ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Intro, Matthew West; Just As I Am, Alan Jackson
- Welcome, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Praise Song – Come to the Table, Common Hymnal
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Numbers 24:1-9 (NRSV), Ephesians 2:1-10 (MSG), John 3:14-21 (NRSV)
- Message – “Cancelled” – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – Brand New, Matthew West
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Joy Is Not Cancelled, The Collingsworth Family
Welcome! It’s Sunday, March 14th in the year of our Lord 2021 and the 4th Sunday of Lent. I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church and I’m glad you’re here.
We’ve been on a Journey With Jesus for some time now. Our destination is getting closer but we have a bit further to go. This week, we’re talking about “Cancelled”. Cancelled has a number of meanings: In banking terms, it can mean already collected upon. In general use, it can mean called off, scrubbed, abandoned, scrapped, scratched, axed, redlined. And, it can mean neutralized, counter-balanced, counteracted, negated, wiped out, nullified, wiped out, or off set. We’ll look at those meanings and more, especially how it can also mean to “look up,” so be sure to stick around for the message.
Before we begin, some quick announcements and asks:
First, some super good news. We are making headway on preparing the church for re-opening. One of our members is in the process of getting the church cleaned! We do not have a solid date for reopening as there is quite a bit of cleaning and other work to do. Stay tuned for more info as the work progresses.
Also, we have had the locks on the church, fellowship hall, and sound room rekeyed. Keys will be checked out on an as needed basis only.
A quick update on the Virtual Fellowship Hall project – I believe I’ve found a reservation system that would allow people who want to book meeting time to do so and will be testing it over the next week. If everything works like I hope, we should be able to offer virtual meeting space to our community within a few weeks.
Holy Week is coming soon. Our online observances will start on Palm Sunday, March 28, with special services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday.
Speaking of Easter Sunday, we’re going to be starting a new series that day called Dare to Dance Again and, thanks to President Biden’s announcement this past Thursday that all adults in the US will be able to be vaccinated by May 1, a time when we can all dance together again is considerably closer! So please, folks, if you haven’t yet, go get your vaccination and let’s dance!
And, last but certainly not least, for those of you who have kids, grandkids, neighbor kids, or just stray kids wandering by, I would love to hear what they need or expect from the church, so visit with them and then let me know!
Now let us begin with a Call to Worship and prayer:
Too often, too easily, our eyes are drawn down, God, to the suffering of victims and the pain of perpetrators, to the wounds we inflict on others and the wounds we inflict on ourselves.
We need to see these things and pray,
But, we also need our eyes to be lifted, God, to the signs of your life among us, to the touch of your healing on our souls, to the cross that casts its liberating shadow across all human affairs.
We need our eyes to be lifted, God, so our hearts may be filled with faith and hope and love.
Gracious God, so often we have missed your presence because we are looking for you clothed in a particular way. Let this time of worship be an encounter with you that will enable us to behold you in all the people we meet and all the situations we greet. You are from everlasting to everlasting, so we are confident that you are here; help us to be aware of your holy presence. O Lord, enrich this act of worship with the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray in Jesus’ name.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us 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.
Now, please join me in prayer:
Sweet and precious God, Almighty and awesome in glory, yet so near and so concerned about our hearts, thank you for knowing and loving us with an everlasting love.
Time and time again, we have messed up and relived the oh-so-common “if you get me out of this, I will never do it again.”
We have attempted to bargain a favor on a promissory note that we make void daily.
But thank you God, that even though you know we are headed to sin again, you not only still love us unconditionally, but you offer us forgiveness, the opportunity to have a clean record, a “get out of jail free” card that bears the title: new grace AND mercy every morning.
So, allow us, Oh God, to not become complacent in our daily journey.
Forgive us for not moving as fast as we should have in the past, and for not helping someone in need when we could have.
