• Prelude – A Place Called Grace, Phillips, Craig and Dean
  • Welcome, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
  • Praise Song – Hymn of St. Patrick, Dwight Beal
  • Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
  • Scripture Readings – Rev. Ohle (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:10-12, John 12:20-33)
  • Message: Holy Handwriting – Rev. Ohle
  • Anthem – Write Them On My Heart, Marleta Fong
  • Benediction – Rev. Ohle
  • Postlude – I Am Yours (Wesley Covenant Prayer), COR Worship Collective


Welcome! It’s Sunday, March 21st in the year of our Lord 2021 and the 5th Sunday of Lent. I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church and I’m glad you’re here.

This morning’s message, “Holy Handwriting,” focuses on passages from Jeremiah and John, as we continue our Lenten Journey with Jesus.

Before we begin, though, I have some important announcements:

Cleaning of the church began yesterday! We don’t have a solid date for reopening as there is quite a bit of cleaning and other work to do, but stay tuned … God is moving at Union Grove in major ways right now and we should have more good news for you soon.

I was able to find a reservation system and test it with the help of Rev. Dr. Tim Jones, Director of Communications for Holston Conference, and it is just a couple steps away from being ready to release to the community. The virtual hall will be available for community groups and for families to use for meetings, birthday parties, or just to connect and chat. It can be reserved for up to 3 hours at a time with up to 300 participants. There is no charge for its use.

Holy Week is coming soon. Our Holy Week services will be online again this year, and will begin on Palm Sunday, March 28. Thursday, April 1, is Maundy Thursday … the night of the Last Supper. Join us at 7 p.m. that night for a special communion service. We encourage you to gather your family and enough bread and juice for those present to participate with us. You won’t want to miss the Service of Shadows on Good Friday, April 2. Holy Saturday is meant to be spent in quiet prayer and contemplation. We’ll be offline from completion of the Service of Shadows until Easter morning, April 4.

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:

We are alive to see this new day – Shout hallelujah my brothers and sisters.

Hallelujah! We are God’s people.

Behold, the Lord has made a new covenant with us. Our hearts and minds will be renewed and restored. Rejoice and be glad for now we will know and see God’s awesome power more clearly.

Hallelujah! We are God’s people.

O God of our Hearts You yearn to be so close to us that we can know you in every breath, in every hope, in every relationship.

Meet us here today and teach us to recognize the covenant of justice, peace and love you have written on our hearts.

So may our desires become your desires, our work become your work, and our community the place where you are sought and found.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


Come now to give God all glory, laud, and honor, and lay your prayers and petitions at His feet. 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:

Almighty God, Maker of all that was and is and will be, thank you. Thank you for vaccines and anti-body treatments, and for guiding those who put everything they had into finding and making them. Thank you for all the frontline healthcare workers that put themselves in harm’s way to deliver them and to care for those for whom the vaccine came too late. Thank you for those who continue to do all the inconvenient steps like masking, social distancing, and keeping to themselves to help slow the spread. Lord, bless and continue to guide each one.

Faithful God, Father and Mother of all believers and non-believers, all sinners and saints, Creator of all that is in heaven and earth, thank you for the blessings big and small, recognized or taken for granted.

Lord, we know Easter is coming soon and while we anxiously wait to celebrate your triumphant victory over sin and death, there are still difficult days between now and then. There is nothing perfect about us, yet you beckon us with hands that soon will be scarred by betrayal, greed, selfishness, pettiness, pride, and apathy. You see us and our imperfections with compassionate and patient eyes as we struggle to rid our lives of all the worldly things that distort, distract, and entangle us. As the cross looms ahead, our eyes and our focus are on you and you alone for our redemption and salvation.

Gracious God, we come to you broken – from that which confines us: the prejudice buried, weighted down with fear-distorted self-protection breaking me, breaking you.

And, so we come to you seeking to be made whole. For you, God, put your love within us;

you wrote it on our hearts, that we may be your people.

On this day we pray for those who weep, who are struggling from lack of clean water, healthy food, quality, affordable health care.

Women who want to make decisions about their families, their lives, their bodies, how and when, and with whom.

And, so we come to you seeking to be made whole. For you, God, put your love within us;

you wrote it on our hearts, that we may be your people.

Compassionate God, God of covenant, God of love, We come to you tired, yearning for peace and harmony.

Loving God, we offer up our suffering and come to you seeking to be made whole. For you, God, put your love within us;

you wrote it on our hearts, that we may be your people.

Gentle God, God of covenant, of Love, Glorify us through Your love. Draw us to you, into you. Anoint us with your peace.

Write your compassion in our hearts that we may love as you love.


We are people of One God and You are our God. God with Us who dwelt among us in the flesh as Jesus, we pray now the words He 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.


