ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Brethren, We Have Come to Worship, Fernando Ortega
- Welcome, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Praise Song – Springtime, Chris Renzema
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Ohle (John 20:19-31)
- Message: Believing Is Seeing – Rev. Ohle
- Anthem – Change My Heart, Sidewalk Prophets
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – In Christ Alone, Shane & Shane
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Happy Sunday! It’s April 11, 2021, and this is the 2nd Sunday of Eastertide. What’s Eastertide, you ask? It’s fifty days of feasting and celebrating the resurrection, so get ready. It’s time to party! Or is it? We’ll talk about all this in today’s message, “Believing is Seeing”
A quick update on re-opening preparations … Work on getting the church ready to reopen is continuing and the progress is huge. I have to give a shout out to Michael Stinnett and his friends for all their hard work. I’ll be sharing some pictures of the progress on our Facebook page.
The former choir room is now a combination library, reading, and seniors’ classroom. The choir room has been moved to the long room on the south end of the education building (I learned today that MYF used to meet in that room), and there are two additional classrooms and a nursery set up and ready to go as soon as we can return to small group meetings. The lower level of the education building has also been cleaned up, giving us the possibility of 2-3 more classrooms downstairs.
We’re going to have some outdoor work to do now that spring is finally here. Our lawn service does a fantastic job of keeping the grass mowed, but our flower beds and landscaping need some attention such as weeding, dividing the perennials, possibly adding some new or different flowering plants, pruning, and repairing a dry stacked stone wall around one bed. If you’re willing to help with the outdoor projects, please give me a call or send me an email.
I also need some help organizing the office and sorting through several decades of old files and records. If organization is your thing, please contact me ASAP!
One last thing before we begin. I will be offering two small group sessions beginning in May – a study group on The Chosen, and Thomas Talks, a special group for those of you who have doubts. Watch for more information coming on those groups.
That takes care of the announcements. Let’s begin with a call to worship:
Last Sunday was Easter, a day on which the only fitting call to worship was an announcement of the Event – the resurrection, the greatest act of life-saving imaginable. Through it, God let us laugh at our death sentence by punctuating it with a living exclamation mark. On this day and in days to come may we remember that there are times when God restates the joyful resurrection proclamation.
Abilities faded and forgotten are channeled toward new creativity –
Friendships once killed by frosty misunderstanding bloom again in warm reconciliation –
Hopes glimmering and gone are rekindled by expressions of caring –
Faith, dulled by lack of exercise, dances again to God’s everyday rhythms –
God our Creator, we come today thanking you for your unconditional love. It was with your love that you painted the sky. It was with your love that you produced the sun to keep us company as we travel during the day and the moon to accompany us as we slumber at night. Your love continues to let us know that we are never alone, but you are always with us. So, God, tattoo your word on our hearts so that our souls may forever be revived. Let your precepts run through our veins, causing us to rejoice and be glad. We know the troubles that we see, but we shall rejoice and be glad. We know the hurt and the pain that we must endure, but we shall rejoice and be glad. We know that the justice system was not designed for people of our hue, but we shall rejoice and be glad. We shall rejoice because the same God who painted upon the velvety night sky is the same God who is still painting our way out of no way. Lord, we’re depending on you, and it’s in Jesus’ name, we pray. AMEN!!!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (Pastoral Prayer)
Please join me as we lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. For those of you who have sent me prayer requests for yourself or others, please understand I do not say their names in the prayer to protect their privacy, but I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well.
There may be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any private prayers of your own. There may also be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud. Just watch the screen and, if words appear in front of me, say them with me.
You call us to be people of faith, yet we are often people with doubts.
We doubt that love can grow again in relationships where anger and bitterness reign supreme.
You know the strength of love and the power of prayer: help us to be faithful lovers.
We doubt that peace can come in the Middle East, in Syria, in Palestine; in places where hatred and racism reign supreme.
You know that peace is growing there: help us to be faithful peacemakers.
We doubt that the hungry can be fed in Africa, where despair and hopelessness reign supreme.
You know that there is enough food in the world; help us to be generous and faithful.
You specialize in impossibilities; you walked on water, you heal the nations, you forgive sins, you set the captive free, you set us free from our captivities.
Holy God, we confess our own doubts.
When our childhood understandings fall away, we feel naked.
When our long-held beliefs seem to crumble, we feel lost.
When our convictions are questioned, we feel ashamed.
Guide us into right paths, O God.
Guide our feet into the way of peace, guide our hands to care for others, guide our hearts to love our neighbors.
Call us back to You, O Christ, and renew our faith.
When the ground is unsteady, loving God, put us back on right paths by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with You.
This morning we pray for people here who are also filled with doubts, who wonder whether you exist and whether you are listening to our prayers, who wonder what this whole community is about.
