ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Come and Find the Quiet Center (Insert)
- Opening Prayer – Rev. Val
- Psalter: Psalm 92 (UMH 811-812)
- Peace Prayer – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn: O Lord, Hear Our Prayer (Insert)
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Message: Be Still – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Lead Me, Guide Me (Insert)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Communion Message: Communion of God
- 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 Updated Edition, but should be similar to your pew bibles which are the previous version.
Genesis 1:1-8, 2:1-3 – When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude. On the sixth day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Exodus 20:8-11 – “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Psalm 23:1-2 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; …
Psalm 127:2 – It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives sleep to his beloved.
Matthew 11:28-29 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
L: The scriptures of God for the people of God.
A: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Be Still
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.
In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson recalls hearing author and minister Flora Wuellner’s time as a writer in residence at Upper Room Ministries. One day, talking to the staff there, Rev. Wuellner used the phrase “the beauty of borders.” Wuellner was talking about maintaining health psychological boundaries in our relationships with others, but Thompson saw a wider application of the phrase.
We need to take natural human boundaries seriously simply to function as we are created to function. Yet the human mind drives toward overcoming liitations, breaking out of boundaries, and exceeding ordinary functions. While this urge we have toward ever-greater achievement has wrought some pretty wonderful things in human life, it also poses great danger to the well-being of both humans and the wider creation – a truth we increasingly recognize and are being to respond to.
One of the natural borders we routinely disregard to our detriment is sufficient rest. Rest means stopping our ordinary work. The word sabbath essentially means “to cease.” The passage from Exodus is the fourth of the ten commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”
Wayne Muller wrote a book on today’s spiritual discipline of observing Sabbath. In it, he said, “In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest … Our culture supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet the ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way.”
God created a world full of natural rhythms: the cycles of the seasons and of the moon, the rhythms of day and night, the seasons of migration, and the rhythm of the tides. These boundaries are life-giving, not merely constraining. Jesus understood the necessity of such rhythms for the health of both body and soul … recalling our passage from Matthew, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
But how often do we even think of rest for the soul? We know when our bodies are weary, don’t we? When our bodies say, “I can’t go another minute” because we just rearranged the living room by ourselves, went to a job that is nothing but strenuous physical activity, stressed out driving in rush-hour traffic, or even spent hours sitting in mostly one position in front of computer screen or at a call center desk? And we know when we’re mentally tired, too from dealing with ambiguities, difficult decisions, or conflicting emotions. But how do we gauge the needs of our souls?
In the passage from Matthew, Jesus’ words suggest that this inner core of our being – our very life force and vitality – also needs rest. Jesus is speaking about heart-rest … about inward peace and deep joy. These are the kinds of gifts Jesus offers when he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I don’t know about all of you, but I could definitely use some soul rest. Our life in Christ is a kind of sabbath, a gift of profound rest and refreshment. The trick to receiving that gift is to do the things in takes for Christ to be in us, to trust fully in him and carry out the Way he taught us.
The essence of Sabbath is rest and renewal for the soul. In good Jewish fashion, this naturally includes our bodies and minds. Yet if rest does not reach the depth of the soul, it is merely vacation, not sabbath. We need time out with God, not just time off from work. And let’s face it. Whenever and wherever we are, we are living in a 24/7 world electronically wired for unremitting availability to one another via cell phones, email, texting, and social media.
We need to remember that Jesus wasn’t always available to people when he walked this earth. Much to the consternation of his family, disciples, crowds, and religious leaders, he would simply disappear at regular intervals. Why? Because he needed to be sustained and renewed in his relationship with the One whose life he so intimately shared and from whom his power for ministry came! Jesus practiced the spiritual imperative of sabbath. He honored the beauty of the borders. He knew the sacred art of ceasing from active labor.
Originally, sabbath was a Jewish tradition observed on Saturday which adheres to the story in Genesis. The earliest Christians following the resurrection continued to observe sabbath on Saturday in the Jewish tradition, and then gather … usually in secret … to worship and share communion on Sunday. For Christians, Sunday is the first day, chosen to displace the historic day of Sabbath because we know that the resurrection of Jesus was on the first day of the week. For Christians, Sunday inaugurates the new creation story. Through the saving grace of his life, death, and resurrection, those who believe are made new creations in Christ.