You have given us the spirit of discernment, but please give us the wisdom to see beyond the transitory things of life and find you and your sustaining presence, that we may be a blessing to others.
You know the silent cries in our hearts, we know that you have already met the need, now God tap into our hearts’ true desires.
Touch families, friends, and most importantly our neighbors because when you are blessing our neighbors, we know you are in the neighborhood and you are headed to our house.
So, thank you, for being sovereign in our lives, giving us the power to speak over our own lives, the lives around us, and to love one another with the love of Christ.
We will continue to give you glory, honor, and praise, believing that your grace is sufficient enough for us, and your love endures forever.
It is in the matchless name of Jesus that we pray as we are taught:
“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: God through Christ has remembered us with kindness and steadfast love. As far as east is from west, so has God removed our sins. Believe the gospel: in Christ you are forgiven.
O God, most holy and praised: As Your Son gathered disciples to himself to teach them your ways, so your Spirit has gathered us in this time and place. Make us alert and attentive as we read and reflect on Your scriptures; help us take them to heart and live into them so that your will is truly done on earth as in heaven. We pray in the name of our true Teacher, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Numbers 24:1-9 (NRSV)
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.
The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (MSG)
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
John 3:14-21 (NRSV)
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – “Cancelled”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
We need to talk about Nicodemus for a moment. Nicodemus was a leader of the people of God, the Jews. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin which was the governing body of the Jews in Israel at Jesus’ time. Nicodemus was respected … which means he had a reputation to protect and most likely arranged to meet Jesus in the middle of the night in order to protect his reputation. I imagine he felt that one should only meet with questionable backwoods rabbis at times and places where there was little chance anyone of any importance would notice. And so, they met privately after dark. Their meeting went like this.
“Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”
Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”
“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”
Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.
“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”
Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?
“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.” (John 3:1-13 MSG)
But Jesus wasn’t done … watch what happened next:
To Nicodemus, here is this man, Jesus, who was not a Pharisee like he is, not a Sadducee, not a member of the Sanhedrin, not authorized or ordained as it were by any of the church leaders or priesthood groups at the Temple, speaking what Nicodemus must have felt seemed on the edge of a cancellation of everything he and his colleagues at the Temple understood about God and the Torah.
“I’m not telling you anything new, Nicodemus,” Jesus might say.” I’ve been saying these things since I got here, since the beginning of time. This is all I have to say; this is all I know, this God thing, this vision of the people of God, the community of faith. I have not stopped saying this. And you are a leader of people and somehow don’t get it. How can this be, Nicodemus? What did you miss? Get ready; it’s about to get even more intense.”
Jesus gave Nicodemus a whole lot of stuff to think about. We don’t know how it all affected him or what he went away with that night. It’s probable, though, that Nicodemus’ world must have been rocked like it was struck by a magnitude 8 earthquake that night.
It’s probable that he’d gone into this meeting fearful of becoming a victim of cancel-culture from his Temple colleagues found out about the meeting. To then hear Jesus telling him he has to be born again, a concept that he’s never heard before, to let go … let go of the need to control; let go of his need to have everything his way. Let go of the belief that he can build a better world, a more vibrant community by shaping it along the lines of his own preferences and understandings. To grab hold of the Spirit and be blown about, from one world to the next, from one joy to the next, from one soul to the next. To be born into a new way of seeing; let go of what was, no matter how satisfying it may have been. To grab hold of where God is calling him to go, who God is calling him, Nicodemus … Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, to be?
You know how you feel about church being canceled all these months. Imagine how Nicodemus must have felt hearing the religious beliefs he had been taught, known, and even taught to others himself just … [head explosion sound and action] … cancelled.
Cancelled. It was possibly one of the most used … and dreaded and even despised … words of 2020. As the virus spread around the globe and especially here in the US, life as we knew it, stopped. At first we most likely at least subconsciously hoped life was just frozen in time and that soon and very soon it would resume like a movie that’s paused when you hit play … everything from before continues on as if it had never stopped in the first place.