We pray for people who doubt the purpose of life, who wonder whether to end it all, who face feelings of meaninglessness and despair.
Even when we have that sinking feeling, give us the wisdom to turn to you.
Lord we want to believe, help our unbelief!
Give us faith, small as a mustard seed, so that we can be your faithful people, believing in your power to save, believing in your power to reign supreme, believing that we can share this good news with everyone we meet.
We ask all this in Jesus’ name, 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 Lord is our chosen portion and our cup. God binds us in, counsels our minds and instructs our hearts. God helps us to stand firm for justice, mercy, and peace. When we fall, God lifts us up, forgives us, and remembers our sins no more. Amen.
Resurrected God, though we have hidden ourselves in a locked room and huddled together as ones who build barriers, send your Living Word through our locked doors and into our guarded hearts that we might be witnesses of your grace and couriers of your goodness.
By the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the trust to believe the Gospel not because we see it but because we have been seen by it and transformed through it. Amen.
Today’s scripture is taken from The Message.
John 20:19-31 (MSG)
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were awestruck. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Believing Is Seeing
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
There is a lot to digest in the passage from John, isn’t there? There’s verse 22 that foreshadows Pentecost … “Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said.”
Then there’s verse 23 … “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” … Boy has that one allowed for a lot of abuse over the years … both from the hierarchy of the church that used it to maintain their control over the people, and from self-righteous Christians who seem to think this verse make it their job to be judgmental and to point out specks in the eyes of others while conveniently overlooking logs in their own eyes.
And then there’s that very last bit near the end that leaves you wondering … imagining … what he might have done that wasn’t written down.
All of those may raise questions that we need to ponder on and explore, and I encourage you to think on them, but for today, I want to focus on Thomas’ role in the passage, and on all those locked doors.
The day of the resurrection, the disciples were filled with all kinds of doubts. They knew that Jesus’ body was gone from the tomb and nowhere to be found. Mary claimed she had seen him outside the tomb, but the rest of them hadn’t seen him.
Most times, I write my own message, my own interpretation of the scriptures to present to you, but not today. Today, someone else has said it much better and I want to share that with you … to let you hear it in his words.
Rev. Derek Weber of Discipleship Ministries tells it like this:
“On Easter evening, they (the doors) were locked. Locked for fear, John says. But they were locked up tight. The disciples were locked in, behind doors, behind piles of furniture too perhaps. Blinds may have been drawn on the windows, and nobody moved much in case someone below heard the footsteps on the floors. They were huddled, hunkered down. Behind the doors. And who was there? Well, Thomas wasn’t, we learn that later. So, what does that leave now? ten? Maybe ten. But maybe more. See, in the Gospel of John, the word disciples is a slippery term. It’s not just the twelve, usually. John rarely just talks about the twelve. He’s interested in a bigger crowd. The twelve, now ten, plus the women who were there. And maybe others. At one point, Jesus sent out seventy. Maybe there were seventy, or sixty-eight, in that room, crowded in, avoiding eye contact (which would be hard if there were seventy) Maybe less, maybe ten, maybe a few more.
And if the women were there, did they try again? “Look,” Mary of Magdala says, “It was him. He’s alive!” “Yeah, sure Mary. Maybe your demons have come back? Just sayin’. And didn’t you think it was the gardener? You have no idea who it was, do you? It was early; you were up all night; none of us slept. You must have been dreaming.” “No, it was him. He said my name. When he said my name, I knew it was him.”
She crossed her arms and turned to Peter and John who were trying really hard to be interested in the pattern of the rushes thrown on the floor. “You were there. You came running in like your shorts were on fire and dashed into the tomb. What did you see?” The silence hung in the air behind the locked doors. Nothing. They saw nothing. Not what they expected to see. Not what they hoped to see. They saw nothing. Now they sit, comforted by nothing, afraid of everything, hoping locked doors would save them.
They (the doors) didn’t. Jesus came. That’s what John says. The doors were locked, and Jesus came. How did he come? Dunno’. John doesn’t say; he just came. “Peace be with you.” He had to say it twice, because the first time they didn’t hear it for fear of . . . him. He sighed (must have) and showed his hands and his side. Then, John says, then they rejoiced. How long did he stand out there banging on the doors hoping someone would let him in? Jesus, who had earlier that morning burst through a stone door, now appeared through a locked door and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then Thomas shows up. How much later? We don’t know. Later. They tell him, those almost seventy or maybe ten disciples tell him, “We saw the Lord.”
