ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – O Love, That Wilt Not Let Me Go, 4Him
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates, The Musical Collective of Edmonds UMC
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Advent Reading – Hope – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8, 1 John 3:1-3, 16-18, 4:7-21
- Message – Finding Love – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – See the Love, The Musical Collective of Edmonds UMC
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Advent Hymn, Christy Nockles
Happy second Sunday of Advent! 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.
I’m excited about today’s service. Advent is such a special time of year … a time of waiting and hoping … of anticipating … and today is about preparing ourselves for Finding Love … something the world definitely needs much more of right now. Today’s service includes some very special musical performers – the Music Collective from Edmonds United Methodist Church in Edmonds, Washington, and I want to thank them for making the videos available for us to use.
There are a couple of upcoming dates I want to let you know about. I’ll be releasing a few special worship videos in addition to our regular Sunday services between now and January 5. They are a “Longest Night” or as some of you may know it, “Blue Christmas” service on December 21. This is a very special service for those who struggle this season because they’ve lost someone close to them. I have a special “Candlelight” video coming for Christmas Eve that includes the telling of the Nativity story and some of the songs you know and love so well. And finally, on New Year’s Eve, I’m going to release a “Watchnight” Service. I encourage you to mark these dates on your calendar and watch for the videos to release on those evenings.
I also want to remind you that, if you’re one of the first 50 to do so, you can get a free Love Your Neighbor Facemask by filling out our “Connection Card” available on our Facebook page and on our website and there’s an added bonus. You’ll also get the link and password to our channel at Amplify Media where you’ll find everything from Bible Studies to devotionals to videos. There’s something for every age at Amplify Media, so don’t miss the opportunity to get access to it.
OK, I think that wraps up the announcements. Now let’s pray and hear the call to worship:
O God, You call to us from the wild places, You call to us from the inner chambers of our hearts. We come in answer to your call. We come to pray, to praise, to learn of your love for all creation.
Reveal your glory that we may see it together – Inform and inspire us to seek your kingdom on earth in our time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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 will be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud. Just watch the screen for the words to appear in front of me and say them with me.
God of hope, you raised up John the baptizer as a herald who calls us to conversion. As we joyfully await the glorious coming of Christ, we pray to you for the needs of the church and the world.[i]
Before all our other petitions, God, we give you praise for the blessings we continually receive from you. We are undeserving yet you continue to bless us and we thank you.
We hear the news about all those who are sick because of the COVID virus, all the deaths, and the arguments of those who don’t want to accept the truth about it, who fight doing the very things that could hold it at bay until the vaccines come or who declare they won’t get the vaccine and we are dumbfounded, Lord. We feel helpless and angry and frustrated.
We know, God, that the vaccines are coming because You guided the scientists that found them, and You inspired the men and women that are designing and testing the delivery systems for the vaccines.
We know that You are guiding the hands of the nurses and doctors beginning to bend under the stress of hospitals that are at or beyond capacity, and we ask that you both strengthen them and give them much-needed comfort. Stay with them until they can finally rest and keep them safe, God.
Christ, please help us prepare the way for your coming.
Where there seems to be no way to end the conflict and violence in our time, we pray that you would teach us, O Christ, to prepare the way;
Where we can see no way to provide for the needs of all people, we pray that you would show us, O Christ, how to prepare the way;
Where we can find no way to work together for justice, we pray that you would change us, O Christ, until we prepare the way;
Where we are unable to believe in a way to live simply, responsibly, and mindfully, we pray that you would inspire us, O Christ, to faith that prepares the way;
In a world where we are tempted to see so many of our challenges as dead-ends, we pray for a new vision, a new heart, and a new commitment to prepare the way for your reign, your grace, your shalom, and for the liberation, justice and peace that you bring.[ii]
Hear our humble prayer that we may serve you in holiness and faith and give voice to your presence among us until the day of the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever. [iii]
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. ”
ADVENT READING – CANDLE OF LOVE
Our lists are long, even in this strange mess where we live these days. And we want to do it right, we want to be safe, but we want to be able to enjoy the season. We’ve got work to do to put right what has gone wrong, to heal what is broken, to mend the relationships, and to prepare for the company that will come.
The prophet Isaiah reminded us that there is work to be done. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” When God comes in, then healing is to be found, but we need to make the way; we need to open the door into our lives.
So, we light this candle of Love as a sign of our faith that the God we worship is not far from us, that His love for us is without end, and that we can clear the way for that God to come and dwell with us. We light this candle in faith that company is coming.
O come, O come, Emmanuel. [iv]
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 40:1-11 (MSG)
“Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven! She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.”
Thunder in the desert! “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine, and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said.”
A voice says, “Shout!” I said, “What shall I shout?”
“These people are nothing but grass, their love fragile as wildflowers. The grass withers, the wildflowers fade, if God so much as puffs on them. Aren’t these people just so much grass?
True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade, but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.”
Climb a high mountain, Zion. You’re the preacher of good news. Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem. You’re the preacher of good news. Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah, “Look! Your God!” Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power, ready to go into action.
He is going to pay back his enemies and reward those who have loved him. Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, Hugging them as he carries them, leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.
Mark 1:1-8 (MSG)
The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I’m sending my preacher ahead of you; He’ll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!
John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
As he preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
1 John 3:1-3, 16-18, 4:7-21 (MSG)
What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.