As the year progressed, though, we learned that time had not frozen and that, when we’re finally able to hit that figurative play button, many parts of what was before will be missing in the after.
Perhaps … if we would just take time to think about it … if we would take a moment and just look up instead of back … we would find out that many of the things missing in the after are things that made the before and even now difficult, painful, for the least among us, for the marginalized among us … maybe, if we would take a moment to look up and pray about it instead of claiming we’re the victims of this “cancel culture” and that “cancel culture,” we’d realize that we are people of One God who makes all things new and the what we see as cancel culture is really just the kind of prophetic counter-culture that Jesus called … and calls … us to live into. Counter-culture is simply speaking truth to power when power is wrong, power is unjust, power does harm.
We here in the US tend to grab phrases like “cancel culture” and immediately overuse, exploit and, for the last several years, politicize them, often turning them into labels for anyone or anything that opposes our own beliefs or ideologies.
If you’re not relating that to the passages today, then re-read the passage from Ephesians … “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us,” or the passage from Numbers … “the people became impatient on the way.
The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
We have become impatient, disrespectful, unappreciative, and selfish. We make demands for self at the expense of all others. What matters is my rights and my needs and my comfort and my beliefs. If you try to infringe on any of those, even if my having those diminishes or eliminates altogether your rights and your needs and your beliefs, I am the victim of cancel-culture and you are the bad guy.
Private companies decide to pull a product like specific book titles because they’ve determined those particular titles contain racist or other discriminatory images or language, or rename a children’s toy vegetable to the genderless thing the vegetable is and somehow that’s breaking news level cancel culture. We don’t care about the private companies’ rights. We probably haven’t picked up those books in decades if we ever read them to begin with, and it’s doubtful we still play with that vegetable toy, but by golly, don’t you dare take those away from us.
Cancel, cancelled. The word applies to the end of something … something that cannot … generally speaking, for good reason … continue … whether that reason is a deadly virus or that it causes pain, anguish, the diminishment of someone other than ourselves. All good reasons.
And yet, if we would only think about it, if we would only allow ourselves to embrace Christ, to follow his teachings to the very best of our ability … the difference in us would be profound … we would be made brand new and we would be forever changed …
Oh … back to that bronze snake on a pole … What was important about that snake wasn’t the snake. It was not imbued with any God-given healing powers. It was simply a big bronze snake on a pole. It’s purpose was to cause the people who had been looking down and around at their earthly worries and woes and circumstances, to look up … and up was a reminder of God who loved them.
We need to look up, too. We need to let go of the earthly things that are ultimately meaningless and unimportant and look up to the Cross because of John 3:16. John 3:16 foretells the most significant and important act of cancel-culture in the history of the world … the cancellation of our sins through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ, our Lord. That is the only cancel-culture that should matter to any of us, and it is a very good thing to be a beneficiary of that particular cancellation, to be made brand new in Christ, don’t you think?
Let’s pray …
At a time when humankind had exhausted its own efforts to know and be known by God, the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14.) Jesus came to us; God with us, revealing God to us.
Jesus came to us, the ultimate act of hospitality.
Jesus remained with us for a time, in spite of our dull understanding and willful acts against God. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself and submitted to the humiliation of death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8.)
Jesus came to us in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.
Jesus came to us as the ultimate expression of love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).
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:
People made by God: Go, Go, Go. Go thanking and telling others of God’s goodness.
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 … even the ones you’d rather not. Remember that you have been made new in Christ Jesus. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord, ……..In the name of Christ. Amen.
- Call to Worship & Opening Prayer – John van de Laar, Sacradise, & T. Anne Daniel, The Africana Worship Book Year B
- Pastoral & Closing Prayers – Harrison Morrow, Lenten Liturgical Resources from Africana Writers
- Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
- Benediction – Darlene A. Moore, The Africana Worship Book Year B
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!