ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Waiting for You, Josh Snodgrass
- Welcome – Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Praise Song – Psalm 23 (Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy) – Shane & Shane
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Ohle (1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18)
- Message: A Leap of Faith and a Voice in the Fog – Rev. Ohle
- Anthem – If All I Had Was Christ – We The Kingdom
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – It Is Well, Josh Snodgrass
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
It is Sunday, April 25th in the year of our Lord, 2021. I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville, Tennessee, and I am glad you’re worshipping with me today. Our message today is titled A Leap of Faith and a Voice in the Fog. We’ll be looking at how the two are connected. I encourage you to stay with me and hear it.
This Sunday is also the “Festival of God’s Creation,” which we’ll be addressing through our call to worship and prayers.
First, an important reminder. Today is the last Sunday that we will be online only for worship. Next Sunday, May 2nd, we will return to in-person worship at Union Grove at 11:00 a.m. For those of you who can’t attend at that time, you’ll still be able to worship online. Each week’s video and worship-by-phone audio will be posted late each Sunday evening. Please let your family, friends, and neighbors who don’t have internet know they can worship with us, too, at 865-995-0044.
For those planning to attend the in-person services, masks and social distancing will be required at all times on church property.
Also, if you are on the membership rolls for Union Grove and have not indicated to me a desire to move your membership to another church, by now you should have received a letter and a Union Grove Manna Campaign Member Pledge Form. Folks, I cannot stress the importance of completing those forms … even if you are choosing to decline … as soon as possible. And I truly hope you will be led to show support for this church.
Last announcement, I promise … I’m setting up three virtual weekly gatherings, the first two of which will begin the week of May 9.
Thomas Talks is for you or your family, friends, and neighbors who have questions or doubts about faith, about God, about anything really. Doubts are worth discussing, and Thomas Talks is a good place to do that. Thomas Talks will meet via Zoom on Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m.
Java with Abba: Talking Things Out with Each Other and God is another opportunity to fellowship. We’ll gather ‘round a virtual kitchen table and talk about anything that needs talking about … except each other, of course. It might be something serious, something perplexing, or something frustrating, or, maybe sometimes, we’ll just sit and talk and reminisce and laugh and sing a song or two. Java with Abba will be meeting virtually on Monday nights at 7:00 p.m.
Our third virtual gathering is a Bible study. The materials still haven’t arrived, so I’ll be announcing more about it at a later date.
The Zoom links for the virtual gatherings each week will be posted to our website, our Facebook page, and sent out through our weekly worship bulletin, so if you haven’t already, please take a minute to visit the website and fill out the “Let’s Connect” form at the bottom of the home page and most other pages.
You don’t have to be a member of Union Grove or even a Methodist to participate in any of these virtual gatherings. Anyone and everyone is welcome, so bring your friends.
I think that covers everything. Please join me in our Call to Worship and opening prayer, followed by a musical version of one of our scriptures, Psalm 23. Let’s begin:
Every week, we reenact the story of God’s boundless love and celebrate the reality of God’s presence.
Such a God!
Our God is good!
God is with us forever!
Look at the most important part of the church–us, the people. It is here that God is most alive, weaving us into a community of faith, teaching us how to love, challenging us far more, abundantly, than we could imagine by ourselves.
Here we are, Lord. Illumine us, purify us, and shine through us as we worship, listen, and respond to you this holy hour.
Creator God, you know your children. You know our disappointments and our discomfort. You know our longings and our needs.
Help us to see what you are making new in heaven and on earth, in our lives and in our communities and in our church that we may participate in your healing work.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (Pastoral Prayer)
O God, we thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun, for the ocean and streams, for the towering hills and the whispering wind, for the trees and green grass.
We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and see the splendor of fields of golden wheat, and taste autumn’s fruit, rejoice in the feel of snow, and smell the breath of spring flowers.
Grant us a heart opened wide to all this beauty; and save us from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thorn bush is aflame with your glory.
For each new dawn is filled with infinite possibilities for new beginnings and new discoveries.
Life is constantly changing and renewing itself.
In this new day of new beginnings with God, all things are possible.
We are restored and renewed in a joyous awakening to the wonder that our lives are and, yet, can be.
God, we come to you now with our hopes and with our burdens.
We lift up to you all who are in need of healing. We ask that you guide their caregivers and caretakers, and that you strengthen and heal them, take away their pain, their fears, and their worry. Be with them and with their loved ones, pouring Your comfort and peace on them. We pause now in silence and the privacy of our own homes to lift the names of those we know. We pray also for those we don’t know.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who are in mourning, who are grieving, who are hurting from loneliness or isolation, who are feeling unwanted or unloved. Fill them with the presence of your Spirit to ease their loneliness. Teach us how to be present with them in their grief. We pause now in silence and the privacy of our own homes to lift the names of those we know. We pray also for those we don’t know.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We lift up to you all those including ourselves who have hardened hearts toward others, who have yet to recognize their anger as grief. Soften their hearts and raise their awareness.
