ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Instrumental
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Heaven Has Come To Us, Sovereign Grace Music
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Luke 2:22-40
- Message – Finding Faith – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – I Still Believe, Dolly Parton
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – To See The King, Joyce Martin Sanders
Hello! I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville and I want to welcome you to this morning’s worship service.
This morning we’re “Finding Faith,” something many have struggled with over this very long year we’ve been through and something I think will be important in the year we’re about to face.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for a special watchnight or New Year’s Eve service on Thursday, December 31, and then come back next Sunday, January 3, for Finding the Messiah, a celebration of Epiphany Sunday.
And lastly, if you’re financially able, please consider taking time to make weekly offerings. You can make them online through a secure service provided by Holston Conference or you can mail them in. The information is available on our website, at the end of this video, and in our weekly worship bulletins sent through our email list.
Rather than an opening prayer this week, please join me in this Affirmation of faith based on Isaiah 61:10-11. As the words appear on the screen, just say them with me.
We believe joyfully in the God of love, with all our being we celebrate our God.
As soil after drought produces green shoots and as garden seeds spring into new life, so our God produces justice and praise to spring up among all nations.
We believe in God who dresses us in the garments of salvation; who by the grace of Christ covers us with the robe of righteousness, adopts us into the holy family and promises to make us a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God.
This we believe through Christ Jesus. May the Holy Spirit strengthen our belief.[i]
[i] Rev. Bruce Prewer, Australian Church Resources, http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocB/BCHRISTMAS1.htm
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praises and our petitions. To protect the privacy of those we pray for, we do not say any names. Please know that 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 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.
Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children.
Grant us faith, O Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all of creation may sing new songs of gladness and walk in the way of peace.
Lord, be with us now. We’re tired. We’re weary, and while we look forward to seeing the end of this year, we know the coming year will most likely be just as trying, maybe even more so. Make your presence known to us so clearly that our faith is restored completely.
We pray today, Lord, for the souls of all those who have or are or will be losing their lives to this hateful virus, and we ask that you welcome them into your heavenly home. We pray as well for their families and friends who had no opportunity to say goodbye.
We pray for the many who are living in fear of an uncertain future caused initially by the impact of this virus and now by political turmoil in our government. Comfort them, Lord. Strengthen them. Intercede on their behalf and move the hearts of our nation’s leaders to put them ahead of politics and power.
We pray for our frontline workers and hospitals, Lord. It is not the fault of the doctors and nurses working around the clock that there are people out here who refuse to take even the simplest steps necessary to avoid spreading this virus. Protect our frontline workers from the consequences of the foolishness and selfishness of those who are in denial of the dangers. Restore them. Strengthen them. Bless them abundantly, and Lord please open the eyes of those who continue to put our frontline workers at risk through their careless and callous behavior. Cause them to end their foolishness.
We lift up to you the City of Nashville and those injured physically and financially by the bomber.
We lift up all those at or nearing the breaking point who may be considering lashing out at others are harming themselves. Calm them. Fill them with your peace. Lead them to those who can help them through the darkness.
We lift up all who are sick or hurting for any other reasons. Heal them. Restore them. Comfort them.
We ask these things today in the name of your Son, our Lord, and with the confidence of your children we pray the words he taught us to pray:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. ”
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.
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 (MSG)
I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
He dressed me up in a suit of salvation, he outfitted me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo and a bride a jeweled tiara.
For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers, and as a garden cascades with blossoms, so the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom and puts praise on display before the nations.
Regarding Zion, I can’t keep my mouth shut, regarding Jerusalem, I can’t hold my tongue, until her righteousness blazes down like the sun and her salvation flames up like a torch.
Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You’ll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You’ll be a stunning crown in the palm of God’s hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.
Luke 2:22-40 (MSG)
Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.
In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:
God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes, I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.
Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, a figure misunderstood and contradicted — the pain of a sword-thrust through you — but the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are.
Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.
When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Finding Faith …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Is anyone feeling a bit more let down in the aftermath of this particular Christmas than those of the past? It seems like Nature decided if some of us couldn’t figure out the importance of limiting travel, events, and other activities because of COVID, she’d just have to limit us with enough snow and ice to force us all to stay home. Well played, Nature, well played.
