In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook.  Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, 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 are included in the message.

Giving God Praise in the Dark, Doxology Verse 1

Rev. Val

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.

What’s your great American dream? Or maybe a better question is, what is your dream of what America is? Is it the promised land and we the lost tribe of Israel? Is it the city on the hill that shines a righteous light for the rest of the world? Is it purple mountains majesty and seas of golden grain? A land of freedom, equality, and opportunity for all?

For a very long time, that was the America I thought I lived in. Growing up where I did, it was easy to believe that was how things were. I didn’t grow up in a diverse tapestry of races or even ethnicities. The most exotic languages I heard were when the custom harvesting crews would come up from Texas and Oklahoma and talk with that honey sweet southern drawl they had. And in those days because I’m that old, divorce was a whispered word, unwed mothers were a rarity, and closets were not only closed, they were pretty much locked tight. What I knew of the world was learned from National Geographic, The Wild Kingdom, and the movies that played on TV on Saturday.

The biggest cities I ever visited were places like Des Moines IA, Minneapolis MN, and Denver CO. It would be a few more decades before I saw places like NY, Philadelphia, Atlanta, LA … well, you get the picture.

I was only vaguely aware of things like the Viet Nam War and Watergate, had never been west of the Rockies, east of the Mississippi, south of Abilene KS, or north of Helena MT, so every where I saw was pretty much the same. I learned of JFK’s assassination on the playground, was watching TV when Bobby Kennedy was killed, and heard about Martin Luther King on the evening news at the babysitter’s house. And none of them had any residual effect on me other than the memories.

Life got a little more interesting when I went off to college, but not a lot. All in all a pretty sheltered life in a pretty idyllic world where the biggest worry was getting the wheat harvest in before it got hailed out. It wouldn’t be until I moved here to TN that I’d experience substantially more diversity and the politics, ideologies, and injustices that go along with it.

The older I get, the more tarnished my idyllic world becomes. I remember my first trip to the heart of NY City. Keep in mind that the only thing I knew about NY was what I saw in movies like Miracle on 34th street. Imagine my disillusionment to find out it was the neat, pristinely clean city of that movie. My perspective of other cities I’d only known from the movies changed, too.  I lived on the outskirts of Philly for a little over a year and saw very little of it because all my co-workers said it wasn’t safe for me to go explore on my own and never quite found time to go with me. To this day – and I’ve lived here for 36 years now – I’ve never been to downtown Atlanta … just through it, and Chicago, LA, Albuquerque, San Francisco? … all seen from the interstates and the passenger seat of my husband’s Peterbilt. No offense to the people that live there, but my romantic notions of those cities suffered greatly.

Which brings us to today, to this past week, the past 8 years or more, and I have to tell you … the lens through which I now see this home of the free and the brave is both sharper and clearer and the rosy coating has long since been washed away.

The laws that passed this past week here in TN have caused nearly irreparable pain and harm and trauma to members of our community … invaluable beloved members of our community … with even more harmful laws on their way. And not just here … in state after state after state … 34 other states to be precise … and almost always based on what someone somewhere has declared are “Christian values.” Only I can’t find Christ anywhere in them. In fact, I find them completely anti-Christ. Not only anti-Christ, but based on the same cherry picking of scripture and temptations the Tempter used with Jesus in the wilderness. Sadly, where Jesus withstood the Tempter’s temptations, humans once again failed and bought them hook, line, and stinking sinker. And for far too many, the light that once shown from the city on the hill known as America has become so dim, it can barely be seen.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow … praise him all creatures here below … praise him above, ye heavenly hosts … praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

How do you praise God when by all appearances God doesn’t seem to be present? How do you look up at the heavens and sing loud praises to God when it seems God doesn’t want to hear you, doesn’t hear you? How do you keep from screaming at the heavens that God needs to act … quickly … before lives are lost to self-harm or acts of hate? Before the mental and emotional trauma becomes PTSD? Before you become so disillusioned you give up on God or at least God’s mighty church completely?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow? Or Blame God for causing our tears to flow? Praise Him all creatures here below? Or praise him those worthy of the status quo? Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts? An angel army, God, or simply ghosts? Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost … Abba … Father … why have you forsaken us?

If only we could truly understand the mind and will of God. If only we weren’t so quick to attribute all our troubles to God’s will and claim the credit for His blessings.

If only we understood that … sometimes … the very troubles we lament are actually a kind of blessing because they strengthen us and our resolve … we learn from them who our neighbors are … where are gifts are needed … and even what our gifts are to begin with … blessings that grow our community, widen our circle, grow new alliances for standing up and calling out the true enemies.