“Yeah, sure,” says Thomas. Ah, Thomas, why did you doubt? Because the doors were still locked. “We saw the Lord! He showed us his wounds be which we were healed. He offered us peace. He gave us power, he sent us out to forgive!” Yeah? The doors are still locked. A week later, the doors are still locked. The truth is, none of them believed. They saw, but they didn’t believe – not enough to open a door anyway; not enough to venture out. Seeing isn’t always believing. Or maybe there is seeing and there is seeing. Seeing with our eyes doesn’t always lead to seeing with our faith.
A week later the doors were shut, but Jesus came anyway. With a sigh, undoubtedly, but he came. He came to show them what they needed to see. Just like he shows all of us what we need to see. Remember? That’s the Easter proclamation. He is going before you, going back home, going to familiar territory, going where you belong, where you live and work, and there you will see him. That’s the promise. That’s what they were offered, what we are offered. We will see him.
But wait. What about that “blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet believe”? What about that? Well, I think he threw that in because he heard the locks turning on our own doors. And he wanted to pry them open. Maybe coming through locked doors was strenuous; maybe it was painful. Or maybe he wanted to spare us the false security of locked doors and just be open enough to see him in our midst, showing us his wounds, the brokenness of this world, the suffering of Christ on the backs and sides and hands of our brothers and sisters. But also, to see the grace and the forgiveness that is poured out even on us just when we’re sure we won’t get it, just when we are afraid we can’t have it and we turn to push the doors closed against a world too cruel to live in, too empty of him. Or so we think. But he’s there.
He doesn’t like your locked doors. We try to shut him out like we shut out a cat on the wrong side of the door. We act like we don’t see him. But Jesus is persistent; he keeps banging; he keeps coming through. And in our darkness, he appears with a shaft of light that’s almost blinding. And he says, “Peace be with you.”
Rev. Weber’s interpretation is, in my humble opinion, spot on. Our doubts are the locked doors that keep us from seeing Jesus walking among us … right out beyond those doors of doubt … right out there in the faces of anyone and, in fact, everyone we encounter.
It’s those doubts we must identify, confront, and then let go. The best way we can let go of them is to lay them on the alter and give them to God. And once we let go, we can’t let ourselves reach out and try to snatch them back.
It’s hard. It’s a scary world out there and we’re constantly bombarded with reasons why we should doubt this one or that one or those over there or the ones on the other side of town or the other side of the world. But if we really, truly want to see Jesus, we have to let go of the doubts, to unshackle ourselves from fear and anxiety. We have to trust and believe … because Believing is Seeing and we are called to see so that we can do.
Risen Lord, the world has been tough on the apostle Thomas, nicknaming him forever, “Doubting Thomas.”
But if we look at the story with fresh eyes, we see your deep compassion for someone struggling with doubt and disappointment.
The other disciples had seen you, the resurrected Jesus, already. They eagerly shared the good news with Thomas.
But he wasn’t buying it. Maybe he was a doubter. Or maybe he was just so bitterly disappointed he couldn’t bear to hope anymore.
If we’re honest, we have to admit we’ve all been there at one time or another.
It must have been a long eight days before you suddenly appeared among the disciples in a locked room.
What must Thomas have felt when he heard your voice near him saying, “Peace be with you”?
What must Thomas have felt when you gently beckoned him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe”?
Did Thomas still need to touch your nail-scarred hands and the wound in your side, or did he just buckle in joy as he professed, “My Lord and my God!”.
While it could sound like you were reprimanding Thomas when you said, “Have you believed because you have seen me,” it also sounds like you blessed him with your body while also promising that many future generations of followers would believe even though we never got to see you.
Thank you, Lord, for meeting us with your faithful love even when our faith falters.
Thank you, Lord, for reminding us that we can see you in the faces of every single person we meet.
In your kind name.
Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. If you can, please consider making your weekly offering just as if we were meeting in person. The information for doing so will be on your screen in just a moment.
Now hear this benediction:
Jesus said: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am now sending you.”
Know that He believes in you. The busy world awaits your compassion.
God believes in you.
Sometimes you will give your best yet fail.
God believes in you
At other times you will succeed in spite of your stumbling.
God believes in you.
Go gladly, daring to succeed or fail to the glory of God, and then at the very end, nothing shall dismay you.
God believes in you.
With Christ’s own breath within you, you shall travel well.
The help of the saving Christ, the wisdom of the Living God, and the support of the loving Spirit, will be with you every step of the way, now and always.
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 … especially the ones who doubt and who you doubt. And dare to dance again. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ.
- Call to Worship – Glen E. Rainsley, Flames of the Spirit
- Opening Prayer – Tattoo Your Word On Our Hearts, Curry F. Butler
- Pastoral Prayer & Pardon – Carol Penner, Leading for Worship, & Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, Rev-O-Lution
- Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
- Closing Prayer – Elizabeth Turnage
- Benediction – adapted from a prayer by Bruce Prewer.
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!