Our Christmas ended up being snowed in at my Mom’s house with her, my brother, two of my kids, and enough chili to feed a small army. We may call this one the Christmas that almost wasn’t. It was so out of tilt, it seems to have thrown me off enough I gave serious consideration to not delivering a message today.
Then I remembered the theme for today’s message – Finding Faith – and I realized that, for many of you, your faith may be as out of tilt as my Christmas was, what with not being able to go to in-person worship services or Sunday School or bible studies, so that’s what I want to talk to you about today – Finding Faith.
In our passage from Luke, there are two people who had extremely strong faith – Simeon and Anna.
Simeon was a good man, a devout man, who lived his life praying for and expecting help for Israel, and the Holy Spirit filled him and showed him he would indeed live to see the Messiah.
Anna, too, was extremely devout. After she became widowed, she spent the rest of her life fasting and praying at the temple for the liberation of Jerusalem
In the passage, we learn that both Simeon and Anna’s prayerful expectations are met. When Mary and Joseph arrive at the temple to have Jesus circumcised, Simeon and Anna immediately recognize Jesus as the savior of Israel they’ve each been praying for.
Now think about that for a moment. Both of these quite elderly people spent their lives praying for the arrival of the savior. While Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit, Anna was simply prayerful and both believed in something they had no assurance of seeing in their lifetimes. It was faith in the God they prayed to that carried them through.
The kind of faith they both had is something one has to work at. It doesn’t come naturally because by our very nature, we constantly work to subvert it.
We often subvert our own faith by thinking, “Well, how am I supposed to believe in a God I can’t see, a God I can’t hear, a God who is often silent?”
I can’t see air, but I know it’s there. I can’t see every bird singing in the trees, but I can hear them so I know they’re there. I can’t hear the wind that moves the clouds high in the sky, but the clouds move, so I know the wind is up there pushing them.
Faith is like that. It’s believing … knowing … that God simply is. It’s hearing him in a baby’s laugh, in the song of a stream as it tumbles over round stones, in the cry of a redtail hawk soaring high about. It’s seeing him in the colors of the sunrise and sunset or, more recently, in the faces of the doctors and nurses who comfort those dying alone of COVID. It’s witnessing him in the actions and kindnesses of all of those who’ve sewn masks or organized food banks and drives, who’ve visited the elderly through the windows of the nursing homes, who’ve fed the homeless.
Faith is here if we look for it with open eyes, open hearts, open minds, but it requires something of us. It requires that we don’t try to control it, don’t try to set limits on it. Faith like Simeon and Anna had is a 24/7 commitment in any and all circumstances good or bad. And faith requires something else of us. It requires being willing to share our faith with others … again … without controlling it … or them … or setting limits on it … or on them.
We tend to be most faithful when all is going well. But true faith is most needed when things are not going well. And nowhere in the bible does it say that once we accept Jesus and declare our belief in God will the rest of our lives be all roses.
No, we’re warned that there will be times of trouble, there will be struggles, and there will be challenges, but to stay the course and stay true to God.
We’ve just come through nine months of horrific struggle, haven’t we? And we’re more than likely about to face another twelve months of struggle … in fact, we should anticipate another twelve months and plan accordingly. We know the vaccines won’t be available to the majority of us for at least six months, our government is somewhat unstable right now, and it will take six to twelve months for the vaccines to make it safe again and the economy to begin to recover. There won’t be any miraculous elimination of COVID on January first. It will still be here.
That’s where faith steps in. Faith that we will manage our way through the coming year just as we’ve managed our way through this one. Faith that God will guide us and help us to do what we can to keep one another lifted up, to help in whatever way we can each help, to continue to build a beloved community.
God, you know how unfaithful we can become. Forgive us and strengthen our faith. Help us hear and see you in all your creation. Help us hear and see you in all your children we meet, we see whether in person or on a screen. Give us the strength, the courage, the conviction to do all we can do to build your beloved community here on earth through our words, our actions, and our example through our faith.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the New Year’s Eve Watchnight service on Dec. 31st.
Now hear this benediction:
God of glory, you have given us a new name and robed us in salvation.
May we like Anna find our home in your presence, and like Simeon recognize Jesus as the Christ, so that, in joy and thanksgiving at becoming your children, we may join with all creation to sing your praise.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, and keep the faith, friends. Go in peace. God be with you.
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!