But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
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.
My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Finding Love …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipating, and of preparing. Eight centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah was telling God’s chosen people to prepare for the one who was coming. Eight centuries before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah was foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Eight centuries … eight hundred years before … and still … when Jesus was born … the people were largely unprepared and unaware.
Isaiah had prophesied what needed to be done … to straighten up, stop walking crooked roads, get your life in order and get right with God. Isaiah even prophesied to the church itself … “Climb a high mountain, Zion. You’re the preacher of good news. Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem. You’re the preacher of good news. Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid! Tell the cities of Judah, “Look! Your God!” Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power, ready to go into action.”
It’s 2020. Our minds are conditioned to instinctively connect certain images and attributes to the words we hear. I say road, you mentally think highway. I say path, you mentally see a dirt or gravel trail. I say Jerusalem and your mind’s eye sees a dot on a map of a middle eastern country or images of the modern-day city in the nation-state of Israel. I say “enemies” and you see people, probably people you don’t like or you don’t agree with. But none of those are what Isaiah meant in his prophecy.
Zion in Isaiah’s prophesy is not a place, but a people … the people who have been faithful to God, who have put their love of God first. The paths and roads he tells the people to make straight are not physical roadways, but the path between themselves and God. Isaiah’s prophecy is calling them to prepare to go even higher in their faith, to become the proclaimers of the good news not just to each other or the others in Jerusalem, but to all of Judah.
He tells them if they will do as instructed, the light of God will shine out from them for all to see, and that God will pay back God’s enemies, “reward those who have loved him,” and “Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, hugging them as he carries them, leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.”
As we see in the passage from Mark, Isaiah’s prophecy is brought to fruition in the arrival of John the Baptist who carries the same message, telling the people to prepare themselves for the one who is coming. Time to get ready, to clear the paths between themselves and God.
Isaiah lived in a stormy, chaotic time of Israel’s history. The Assyrians were expanding their empire and Israel was in decline. It would be another 200 years before Jerusalem fell, but the fall of Judah to the Assyrians was already assumed. Isaiah’s prophesies gave the people a vision of hope for the future.
John the Baptist also lived in a stressful, hard time. Israel as a nation no longer existed and the Jewish people were under Roman rule. The retelling of Isaiah’s prophecy through John the Baptist would have been a dose of much-needed hope, renewing their spirits and their faith and reminding them that God was faithful, still cared for them, and the Messiah was still coming to save them from the chaos.
Two men 800 years apart sent by God to tell us to prepare the way for the one who is coming.
Today is not so different from Isaiah’s time or from the time of John the Baptist. As if the world doesn’t have enough chaos of its own, we see people all around us working hard to stir up even more. And yet, here we are … waiting … hoping … anticipating the anniversary of the coming of the very one prophesied by Isaiah and announced by John the Baptist.
We have work to do if we’re going to be ready, don’t we? We have some very crooked paths of our own making to straighten out. We have so many molehills we’ve turned into mountains to flatten so that way is smooth … Where do we begin?
We get that answer from 1 John. “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.”
We begin with Love …. The love extended to us by God. If we let that love surround us and pour into us, let it fill us, let it consume us … that love is so powerful and pure that it washes everything chaotic and crooked and mountainous away until our way is straight and smooth.
There’s a trick to this, though. We can’t hoard God’s love. Just as we let it pour into us, we need to let it course through our soul and shine out to others. And in sharing God’s love as fully and completely as we receive it, we will be constantly refilled with His love. An endless, eternal gift.
This wondrous unconditional love extended to us by the One who made us came to us in the flesh … as a tiny, helpless babe … this beautiful gift we were given born purely of the Love of God for His children … Oh, what wondrous love this is … we search for it, for the light it brings, with blinders on …
Take the blinders off, beloved. Let His Glory pour into you and shine through you. Let His love fill you so full it flows out from you like rays of warm sunlight on a cold day. Prepare yourselves. He’s coming.
Father, here we are! We are your children! We are those for whom you were willing to hang upon a tree. We’re not perfect. We have made mistakes. We have broken your heart. We’ve gone totally opposite what you’ve asked and required of us. However, none of this has stopped your love. None of this has stopped your grace. None of this has stopped your mercy. Why are you so good to us, God? Why do you make ways for us like you do? Why do you care for us like you do? You are extremely patient with us, God. You gave us time to get it together so that we could one day be together. Rub some of your patience on us, God. We could use it. Help us be more like you. Help us live more like you. Help us smell more like you. Help us look more like you. Restore in us your image so that when that great day comes and you crack the sky, we are found spotless in your sight. We wait for you, Loving God. We wait patiently upon your arrival.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
In his name, we pray. Amen!
Now, go, people of God! Go, and make sure the path is clear for Jesus, your Jesus, my Jesus, our Jesus, to get through! Go, and make your voice heard! Shout it from your cubicle, from your classroom, from your delivery truck, from your living room, from your heart! Tell somebody, anybody, everybody, that Jesus is coming! He’s coming to make us better and coming to make us whole! Go forth, knowing that you’ve got work to do! He who is to come is already with you, endowing you with good Holy Ghost power to do what he needs you to do! Go, people, go!
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, let yourself be filled with the Love of God and let it shine out from you for others to see, carry a heart of hope for the Light that’s coming, and 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!