If you’ve ever read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series about Little House on the Prairie, you may remember the volume about Almanzo, the boy she eventually married, and his family. There was a great deal of one chapter devoted to all the things the family did in preparation to observe sabbath on Sunday following church because, other than take care of the livestock, they spent Sunday reading their Bibles and being quiet.
Those kinds of family observances started to fall away, but most of us here are old enough to remember that you were lucky to find a gas station open on a Sunday at best, especially in the smaller rural communities. Sunday was church day. Many states still have laws about the sale of liquor on Sundays.
Today, things are vastly different. Businesses are open 7 days a week, some 24 hours a day. If we only see Sunday as the day to observe sabbath, the working folks would rarely be able to do so, even if they wanted to. And what about those of us who are clergy or worship leaders? By the time I’m done on Sunday, I’d have very few hours left to actually observe sabbath.
So today, we need to look at sabbath in a broader sense than Sunday. We need to see “sabbath” not as a specific day, but as the qualities of sabbath time that we seek or secure on whatever days we manage to set aside for it. And we need to set aside time for it because the qualities of sabbath time need to come first in our lives as a spiritual principle. Sabbath is the profoundly joyful refreshment from which new effort arises, the deep well from which we draw strength, the eternal newness at the root of all creativity. Sabbath is a primary experience of grace – the gift that enables our human journey day upon day, week upon week.
Let’s go back to the original Jewish tradition of sabbath and, remembering that the first five books of the Old Testament make up the Torah or Hebrew Bible, the passage from Genesis. The creation story in Genesis describes God establishing day as beginning at sundown: “There was evening and there was morning, the first day … There was evening and there was morning, the second day.”
Think about that. God begins our day with the evening meal and then getting ready for bed! The first third of a day is spent in sleep, trusting that God is at work through the night without our conscious participation, without us doing anything but resting. Then we rise and join in God’s labors with energy from rest and insight from dreams.
Eugene Peterson described it like this: “When it is evening, ‘I pray the Lord my soul to keep’ and drift off into unconsciousness for the next six or eight hours, a state in which I am absolutely nonproductive and have no cash value. The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We got to sleep and God begins his work. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.”
The early church understood that holy leisure lay at the core of human life. Holy leisure was sacred time when the Spirit could convert the mind, and sacred space for God in the midst of daily life. Holy leisure was seen as essential to the development of our deeper humanity. Where otium sanctum was the Latin word for holy leisure, negotium was the word for non-leisure. Hear that again. Holy leisure or non-leisure. Non-leisure being that action we know as work. The early church saw work as secondary, as defined by the way it related to leisure.
Today, however, our utilitarian culture has reversed this, defining leisure as non-work. We’ve lost all sense of the necessity of holy leisure and have developed a secular rhythm of life in direct contrast to the ancient sacred pattern. Today we begin with work and move to vacation. We start in a mode driven by achievement and production, and move to exhausted collapse or perhaps the numbing escapes of mindless entertainment.
Contrast that to the sacred rhythm of life that begins with sabbath and moves to vocation; that begins by inviting us to rest in the quiet, replenishing depths of God’s presence, promise, and power, then moves us toward a grateful, energized response.
Psalm 127 said, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives sleep to his beloved.” So why do we do that? More importantly, what do we need to do to bring ourselves back to the sacred rhythm that God established in the first place? How do we keep that commandment – to remember the sabbath and keep it holy – that Walter Brueggemann suggests is the crux of the whole set of ten commandments, the commandment that joins the first three concerning our relationship with God to the last six concerning our relationship with one another … the pivotal commandment that is God’s own rest?