Open our eyes, gracious Lord, as we turn now to your scriptures. We long to know you, to understand life, and to be changed. Examine us, Lord, by the floodlight of your truth. Open our hearts and minds to hear and understand.

In the name of our True Teacher, Jesus, Amen.

Today’s scriptures are taken from the New Revised Stndard Version and The Message.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

John 12:20-33 (MSG)

There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

“If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

“Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment, the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

May the word we have heard, Lord, be planted deeply in our minds and hearts. Help us not to walk away and forget it, but to meditate on it and obey it and, in doing so, build our lives on the rock of your truth.

 The scriptures of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.


MESSAGE – Holy Handwriting

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

“This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts! — and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” God’s Decree.” (Jeremiah 31:33 – MSG)

This is the declaration of Jeremiah in today’s passage … that God will write His law on our hearts so that we know Him so well we don’t need to teach ourselves or others about Him. We will just automatically know and automatically do accordingly.

At least that’s what we think when we read that passage. But there’s more here. Jeremiah said it when he said, “I am your God and you are my people.” God isn’t just writing His laws on our heart. He’s putting us in relationship with him. We are His people. We… all of us. He’s written on our hearts so we will know to be righteous … not self-righteous, mind you … but righteous … in right relationship with God.

Through the scriptures, through the life of Jesus and all he taught us, God has told us again and again what He expects of us … what we need to do to be in a right relationship with Him …

Micah 6:8 (MSG) is very clear … But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.

Like that scripture says, it’s quite simple.

Jesus taught us even more about living in that right relationship throughout his ministry, but especially through the Beatitudes and other teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and, even more specifically, in Matthew 22:37-40 when asked what the greatest commandment was:

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Again … quite simple.  And, as we learned a couple of weeks ago, looking at the laws as “we are” or “we are not” instructions makes keeping them even simpler.

Take Matthew 7:12 that says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

You know that one by another name … The Golden Rule. It is the ultimate way to make sure you’re always within all the other laws … Don’t do anything to anyone that you would not want to have happen to you. You would not want to be killed, stolen from, treated unjustly … well, at least I hope you wouldn’t … so don’t treat anyone else that way, either. Simple.

I was in such a good mood this past Tuesday. I’d spent most of the day in a virtual retreat specifically for clergywomen to rest, reset, renew, restore … a midweek Sabbath I’d been craving … I was glowing with what I’d learned. That holy handwriting was shining through. Simple.

And then I listened to the evening news. That was the day a series of shootings in Atlanta, GA, had claimed 8 victims, six of whom were Asian Americans, and wounded a ninth. And the rhetoric coming out of an elected official in Congress as they debated a Hate Crime bill coupled with the “explanation” of motive offered by a police department spokesperson in Atlanta seemed to rub salt, lemon juice, and every other stinging substance into an already wounded community.

So what happened? Had God not yet written on the hearts of those three men? Why didn’t God’s holy handwriting prevent them from doing or saying what they did or said? Surely, by their words and actions, they are not in a right relationship with God? Or have all the rest of us out of sync with God.

Truth is, humanity is too prone to self-determination, too unwilling to admit we’re selfish about what makes us comfortable at the expense of others. Too often, we allow graffiti in the forms of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, nationalism, and other forms of hate born out of fear which is born out of lack of knowledge … ignorance … overwrite what God has written.

Borrowing from a song by Dwight Beal, we’re too eager, too prone to trade God’s truth for a lie; to trade the glory of God for the glorification of ourselves, to worship created things instead of the Great I Am, and to turn away from God to worship false “gods” like money or power or self-declared saviors.

We, as a society … a nation that many assert is a “Christian” nation … seem to be either spiritually illiterate or we purposefully choose to ignore what God has written on the tablets of our hearts. Ignore is the root of ignorance and, as my neighbor says, “Ignorance is cheap.”

I’m going to amend his statement: “Ignorance is cheap … and it’s easy.” Ignorance allows us to make ridiculous declarations under the auspice of “freedom” when it’s actually less about freedom and more about not having to go through the struggle, pain, possible guilt and/or shame and, ultimately, work of self-correction, self-repair, self-repentance.

Ignorance lets us blame someone or something else. “No one told me God wrote something on my heart. Why didn’t the church teach me that? This is the church’s fault, not mine!”

Imagine it like this: Someone in the house says, “Hey! The roof is leaking.” You look at the ceiling above you and declare, “It’s not leaking over my head,” and then proceed to ignore the problem or, worse, declare that the person who reported the leak is:

1) lying,

2) imagining the leak,

3) just trying to make trouble and should simply be thankful they have a roof over their head that you’re willing to share with them and if they don’t like it they can just move out,

4) inform them that they’re responsible for the leak and will need to fix it themselves on their own time with their own resources and no, they can’t use your tools, or

5) acknowledge the “complaint,” express your “empathy” for their situation and assure them you’ll get around to it. Only you never quite get around to it because doing so would infringe on your time, money, and perceived freedom.