We lift to you all those who initiate and perpetuate fear where there is nothing to fear, hate where there is no one to hate, and anger where there should be love and compassion. We ask that you break the chains of whatever is shackling them to their harmful and hurtful ways and guide us to lead them into your light. We ask you to help us forgive all who’ve hurt us and to seek forgiveness for all we may have harmed. We pause now in silence and the privacy of our own homes to lift the names of those we know. We pray also for those we don’t know.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We lift up this church to you, Lord. We ask that you call your children to it, that you help us to fill it with a thriving, loving, caring beloved community. We ask that you send the broken, the unwanted, the marginalized, the oppressed. We ask that you give those of us worshipping today open hearts and open minds so that we are willing and able to stand before open doors to greet all who come in love and in hospitality. We ask that you give us the courage, the spirit, and the words to spread your good news to all who enter and all we encounter.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gentle Shepherd, You guide us in right paths, You lead us in the ways of righteousness, but we have allowed our anger, our rage, our greed, and at times even hate, to direct our paths. We have overreacted, we have taken more than our share, we have despised others that seem to have it all. Forgive us, God, for not following Your ways. Forgive us for not remembering that we are Your sheep, and You are our Shepherd. Forgive us when we have not listened for Your voice and instead have acted in the ways of the world. Guide us back to Your path, to loving You and loving our neighbors. Help us to unclench our fists and lend out our hands in hope and healing, forgiveness and love. In the name of Christ our Shepherd we pray.
We ask it through Christ Jesus our Lord, and pray the words he taught us:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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, and the power, and the glory forever.”
Friends, hear the Good News: The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd knows the sheep, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep so that the sheep may live. We are part of the flock; we are part of Christ’s body. In Christ we find wholeness and restoration. Go forth and share this Good News. Amen.
Lord, we ask that You prepare our hearts as we engage in the study of Your Word. Open our hearts and minds to the mysteries and truths that are hidden within its pages, and may we discover a clarity of understanding within Your Word that was hitherto hidden from us.
Give us unity of the spirit and a desire to learn new truths, as we open up Your Word. May we have a willingness to learn from the Great Teacher. May Your Holy Spirit guide us into all truth and expand our understanding of Your Word in a real and living way. In Jesus’ name,
Our scriptures this morning are taken from The Message.
1 John 3:16-24 (MSG)
This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.
John 10:11-18 (MSG)
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – A Leap of Faith and a Voice in the Fog
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
During the week leading up to each Sunday as I’m working on putting together the service, I often listen to music. This week I happened to click on a video I thought was a song I hadn’t heard by one of my favorite recording artists. It turned out to be a testimony about how she came to be standing on that stage and something she said struck me.
She was talking about how she took a leap of faith by leaving what she’d always known and starting over somewhere new. She told how she didn’t know what she was being led to or led to do, only that she was being led … how her future was foggy and she couldn’t for the life of her see where she was going.
Then she said, “Sometimes God will lead you in a foggy place, but when it’s foggy … that’s when his sheep know his voice.”
Her testimony went on from there as she explained how that leap of faith eventually brought her to that stage. But I never got much past that statement she made about being led into a foggy place.
You see, I think God was leading me from one foggy place to another when He brought me to Union Grove.
I was excited to come here. I knew one of the key members from another group, someone who had encouraged me in my own faith walk early on. I’d looked at the “doings” reflected in the posts and pictures on the church’s old Facebook page and was thrilled to be coming to a church that had a choir, a United Methodist Women’s group, and more. It would all be a welcome change.
That was in late April or early May. By late June just before my appointment here was to begin, though, things started to feel less certain.
I had accepted the appointment, but then the church council voted to close, so my appointment was up in the air, and then suddenly the council rescinded the vote to close and I was told to go forward as if this 130+ year old church was a new church.
There I was, knowing or having met only two people from Union Grove in person, and having talked to only four others on the phone, all of whom had or would decide they were not coming back.
But still, Spirit had stepped in and snatched Union Grove out of harm’s way. I took that as a sign that God had plans for this church, even though I didn’t know what those plans were.
The next six months were spent doing things the same way all churches in Holston Conference were doing them. Online. While some churches were doing live casts and others were gathering on platforms like Zoom, others of us who lacked the resources to “go live” would pre-record worship.
Pre-recording has an advantage in that we can add music and lyrics and things that you can’t do live without a full technical staff running the cameras and things, but it has disadvantages, too.