Everything about returning to the sacred rhythm is going to go against societal and cultural norms and will most likely earn us labels like radicals, Jesus freaks (like that one’s a bad thing), but also labels like lazy, ambitionless. Even other Christians will have trouble seeing the importance in what we’re doing since most churches in the US are so caught up with worship, classes, programs, service projects, and the demands of internal maintenance that they rarely encourage or promote real sabbath time for the members or the leadership. We are geared and, to some degree, hard-wired to that secular “work, work, work, collapse in a heap vacation” rhythm. And we often cram our vacations – especially if they’re stay-cations – full of more work, work, work in the form of things we’ve needed time to do at home or jamming as much entertainment into our vacation as possible to a point we’re always on the go, go, go.
When we refuse the rhythm of grace offered to us in sabbath time, we consign ourselves to anxious lives and driven ministries. It seems significant that the Bible likens us to sheep, not cattle. In scripture, sheep are not driven but led.
But, if God is so secure about the order and goodness of creation that God can rest, though, shouldn’t we trust in God that we can rest as well? Afterall, resting – remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy – was not a suggestion. It was a commandment. Keeping the sabbath means putting our faith and hope in God above all else. It is a clarion call to live from a posture of profound trust. Trust is a small word with a high hurdle, though. Trust is the heartbeat of sabbath, the bedrock of soul rest. Honoring sabbath time teaches us to release our treasured illusions of being indispensable, and allows us to let God be God. God doesn’t find pleasure in our exhaustion. No matter how good the works we are doing, God doesn’t see us as more faithful based on how few days off we take our that we are busier than others. God loves us too much to want to see us wear ourselves out and, too often, burn ourselves out.
And there is, as Eugene Peterson explains, another big reason for sabbath-keeping. Remember that the commandments were given to Moses. Remember what Moses was doing when God gave him the commandments … that Moses was leading God’s chosen people out of Egypt. What Peterson calls the “Deuteronomy reason for sabbath-keeping” is “that our ancestors in Egypt went four hundred years without a vacation (Deuteronomy 5:15). Never a day off … Not persons created in the image of God, but what the Egyptians saw as “equipment” for making bricks and building pyramids. Humanity was defaced./ …The moment we begin to see other in terms of what they can do rather than who they are, we mutilate humanity and violate community … Sabbath-keeping is elemental kindness.”
This elemental kindness in God’s sabbath command extends even to domestic animals, to creation because if we are taking sufficient time to cease from our obsessive use of the world’s resources for our own purposes, time to open our minds and hearts to the Creator of all, time to reclaim our sanity and humanity – all creatures on this earth might benefit from our keeping of the sabbath command. And don’t you think that right now, after all the natural and climate related disasters around the world – remember that all living things are equally impacted by such disasters, sometimes even more so – don’t you think that right now creation could benefit from our returning to the sacred rhythm or sabbath keeping? I imagine if we – if all of humanity could collectively keep sabbath all on the same 24 hour period, we could literally hear creation’s sigh of relief. I mean think about all the healing the earth did while we were all under COVID lock-downs? Pollution was reduced in major urban areas. Wildlife flourished. Waterways cleansed themselves of toxins.
So, again … how do we go about making this change back to the sacred rhythm, to be faithful to the sabbath commandment? By identifying and shifting certain ingrained attitudes and habits. As Martha Whitmore Hickman points out in her book, A Day of Rest, “In our harried, fragmented world, rest has to be a conscious decision … implemented by certain changes of mind-set and planning, or we will bring to our periods of supposed rest the same preoccupations and concerns that permeate much of our weekday activity.”
We need to:
- Acknowledge the many ways we are shaped by worldly thinking that makes productivity, achievement, and success the primary source and valuation of our identity.
- Embrace a deeper desire for the humility of Christ.
- Give ourselves permission to carve out regular sabbath time from our busy, over-committed lives.
- Aim for a life of balance, spiritual grounding, and inward peace, emulating the life-giving rhythm Jesus himself embodied.
- Free ourselves from people pleasing, and that is a hard thing to do because people pleasing is often a method for avoiding nagging or bullying or being shamed.
- Give ourselves the gift of intentional “fallow time” for mind and heart. Remember that healthy soil needs periodic rest from planting to rebuild its nutrients.