Eventually, the leak grows, the water rots away the sheeting on the roof, and the interior ceiling is subsequently ruined. The damage seeps further out into the structure of the house, causing new leaks room by room and now it can’t be ignored. Now all the people in the house are affected and everyone has a different opinion of how to fix it.

The cost of repairs is higher if they can even be made, everyone is going to have to adjust to sharing the driest, safest spaces in the house, but no one in the safe areas wants to do so. It would almost be easier to throw a match to the whole mess and just walk away.

Truth is, the roof is leaking over many communities within our society and throughout the world, but … so far … we as a society have been unwilling to make the repairs.

Unlike the imaginary occupants of that house I mentioned earlier, though, we can’t just walk away … where would we walk to? We’re all sharing space in God’s creation, so whatever goes wrong for one group ultimately causes problems for the rest of us, too.

We can’t just give up and quit, either. Our calling is to do what Micah said … To be in right relationship with God, we need to heed what Micah said … we mustabsolutely must … “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.”  … And God didn’t create no quitters anyway, am I right?

God’s holy handwriting on our hearts is not a law as we understand law. Again, it is a relationship. … He is our God … we are His people.

Quoting Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for the United Methodist Church, “It is a law of love and of loving and of acting in loving ways toward all, stranger and neighbor and family. It is only when we hear this promise and this hope through the lens of loving that this makes any sense at all.

Commentator Woody Bartlett, in Feasting on the Word, writes that “having the law firmly engraved in one’s heart is an adventure in freedom.” He continues: “It is the freedom to act spontaneously; knowing that one’s actions will reflect what fills one’s heart. It is the freedom to be who one truly is, knowing that one’s true character is what is most pleasing to God and therefore reflects the best of what the law requires”

When we surrender to the will of God, we become more truly ourselves. It is the foolishness that Paul spoke about in I Corinthians. It is the puzzle that Jesus proclaimed to us. that somehow to find myself, I must lose myself; to be one who leads, I must learn how to serve. And this service is not an obligatory servile spirit, but a true desire that everyone we encounter know something of the love that motivates my every action and decision, my every thought and prayer.

At the root of this acting out of love is the knowledge of God. Jeremiah says that no longer will we have to say “know the Lord” because everyone will know. That means, of course, that knowing God is our first task. Knowing and telling about or knowing and sharing that knowledge every chance we get. While we share with urgency, we share in hope. The days are surely coming, we can count on it. We can believe in it. And we can begin right away living as though there were these words, this law of love already written on our hearts.

Of course, we will get it wrong from time to time. Of course, we will lose our grip on it when things get difficult. Of course, we will need to climb back up on that horse and keep riding. That’s why we need a season of Lent to reorient ourselves toward this law, toward this way of living in community. The truth is, we haven’t lived by this law; we haven’t acted out of love. So, we come and confess and invite the Spirit to get back to work writing on our hearts, so that going forward we can live and act more like the kin-dom we proclaim.

This passage is not an invitation to relax and wait for the day that is coming. It is a call to action. It is a call to move, to call out injustice, to tear down divisions, to lift up the oppressed. We don’t sit back saying that God is in control; therefore, all we have to do is take care of our own souls. That has never been the gospel proclamation. That is not what is written on our hearts.”

Let’s pray …

God of Love, God of Peace

This fractured word cries out in pain, burns deep into my soul, and challenges me to make a difference.

God of Love, God of Peace

God of this world, scarred by grief and tears, ignorance and fear, soften hearts of stone and begin with mine.

God of Love, God of Peace

Create within me a heart for people, a desire for change, for new beginnings, to start this day and forever more.

God of Love, God of Peace

Create in me a clean heart.

God of Love, God of Peace

Write your laws on my heart.



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:

God will write a new covenant on our hearts.

God will be our God and we will be God’s people.

No longer shall we teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord.”

For we shall all know God.

In the name of God the Source of Life, the Word of Truth, and the Spirit of Love. Amen.

Stay safe folks. 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. And remember … Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord, ……..In the name of Christ.



  • Call to Worship & Opening Prayer – Cynthia Bond Hopson, The Africana Worship Book for Year B, Discipleship Resources, 2007, p. 58; Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey and the Rev. Susan A. Blain, “O God of Our Hearts: Prayers for the Fifth Sunday in Lent”
  • Portions of Pastoral Prayer – Cynthia Bond Hopson, The Africana Worship Book for Year B, Discipleship Resources, 2007, p. 153; “Terri” as posted on RevGalBlogPals, A Place for Prayer
  • Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
  • Closing prayer – John Birch, faithandworship.com
  • Benediction – Rev. Dr. Letty Russell and posted on the Presbyterian Promise website

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
Holston Conference
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!