicated institution. Wholehearted faith means putting yourself at risk of being hurt by that institution and its people.
Yet I have not managed to find a corner of it where grace cannot break through and where there is not enough spiritual oxygen for that grace to grow. If we make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of hurt, we also open ourselves to the hope of healing, to the hope of being touched by that ridiculous grace.”
And grace is critical at this point in our journey. We’re going to need to both give and be willing to receive a LOT of grace.
In the Genesis passage, when Joseph encountered his brothers … brothers who had thrown him in a well, told his father he was dead, then eventually sold him into enslavement in Egypt … he could have retaliated. Instead, he extended grace, not just to his brothers but to his entire family including future generations and all that they had, and would support them and see to their needs to the point that they would not know poverty.
We’ll need at least that much grace because as we go along through the brick cleaning, we’ll want to blame people and institutions where we picked up those things we now know were less than stellar interpretations or flat out don’t meet the litmus test of “do no harm, show mercy, and walk humbly with God. And we’ll need that much grace for those moments when we realize one or more sources of those not so stellar interpretations were taught to us by people we dearly loved and/or respected.
We’ll need to receive that much grace because there will be bricks that make us feel foolish and gullible and cause us to say, “How could I possibly have bought into this?!” so self-forgiveness will be needed, too.
“Do no harm, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.” This is one of the most important measures for the bricks we choose to keep. If a brick … or a belief or doctrine or policy causes any one or group harm, it needs to be eliminated. Eliminating a belief can be hard, especially if it’s something you’ve held all your life, but again … if, by believing it, someone somewhere will be harmed, it’s a belief that is not of God, not what Jesus taught.
Do no harm – beliefs that cause someone pain, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, are beliefs that harm. A prime example is the belief that enslaving people was justified because of all the references to enslaved people in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments. One only has to watch the news or any of the many documentaries on PBS and other channels right now written and presented from the perspective of the descendants of enslaved African Americans to understand just how harmful those beliefs were. The same is true for beliefs that have developed out of the Doctrine of Discovery – a doctrine that contributed to the genocide or near genocide of millions upon millions of indigenous people around the world, especially here in the Western Hemisphere.
If you can’t clean the harm off of a brick … if the harm is embedded in the brick … that brick needs to go.
Show mercy – Just as there will always be those who have more than each of us, there will always be those who have less. Throughout the Bible in both the old and new testaments from the Prophets and from Jesus himself, we have repeatedly been taught to serve the least among us – to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. Somewhere along the way, though, the communal acts of caring for the least among us and make sure all had enough have given way to a kind of individualistic system of looking out for your own self and eternal interests first. Watch some of the graphics coming through your social media feed and you’ll begin to notice that emphasis. But we are compelled by Christ himself to show mercy – to care for those who are struggling to care for themselves.
Walk humbly with God – The one thing that Rachel Held Evans maintained throughout her life was her absolute faith that God loved her, that God was love. She writes, “On the days when I believe, I feel enfolded in a story so much greater than my own. It’s a story that knits together a thousand generations of saints – which is to say, folks like you and me who wrestle with their questions and doubts, who interrogate the systems and structures of the society around them, who search for a way to make sense of it all, and who wonder whether they belong and whether they’re loved. It’s a story that makes audacious claims about a man-god named Jesus and calls us into his outstretched arms.
On the days when I believe, a prayer feels as if it’s just another beautiful beat in a long-running conversation. Nothing is withheld. Everything finds its place, whether lament or hallelujah. I’m convinced it is all heard, because it’s a whisper into the ear of an attentive God who loves me and whom I love.”
The Psalmist today tells us about God’s absolute faithfulness to us and reassures us of his protection from evil. Walking humbly with Him and returning that faithfulness by remaining faithful to him is important. If any of the bricks try to divert our faithfulness away from Him or split it between Him and anything else? That or those bricks need to go.
Now comes the tricky part because some of us have been raised with an “all-the-way faith.” We’ve been told a lie that causes us to set aside or deny some important parts of ourselves; a lie that our “faith” precludes our doubts, our politics, our educational degree, our cultural heritage our diagnosis, our sexuality, our intellectual integrity, our intuition, our uncertainty, our sadness, and sometimes even our joy. But that’s not reliable faith. And that’s not really holy religion. Not only is it unholy, but it can fracture us and it can fracture the community.
On the other hand, healthy faith should point us to restoration, give us language and stories that help us draw meaning from our experiences, and to see our lives as part of a larger narrative of wholeness and healing. Quoting Rachel again, “At its best, faith teaches us to live without certainty and to hope without guarantee. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. At its best, faith teaches us to take risks.”
It’s risky to tear down the comfortable structure of long held beliefs, but it’s all part of the process toward growing a better, more wholehearted faith.
“To live and love fully, to embrace human vulnerability rather than exploit it, to try to make sense of our place in this fragile yet beautiful world, to seek to understand our role in proclaiming God’s love and justice – this has been the work of generations. It’s the quest that creates our greatest works of art and our most profound moments of tenderness. It’s the promise that calls us to greet every sunrise and surrender to every sunset. It’s the best hope of our oldest prayers, both on the days when [we] believe as well as on the days when [we] don’t.
Wholehearted, vulnerable faith lives not in the mental citadel but on the open, windswept plains of the heart. And on that terrain, we are called first not to proclamation but, once again, to observation, to listening, and to love: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION
We do not publish a transcript of this portion of our service.
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
Holy God of light and life that overcomes darkness and death: as we offer our tithes and offerings to you this morning, we pray that we may give the confidence and assurance of those fully convinced in our promise of Resurrection! Help us to experience our generosity as those who have no need to hold back or hedge our bets. May we live our days giving freely with love and grace, not as those who have the hope of salvation, but the promise! In Christ, we pray.
Fr. Oscar Romero
Now hear this benediction:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
Which is another way of saying that
The Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that should be said.
No prayer fully expressed our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
Knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produced effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
A step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
But that is the difference
Between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
Ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.
Go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord.
- All works cited within the text above.
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