Then we need to reshape our attitudes and habits. We need to learn to develop and put into our spiritual practices contemplative time. If you were to read 1 Kings 19:12, you would read about Elijah hearing “a still small voice” while he was out in the wilderness in self-imposed solitude. Remember that Moses was off by himself tending sheep when he noticed that burning bush in Exodus 3. Isaiah was alone in the Temple tending to the high altar when he received a vision of the Lord enthroned in Isaiah 6. Contemplative time offers God the opportunity to break through to us with fresh revelation, insight, and creativity.
We need to build unstructured time into our weekly calendar: no services, no meetings, no visits, no projects. Take time to ponder, reflect, and imagine. Pay attention to our deeper passion for life and love in the community of all creation. Listen to the Voice beyond yet also within our own voices; glimpse the uncreated Light generating our own light; feel the deep Heart sustaining our own hearts. Contemplative time and space are crucial for true vision and transformation.
We need to keep one day per week exclusively for sabbath, using it for true refreshment and not merely for catching up on chores. Sometimes we’re given time through no effort of our own – an unexpected illness, waiting for an appointment, airport delays, a power outage during a storm, especially a cable/internet outage. We need to make a deliberate choice to use that time to turn our minds toward God and pay attention to the gift of those moments.
We also need to salt our days with moments of relaxation and receptivity to grace, allowing the qualities of sabbath rest and delight to irradiate our daily lives. A busy day need not be anxious.
Here’s a big one: Giving ourselves a retreat of several days every year. This isn’t a “vacation.” This isn’t a group outing unless the entire group agrees to observe and maintain the time as sabbath. This is getting away by ourselves to someplace that is genuinely restorative to our souls. It’s planning it into our calendars well in advance, and then giving family, friends, and colleagues ample notice.
Lastly, we need to begin our personal prayer time with simple adoration and praise. We need to learn to linger in the exquisite gift of holy relationship before moving into prayers of petition and intercession.
There is a caution here. Sabbath time is not, and I’ll use myself as the example, my Sunday afternoon post-church and fellowship nap. Sabbath time is not a recreational trip to the mall or movies. Sabbath time is not a hike with your buddies unless you intend to only contemplate and discuss God. Sabbath time requires your focused attention. You’re creating space in your busy schedule, and sabbath time can make room for other practices that you’ve been considering – things that might serve as vehicles for reflective rest or communal refreshment such s prayer, spiritual reading, personal worship, or journaling. While these things can be helpful in keeping your thoughts from straying away from God and back to earthly worries, don’t turn sabbath time into some kind of spiritual achievement. Sabbath time shines with the qualities of freedom and holy leisure.
Sabbath is God’s gift of time, freely returned to God for divine purposes. It lies at the core of both faith and fidelity to God. Noting else nurtures the human soul with such depth; nothing carries us so simply to the heart of God; nothing so adequately waters our spiritual thirst or empowers us to live faithfully in this world as this one commandment: keep a sabbath and keep it as sacred and holy time.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century Cistercian Abbott, wrote these words of counsel regarding Sabbath:
“If you are wise therefore you will show yourself a reservoir and not a canal. For a canal pours out as fast as it takes in; but a reservoir waits till it is full before it overflows, and so communicates its surplus … We have all to few such reservoirs in the Church at present, though we have canals in plenty … The canals desire to pour out when they themselves are not yet inpoured; they are readier to speak than to listen, eager to teach that which they do not know, and most anxious to exercise authority on others, although they have not learnt to rule themselves … Let the reservoir of which we spoke just now take pattern from the spring; for the spring does not form a stream or spread into a lake until it is brimful … Be filled thyself, then, but discreetly, mind, pour out thy fullness … Out of thy fullness help me if thou canst; and, if not, spare thyself.”
In the sacred art of ceasing, sabbath time enables us to become such reservoirs. May God grant it!