If only we understood that God does indeed mean all creatures … the stone nation, the plants and trees, the things that crawl in and on the earth, the four-legged and winged and finned creatures and every kind and color of two-legged creatures like us … all creatures who all find ways to face the darkness and survive and to give thanks to They who created us.

If only we understood that we are constantly surrounded by the spirits of our ancestors, by the communion of saints, by angel armies, by the heavenly host … and that they are all led by the God in the flesh who came down and crawled in beside us. And he will never forsake nor forget us and will ever and always forgive and fortify us.

And if only we understood that Spirit is never more than a breath away, waiting to hear our prayer for her to fill us, to guide us, to lead us in the directions we need to go …

If only we’d realize the only thing between God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and us is simple, childlike faith … the kind of faith that a child has when he or she or they pick a ripened dandelion, close their eyes, and blow their prayers into the wind …

Praise God from who all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host! Yes … in faith or doubt, in joy or tears, in good times or bad times, in struggle or ease, in daylight or darkness … praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

John Roedel wrote a poem that captures all this pretty well. It goes like this:

Me (sullen, sad): Hey God.

God: Hello My love.

Me: Not talking today.

God: Why?

Me: My eyes are full of tears.

God: Quit holding them in. Let them fall. Let Me count each one.

Me: Stop. Not today. I can’t do this.

God: Do what?

Me: Talk with You. I just don’t feel Your presence in my life these days.  I feel absolutely alone.

God: I’m here. I love you. I’m here.

Me: I want to give in to the darkness.

God: You can’t. The world needs you. I’m right here.

Me: No You aren’t. You are absent. I’ve been abandoned in my despair.

God: I’m holding you right now.

Me: Then why can’t I feel You?

God: You do feel Me. I’m touching your face right now.

Me: Uh, the only thing on my face are my tears!

God: That’s me! Why do you think that you are crying?

Me: Because I’m in pain! There is an invisible monster inside of me that is eating me alive! Depression won’t stop chewing on me until there is nothing left! It hurts so much…

God: I’m right here in your pain. Through each pang of suffering, I am the one cradling you so tight to keep you from melting into the shadows. Those tears you are crying aren’t from pain. They are messages from your soul informing you that you aren’t alone. I’m right here. I love you. You are weeping because you know deep down inside of yourself that you will survive. You are crying because you have come to know that you will outlast the darkness.

Me: I don’t think that –

God: My love. Don’t listen to the lies of despair. It wants you all to itself. Despair wants you to think that those tears on your face are a sign of weakness. They aren’t! Your streaking tears are your victory parade! They are the verses to your love song of courage. You haven’t given up and I am so very proud of you. I made you with the strength of starlight and you will not plunge into darkness. I am holding you and you will survive. Your fat daddy teardrops are proof of how brave you are. Those tears are telling the story about how I created you to outlast any dark night. Your tears are the angels carrying you to the light of dawn.

Me: Are you sure I’ll survive this?

God: Yes. Hold on to Me. I have something beautiful to show you. Do you feel Me now?

Me: I’m not sure what I feel. It’s weird. My hands have started shaking. I don’t know what to call what I’m feeling.

God: I know EXACTLY what you’re feeling. I can see it all over your face.

Me: What is it?

God: Hope.

   ~ john roedel

Faith and Hope go together … to have one, you have to have the other. Christ brought hope to us … the hope of a better way … not an easier way, but a better way … the hope that comes from his model of standing up for the oppressed and standing against the oppressor … the hope found in the model of God’s love he gave us … a model that is our closest understanding of and greatest clue into God’s way and God’s will … the hope that he gave us when he suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, and then rose from the dead … that hope that gives us the promise of a new life in him and in God’s kingdom if we would simply follow the Way he taught us … The kind of hope that will strengthen our faith and our resolve if we allow it to.

Let’s pray:

The Tempter says, “If you are…”

God, help us prove that we are your people.

If we are the people of God, our love will flow from inside out to God, neighbor, self, and all creation.

God, help us prove that we are your people.

If we are followers of Christ, our faith will plant seeds of justice, so we can reap a harvest of reconciliation and healing where violence and desolation once took root.

God, help us prove that we are your people.

If we are students of the Holy Spirit, our hope will dream a world of flourishing for all of God’s creation, inspiring us to spread God’s abundant life like butter on warm toast.

God, help us prove that we are your people.

Though the Tempter says, “If you are…,” God says, “You are mine.”

God, as the people you claim as your own, teach us to live in and return to love, faith, and hope whenever we fall.



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