Here I was trying to reach new hearts for God, new followers of Christ, hold on to and entice back those who’d left Union Grove years before, develop a connection within the community of Friendsville, all of which was limited due to COVID-19 and social distancing and not living right there in the community, and all I could see each week were numbers. Unless someone responded with a comment or email following a service or on a social media post, I couldn’t tell who was reading, watching, worshipping with me. Each post I made, each video I recorded, each email newsletter or worship bulletin I sent out was a leap of faith … faith that it would reach those God intended it to reach and that it would move the hearts God intended it to move.
As other churches in the conference began a few at a time to reopen, we were still limited to online only, in part because the COVID numbers were still unstable, but also because I lacked the human resources to get us open. I was filling the roles of pastor, worship leader, trustee, and janitor. The only thing I didn’t have to take care of was finance. That was and still is being done by the district office. Still, I was determined.
Something must have worked because Spirit stepped in again, this time moving hearts. I’m not going to name names, but someone who used to attend came back, someone new asked to join us as soon as we were open in person, and others who used to come here started to ask when we would open again.
Before I could catch my breath, the church was cleaned up, the tenants asked to renew their lease on the parsonage for another two years, and we have a volunteer to help with the landscaping and organizing all those papers I mentioned a few weeks ago.
And to top it all off, yet another member called and asked me to officiate his wedding. To me, those were all yet more signs that God was moving forward with his plans for Union Grove and that there was life in her yet to be lived out.
Then, when it felt like we would finally be back on track, the thickest fog bank yet rolled in and I looked up at the sky and asked God a whole lot of whys and whats, followed by numerous pleas to help me understand.
And I prayed and prayed and prayed some more. And it was in the praying that I began to let Him lead me through that fog.
Let me repeat that. It was in the praying that I began to let God lead me instead of me trying to lead myself.
“Sometimes God will lead you in a foggy place, but when it’s foggy … that’s when his sheep know his voice.”
Life is like that. We go along, thinking everything is okay when all the sudden it gets foggy, filled with uncertainty. But if we would just stop, just be still, just pray even if the prayer is only the two words, “Help me,” or is just letting God hear our heart … and then if we’d learn to listen, we would hear and know his voice.
Jesus gave up so very much for us. He laid down his own life for us! Talk about a leap of faith … faith that we would heed his teachings, that we would do as he commanded, that we would keep his commandments to love one another, that we would carry the Good News to every nation, and that we would care for the least among us. He made that leap knowing … knowing that we would repeatedly fail. And yet with his last breaths, he asked God to forgive us.
Next Sunday at 10:45 a.m., I will open the doors of Union Grove’s sanctuary. Next Sunday at 10:55 a.m., I will ring the bell to call the community to worship. And next Sunday at 11:00 a.m., I will walk to the front of the Sanctuary and … for the first time since I accepted this appointment, lead worship and deliver the message from the pulpit at Union Grove.
My leap of faith is trusting that God indeed holds Union Grove close to His heart and has a plan He will eventually reveal, and that you’ll be there in person to worship with me, then and each Sunday after.
My question to all of you is, “Will you take a leap of faith on trusting God, and in trusting Him, trust me?”
Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd and we long to be your sheep and to know you and know your voice. Help us to be still and hear you. Help us to understand that you are all we need and that your presence is enough. It is because of you and your sacrifice that we are saved. It is for you that we live.
God, we don’t always do what you would have us do. We aren’t all good stewards of the blessings you give us or of your creation. We aren’t always good examples of being and acting and doing like Jesus. We don’t always listen when you call and far too often we try to manage ourselves instead of surrendering to you.
Forgive us, God. Cleanse our hearts, clear our heads, and draw us close under your wing. Bring us back into the habit of coming to your house to worship, to praise, and to pray. We know that you are wherever we are, but we also know that Union Grove is your house, that all have a place in it and that all are welcome there. We know … I know … that you have never left it and are only waiting for us to return. Lead us to secure the future of Union Grove with our devotion and our commitment.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. A quick reminder, please return your Union Grove Manna Campaign pledge forms either by mail or bring them next Sunday to worship and I do hope you’ll join me at church next week.
Now hear this benediction:
Go now with your trust in the good shepherd, and let us love, not just in words, but in truth and action.
Believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
And may God be at your side, even in valleys of death. May Christ Jesus be the cornerstone of your life. And may the Holy Spirit abide in you . . . and tend you with love and mercy all the days of your life.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, really truly love your neighbors … and invite them to church, especially the ones you can’t imagine yourself sitting next to. And dare to dance again. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ. Amen.
- Call to Worship – Michael Parker
- Opening Prayer – Ashley Johnson
- Portions of Pastoral Prayer & Pardon – Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
- Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
- Benediction – Nathan Nettleton
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Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!