O God, we are so grateful for your abiding love. We pray that we may embody a spirit of love and self-discipline, grounded in the power of your grace. We are taught in so many way – some subtle ways, some blatant ways – to fulfill all of our wants by consuming things and by doing, doing, doing. Remind us during this moment that we are called to invest in you, to rest in you, to allow ourselves to become filled with you.
In the name of one God, who offers grace, mercy, and peace, we pray. Amen.
COMMUNION MESSAGE – Communion of God
From 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries of knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Sondra Higgins Matthaei, the author of Formation in Faith, has a vision of the church as the body of Christ living as a communion of grace, a sign of the reign of God already present in this life. “In this communion,” she writes, “the church, with God’s help, tries to live as the body of Christ in the interdependence of mutual indwelling and in the acceptance of diversity through room-giving.”
Hear that again … “in the acceptance of diversity through room-giving.”
She goes on, “God’s Spirit draws the church toward becoming a servant communion that recognizes that each person has gifts and graces to share in various forms of servant ministry … a nonhierarchical partnership of all Christians who have particular roles in servant ministry and servant leadership as go-betweens on behalf of God and the Christian community. To live in this communion of grace requires that we affirm every part of the body as critically and equally important for loving God and God’s creation, including our neighbors.
To keep our eye on God and accept God’s invitation to communion means that we remember that the person before us is always the face of Christ in our midst. This is one challenge that lies ahead. We need to learn to focus on our shared commitment to Christ while we celebrate the diversity among us. We are called to journey together in faith, hope, and love. If we do not share our gifts in love, they are nothing. We are not to share our God-given gifts for our own gain but for the benefit of others in love. This is another challenge: to humbly use our gifts in love.
Yet another challenge for the church is remembering that our vision and knowledge of God is only partial. Please hear that again … our vision and knowledge of God is only partial. Because our vision of God is only partial, we need the whole communion of grace to craft a vision of what lies ahead. We do this through studying the scriptures, prayer, and honest conversations, sharing visions of God’s purposes in the world from many … hear that word again, too … many different perspectives that then create a shared vision for a congregational ministry of forming faith.
Because we are human, our visions and actions will sometimes be misdirected or flawed, and questions will remain. About those questions, Maria Rainer Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves … Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be give to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Remembering that the questions themselves are God’s gift to us will help us be patient with ourselves and with others. In wrestling with the questions, we will find God’s love as well as the courage to move forward in our pilgrimage in faith.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul established a triad … “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Together these words embrace the whole of Christian existence, as believers live out the life of the Spirit in the present age, awaiting the consummation. This triad of faith, hope, and love are gifts to God’s people … gifts that sustain us in the present. These are the gifts that build up a communion of grace, the body of Christ carrying on God’s work in the world. But in the end, love is eternal and “continues on into the final glory” while the work of faith and hope is completed in the present life.
We know who we are – God’s pilgrim people growing in communion with God – and we know what we need to do to prepare for servant ministry – cultivate our inner and outer lives of faith. We know that we are part of a servant communion, with each one called to use his or her gifts in servant ministry. And we know we are called to be servant leaders, those who have the heart of a servant and are willing to use their gifts with love in building up the body of Christ to carry on Christ’s mission in the world – in all the world to all who are made in the image of God.
Forming faith in a communion of grace calls us to a new way of being in the world. We are called to be servants first, offering our God-given gifts in love on behalf of others. The greatest challenge that lies ahead is the call to us to become the bread of Christ for others. Paul saw a close connection between the broken bread that represented Christ’s body and the church as one body … one loaf, therefore one body. “One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”
Today we stand in Christian communion with all other believers. Today is World Communion Sunday, when we join Christians around the world who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior. Let’s celebrate this opportunity to share in a communion with the world serving the God who loves us beyond measure and who desires to be in communion with us and all creation by remembering Christ as he instructed. May we draw strength from this unity and from this act of sacrificial giving.
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
- Portions of these messages were taken from:
- Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Newly Revised Edition), Marjorie J. Thompson, 2015, Westminster John Knox Press
- Formation In Faith: The Congregational Ministry of Making Disciples, Sondra Higgins Matthaei, 2008, Abingdon Press
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